“Every common bush afire with God”: How Shall We Live Now?

‘Every common bush afire with God’: Divine Encounters in the Living World

The exhibition explores the intersection of religious and ecological concerns in nineteenth-century literature and art, from William Wordsworth to Gerard Manley Hopkins. You can read more about its content here. The exhibit was curated by Molly Lewis, a doctoral student of English at Baylor University during a ten-week summer internship through the Armstrong Browning Library.

How Shall We Live Now? Recognizing and Caring for the Natural World Where We Are

William Morris and John Ruskin were passionate advocates for attending to the natural world around them, from the shores of the Thames in London to the shores of Lake Coniston at Brantwood. But what mattered to writers and artists in nineteenth-century Britain may look very different for us in the places we live today. Part of recognizing the natural world means observing the unique beauties and vulnerabilities of the places we call home. In Waco, TX, home to the Armstrong Browning Library, there are many ways to respond to these artists’ call to recognize the beauty and dignity of nature, and respond with care:

Gerard Manley Hopkins’s “Binsey Poplars,” from Poems of Gerard Manley Hopkins, 1st Edition. London: Humphrey Milford, 1918.

Gerard Manley Hopkins’s “Binsey Poplars,” from Poems of Gerard Manley Hopkins, 1st Edition. London: Humphrey Milford, 1918.

Gerard Manley Hopkins’s “Binsey Poplars,” from Poems of Gerard Manley Hopkins, 1st Edition. London: Humphrey Milford, 1918.

If you’re moved by Gerard Manley Hopkins’s challenge to remember the lost Binsey Poplars, consider visiting the Carleen Bright Arboretum in Woodway. Part of the Arboretum’s mission and vision is to be “stewards of the natural environments and resources within its boundaries.” Seeing first-hand what this stewardship looks like for them provides a helpful—and beautiful—model for how to steward our own environments and resources.

 

William Morris’s “Wandle” (1884). Reproduced by Sanderson. 2019.

William Morris’s “Wandle” (1884). Reproduced by Sanderson. 2019.

William Morris was so committed to recovering the beauty of the Thames that he wrote a whole novel about it in News from Nowhere. The Brazos River could use some of Morris’s passion. Among their many campaigns for change, Keep Waco Beautiful hosts quarterly Brazos clean-up days. Try joining the next one and consider investing your time in some of their projects to beautify and restore Waco neighborhoods.

 

Christina Rossetti’s “Tread Softly!” from A Pageant and Other Poems. London: Macmillan, 1881.

Christina Rossetti’s “Tread Softly!” from A Pageant and Other Poems. London: Macmillan, 1881.

When we read Christina Rossetti’s words to “Tread softly!” because “all the earth is holy ground,” it can be difficult to imagine what that might look like practically in our daily lives—especially if we live in a city where beautiful landscapes are hard to come by. Mission Waco’s Urban REAP helps us think creatively about how we can use our resources in urban spaces, both responsibly and beautifully. Whether you live in the city or the country, your daily life relies on rural spaces—farm land, fields of cattle, waterways—increasingly at risk thanks to our industrialized agricultural system. World Hunger Relief provides educational encounters and partnership opportunities for those who would like to “tread softly” on the earth that sustains us.

What are some other ways you can recognize and care for the natural world you’re a part of?

 

Read more in this series of blog posts about the exhibit “‘Every common bush afire with God’: Divine Encounters in the Living World“:

‘Every common bush afire with God’: Recognition, Prayer & Gratitude in the ABL’s Archives

‘Every common bush afire with God’: Recognition, Prayer & Gratitude in the ABL’s Archives

‘Every common bush afire with God’: Divine Encounters in the Living World

The exhibition explores the intersection of religious and ecological concerns in nineteenth-century literature and art, from William Wordsworth to Gerard Manley Hopkins. The exhibit was curated by Molly Lewis, a doctoral student of English at Baylor University during a ten-week summer internship through the Armstrong Browning Library.

 

Recognition, Prayer & Gratitude in the ABL’s Archives

This fall, the Armstrong Browning Library is hosting “‘Every common bush afire with God’: Recognition, Prayer & Gratitude in the Nineteenth Century,” an exhibition on the intersection of ecology and religion in the work of some of the century’s most admired poets and artists. Many nineteenth-century British writers were deeply concerned with the destructive consequences of the Industrial Revolution on their natural environment, both as artists of the written word and as deeply religious thinkers. Much of their concern with the despoliation of the natural world stems from their conviction that we encounter God through the living world of plants, animals, water, sky. These writers believed that humanity is not alone in bearing the image of God; all of creation reflects the divine. Recognizing this divine reflection in nature makes prayerful communion with God possible. But, by extension, harming the earth can further separate us from God. The writers and artists represented here were inspired in their own creative acts—works of art like poetry and painting—as they paid attention to and cared for the world of nature around them. Through their words and images, we may better understand how a robust faith encourages us towards better care for creation in the twenty-first century.

William Wordsworth’s “Tintern Abbey,” from Wordsworth’s Poetical Works. Volume 2. London: Edward Moxon, 1836. The Brownings’ Library. P. 162.

William Wordsworth’s “Tintern Abbey,” from Wordsworth’s Poetical Works. Volume 2. London: Edward Moxon, 1836. The Brownings’ Library. P. 162.

The exhibition is broken up into three parts, focusing in turn on “Recognition,” “Prayer,” and “Gratitude” as they relate to human participation in the natural world. Throughout the nineteenth century, writers like Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1806-1861), Christina Rossetti (1830-1894), Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844-1889), and others, saw that both humanity and the natural world are cared for by God. These poets warn against simply using nature rather than recognizing its value in God’s eyes, and suggest that attending to nature’s inherent dignity may lead to a better understanding ourselves of what it means to be children of a creative God. These poets encourage us to ask: What have we missed out on because of the carelessness of our nineteenth-century ancestors? What will our own children miss out on because of our carelessness today?

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The section on “Recognition,” highlights Barrett Browning’s “Patience Taught by Nature,” Hopkins’s poem, “Binsey Poplars,” and Christina Rossetti’s “Innocent Eyes Not Ours.” When Elizabeth Barrett Browning writes, “Grant me some smaller grace than comes to these,” she implies that non-human nature receives God’s grace as freely as humanity does. In “Binsey Poplars,” Gerard Manley Hopkins argues that deliberately harming nature is actually an act of violence against God. Rossetti’s poem is an excerpt revised from her longer work, “To What Purpose Is This Waste?” published by her brother William Michael Rossetti after her death. Both the excerpt and the full poem challenge readers to consider the nature’s value apart from its utility in human industry. Rossetti suggests that such value lies in nature’s inherent posture of praise: “All voices of things inanimate / Join with the song of Angels and the song / Of blessed spirits, chiming with / Their Hallelujahs.” If the natural state of the created world is continual praise of God, we are challenged to treat the natural world with the same reverence we give to the rest of his children. Moreover, we can even learn from nature how best to do praise the Creator ourselves.

The exhibition’s second section on “Prayer” compares works by Elizabeth Barrett Browning, William Wordsworth (1770-1850), Christina Rossetti, and Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772-1834) to see how the theme of prayer through nature is carried across the century. In his poem “Tintern Abbey,” William Wordsworth suggests that the mere memory of nature can restore him when he is confined to “lonely rooms, and ‘mid the din / Of towns and cities.” Wordsworth’s dear friend Samuel Taylor Coleridge and later poets like Elizabeth Barrett Browning draw on such encounters with nature to suggest that being attentive to the created world makes us better able to pray. Whether through the limited view of a window or tramping about on the holy ground of the earth, honoring nature brings us closer to God.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Barrett Browning’s poetic novel Aurora Leigh offers two especially helpful scenes in which the title character discovers this truth for herself. Confined, like Barrett Browning herself, to a bedroom with a single window connecting her to the natural world, Aurora is struck by the reminder (brought to her by the light of the sun) that God has heard nothing from her but tears in many days. Gradually, as she sits by the window and strokes the leaves of the woodbine just outside, her spirits awakes to life and love. “Wholly, at last,” she cries, “I wakened, opened wide my window and my soul.” Much later on a journey through Italy, Aurora continues her reflection on nature’s capacity to draw the viewer to God. “Earth’s crammed with heaven,” she writes, “And every common bush afire with God.” For Barrett Browning, the natural world is more than material. Like the human person, it bears the stamp of the divine presence. Recognizing its beauty can thus draw us closer to the Creator—even as harming nature drives us away from him.

William Morris’s “Wandle” (1884). Reproduced by Sanderson. 2019.

William Morris’s “Wandle” (1884). Reproduced by Sanderson. 2019.

The exhibition’s third section on “Gratitude” shows how artists and writers like William Morris (1834-1896), John Ruskin (1819-1900), Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828-1882), and Robert Browning (1812-1889) respond to nature in their art and writing, reflecting the beauty of the ordinary world with gratitude and care. Art and social critic John Ruskin argues in The Seven Lamps of Architecture (1849) that “God is a household God, as well as a heavenly one,” encouraging readers to not abandon the world around them for an eternal utopia. He writes:

“God has lent us the earth for our life; it is a great entail. It belongs as much to those who are to come after us…as to us; and we have no right, by anything that we do or neglect, to…deprive them of benefits which it was in our power to bequeath.”

Ruskin’s language of attending to future generations resonates with current conversations about environmental care. In his own time, poets and painters alike were moved by his challenge to create in harmony with the natural world rather than in antagonism with it. In turn, their work inspires readers like us to respond with our own acts of creation—and creation care.

Reflections from a Visiting Scholar: Adventure in the Archives

By Cheri Larsen Hoeckley, Ph.D., Professor of English, Westmont College

Cheri Hoeckley

Cheri Larsen Hoeckley, Ph.D., Professor of English, Westmont College

Like many great adventures, this one involved a passport. Actually, it involved several passports, and none of them were mine. Nor did any of them really resemble the uniform-sized, differently colored booklets I have seen while passing through customs lines.

Before the passports were in front of me, my adventure actually started—as many other great adventures do—with a database. I had come to the Armstrong Browning Library to research the language Elizabeth Barrett Browning and her circle used to describe their travel through Europe to and from Italy. I was curious how Barrett Browning’s travel descriptions formed her imagination of Aurora and Marion Erle’s journeys in Aurora Leigh, and about how that poetic reflection might have informed her lived experience as a woman living outside her country of birth. Some history of every-day English was guiding my search. For instance, the Brownings relocated to Florence before “expatriate” was a noun in English and at a point when English speakers used the verb “migrate” only metaphorically when speaking of humans. Furthermore, Barrett Browning travelled in the specific context that prompted W. R. Greg in 1862 to coin the term “redundant woman” to identify what he saw as a social problem of an excess of single women in England, and his solution was to send those women abroad in search of husbands.[1] I arrived at Baylor enthusiastically anticipating technological assistance with Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s everyday language about her journey to Florence and her life away from England. The Armstrong Browning Library’s Wedgestone Database for the Brownings’ twenty-six volumes of known correspondence promised precise guiding through that dauntingly vast linguistic landscape. Those digital explorations were fruitful, but a side trip into material objects for travel from two Victorian men proved equally productive.

This adventure, then, took me through a series of observations of beautiful objects that I had not expected to find, but that helped to piece together the bureaucratic conditions Elizabeth Barrett Browning, and many women like her, would have confronted when they left England for travel on the Continent. The adventure also gave me insight into how various forms of social capital–Englishness, masculinity, middle-class status, celebrity–helped travelers to navigate those conditions.

Guided by the database, that first nineteenth-century passport I discovered did not belong to either of the Brownings. It belonged to a much less remembered Irishman, William Henry Darley. A painter and frequent traveler, Darley was a long-time friend of Joseph Milsand. Because Darley asked Milsand to serve as his executor, Darley’s passports made their way to the Armstrong Browning Library with Milsand’s extensive papers. Darley’s passport was one of those research turns down an unmarked road that became a highlight of the journey because of the insight they provided on nineteenth-century European travel and surveillance. The focus of my adventure narrowed from language of travel for Victorian women to the variety of international legal mechanisms that regulated their Continental travel in the mid-nineteenth century.

William Henry Darley's British passport, dated 1852

William Henry Darley’s passport, dated 1852 (ABL/JMA V008)

The Joseph Milsand Archive actually holds two of William Henry Darley’s passports. One was issued in 1852 by the British Ambassador to Paris, and the other by the French government on 10 July 1835.  Anglo-Irish colonial history explains Darley’s possession of an English passport, rather than an Irish one. My first impression, though, was that it seemed a little cloak-and-dagger that he would have an earlier French passport, as well. Jennifer Borderud stepped in and added to that element of international intrigue when she brought me an 1834 Russian passport issued to Robert Browning (translated in German on the reverse), and an 1856 Austrian passport issued to him written primarily in Italian.

Passport for Robert Browning’s travels in Russia, issued at St. Petersburg on 31 March 1834 (left), with German translation on second folio sheet (right) (Browning Guide #H0629)

As any reader of Casa Guidi Windows knows, the Brownings were resident in Florence during Austrian occupation before the Risorgimiento.[2] So, while they rightly imagined themselves in an Italian city, they needed Austrian visas to stay there or to travel. I digressed again away from both the database and material objects at this point to look into the history of European passports. That side trip revealed that before the first World War, passports were not proof of national identity, but rather documents granting permission to travel.[3] French nationals, then, carried passports through France. British subjects, whether Irish or English, applied to the British government for documents giving them permission to travel and often expected those documents to be honored by other national governments. Travelers from Continental regions were less likely to expect that courtesy from local officials when they were away from home.

Darley’s French passport details some of those international mechanisms with a list of ten “Regulations required by the French government to be observed by Foreigners in France” printed in French on one side and in English on the reverse.  According to regulation #2: “Every foreigner, on arriving in a sea-port or frontier-town, is to present himself before the local authorities, to produce his passport, and deposit it in their hands.” So, Darley would have surrendered his British document and acquired the French “passport” after arriving in Paris that would enter him into a bureaucratic system of surveillance as he traveled around the country from there. Regulations 3 & 4 describe that process of submitting original travel documents at the traveler’s port of entry and acquiring new ones in Paris. The new French document is not necessarily permission to travel that British travelers often anticipated, but it is documentation necessary for foreigners who want to travel. The later British passport is one he acquired at the British consulate in Paris as a courtesy request for unencumbered travel on his return to England. Darley’s passports, that’s to say, make clear the difference between many passports issued on the Continent in the first half of the nineteenth-century and the privilege that British subjects imagined in passports for freer travel.

Darley's passport, dated 1835

William Henry Darley’s passport, dated 1835 (ABL/JMA V008)

The presence of identifying information also differs among passports. Darley’s British passport carries his signature as the only protection against the use of stolen documentation. His French passport carries both his signature and a column to fill in traits of physical description. For instance, “Age” (He was 36 years old.); “Taille” (He was 1 meter 85 centimeters.); “Cheveux” (He was blond.); “Visage” (He had an oval face.); “Yeux” (He had blue eyes); “Nez” (His nose was medium.). The final entry for “signes particuliers” is blank, suggesting that he has no particular identifying marks.  Browning’s Russian passport includes a similar column to fill in ten physical traits, or “kennzeichen” as the German translation calls them. That document informs customs officers that Browning is of middle height with a normal face, adding no specificity to the description with a blank in the final item asking about special marks. Browning took his 1834 journey to St. Petersburg by invitation from and in the company of Chevalier George de Benckhausen, the Russian consul-general. The imprimatur of his traveling companion seems to have diminished the need for rigorous identifying information.

RB Austrian passport

Passport issued to Robert Browning by Austrian Embassy in London on 18 October 1856 (Browning Guide #H0631)

Contrasting with the large, visa-marked, single-sheet documents from the 1830’s, as well as with Darley’s British passport from 1852 , Browning’s Austrian passport is a diminutive booklet–4 ½” by 2 ½,” of forty pages with different stamps, handwritten certifications, or visas on each page, plus a cover of the same paper with a sewn binding. Most pages have a four- or five-digit number in one of the upper corners, suggesting that the issuing consulate was centrally recording visas or entrances.

RB Austrian passport with Tuscan Consulate Stamp

Page 2 of passport issued to Robert Browning by Austrian Embassy in London on 18 October 1856 with Tuscan Consulate stamp (Browning Guide #H0631)

The second page indicates that the passport was supported by the Tuscan Consul General in London. The close juxtaposition of the Tuscan authority with the Austrian governing presence brought home the military occupation that surrounded the Brownings’ movements for a period of their life in Florence. The voice from Casa Guidi’s windows sometimes had to move among German speaking military men to leave Florence, or even to move through the city. A passport, of course, can’t answer the question of whether the Brownings’ English  accents and British travel documents carried them outside the fray, or simply positioned them differently in it. Comments in their letters about the exhaustion of travel to other Italian locations come into sharper focus, though, with the passport’s concrete representation of life in a conflict zone.

I had come to the Armstrong Browning Library to think specifically about Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s language for life outside England and how it helped understand women who traveled in a time when W. R. Greg and others often categorized these extra-domestic women as social problems. None of the passports I was looking at seemed to belong to women. Robert Browning’s Austrian passport, however, made clear that nineteenth-century coverture practices—where the husband’s identity legally covers that of his wife—held in international travel, as well as in property, suffrage, and child rearing. In the small booklet, a few visas have similar lines written after “Signior Roberto Browning”:  “la sua consorte, un figlio, l’annunziata cameriera Lena” translated as “the spouse, one son, and a maid named Lena Annunziata”–or some variation of that household description. Lena Annunziata was Barrett Browning’s maid from 1857-61. Her name also appears on the cover of the booklet, whether she is explicitly named because she was not a legal member of the family she traveled with or because she was Florentine is not clear. It’s also not clear how Lena would have returned securely to Florence without the Brownings and their travel documents if she were fired or needed to quit. What is clear is that Robert’s person represented the household when they traveled so that Elizabeth’s and Pen’s names are irrelevant. The well known female English poet registers in the passport only as “la sua consorte”—his wife.

Passport issued to Robert Browning by Austrian Embassy in London on 18 October 1856 with statement “sua consorte, un figlio, l’annunziata cameriera Lena” (right) (Browning Guide #H0631)

In England just after their marriage, as Robert and Elizabeth hastily and covertly planned their departure for Italy, a detail in one of Robert’s letters indicates that English officials shared the practice of giving husbands family travel documents. On 17 September, Robert writes “I will take out a passport” (letter 2609, emphasis added). That single indefinite article didn’t really strike me until after I had looked through the Florentine documents. That first shared English passport—albeit materially lost to the archives—gets frequent mention in Elizabeth’s letters to Arabella as a source of anxiety after they lost track of it in Havre. The Brownings’ eventual ability to replace their travel documents in Paris is an adventure for another story. One wonders, though, how or whether her name appeared on the English travel papers.

This stage of the adventure leaves me with more thoughts to explore on femininity, class, and travel in the nineteenth-century Europe. Does femininity make a difference for travelers when married women might not have their own passport? Does it make a difference for single women when a passport of their own would announce to a border agent that they were not married? What kind of difference might it make in how one imagined oneself when one appeared at the border as the servant of a household with one’s name, like Lena Annunziata, written on the passport of a man she was not legally related to? Of course, these relationships were all part of the daily lives of people in the Brownings’ Anglo-Florentine circle under coverture laws and middle-class domestic practices. The existence or lack of passports did not make the relationships so.  However, official documents do have a way of bringing to the forefront effects of one’s identity that might otherwise remain unarticulated. Documents of the import of national identification and travel permission can shape one’s self understanding as empowered or disempowered. How would that official paper influence how one imagined entering Florence, or Paris, or leaving London? At the end of the adventure, I return to young Aurora’s fear of the “stranger with authority,” (I 224) who frightens the child by tearing her away from her “cameriera” and putting her on board the ship that will take her England. And later of Marian Erle’s life in the shadows of Paris. And of the single poet Aurora’s ability to help her find refuge in Italy. As well as of the nearly magical ease with which Romney finally appears in Florence. Poetry, of course, doesn’t demand documents, but its imaginative worlds might help us understand the impact of those documents.

I am grateful to the staff of the Armstrong Browning Library for using their authority to grant me the freedom to take this adventure. Along with my fellow visiting scholars, they made the journey possible and deeply pleasurable.

[1] W. R. Greg, “Why Are Women Redundant?” National Review 14, April 1862, 434-460. Reprinted in 1871 as a pamphlet.

[2] For a helpful overview of Italian conflict at mid-century, see Alison Chapman, “On Il Risorgimento,” Branch Collective, https://www.branchcollective.org/?ps_articles=alison-chapman-on-il-risorgimento Accessed 15 June 2019.

[3]For an example of discussions of European and British passports post-Napoleanic Wars, see Martin Anderson’s “Tourism and the Development of the Modern British Passport, 1814-1858”  Journal of British Studies 49 (April 2010): 258-282.

 

“Preserve All Opinions”: Elizabeth Barrett and Critical Conversation at the ABL

By Rachael Isom, Assistant Professor of English, Arkansas State University

Rachael Isom, PhD, Assistant Professor of English, Arkansas State University

Rachael Isom, PhD, Assistant Professor of English, Arkansas State University

In recent years, many published authors have taken to Twitter to promote their work and engage with readers. We might think about popular writers like Celeste Ng or Lin-Manuel Miranda, both of whom maintain active online presences and tweet about everything from book signings to traffic jams. Social media has given us more immediate access to the thoughts of people who write them down for a living, but these kinds of author-reader exchanges aren’t new. Authors were concerned about how to present their work publicly and respond to criticism long before the Internet made it so easy. As I observed during my recent residence as a Visiting Scholar at the Armstrong Browning Library (ABL), many 19th-century writers took care to construct literary personae, to monitor how those public selves were received, and sometimes even to respond.

My current project analyzes how “enthusiasm”—a term that, in the 18th century, signified both religious zeal and poetic fervor—captured the interest of British women writers in the early 19th century. Enthusiasm was an important concept for describing personal experience but also for presenting a public self. I’m interested in how women used the figure of the female enthusiast to engage with a Romantic poetic theory that had made it difficult for them to respectably claim inspired genius and powerful emotion. At the ABL, I took both broad and targeted approaches to this question. I explored the 19th-Century Women Poets collection to see how women were writing about enthusiasm in the 1820s and 1830s; then I consulted the ABL’s materials to better understand how this legacy influenced Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s self-presentation and response to critique. This post analyzes one such moment of exchange in EBB’s early career.

EBB, Preface to An Essay on Mind, with Other Poems (D0247)

EBB, Preface to An Essay on Mind, with Other Poems (D0247)

In 1826, EBB published anonymously An Essay on Mind, with Other Poems, and the event came with high expectations from the poet and her parents. The title poem—the fair copy of which resides at the ABL—is a philosophical essay in blank verse. The preface anticipates its reception: “the imputation of presumption is likely to be attached to me, on account of the form and title of this production” (iv). EBB heads off critique here but also implies that readers will find a way to “attach” undesirable qualities to her even with no name on the title page. She was already thinking about how this poem would affect her career once her authorship was discovered.

So was Mary Moulton-Barrett. Keen to collect reviews of her daughter’s poetry, she wrote to EBB on April 4, 1826: “Take care of Miss P’s note because I want to preserve all opinions I can collect of the poem (BC, I, 242). The “care” taken by Mary—and enjoined on EBB—demonstrates the family’s desire to establish a thorough record of public opinion.

EBB, An Essay on Mind, with Other Poems (1826) ABL Rare X 821.82 Q D912 e c. 6

EBB, An Essay on Mind, with Other Poems (1826) ABL Rare X 821.82 Q D912 e c. 6

EBB took her mother’s advice to document the reception of her poems. As she told Hugh Stuart Boyd in March 1827: “[N]o one can be more solicitous to obtain, or more earnest in valuing, fair & candid criticism” (BC, II, 36). Here, I’ll showcase two such critiques of An Essay on Mind. The first consists of marginalia by Arabella Graham-Clarke, EBB’s maternal aunt; the other includes commentary from the Reverend Henry Cotes (1759?-1835), who received a detailed response from a young poet eager to defend her work and hone her craft.

The ABL holds seven first-edition copies of An Essay on Mind, with Other Poems. Copy 6 is a particularly interesting one, as the only name on the title page is that of the owner, not the author.

EBB, An Essay on Mind, with Other Poems (1826), Copy 6; see also Browning Guide #C0028

EBB, An Essay on Mind, with Other Poems (1826), Copy 6; see also Browning Guide #C0028

We can imagine Arabella Graham-Clarke receiving this volume and proudly placing it alongside her copy of EBB’s first published work, The Battle of Marathon (also at the ABL). But Graham-Clarke didn’t just collect her niece’s poems—she annotated them. Take, for example, her quibble with the musical metaphor on page 58:

EBB, An Essay on Mind, with Other Poems (1826), Copy 6

EBB, An Essay on Mind, with Other Poems (1826), Copy 6

“Concord of Sounds I believe is called Harmony, a pleasing succession of them is Melody –”

Or her suggestion that EBB substitute “setting” for “pilgrim” on page 88:

EBB, An Essay on Mind, with Other Poems (1826), Copy 6

EBB, An Essay on Mind, with Other Poems (1826), Copy 6

These annotations register thoughts many of us have when reading poetry. We ask why a poet uses one metaphor instead of another; we mentally rewrite a particular line. But one aspect of Graham-Clarke’s marginalia surprised me: her astute commentary on form. A good example of this occurs on pages 22-23, where she notes many “bad dactyls, & very few good” in EBB’s poem (22). A dactyl is made of one stressed syllable followed by two unstressed syllables—not an easy metrical foot to use in English—but EBB’s aunt pulls no punches in her critique:

EBB, An Essay on Mind, with Other Poems (1826), Copy 6, pp. 22-23, with “illustrate” underlined on p. 22 and marked with metrical notations on p. 23

EBB, An Essay on Mind, with Other Poems (1826), Copy 6, pp. 22-23, with “illustrate” underlined on p. 22 and marked with metrical notations on p. 23

This pair works like a footnote. EBB’s aunt underlines the faulty phrase and then explains her objection to it in the lower margin: “I was sorry to see in a Poem of so original a cast & one that gives so great a promise, such a dactyl as ill as that made” (23). It’s a backhanded compliment followed by an in-depth explanation of EBB’s mistake. We might expect this sort of commentary from Sir Uvedale Price, a respected classical scholar who noted the same “bad dactyl” in a letter of July 1826 (BC, I, 252; scan HERE), but its presence in this marginalia is significant because it shows Graham-Clarke’s technical expertise and knowledge of literary history.

My favorite instance of her marginalia isn’t technical at all. On page 9, pictured here, EBB calls the Romantic poet Lord Byron “the Mont Blanc of Intellect.” Her aunt underlines the metaphor.

EBB, An Essay on Mind, with Other Poems (1826), Copy 6

EBB, An Essay on Mind, with Other Poems (1826), Copy 6

“A high degree of eminence even for Byron,” she writes, simultaneously acknowledging Byron’s fame and questioning whether he deserves so much of it. After that, she pivots abruptly: “I wish the loftiest summit of the Alps had a more poetical name & not a French one.” Graham-Clarke’s thoroughly British disdain of anything French takes a literary turn: she wishes that the mountain featured in many Romantic-era poems could be free of its French name. The comment is light, humorous, but also fascinating in terms of political and literary histories. If EBB read these notes, I like to imagine that this particular page made her chuckle as it did me.

In addition to sharing her own criticism of EBB’s volume, Graham-Clarke appears to have been instrumental in securing a second reader in Henry Cotes, Vicar of Bedlington and a published author himself (see BC, II, 112n). As Cotes explains to EBB later, on March 17, “my Criticisms upon your Poem were elicited by your Aunt they were not exactly voluntary. She requested my full & firm & clear Opinion upon that Work – She did not say by whom written” (Ms. D0250; see also BC, II, 391-92).

Henry Cotes to Elizabeth Barrett, March 17, 1828 (D0250)

Henry Cotes to Elizabeth Barrett, March 17, 1828 (D0250)

From this comment, we learn that Cotes, like many of EBB’s early readers, approached Essay with no knowledge of its author and no expectation of a response. He was clearly surprised to receive what is now Ms. D0250, a spirited letter from the 22-year-old poet, on March 8, 1828:

Elizabeth Barrett to Henry Cotes, March 8, 1828 (D0250)

Elizabeth Barrett to Henry Cotes, March 8, 1828 (D0250)

“I received yr criticisms from Mrs. Hedly who was unwilling that I shd lose such an opportunity of being interested & instructed . . . . I sincerely thank you for a good opinion rendered so valuable to me by the openness & unreserve with which you have mentioned what you departed from & condemned. May I venture to speak to you with great freedom – and to explain exactly exactly [sic], when I at once submit to ‘kiss to rod’ and where I shd. like to escape doing so.” (BC, II, 112; scan HERE)

Along with this autograph letter, the ABL holds Cotes’s notes (which appear in a large hand on small sheets of paper) and return correspondence. Essentially, we have the full picture of this moment in EBB’s reception history, which I’ll present briefly by returning to a couple of the passages mentioned above and showing how EBB contended with Cotes’s feedback.

Henry Cotes, Comments of EBB’s An Essay on Mind, [Early March 1828] (D0250))

Henry Cotes, Comments of EBB’s An Essay on Mind, [Early March 1828] (D0250)

Cotes, too, observes EBB’s praise of Byron, but he harshly calls it “All Trash.” EBB responds: “At page 9 & 10, you have written with reference to the eulogy on Ld. Byron, “all trash” which I propose reading “half trash” inasmuch as half the eulogy (or the half containing yr. quotation) is applied to Campbell. If I had said that Ld. Byron ‘touched the heart and won the judgement too’, my trash wd. have been unquestionable . . . But as the verses stand, I do not think I do this.”

Elizabeth Barrett to Henry Cotes, March 8, 1828 (D0250)

Elizabeth Barrett to Henry Cotes, March 8, 1828 (D0250)

EBB’s defense is light yet firm—she is willing to admit flaws in her poem, but she also points out that Cotes’s primary objection comes from his misreading, not her poor writing. I suspect that EBB is also deflecting a rebuke that had become tiresome to her. As a Byron devotee in her youth, she would have contended often with those who viewed her admiration as inappropriate, even sinful. Thus, she qualifies: “I speak of the passion & sublimity of Ld. Byron’s genius, not of his moral & pious characteristics.” Though she imagines Cotes “will not admit any further modification of [his] decision,” she finishes the exchange with a playful flourish: “if they remain half trash, I may console myself with kinder assurance of half’s being better than the whole.”

This isn’t the only place where EBB is willing to meet Cotes halfway. For example, in the case of that deplorable dactyl, “illustrate,” EBB responds to Cotes almost as an editor. She considers his suggestion of “verify” but, finding it unsatisfactory, chooses a third option: “vindicate”:

Henry Cotes, Comments of EBB’s An Essay on Mind, [Early March 1828] (L0080.1) and Elizabeth Barrett to Henry Cotes, March 8, 1828 (D0250)

Top: Henry Cotes, Comments of EBB’s An Essay on Mind, [Early March 1828]; bottom: Elizabeth Barrett to Henry Cotes, March 8, 1828 (D0250)

In this reply letter to Cotes, we can see that EBB viewed “candid criticism” as an opportunity for reflection and revision, but also that she sought to retain control of her work amid critiques from various readers. I don’t think they minded. In fact, Cotes’s second letter advises EBB, “consult your own MIND; don’t mind what I say, who am not one Under Authority.” An Essay on Mind was never republished in EBB’s lifetime, but she certainly faced similar challenges to her later work and to her evolving public persona. Our access to these conversations illuminates EBB’s relationship with the literary marketplace of her day. And perhaps in learning more about her acts of self-fashioning, we can understand our own reading experiences as conversations, too. Whether we respond to an author’s work with marginal notes, a list of critiques, a blog post, or silent musings, we engage in a mode of intellectual exchange that has a long, rich history.

By way of conclusion, I want to express my gratitude to the Armstrong Browning Library for supporting my research on 19th-century women’s poetry. I’m especially grateful to the ABL’s staff for the kind hospitality and invaluable expertise they shared during my stay, and to my fellow Visiting Scholars for the many stimulating conversations we enjoyed in the halls of the ABL. As I’ve tried to show in this post, these are the kinds of exchanges that make scholarship interesting, productive, and incredibly fun.

Freedom Schools Visit the Armstrong Browning Library

We had a great day last Friday (July 12, 2019) at the Armstrong Browning Library!

Freedom School Scholars at the Armstrong Browning Library, July 12, 2019

Freedom School Scholars at the Armstrong Browning Library, July 12, 2019

Nearly 40 middle grades scholars from the Transformation Zone at Indian Springs Middle School who are currently enrolled in the Baylor Freedom Schools Program visited the library for a tour. The Baylor Freedom Schools Program is a free literacy enrichment program. It utilizes interactive curriculum along with field trips and special guests to provide meaningful learning for enrolled students.

The Armstrong Browning Library was honored to host the scholars for one of their fieldtrips. The visit began with an introduction to the library and its history in the Martin Entrance Foyer by ABL Curator Laura French. The scholars then divided into four groups and toured the rest of the building with guidance from French, ABL Director Jennifer Borderud, Rare Books Catalog Librarian Amy Runyon, and ABL Library Host Kacie Collin.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The tour emphasized the life and works of Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett Browning. The artifacts and artwork on display formed the basis for discussions on the lives of the Brownings. The tour also provided the scholars an opportunity to get a close look at the library’s collection of stained-glass windows, many of which illustrate the poetry of Robert and Elizabeth Barrett Browning.

The tour ended in the Cox Reception Hall where scholars created their own stained-glass window designs based on a selected poem. Scholars chose to draw what was literally happening in the poems they chose or to use shapes and colors to create an abstract expression of what their poem was about. Scholars selected from poems by the Brownings, Christina Rossetti, Emily Dickinson, and Walt Whitman, as well as by Langston Hughes, Robert Frost, William Carlos Williams, Gwendolyn Brooks, Gary Soto, Sandra Cisneros, and Juan Felipe Herrera.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The ABL would like to thank Dr. Lakia Scott, Yasmin Laird, and Alexis Hooker for bringing their scholars to the ABL and providing us the opportunity to share Robert and Elizabeth Barrett Browning with the Baylor Freedom School scholars.

Thank you also to Amanda Gardner for the photographs used in this post.

Armstrong Browning Library Welcomes Summer Interns

Each year the Baylor Libraries offer paid summer internships for Baylor graduate and undergraduate students. This summer Molly Lewis, a PhD candidate in the Department of English, and TJ Watson, a University Scholars major, were selected for internships with the Armstrong Browning Library (ABL).

Molly Lewis evaluates a volume of Christina Rosetti's poetry for inclusion in her exhibit.

Molly Lewis evaluates a volume of Christina Rosetti’s poetry for inclusion in her exhibit.

Molly will spend the summer curating an exhibit for the “Ecology and Religion in 19th Century Studies” conference which will take place September 18-21, 2019. Under the supervision of ABL Curator Laura French, Molly will plan, write, fabricate, and install the exhibit. She will also develop a plan and content for the marketing of the exhibit through the ABL’s various social media streams.

“This exhibit promises to be a great opportunity for me to propel my own graduate research on the convergence of ecological concerns and religious convictions in the nineteenth century,” Molly said. “More than this, however, I’m excited to discover how the resources of the ABL uniquely contribute to the conversation scholars are having in this field, and to be part of bringing that contribution to light.”

TJ Watson scans a score from the Armstrong Browning Library's Music Collection.

TJ Watson scans a score from the Armstrong Browning Library’s Music Collection.

Working across campus at the Riley Digitization Center in Moody Memorial Library, TJ will digitize materials from the ABL’s Browning Music Collection. He will edit and provide quality control of the digital files and load them into the digital asset management access system. Additionally, TJ will gain insight into digital project technology and processes, digital preservation standards, digital project metadata, and library technology.

When asked what excites him most about his internship, TJ replied: “The great opportunity to care for our original manuscripts and to realize their humanness in our digital recreations has been an eye-widening experience. It has also been exciting to learn about the media technologies which make digital collections possible. Lastly, I’ve been humbled and encouraged by the thought that I have been given a part to play in preserving great works for our future generations.”

More on the progress of Molly’s and TJ’s projects will be forthcoming on this blog.

To learn more about summer internship opportunities with the Baylor Libraries, visit the Baylor Libraries website.

The Armstrong Browning Library is grateful to the generous donor who made these internships possible through the establishment of the Armstrong Browning Library Endowed Internship Fund.

Introducing…The Victorian Collection at the Armstrong Browning Library: a Baylor Libraries Digital Collection—Theater, Art, and Music

By Melinda Creech, PhD, Graduate Assistant 

Marie Ada Molineux (1856-1936), Author, Bacteriologist, Psychologist, Charter Member of the Boston Browning Society. Nell Pomeroy O'Brien, painter. 1936. Courtesy of the Armstrong Browning LibraryThe Armstrong Browning Library is pleased to announce the release of The Victorian Collection online. This new digital collection contains over 3,000 letters and manuscripts connected to prominent and lesser known British and American figures and complements the Armstrong Browning Library’s unparalleled collection of materials relating to the Victorian poets Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett Browning. The letters and manuscripts in this growing collection can be browsed and searched by date, author, keyword, or first line of text. Letters from the collection are currently on display in Hankamer Treasure Room.

~~~~~

Theater, Art, and Music

In addition to letters from literary figures, letters about science, exploration, religion, and politics, many letters related to the arts — theater, visual arts, and music — are also a part of the Victorian Collection.

The ABL owns an album once belonging to Fanny Kemble, (1809-1893), a notable British Actress. The album contains letters to Mrs. Kemble from such notables as Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Charlotte Cushman, Owen Wister, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and James Ballantyne. Mrs. Kemble’s note below comments on Mr. Ballantyne’s review of her work and points to a favorable opinion by Sir Walter Scott.

Note from Fanny Kemble. 25 June [1830].

Note from Fanny Kemble. 25 June [1830]. Envelope address.

Note from Fanny Kemble. 25 June [1830]. Envelope verso.

*****

The ABL also owns twenty-two letters from Kate Field, an American journalist, correspondent, editor, lecturer, and actress. Her letters are always rather flamboyant, often written in purple ink. In this letter she is very nervous about Mr. Phillips opinion of her performance. She writes to Mrs. Sargent—

I am dying to know what Mr. Phillips thinks of my performance on Monday last. The sight of him, the dread silence of the audience, the noise of pianos, and the pounding in the entry, completely upset me, and I had hard work to pull through – I know that I was artificial in my delivery I was self-conscious. Everybody has criticized me but Mr. Phillips, and he of all others is the one I want to hear from. I don’t want to badger him into criticism, however, and I ask you to be my messenger.

Kate Field performed “Woman at the Lyceum” on Monday, 12 April 1869 in New York.

Letter from Kate Field to Mrs. Sargent. 14 April 1869. Page 1.

Letter from Kate Field to Mrs. Sargent. 14 April 1869. Pages 2 and 3.

*****

Percy Florence Shelley, the only surviving son of Romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley and novelist Mary Shelley, inherited the baronetcy from his grandfather and spent most of his life involved in the theater, building a theater in his home, Boscombe Manor. Many of his friends acted in and attended the productions, including Henry Irving and Robert Louis Stevenson. This letter to Tom Taylor, English dramatist, critic, biographer, public servant, and editor of Punch magazine, relates some details of the Shelley’s family life and describes the plays that were being planned for the theater.

Letter from Percy Florence Shelley to Tom Taylor. 11 January 1871. Page 1.

Letter from Percy Florence Shelley to Tom Taylor. 11 January 1871. Pages 2 and 3.

Letter from Percy Florence Shelley to Tom Taylor. 11 January 1871. Page 4.

Letter from Percy Florence Shelley to Tom Taylor. 11 January 1871. Page 5.

*****

The ABL also has a collection of letters written to Tom Taylor. Most of the letters are letters of condolence to his wife upon his death. One of the letters is from Richard Doyle, a noted illustrator during the Victorian era, particularly in Punch magazine. The letter informs Taylor that Doyle has found the misplaced sketch of a view from Tennyson’s window. In March 1856, during a visit that Doyle and Tom Taylor had made to Farringford House, Doyle had done a drawing of the view from Tennyson’s window (“View from the Drawing Room painted in 1856 by Richard Doyle”). The letter contains a wonderful drawing of Tennyson and his family.

Letter from Richard Doyle to Tom Taylor. 10 July [1856]. Page 1.

Letter from Richard Doyle to Tom Taylor. 10 July [1856]. Page 2.

*****

The Nevill Album contains letters pertaining to the visual and performing arts. Lina Nevill, novelist and Secretary of the Women’s University Extension, arranged for several public exhibitions of art, including the Southwark Exhibition in 1891. The Earl of Carlisle sent a painting by Walter McClaren, “A Capri Mother and Girl” for the Exhibition.

Letter from George James Howard, Earl of Carlisle to Lina Nevill. 28 April 1892. Page 1.

Letter from George James Howard, Earl of Carlisle to Lina Nevill. 28 April 1892. Page 2

*****

The Norris Album contains several letters focused on music. This letter, from Hungarian violinist Ludwig Straus, is written in musical annotation and German.

Letter from Ludwig Straus to an Unidentified Correspondent. 06 October 1872.

*****

In this letter N. J. Heineken, a musician and contributor to the journal, The Musical Standard, bemoans the fact that Miss Hodge has asked him a question about the guitar. He says:

It will never repay you for the learning its twinkle, twinkle, tunes may serve the purpose of the love sick swain as a serenading instrument but is most beneath the attention of he who can appreciate the old Cantors [glorious] [fuges]…

Letter from [N. J. Heineken] to Miss Hodge. 15 May 1893. Page 1.

Letter from [N. J. Heineken] to Miss Hodge. 15 May 1893. Pages 2 and 3.

Letter from [N. J. Heineken] to Miss Hodge. 15 May 1893. Page 4

In another letter to Miss Hodge, Heineken praises and critiques Miss Hodge’s composition, affirming that “I have been much pleased with your truthful and ingenious song.”

Letter from N. J. Heineken to Miss Hodge. Undated. Page 1.

Letter from N. J. Heineken to Miss Hodge. Undated. Pages 2 and 3.

~~~~~

For the complete series of blog posts on the Victorian Collection:

Literary figures represented in the Victorian Collection are covered in the blog series: Beyond the Brownings

 

 

Reflections from a Visiting Scholar: The Victorian Cactus Craze? Succulents in Nineteenth-Century Poetry

By Lindsay Wells, PhD Candidate, Department of Art History, University of Wisconsin-Madison & Dissertation Fellow, Winterthur Museum, Garden & Library

Lindsay Wells

Lindsay Wells, PhD Candidate, Department of Art History, University of Wisconsin-Madison & Dissertation Fellow, Winterthur Museum, Garden & Library

When we think about Victorian houseplants, the phrases fern craze and orchidmania likely spring to mind.  Or maybe it is images of palm-festooned parlors and conservatories, such as those found in the colorful paintings of James Tissot.  Many forms of houseplant horticulture can trace their roots back to nineteenth-century Britain, where ferns, orchids, and palms enjoyed perennial favor amongst home gardeners.  But what about the humble cactus?

At first glance, cacti and other succulents may seem more of a contemporary phenomenon than a Victorian one.  From echeverias and jade plants to sedums and aloes, these plants have become the darlings of many a Twitter feed and Instagram account devoted to indoor gardening. [Figures 1-3]

Yet succulents were also grown extensively in the nineteenth century, when, as Andreas Stynen notes, the modern concept of “houseplants” first emerged (219).  In her groundbreaking guide to indoor gardening, Flora Domestica (1823), Elizabeth Kent included a lengthy entry on the “Great-flowered Creeping Cereus”—a type of cactus renown for its bright blossoms (84). The horticultural polymath Jane Loudon also wrote about the merits of cereus cacti, which she described in her Practical Instruction in Gardening for Ladies (1841) as “singular looking plants” that “should be kept in only green-house heat” (394). [Figure 4] Meanwhile, terrarium inventor Nathaniel Bagshaw Ward recommended “Aloes, Cactuses, Mesembryanthemums, and other succulent plants” to readers of his 1842 treatise on ornamental plant cases (60), as did houseplant expert Elizabeth A. Maling, whose handbook In-Door Plants (1862) featured a pink-flowering cactus in its frontispiece. As these and countless other texts demonstrate, the popularity of potted succulents has proved as hardy and long-lasting as the plants themselves.

My doctoral dissertation, “Plant-Based Art: Indoor Gardening and the British Aesthetic Movement,” explores how houseplant horticulture influenced botanical imagery in Victorian painting and literature. During my recent fellowship at the Armstrong Browning Library, I identified and analyzed various houseplants that found their way into nineteenth-century poems, particularly those from the Library’s 19th Century Women Poets Collection.  Orchids and geraniums are recurrent motifs in these works, as are ferns, palms, and other leafy greens commonly associated with the Victorian parlor garden. [Figure 5]

Fig. 5, Red Geranium watercolor from E.F.C.’s Flowers Culled from Browning’s Poems (DATE), Armstrong Browning Library

Fig. 5, Red Geranium watercolor from E.F.C.’s Flowers Culled from Browning’s Poems (no date), Armstrong Browning Library

However, I also encountered a surprising number of poems about succulent plants.

While some of these works, such as Emily Shaw Forman’s “Prickly Pear (Cactus)” (1895) or Ina Coolbrith’s “Retrospect (In Los Angeles)” (1895), describe cacti growing in the wild or in outdoor gardens, others reference specimens that the Victorians typically kept indoors. [Figures 6-7]

These included the aloe, the night-blooming cereus, and the cactus speciosissimus.  By comparing these poems to nineteenth-century gardening books, I realized that Victorian poets and horticulturalists valued many of the same aesthetic characteristics of the succulent family.  In what follows, I want to highlight some of the poems I examined at the Armstrong Browning Library that illustrate how different nineteenth-century writers took advantage of the expressive potential of succulents in their work.

Much like today, succulents of the Victorian period enjoyed widespread popularity, thanks in large part to their reputation as a low-maintenance houseplant.  Resistant to dry and dusty air, succulents could withstand the conditions of nineteenth-century homes that were heated by coal fires or gas.  Horticulturalist Charles McIntosh noted in 1838 that cacti “require much less labour and attention” than “other exotic plants,” adding that “many of them will exist a long time and without water, without sustaining injury” (171).  The Victorian nurseryman Benjamin Samuel Williams was of the same mind, though he described the appeal of succulents a bit more bluntly: “they will bear with impunity a greater amount of neglect than almost any other plants” (38).

Because of their robust nature, succulents offered nineteenth-century poets a compelling vegetal motif for exploring themes of longsuffering, patience, and fortitude.  The succulent that particularly embodied these virtues was the aloe.  Since they often took decades to flower, aloes, or agaves, earned the colloquial name of “Century Plant.”  Embodying a temporality of the singular and the exceptional, aloes could serve as poetic shorthand for events of extreme rarity.  “Thou art the aloe of the skies” [30] exclaimed American writer Rosa Vertner Jeffrey in her poem about the 1858 sighting of Donati’s Comet, which only passes the earth once every two-thousand years (81).  Poets also refer to this succulent in poems about history.  For example, in “On the Celebration of the Three Hundredth Anniversary of the Foundation of Trinity College, Cambridge” (1849), Anna Potts likens the establishment of a storied university college to the long life of an aloe plant:

’Tis said, once only in a hundred years,

The unbending aloe its bright blossom rears,

But, as those years roll silently between.

Far spread its roots, its leaves are thick and green; [55-58]

[…]

Image of that brave plant whose leaves expand,

Whose roots are deepening in the grateful land,

First planted by the royal Tudor’s hand.

Fostered by sunshine, sheltered from the blast.

Three centuries have o’er it scatheless past [61-65]

(82)

By drawing parallels between Trinity College and the steadfast, “unbending” leaves of the aloe, Potts implies that this institution “planted by the royal Tudor’s hand” will continue to flourish for many a century to come.

Fig. 8, Dora Greenwell’s “The Aloe,” from Carmina Crucis (1869), Armstrong Browning Library

Dora Greenwell, meanwhile, used the lengthy growth cycle of the aloe to extoll human affections founded upon patience, rather than fancy.  Instead of the common garden flowers—“subtle fancies light and gay” [4]—that bloom each summer only to “spend their souls away in fond excess” [14], Greenwell’s speaker in “The Aloe” (1869) celebrates “A flower that is not fair, / But wondrous” and “rare” [22-24], which won’t culminate in a fleeting moment of passion (3-4). [Figure 8] Such works show how poets mapped concepts of tenacity and constancy onto these sturdy plants.

Another attribute that made succulents fashionable amongst not only gardeners but also poets was their aesthetic charm.  As Williams observed in his handbook on Choice Stove and Greenhouse Ornamental-Leaved Plants (1876, 2nd ed.), “these plants neither lack beauty of form nor diversity of colour, nor singularity or even grotesqueness of appearance” (37). With their sculptural stems and colorful flowers, succulents afforded writers an opportunity to indulge in detailed descriptive passages about vegetal beauty.  Take, for instance, Lydia Howard Sigourney’s “To the Cactus Speciosissimus” (c.1841), which opens with the following tribute:

Who hung thy beauty on such rugged stalk,

Thou glorious flower?

Who pour’d the richest hues,

In varying radiance, o’er thine ample brow,

And like a mesh those tissued stamens laid

Upon thy crimson lip? —  [1-6]

In a later passage, Sigourney adds that these brilliant red flowers:

“[…] bidd’st the queenly rose with all her buds

Do homage, and the green-house peerage bow

Their rainbow coronets.” [11-13]

(34)

Similar paeans to the grace and grandeur of cactus blossoms appear in poems by Lady Flora Hastings and Mrs. Graham Campbell.

However, as Kent notes in Flora Domestica, the beauty of flowering cacti was often “short-lived,” for the most striking blooms lasted only a “very short duration” (84).  Many nineteenth-century poets singled out the night-blooming cereus as both the most beautiful and the most transient of such blossoms.  As its name suggests, the night-blooming cereus—a catchall term for several cactus varieties—produces its large, fragrant, snowy blossoms only one night per year.  In her language of flowers handbook, Flora’s Lexicon (1858), Catherine Waterman calls the night-blooming cereus “one of our most splendid hothouse plants.”  Its flower, she adds, is not just “remarkable” because of it is great size and luminous petals, but also because of “the rapidity with which it decays” (150).  Julia Emily Gordon similarly speaks of “transient glee” and “evanescence” (59) when describing a cereus blossom in her poem “The Carnival of Night” (1880), while Eliza Lee Cabot Follen compares the “transient lustre” of this flower to the fading of life’s “sweetest pleasures” and “brightest blessings” (107).

As these poems show, succulents possess an appealing paradoxical complexity that can simultaneously epitomize ephemerality and endurance.  Both the aloe and the cereus weather long seasons of growth before they start to bloom, thereby concentrating a wide spectrum of emotional significance into a single plant.  The current popularity of succulents suggests that these plants are here to stay, and there remains plenty of research to be done on their cultivation history.  I am deeply grateful to the staff of the Armstrong Browning Library for supporting my research on this project and for sharing these collections with me.

 

Works Cited

Coolbrith, Ina. Songs from the Golden Gate. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1895.

Follen, Eliza Lee Cabot. Poems by Mrs. Follen. Boston: William Crosby & Company, 1839.

Forman, Emily Shaw. Wild-Flower Sonnets. Boston: Joseph Knight Company, 1895.

Gordon, Julia Emily. Songs and Etchings in Shade and Sunshine. New York: Scribner and Welford, 1880.

Greenwell, Dora. Carmina Crucis. London: Bell and Daldy, 1869.

Jeffrey, Rosa Vertner. The Crimson Hand, and Other Poems. Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott & Co., 1881.

Kent, Elizabeth. Flora Domestica, or the Portable Flower-Garden; with Directions for the Treatment of Plants in Pots. London: Taylor and Hessey, 1823.

Loudon, Jane. Practical Instruction in Gardening for Ladies. Second. London: John Murray, 1841.

Maling, E.A. In-Door Plants, and How to Grow Them for the Drawing-Room, Balcony, and Greenhouse. London: Smith, Elder and Co., 1862.

McIntosh, Charles. The Greenhouse, Hot House, and Stove. London: William S. Orr and Co., 1838.

Potts, Anna H. Sketches of Character and Other Pieces in Verse. London: John W. Parker, 1849.

Sigourney, Lydia Howard. Selected Poems. Philadelphia: Edward C. Biddle, 1843.

Stynen, Andreas. “‘Une Mode Charmante’: Nineteenth-Century Indoor Gardening Between Nature and Artifice.” Studies in the History of Gardens & Designed Landscapes 29, no. 3 (2009): 217–34.

Ward, Nathaniel Bagshaw. On the Growth of Plants in Closely Glazed Cases. London: John Van Voorst, 1842.

Waterman, Catharine H. Flora’s Lexicon: An Interpretation of the Language and Sentiment of Flowers. Boston: Phillips, Sampson, and Company, 1858.

Williams, Benjamin Samuel. Choice Stove and Greenhouse Ornamental-Leaved Plants. 2nd ed. London: Published by the Author, 1876.

Introducing…The Victorian Collection at the Armstrong Browning Library: a Baylor Libraries Digital Collection—Religion and Politics

By Melinda Creech, PhD, Graduate Assistant 

Marie Ada Molineux (1856-1936), Author, Bacteriologist, Psychologist, Charter Member of the Boston Browning Society. Nell Pomeroy O'Brien, painter. 1936. Courtesy of the Armstrong Browning LibraryThe Armstrong Browning Library is pleased to announce the release of The Victorian Collection online. This new digital collection contains over 3,000 letters and manuscripts connected to prominent and lesser known British and American figures and complements the Armstrong Browning Library’s unparalleled collection of materials relating to the Victorian poets Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett Browning. The letters and manuscripts in this growing collection can be browsed and searched by date, author, keyword, or first line of text. Letters from the collection are currently on display in Hankamer Treasure Room.

~~~~~

Religion

Many of the letters in the Victorian Collection are from clergymen. The letters run the gamut of different types of Christian faith. There are letters from Catholics, Anglicans, Congregationalists, Unitarians, Universalists, Friends, Brethren, “High” Church, “Low” Church, “Broad” Church, and even Baptists, written by such well-known correspondents at John Henry Newman, Charles Kingsley, William Johnson Fox, Frederick Temple, and John Keble.

One album of letters that is particularly interesting contains a group of letters collected by Charles Room. Room was a student at the Baptist College in Bristol, presided over the Baptist Church in Evesham, Worcestershire and was assistant pastor to Dr. John Rippon at New Park Street Baptist Chapel in Southwark and minister of the Baptist Church, Meeting House Alley, Portsea.

In this letter R. W. Overbury, pastor of the Baptist Church at Eagle Street, London from 1834 until his death in 1868, invites Charles Room to preach at his church.

Letter from R. W. Overbury to Charles Room. Undated. Page 1.

Letter from R. W. Overbury to Charles Room. Undated. Page 2.

*****

Rev. John Rooker, an Anglican minister, was the Director of the Church Missionary Children’s Home, Highbury Grove, Islington, and vicar of St. Peter’s, Clifton Road, Bristol. The letters he collected in the Rooker Album consist of a large number of letters to and from clergy, including this letter from Brooke Foss Westcott, biblical scholar, theologian, Professor of Divinity at Cambridge, and Bishop of Durham. He is perhaps most well known for co-editing, with Fenton John Anthony Hort, The New Testament in the Original Greek in 1881. In this tender letter Westcott answers Rooker’s question about a reference in a book responding:

My great hope is that I may perhaps sometimes encourage a young student to linger with patient faith over the words of Scripture and hear then the message which he needs. We need all of us to write out the promise εν τη υπομονη κτησασθαι τας ψυχας.

[“In patience possess your souls” Luke 21:19]

Letter from B. F. Westcott to John Rooker. 9 August 1884. Page 1.

Letter from B. F. Westcott to John Rooker. 9 August 1884. Pages 2 and 3.

*****

The ABL has many letters from Anglican bishops, including letters from Christopher Wordsworth, youngest brother of William Wordsworth and Bishop of Lincoln. In this letter to an unidentified correspondent, Wordsworth mentions his publication, “Pastoral to the Wesleyans.”

Letter from Christopher Wordsworth, Bishop of Lincoln to an Unidentified Correspondent. 13 March 1870. Page 1.

Letter from Christopher Wordsworth, Bishop of Lincoln to an Unidentified Correspondent. 13 March 1870. Pages 2 and 3

*****

Comparative religion was an important focus in the nineteenth century as scholars such as Edwin Arnold began to introduce research on world religions. In this letter Emily Marion Harris, English novelist, poet, and educationist, finds a point of comparison between the Book of Common Prayer and prayers that Arnold described in his book, Pearls of Our Faith.

Letter from Emily Marion Harris to Elizabeth Purefoy Fitzgerald. 21 November [No year]. Page 1.

Letter from Emily Marion Harris to Elizabeth Purefoy Fitzgerald. 21 November [No year]. Page 2.

Letter from Emily Marion Harris to Elizabeth Purefoy Fitzgerald. 21 November [No year]. Page 3.

*****

Another interesting set of letters and manuscripts come from Dryden Phelps. Dryden Phelps was the nephew of William Lyon Phelps, Browning scholar and founder of the Fano Club, an annual gathering of Browning aficionados who have visited “The Guardian Angel” painting in Fano, Italy, about which Robert Browning wrote a poem. Dryden Phelps, a missionary to China, reveals in this letter his missions strategy of using the poetry of Browning and Tennyson to introduce his Chinese students to English literature and the tenets of Christianity. Dryden attributes Browning’s popularity in China to the fact that he is “terse, succinct, witty, epigrammatic, unique in a brilliant use of words, profound, a lover of nature, and of human nature, a lover of life.” A Chinese poetry scholar with whom he had studied commented that “he [Browning] is like one of our own poets!” Dryden surmises that one of the highest services we can render China at this moment is to open their eyes to such men as Browning.”

Letter from Dryden Phelps to A. J. Armstrong. 3 May 1928. Page 1.

Letter from Dryden Phelps to A. J. Armstrong. 3 May 1928. Page 2.

Letter from Dryden Phelps to A. J. Armstrong. 2 October 1928. Page 1.

Letter from Dryden Phelps to A. J. Armstrong. 2 October 1928. Page 2.

*****

The following manuscripts are Phelps’s students’ efforts to translate the poetry of Browning and Tennyson into Chinese.

Chinese Manuscript by an Unidentified Author. Undated.

“Then Welcome Each Rebuff” by Robert Browning, Translated by an Unidentified Author. Undated. Recto.

“Then Welcome Each Rebuff” by Robert Browning, Translated by an Unidentified Author. Undated. Verso.

“Flower in a Crannied Wall” by Alfred Lord Tennyson, Translated by Paul Liu. Undated.

“Flower in a Crannied Wall” by Alfred Lord Tennyson, Translated by Ghipi C. Chang. Undated.

*****

Scholars in the nineteenth century were very interested in archeology and reclaiming antiquities. Many letters describe trips to the Middle East to search for treasures. This letter from the Director of the British Museum records a contribution by Mrs. Norris toward the purchase of the Codex Sinaiticus, a manuscript written over 1600 years ago, containing the Christian Bible in Greek, including the oldest complete copy of the New Testament. Edwin L. Norris was a British philologist, linguist, and orientalist who wrote or compiled numerous works on the languages of Asia and Africa. It is unclear what relationship Mrs. R. Norris had to Edwin Norris, if any. Arundell James Kennedy Esdaile was a British librarian, and Secretary to the British Museum from 1926 to 1940.

Letter from Arundell Esdaile to Mrs. Norris. 30 October 1934.

*****

In this letter Thomas Hill Lowe, English cleric and Dean of Exeter (1839-1861), responds to Henry Phillpotts’s criticism of his sermon about changing the Athanasian Creed in the Book of Common Prayer. Henry Phillpotts was the Bishop of Exeter from 1830–1869.

Letter from Thomas Hill Lowe to Henry Phillpotts. 21 February 1852. Page 1.

Letter from Thomas Hill Lowe to Henry Phillpotts. 21 February 1852. Page 2.

*****

Joseph Barber Lightfoot, an English theologian, Bishop of Durham, and fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge, writes to and T. G. Bonney, an English geologist, president of the Geological Society of London, and tutor at St. John’s College, Cambridge, bemoaning the rivalry between Trinity and St. John’s. He is also annoyed by religious newspapers, writing:

I quite agree with you about religious newspapers. Nothing more nearly drives me to despair than the correspondence in the _______ and _____. I think possibly that St. Paul would also have failed to recognize any likeness to himself in the pictures of him which are drawn by many of our German friends

Todd Still, Dean and Professor of Christian Scriptures at George W. Truett Theological Seminary of Baylor University, suggests that one of the newspapers could be The Church Times. He adds, “As for Lightfoot’s remark regarding ‘German friends,’ this is his gracious way of saying that he categorically disagrees with the portrait of St. Paul being painted by F. C. Baur and the Tubingen School.”

Letter from Joseph Barber Lightfoot to T. G. Bonney. 18 May 1875. Page 1.

Letter from Joseph Barber Lightfoot to T. G. Bonney. 18 May 1875. Pages 2 and 3.

 

Politics

Political letters also comprise a large portion of the Victorian Letters Collection. Our collections contains letters from Queen Victoria, Prince Albert, William Ewart Gladstone, Benjamin Disraeli, and others. The collection also contains many letters from military leaders. The following are only a sampling of the many.

In this letter Lilian Whiting, American journalist, editor, poet, short story writer, and member of the Boston Browning Society, writes about her attendance at a dinner in New York on March 1, 1912 honoring William Howells’s seventy-fifth birthday. Howells was an American novelist, literary critic, and playwright. President Taft and Winston Churchill gave speeches there. Winston Churchill was a young man of thirty-eight who had just become First Lord of the Admiralty the previous year. Whiting comments on and quotes a from Churchill’s speech, rather uncomplimentarily. She writes

Excepting the President, the host, the guest of honor & Mrs. [Alden], – the speeches were unspeakably & ludicrously poor! Winston Churchill’s was as common & as cheap as a table waiter might have made – “As a midshipman”, he preceded to give a chapter of cheap reminiscences of himself – the only link with Mr. Howells being that he had a copy of ‘Silas Lapham’ & “climbed the mast with [it] Howells went up & has been going up ever since” & the copy of ‘Silas’ fell out of his pocket to the deck & that is the only time Howells ever went down!

Letter from Lilian Whiting to Miss Carrie. 5 March 1912. Page 1.

Letter from Lilian Whiting to Miss Carrie. 5 March 1912. Page 2.

*****

In this letter to an Unidentified Correspondent, Benjamin Disraeli, then serving his second term as Prime Minister of Great Britain, mentions two residences, Marlboro House, the residence of the Prince and Princess of Wales, and Portland Place, the residence of the unidentified correspondent.

Letter from Benjamin Disraeli an Unidentified Correspondent. 23 May 1879. Page 1.

Letter from Benjamin Disraeli an Unidentified Correspondent. 23 May 1879. Page 2.

*****

The Armstrong Browning Library has several letters written by William Ewart Gladstone, British statesman and Prime Minister.

This letter was accompanied a pamphlet on vivisection. Gladstone explains that the subject is one “I have never been able to examine with all the care it deserves but I have always had & expressed the opinion that the practice, . . . ought to be confined within the limits of strict & well defined necessity.”

Letter from William Ewart Gladstone to [J. E. Walker]. 27 September 1878. Page 1.

Letter from William Ewart Gladstone to [F. E. Walters]. 27 September 1878. Page 2.

*****

This letter, written to Charles Lee Lewes, may perhaps be referring to Essays and Leaves From a Notebook, by George Eliot, early essays written by Eliot, published posthumously. She had bequeathed all her literary rights to Charles Lee Lewes, the eldest son of George Henry Lewes, her residuary legatee and sole executor of her estate.

Letter from William Ewart Gladstone to C. L. Lewes. 23 October 1889. Page 1.

Letter from William Ewart Gladstone to C. L. Lewes. 23 October 1889. Page 2.

*****

In this letter, Gladstone reports that he has no occasion for the works sent by Clement Sadler Palmer, a London publisher and antiquarian bookseller.

Letter from William Ewart Gladstone to Clement Sadler Palmer. 3 August 1895. Page 1.

Letter from William Ewart Gladstone to Clement Sadler Palmer. 3 August 1895. Page 2.

*****

Robert Peel, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom for a second term in 1841, writes to Frederick Marryat, a Royal Navy officer and novelist, complimenting him, assuring him that he has received his letter, but stating that it is not in his power to speak to him on the subject of his letter

Letter from Robert Peel to Frederick Marryat. 11 July 1841. Page 1.

Letter from Robert Peel to Frederick Marryat. 11 July 1841. Page 2.

*****

This manuscript, written by Napoleon III, provides a guardian for the chateau of his mother.

Letter from Napoleon III to an unidentified correspondents. Undated.

*****

This fragment in German written from Konigsburg is signed by Friedrich Wilhelm IV of Prussia, known as the “Romantic” monarch.

Unidentified Manuscript, signed by Friedrich Wilhelm IV. 1844.

*****

In this undated letter, found in the DeCastro Album, William Pitt the Younger, British statesman, declines an “excursion up the river” with  Walter Scott, Scottish novelist, poet, historian, and biographer, but invites him to London to discuss some business.

Letter from  William Pitt to Sir Walter Scott. 15 August [Undated]. Page 1.

Letter from William Pitt to Sir Walter Scott. 15 August [Undated]. Pages 2 and 3.

On the verso of the letter is a note in an unidentified hand that reads: “To my father.”

Letter from William Pitt to Sir Walter Scott. 15 August [Undated]. Verso.

~~~~~

For the complete series of blog posts on the Victorian Collection:

Literary figures represented in the Victorian Collection are covered in the blog series: Beyond the Brownings

19th Century Valentines

"Wilt Thou Be Mine?" Victorian Valentine Collection, Armstrong Browning Library

“Wilt Thou Be Mine?” Victorian Valentine Collection, Armstrong Browning Library

Much of today’s Valentine’s Day expectations were created by the Victorians. While sending and receiving Valentines had been fairly commonplace before the 19thcCentury, it was the Industrial Revolution’s advances in paper making and printing which greatly reduced the cost of the traditional, small, and elaborate Valentines. Machine made paper and new printing processes and techniques allowing for combined colors (chromolithography), metallic inks, and die-cutting worked together to decrease the price of Valentines. Victorian Valentines could be purchased ready-made or senders could create original assemblages of materials available from a stationer’s shop. These items included paper lace, mirrors, bows, ribbons, seeds, sachets, gold and silver foil appliques, silk flowers, die-cut mottos or designs, and other items. Additionally, postal pricing reform recommended by Rowland Hill in 1837 and fully adopted in Britain in 1840 with the introduction of the Uniform Penny Post incentivized mass production of Valentines.

"A loving heart is a priceless treasure" Victorian Valentine Collection, Armstrong Browning Library

“A loving heart is a priceless treasure” Victorian Valentine Collection, Armstrong Browning Library

The growth of Valentine’s Day’s commercialization is clearly demonstrated in the increased sending of Valentines as tracked by the British Post Office. Its records indicate that up to 60,000 Valentines were sent in England in 1836. After the introduction of the Uniform Penny Post, 400,000 Valentines were posted throughout England in 1841. The numbers continued to climb, with 542,000 Valentines mailed within London in 1865 and nearly double that amount were sent into London from the surrounding countryside. These numbers led to Victorian postmen receiving a special allowance for refreshments to help them keep up their energy in the 2-3 days leading up to February 14th.

"Valentine's Day; 'Oh! Here's The Postman!'", The Illustrated London News, February 10th, 1872. From the British Library's Collections, Copyright British Newspaper Archive.

“Valentine’s Day; ‘Oh! Here’s The Postman!'”, The Illustrated London News, February 10th, 1872. From the British Library’s Collections, Copyright British Newspaper Archive.

If you are lamenting Valentine’s Day as a commercial racket, blame the Victorians. If you are looking forward to sharing tokens of affection with friends and loved ones, thank the Victorians. Either way here are some Victorian Valentines that you can download and print to share with those in your life expecting or deserving a Valentine’s Day expression of love:

A four page PDF with scans of Victorian Valentines from the Armstrong Browning Library’s Victorian Valentines Collection. Two pages are a classic layout of 9 cards to print and cut out. One page has 4 horizontal designs with a back and front that can be printed, cut, and folded in-half as a card. One page has two vertical designs with a back and front that can be printed, cut, and folded in-half as a card.

If you would prefer individual pages as a JPG file: classic layout page 1, classic layout page 2, horizontal designs, and vertical designs.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.