Reflections from a Summer Intern – Stories from Victorian Letters: The Whittier-Family Autograph Album

By Katie Mackenzie, Museum Studies Summer Intern

In the past few days of my internship I have been able to work on transcriptions for an extraordinary album.

The first thing that stood out to me was the album’s beautiful deep red cover. The gold lettering of the word “Autograph” and the picture of a book and quill that announce the album’s purpose is beautiful.

Front cover of Whittier Family Autograph Album.

Back cover of Whittier Family Autograph Album.

This Victorian era autograph album contains the signatures of many famous people of the day. Most of the dated signatures are from around the time of the American Civil War. It belonged to Elizabeth Whittier Pickard (1846-1902), who was the niece of the American poet John Greenleaf Whittier (1807-1892). The album was given to Elizabeth by her brother, Charles Whittier (1843-1909).

Lizzie H. Whittier
From her brother

Autograph. Charles Whittier to Elizabeth Whittier Pickard.

Her uncle, John Greenleaf Whittier, as a famous poet, may have helped to fill the album with the autographs of his famous friends and correspondents. There are a few letters that are written to John Greenleaf Whittier included in the album.

There are several types of autographs found in the book. Some of the autographs simply include the person’s name. Some of the autographs are attached to a letter, or cut out of one. But what I found most interesting were the names that came with a quote. When a signer added a quote it was sometimes from their own work.

The autograph from Nora Perry, an American writer, came with a quote from her own poem. The excerpt of her poem “The Love-Knot” reads,

Tying her bonnet under her chin
She tied a young man’s heart within
Nora Perry

Autograph. Nora Perry to Elizabeth Whittier Pickard.

But most often a famous quote came from another source, such as the Bible, and usually contained a moral message.

Very rarely, the quote comes in the form of a unique poem. One of my favorite quotes in the album was a unique poem written just for Elizabeth. This poem was written by the American author and poet Lucy Larcom (1824-1893). The poem reads,

For the name thou bearest
Tender love thou sharest.
Hold it sacred unto death
The dear name – Elizabeth.

Autograph. Lucy Larcom to Elizabeth Whittier Pickard.

Elizabeth probably did hold her name as something very sacred to her, as she was named after a beloved and much admired aunt. This admiration can be seen in a letter that her father, M. F. Whittier, who was the younger brother of John Greenleaf Whittier, wrote to her on December 4, 1864. The letter reads,

As far as your nature will allow imitate the beautiful life of the dear Aunt whose name you bear. Strive to love all God’s creatures as she did. Like her be charitable towards the erring – – remembering that “to err is human – to forgive is Divine.”

                                                                   M.F. Whittier

Letter from M. F. Whittier to Elizabeth Whittier Pickard. 4 December 1864.

Some of the most famous autographs in the album are the type that are simply signatures. Examples include Ulysses S. Grant, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, and Ralph Waldo Emerson.

Autograph. Ulysses S. Grant. 21 May 1872.

Autograph. Ralph Waldo Emerson.

Autograph. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. 20 February 1874.

I was excited to find Robert Browning’s autograph in a letter he wrote to John Greenleaf Whittier in 1856. Elizabeth Browning must have been nearby as her husband wrote the letter, as Robert Browning writes to Whittier that, “I speak for my wife.” The letter is a thank you note to John Greenleaf Whittier for the kind words he wrote of them in a book. The letter reads,

My dear sir,

On returning to England this summer we found a book of manly and beautiful verse, and our names (I speak for my wife in this letter) written, with a kind and gratifying word of sympathy from yourself, in the first page. We are just leaving England again, but you must take our hasty thanks as if they had been more worthily expressed: they are hearty and sincere, at all events – – since acknowledging that you have thus numbered with your friends

                         Two, proud to be so numbered,

                                 Elizabeth Barrett & Robert Browning

Letter to John Greenleaf Whittier from Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett Browning. 20 October 1856.

The autograph letters are some of my favorite because, as well as the autograph, they also included snippets of the everyday life of the person. For example, one of the letters is from John Greenleaf Whittier to Greenleaf Whittier Pickard, who was Elizabeth Whittier Pickard’s son. John writes to his great nephew, telling him that he will collect stamps so that Greenleaf can put them in his stamp album. He also reminds Greenleaf to do well in school. I love letters like this that seem so familiar even to modern eyes. The letter reads,

Dear Greenleaf,

I send a few stamps for thy album, and will try to save more for thee, I hope thee go to school and learn well.

                                                 Thy Uncle,

                                                      John G Whittier

Letter to Greenleaf Whittier Pickard from John Greenleaf Whittier.

This autograph album allowed me to learn about many Victorian people who I hadn’t known before. It was so fun to be able to research all the people inside of the book and to learn their stories.

They Asked For A Paper–Charlotte Yonge Letters at the ABL

Borrowing its title from a collection of essays by C. S. Lewis, this series, They Asked For A Paper,”  highlights interesting items from the Armstrong Browning Library’s collection and suggests topics for further research.

By Melinda Creech
Manuscripts Specialist, Armstrong Browning Library

Charlotte Mary Yonge

The Armstrong Browning Library owns three letters from English novelist Charlotte Yonge. The first is from Yonge to Anna Butler, written from Otterbourne, September 19, [1856].

Letter from C. M. Yonge to [Anna] Butler. 19 September [1856]. Page 1.

Letter from C. M. Yonge to [Anna] Butler. 19 September [1856]. Pages 2 and 3.

My dear Miss Butler

Your note came as I was meditating enquiries of Glympton on your whereabouts, and just in time for the enclosed, which I hope you will be able to send on to Derby at once as we
[Page 2]
are rather behindhand this month. I am glad your trip was successful, we have made a little one to Sidmouth, a grand affair for us. There was a lame grey haired lady with two foreign looking young ones whom we always called Mde Bronevska and her grand daughters
[Page 3]
making their English visit

Charlotte Mitchell, Senior Honorary Lecturer at University College London and editor of The Letters of Charlotte Mary Yonge (1823-1901), points out that the letter, although undated, is likely from 1856. The lame woman mentioned in the letter, Madame de Bronevska, and her granddaughters are characters in Butler’s story called “Likes and Dislikes,” serialized in Monthly Packet, of which Charlotte Yonge was the first editor, July 1855-Nov 1856. They first appear in the issue of September 1856. Mitchell also points out that Anna Butler’s brother, the Very Rev. William John Butler, was Vicar of Wantage and Dean of Lincoln, quite a well-known Victorian Tractarian clergyman & founder of the Anglican nunnery at Wantage.

A second letter, written on April 5, 1876, has an unknown recipient.

Letter from C. M. Yonge to [Unknown]. 5 April 1876. Page 1.

Letter from C. M. Yonge to [Unknown]. 5 April 1876. Pages 2 and 3.

Dear Sir

I am afraid I cannot boast of much if any fact for the foundation of the Heir of Redclyffe. I had the scenery of Clovelly in my eye when describing Redclyffe bay
[Page 2]
and Malvern with St. Mildred’s, but all the rest is imaginary. The print is Albert Durer’s Knight of Death — There are many photographs of it — and “Sintram” translated from the German is published both
[Page 3]
by Master’s & Warne.

In this letter Yonge answers questions about the “foundation” of her novel The Heir of Redclyffe and the origin of a print in the book. The letter is part of an album of letters collected by John Rooker, possibly the vicar of Coldharbour, Surrey.

A third undated letter is written to Miss Fitzgerald, probably Mabel Purefoy Fitzgerald, from Elderfield. Yonge lived at Elderfield from 1862 until her death in 1897.

Letters from C. M. Yonge to [Mabel Purefoy] Fitzgerald. 28 March [ny]. Page 1.

Letters from C. M. Yonge to [Mabel Purefoy] Fitzgerald. 28 March [ny]. Pages 2 and 3.

My dear Miss Fitzgerald

I know of plenty of dialogues for boys, but those for girls are more uncommon. –
One that would do with a little adapting is the story of the geese that ate the brandy cherries, seemed to die, were plucked
[Page 2]
and came to life again
It is in the G F S book Stories for Our Girls but is told in narrative and would require arranging
Miss Morshead is coming to spend the day with me tomorrow and if she knows of anything better, I will write –
We had some [wax] [works] last
[Page 3]
night, which did famously with a clever exhibition.

In this letter Yonge suggests some “dialogues for girls” and mentions a wax works exhibition that they had attended.

The Armstrong Browning Library  has an 1857 copy of Yonge’s The Heir of Redclyffe with this inscription: “Mary Fitzgerald on her 16th birthday / from her Mother/ 17 July 1859 / London,” possibly in the hand of Elizabeth Purefoy Fitzgerald.

The book also contains a latter inscription: “Never to be/lent or taken/M.P.FG.”

It is very likely that the inscription above belongs to Mabel Purefoy Fitzgerald.

These letters pose a number of questions: Who was the recipient of the second letter? Does this information about The Heir of Redclyffe offer any new perspectives? Why was Albert Durer’s print chosen? What is the date of the third letter? Is the recipient of the third letter really Mabel Purefoy Fitzgerald? What is the story of the geese that ate the brandied cherries? Who is Miss Morshead? What became of the “dialogues for girls”? What was the wax works exhibition? Is “Mary Fitzgerald” in the inscription Mabel’s sister? If so, was she born on January 17, 1843, and is the inscription in her mother’s hand or her grandmother’s hand?

Giving Nineteenth Century Women Writers a Voice and a Face — Daisy Ashford (1881-1972)

Margaret Mary Julia ‘Daisy’ Ashford was born on 7 April 1881 in Petersham, Surrey. At the age of nine, she wrote her first novel, The Young Visiters (or Mr Salteenas Plan), a comic story involving both class and romance in nineteenth-century England. Though Daisy wrote the novella in 1890, it was not published until 1919, at which time it gained immense popularity and was deemed a masterpiece, original spelling mistakes and all. The short book was received warmly by the public because of Daisy’s unique perspective on society seen through the eyes of a child, so much so that it was adapted into a play in 1920 and then into a musical in 1968. Although The Young Visiters was Daisy’s first book, it was not her first stab at story-telling. At the age of four, she began dictating stories to her father who would write them down for her.

Daisy Ashford. The Young Visiters. New York: George H. Doran Company, 1919.

Daisy ceased writing during her teenage years as her family moved around, and she began working as a secretary in London. Daisy married James Devlin and moved with him to Norfolk. After the publication of Visiters in 1919, several of her other stories were published the following year. But Daisy did not begin writing again until much later when she began her autobiography, which she would destroy before her death in 1972.

Perhaps the most fascinating note about Daisy’s career is her status as a child prodigy. Although some have criticized her early work as naïve and juvenile, it is not often that one becomes famous based on their work as a nine year old girl.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning, born seventy-five years earlier than Daisy Ashford, displayed an even more exceptional aptitude for her craft at a remarkably early age. Elizabeth began writing poetry at the age of four and became one of the most revered female writers of the nineteenth century. Just as Daisy was creating stories with her family at an early age, Elizabeth Barrett Browning spent her childhood years creating poetry whenever she had the opportunity. At the age of twelve, Elizabeth wrote the following poem while riding in a carriage with her family to visit her sister who was recuperating at the beach. The last line of the poem presents an interesting twist. The Armstrong Browning Library holds the unpublished poem written in one of Elizabeth’s delicate notebooks.

The transcription follows:

Ye nymphs I know not all your names by rote
Bear to your King the cargo of my boat
And as you e Heavenly spirits light of Neptune’s Daughters
Hang on each wave & frolic on the waters
Pray Attend my prayer oh ye of birth divine
And let the talisman desired be mine
That I may not your sanction beg in vain
Oh let me riot in thy your wide domain
Ah bid your [Sire] not take some other whim
Attend my prayers! And teach me now to swim

Two young women with the ambition, dreams, and abilities to create such poignant and lasting works of art while still in their childhood are a testament to the power of imagination. These amazing women were able to create and share their art, overcoming the different obstacles they faced along the way, including trying to gain merit as female writers and being taken seriously  as children with profound thoughts to share.

Chicanya Njeh
Bethany Navarre
Melinda Creech

Giving Nineteenth Century Women Writers a Voice and a Face — Charlotte Endymion Porter (1857-1942)

Charlotte Endymion Porter, originally named Helen Charlotte Porter, was born on January 6, 1857 in Towanda, Pennsylvania.  Charlotte adopted the middle name Endymion after a poem by John Keats.  In 1885 she graduated from Wells College in Aurora, New York.

Eight years later Porter became the editor of the journal Shakespeariana, where she met her life partner Helen Clarke.  Clarke submitted an article to Shakespeariana and Porter accepted it.  Their friendship was built upon their mutual love for Shakespeare and Robert Browning.

Porter and Clarke also founded the American Drama Society, and together they edited volumes of both Robert and Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s poetry. Porter published a theatrical version of Robert Browning’s tragedy, The Return of the Druses, which she directed in 1903. She was one of the brightest literary critics and editors of her time.         Below is a signed copy of Porter’s script, featuring notes in the margin. The notes most likely were written there by a stage manager, as they list props and sound cues.

Charlotte Porter. Stage Version of Browning’s Tragedy: The Return of the Druses. New York: Thomas Y. Crowell & Company, 1902.

D. G. Brinton, “Facettes of Love From Browning,” in Poet-Lore, Vol. 1 (1889), pp. 25-26.

 In 1889 Porter and Clarke founded Poet Lore, a literary journal focused on Shakespeare, Browning, and comparative literature.  Their mission in establishing Poet Lore was to “bring Life and Letters into closer touch with each other…in a new spirit that considers literature as an exponent of human evolution.”  Although it was an American journal, it rarely featured any works written by Americans; therefore, it often introduced new writers and works to its American audience.  Poet Lore still exists today and is maintained by five editors who strive to keep the journal at the high standards set by Porter and Clarke emphasizing “openness to discovery” (  Poet Lore editor Genevieve DeLeon’s favorite quote from Porter comes from Porter reflecting on Poet Lore several years after its founding:

“Our standards were evolutionary and relative in principal in a day when the static and the has-been rather than the dynamic and coming-into-birth constituted the measure in criticism….We were champions then for what is still needed, it may be the standards that relate all aesthetic expression to evolving life.”

In 1903 Porter and Clarke sold Poet Lore and worked on many other projects together, including several editions of Browning’s poems, a six volume edition of Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s poetry, and a twelve volume “Pembroke” edition of Shakespeare.

Porter and Clarke committed to each other with a ring ceremony and lived together until Clarke died in 1926.  Porter continued living at their summer home in Maine until she passed away on January 16, 1942.  This poem from the first edition of Charlotte Porter’s book, “Lips of Music.” speaks about the island in Maine where she and Clarke spent their summers and where she eventually died at the age of 85.

Charlotte Porter. “Isle Au Hait” in Lips of Music. New York: Thomas Y. Cromwell & Company, 1910.

The Armstrong Browning Library has two letters written to Charlotte Porter, six books and articles by Porter, and numerous Browning volumes edited by her.

 Kimberly Dykema
Carly Connally
Melinda Creech