Reflections from a Summer Intern

By Jill Phillips, Armstrong Browning Library and Digitization and Digital Collection Preservation Services Summer Intern

Jill Phillips at the Armstrong Browning Library

My name is Jill Phillips, and I am senior at Baylor University studying Classics and Museum Studies. Over the past several weeks of this summer I have had the pleasure to serve as the Armstrong Browning Library’s summer intern. It has been such a fun and unique experience, and I would recommend to anyone looking for an internship to apply for a Baylor Libraries summer internship. Over the course of the internship, I am expected to help out the ABL’s staff with the creation of metadata, digitization, and creation of a temporary exhibit of my own design and curation, from several of their more recent acquisitions. Overall, my experience has been a wildly positive one, from being able to expand my experience with metadata creation, to working on a unique piece of technology, to being able to curate my own exhibit while still a student.

Working at both the Armstrong Browning Library and the Riley Digitization Center has been such a unique and fun experience that has undoubtedly added to my wonderful education that I have been receiving here at Baylor. This internship has provided me with many opportunities to grow and experience working in an active field that will help me as I near graduation in December. Part of my internship parameters was to set goals within my intern experience, and work with faculty members to grow and meet these goals. Some of the goals that I personally set for myself were to grow in my skills working with metadata and online collections, as well as learn more about the process of curating an exhibit. All of which I have been given the chance to do.

Walking into the ABL is such an amazing moment—the building itself from the outside is just phenomenal to look at—the metallic doors glinting in the early Texas sun is a sight to behold—and one that is nearly impossible to explain to its fullest extent. The library and museum are gorgeous, both outside and in, and you can tell that Dr. Armstrong had taken great pride in the building and its collection. The library and museum itself is such a unique place to be able to work. It holds a standing as a library, museum, and archive due to all of the miscellaneous collections housed within. The third floor Belew Scholars’ Room is an amazing resource for both local and visiting scholars to be able to do research into whichever topic piques their fancy. The room that I have been working in, like all of the other rooms in the library, has these two gorgeous stained-glass windows that allow the sun to be refracted into all the colors of the rainbow, while also allowing for some much-needed vitamin c without having to brave the Texas sun. The staff here at the ABL is also fabulous. Jennifer Borderud has been great to work under and has made the internship like a walk in the park. I started out my summer having a meeting with her and getting to know the ABL, taking a tour of the museum, and Jennifer showing me where the stacks were and a few other secrets of the museum. After that, I got to work! There were 2 bankers boxes worth of recently acquired letters, manuscripts, and books that I was to create metadata for and put into a pre-existing spreadsheet that was shared with the Riley Digitization Center. I got to be hands-on with each document, finding the information while also keeping an eye out for any through lines that might be appearing to use to create my exhibit in the last half of the summer. While doing that, I read several of the ABL’s manuals about exhibit creation and archive storage, to get a grasp of the industry standards that the library adheres to.

Jill Phillips at the Riley Digitization Center

Once I finished with the initial metadata, I spent several weeks working in the Riley Digitization Center in Moody Library on campus, working with the team down there to digitize and upload the documents to Baylor’s digital collections in Quartex. I had the pleasure to work with a Zeutschel Scanstudio A0, which I’m pretty sure is worth four years of tuition at Baylor, plus some. It was definitely a tad daunting, to be working on such an advanced piece of machinery; however, the Scanstudio creates some of the highest quality photographs and scans, making it perfect for the project I am working on. The Riley Center is a fabulous place on Baylor campus, with some of the kindest, most intelligent people on staff working there. They took their time to train and work with me while I was there to ensure that I knew what I was doing and the ABL was receiving the highest quality scans it could get. Working with Allyson Riley and the team was crazy fun and allowed me to see a separate part of the archival field—the digitization portion. In a world where technology is nearly impossible to separate from humans, having access to a growing and evolving digital archive is something that is incredibly important for the archival field. Plus, it allowed me to nerd out over the technology I was getting to use (I definitely took too many selfies and videos to send to my dad.) The Digitization Center showed me the different ways of collecting, storing, and uploading digital archives, while also allowing me some more hands-on work with the documents as well as some Women Poet books that also needed to be digitized and uploaded to the website. Working there taught me more of the industry standards in digitizing collections—leaving borders on letters to ensure the whole thing is captured, or cropping an image of a page in a book or manuscript where the page ends so that there isn’t anything to distract from the words on the page.

Upon returning to the ABL, I began work on my exhibit, and the whole process of creating and designing my ideas. I have been working on my context cards and labels, the lay out of the letters within their case, advertising, facsimiles and so much more to ensure I do everything by the book. I have decided to focus on classical education in the Victorian era, and how children were educated, and why language was something that was at the forefront of their education then but has seemingly slipped from American education until high school and secondary education. My exhibit will be finished by the end of the summer and on display during the fall semester in the ABL’s Hankamer Treasure Room. I look forward to being able to see this project through to the end and seeing my very own exhibit on display in a museum.

Greek, Latin, Italian, Oh My! is on display in the Hankamer Treasure Room through Fall 2023

Overall, I have really enjoyed the opportunities this internship has brought me. I’ve been able to meet some fabulous people, who all are smart and brilliant people who have been in my corner as I complete my internship requirements. The fact that I am allowed to be a student and a professional at the same time has allowed me such an opportunity for growth and professional development that I have no doubt that I have gained an experience that will benefit me well past college graduation. Please come give the ABL a visit, see my exhibit in the Hankamer Treasure Room, or simply browse Baylor’s Digital Collections. You may very well see a document that I helped scan and upload! I would like to thank the Baylor Museum Studies Department, as well as both the ABL and Riley Digitization Center for allowing me to come in and work as an intern. It has proved an extremely fruitful experience and I cannot thank everyone I have worked with enough!

The Armstrong Browning Library is grateful to the donors who made the Armstrong Browning Library Endowed Internship possible.

Browning Day 2023, “Translated into Song: Robert Browning and a Picture at Fano”

by Anna Clark, Master’s Student in History and Armstrong Browning Library Graduate Research Assistant

Every spring, the Armstrong Browning Library hosts a guest lecturer for its annual Browning Day which commemorates the legacy of Robert and Elizabeth Barrett Browning. This year’s lecture was given by Dr. Kevin A. Morrison in the Hankamer Treasure Room on April 27th.

This year’s Browning Day lecture, “Translated into Song: Robert Browning and A Picture at Fano,” explored the connections between sensory and perceptual experience of material culture and the written word. Dr. Kevin Morrison’s presentation was based on Robert Browning’s 1855 poem, “The Guardian Angel: A Picture at Fano.” This poem was the first that Robert Browning wrote after his marriage to Elizabeth Barrett Browning and their relocation to Italy. The poem’s inspiration came to Browning after traveling to the small town of Fano, Italy, located on the Adriatic coast. While he was in Fano with Elizabeth, they entered a chapel where a painting entitled L’angelo Custode (The Guardian Angel) by the Italian Baroque painter Giovanni Francesco Barbieri (known as Guercino) was on display.

We were at Fano, and three times we went
To sit and see him in his chapel there,
And drink his beauty to our soul’s content
—My angel with me too: and since I care
For dear Guercino’s fame (to which in power
And glory comes this picture for a dower,
Fraught with a pathos so magnificent)—

And since he did not work thus earnestly
At all times, and has else endured some wrong—
I took one thought his picture struck from me,
And spread it out, translating it to song.

-Excerpt from Robert Browning’s “The Guardian Angel: A Picture at Fano”

Kevin A. Morrison, Professor of British Literature at Henan University and ABL Visiting Scholar

Morrison is a Professor of British Literature at Henan University in Kaifeng, China, and a Visiting Scholar of the Armstrong Browning Library. His latest book, Victorian Liberalism and Material Culture: Synergies of Thought and Place, was published by the Edinburgh University Press in 2018 and won the 2020 MLA Prize for Independent Scholars. Morrison’s book explores the links between Victorian material culture and liberal political theory through the study of four Victorian writers, including Robert Browning. Morrison is also a founder and the current president of the Society for Global Nineteenth-Century Studies as well as the editor of the society’s journal. His newest book, The Provincial Fiction of Mitford, Gaskell, and Eliot, is set to release this fall. 

In his lecture, Morrison explained how this poem, one of Browning’s least studied, marked a shift in the poet’s literary approach. Morrison detailed the history of the poem, the significance it held to Browning, and how Browning refined his sensory alertness to and perceptual engagement with historical materiality. The poem is largely a story of the relationship between person and object: a story of Browning and his relationship with a painting he viewed in a small church in Fano, Italy. For Browning, this particular painting struck a chord with him, and he was encouraged by Elizabeth to translate his visual and emotive experience into “song.” What Browning is doing in “The Guardian Angel” poem is translating his ideahis experienceof the painting into a poetic and auditory medium.

Morrison described how for the poet, the painting spoke to his soul before it generated any thought. In the poem, Browning attempts to convey to the reader this spiritual encounter with the painting that occurred apart from rational contemplation of it. Morrison further explained how the poem does not simply give a description of the painting; if the poem were just reduced to an artistic description of what it is physically depicted on the canvas, then it would still remain Guercino’s artistic expression. What is innovative here is Browning’s own personal engagement with the painting. In the poem, Browning captures his deep desire to re-engage in a religious appreciation of beauty through his experience of sitting in front of the painting and his prayerful contemplation of it. In this way, Browning’s pedagogical activity is different than his peers and even his earlier works of poetry.

Dear and great Angel, wouldst thou only leave
That child, when thou hast done with him, for me!
Let me sit all the day here, that when eve
Shall find performed thy special ministry,
And time come for departure, thou, suspending
Thy flight, mayst see another child for tending,
Another still, to quiet and retrieve.

-Excerpt from Robert Browning’s “The Guardian Angel: A Picture at Fano”

The ABL’s copy of the Guardian Angel painting hanging in the Leddy-Jones Research Hall. Guercino’s painting depicts a child perched on a tomb whose hands are clasped by those of his or her guardian angel. The pair appear to be in prayer, looking up to the heavens where three cherubs peer down.

In the audience, members of a Baylor Lifelong Learning Class held at the ABL were present as well as Baylor faculty and students and members of the general public. The lecture was the culmination of three weeks of study for members of the Lifelong Learning Class who met at the ABL weekly to discuss and study the works and lives of the Brownings using library materials.

In her opening remarks, library director Jennifer Borderud highlighted the Guardian Angels, a group of library patrons who help support the ABL’s ability to provide free public admission, expand its material collections, and make possible events such as the annual Browning Day lecture. If you are interested in donating a gift to the Guardian Angel Fund to support the ongoing development of our unique collection of materials dedicated to the Brownings and their Victorian contemporaries as well as the hosting of Browning Day and other public programs, the Armstrong Browning Library thanks you for your generosity.

Additionally, if you are interested in experiencing the moving pathos of Guercino’s The Guardian Angel painting yourself, we encourage you to travel to Fano, Italy, and to send a postcard to the ABL. Once we receive the news that you have visited the painting in Fano, you will become a lifelong member of the exclusive Fano Club, which meets at the library every year around Robert Browning’s birthday (May 7th).

The Armstrong Browning Library would like to express its sincerest gratitude to Dr. Kevin A. Morrison for this year’s lecture and his ongoing collaboration with us to promote the study of the works and lives of poets Robert and Elizabeth Barrett Browning. To learn more about Dr. Morrison’s previous visits to the library and his archival research at the ABL, the following link is provided: Reflections from a Visiting Scholar: Archival Expectations and Unexpected Surprises | Armstrong Browning Library & Museum (


Reflections from a Graduate Student Fall 2022: Earth Crammed with Heaven

by Anna Clark, Master’s Student in History and Armstrong Browning Library Graduate Research Assistant

When I began working as a graduate assistant at the Armstrong Browning Library last August, I had recently moved to Texas from Michigan and just started my first semester of graduate school in the Baylor History M.A. program. I was excited to begin my assistantship at the library since my area of study is nineteenth century transatlantic relations between the United States and Great Britain.

When I first stepped into the cool library out of the blazing Texas heat, I felt like I was whisked back to England. As an undergraduate student, I studied abroad for a summer at the University of Oxford and had spent countless hours in the Bodleian Library. The Armstrong Browning Library with its stained glass windows, quiet study rooms, soaring ceilings, marble columns, shelves of old books, and cases of artifacts belongs in Europe. Dr. Armstrong and the generous benefactors who first envisioned the library and those who continue to give have truly made this a sanctuary for those who love the Brownings, their poetry, and beauty in both the written word and the spaces in which it is shared.

A stained glass window in the room I work. Most of the rooms in the library, including the offices and workrooms, have colorful glass windows with inscriptions from the Brownings’ poems.

The office room I have been assigned to work in as a graduate assistant has its own stained glass windows with excerpts from Robert Browning’s poems and houses bookcases filled with rare 19th century books. The third floor hallway where most of the library staff work overlooks the Foyer of Meditation, and I often stop by the balcony to peek down on that marble room with its twilight stained glass windows. On the days the choir practices in the foyer, their music resounds through the building. It is truly a lovely place to work, and I can see how Dr. Armstrong’s vision to inspire another talent at Baylor to the renown of the Brownings may easily come true in such a place.

The soaring ceiling of the Foyer of Meditation stands at forty feet high, and the gold leaf of the dome was pressed by hand, the texture coming from the finger prints of the people who worked hard to bring Dr. Armstrong’s dream to fruition.

Stop by our third floor balcony and listen to the choir if you happen to visit on a day they are practicing. The acoustics in the library make it a favorite site for concerts.

The tasks I have been assigned by our curator, Laura French, this last semester have been very rewarding. Some of the projects I took on included writing articles and interviewing Katrina Gallegos, the curator of our current exhibit Mythic Women: Archetypal Symbology in “Fifine at the Fair,” for the library blog; taking inventory of artwork in one of the ABL’s storage rooms; reading through book catalogues to suggest new items that the library may interested in acquiring; helping Laura, our curator, organize and set up books for English classes that have sessions at the library; researching old newspaper archives to find information for a researcher who had a query about President Truman’s visit to Baylor University in 1947; and curating an exhibit on Harriet Martineau, one of Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s correspondents and a successful writer in her own right, to complement Dr. Deborah A. Logan’s address here at the library on Benefactor’s Day.

All of these projects have been immensely interesting and have appealed to my love of history. Through my assigned research and work at the library, I have personally handled first editions and letters of Robert and Elizabeth Browning and many of their contemporaries such as Lord Tennyson, Dante and Christina Rossetti, Charles Dickens, George Eliot, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Thomas Carlyle, and Harriet Martineau to name a few. Some of these artifacts are nearly two-hundred years old, and it often surprises me to think of their age and all the famous people who touched them; they are concrete links to the past, and I think it is wonderful thing that students, professors, and staff at Baylor University have the opportunity to study and examine such historical things.

“Earth’s crammed with heaven,

And every common bush afire with God,

But only he who sees takes off his shoes…”

– Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Aurora Leigh

I am not encouraging visitors to the ABL take off their shoes, but I think there is something to be said for taking the time to slow down and to appreciate beauty in the simple things. I think that is what Dr. Armstrong envisioned for this grand library. Take the time from the busyness of daily life to study the stained glass windows in the Elizabeth Barrett Browning Salon, stand in the Cloister of the Clasped Hands, look up at the lofty gold leaf ceiling, reflect on the beautiful love Robert and Elizabeth shared for one another, sit in the shaded garden outside, discover the magic of the Brownings’ poetry, appreciate the work and the vision that the people of Baylor had to bring this space to life, and take some of this beauty out into the world with you when you leave. Most of us will not become the great poet of talent that Dr. Armstrong envisioned being inspired by this place, but we can all be inspired and inspire others to see the heaven in the world around us. I personally believe the Armstrong Browning Library is one of those places on earth crammed with heaven.

I have truly enjoyed my first semester working at the Armstrong Browning and would like to thank Laura, Jennifer, Christi, Carolina, Rachel, and the other staff at the library who have made my experience an enjoyable one. I look forward to delving into more research and learning more about the Brownings and their Victorian contemporaries in our beautiful library.

“Mythic Women” Closing Announcement

by Anna Clark, M.A. Student in History and Armstrong Browning Library Graduate Research Assistant

This fall, the Armstrong Browning Library & Museum is hosting “Mythic Women: Archetypal Symbology in ‘Fifine at the Fair,'” an exhibition exploring the topics of sexual desire, social class, and the male objectification of women in Robert Browning’s 1872 poem “Fifine at the Fair.” This exhibit was curated by Katrina Gallegos, a Master’s student of Museum Studies at Baylor University. Gallegos’ exhibit is on display in honor of the poem’s 150th anniversary from August 17, 2022 – February 15, 2023.

Come and see Katrina Gallegos’ Mythic Women: Archetypal Symbology in “Fifine at the Fair” before the exhibit closes on February 15, 2023!

Explore the Greco-Roman symbology of Browning’s poem “Fifine at the Fair” through Gallegos’ research and analysis of Browning’s various references to mythic women. Venus the goddess of love, Helen of Troy, Cleopatra of Egypt, and the singing sirens of myth are all symbols Browning’s character Don Juan employs in “Fifine at the Fair” to compare and objectify the two female characters, Donna Elvire and Fifine.

In her exhibit, Gallegos helps the viewer decode this language of symbology to uncover what Browning was intending to convey through his usage of mythic women, especially in comparison to their Victorian counterparts.

A 1872 first edition copy of Browning’s “Fifine at the Fair”

If you are not familiar with the poem or would like to refresh your memory, we have attached a hyperlink to a first edition copy of Browning’s “Fifine at the Fair” for your convenience: #3 – Fifine at the fair : and other poems / By Robert Browning. – Full View | HathiTrust Digital Library. 

Read more in this series of blog posts about the exhibit “Mythic Women: Archetypal Symbology in ‘Fifine at the Fair'”:


The Armstrong Browning Library’s 2022 Baylor Book Society Acquisitions


by Rachel Jacob, Armstrong Browning Library Graduate Research Assistant

As the Armstrong Browning Library continues to build the largest collection of Robert and Elizabeth Barrett Browning works, it is also building its collection of academic works about the Brownings and the long nineteenth century. Below are the Armstrong Browning Library’s newly acquired works courtesy of the Baylor Book Society, some of which can be seen on display in the Easter Day Alcove which connects the Entrance Foyer to the Leddy-Jones Research Hall.

The Baylor Book Society, established in 1970 as the Moody Memorial Library Book Fund, provides a way for donors to strengthen the book purchases of Baylor Libraries and create a lasting tribute. The contribution of an individual or group creates a legacy as the Libraries place a special plate with the name of the donor and the honoree in the first volume which the funds help acquire.


In memory of Hannah McKay Crofts by Frances McKay Andrews and Ellen Andrews Gage.

Beverly Seaton’s The Language of Flowers: A History. [ABL Non-Rare 398.368 S441l 1995]


In memory of Jean Withers McIver by Martha A. and Roger L. Brooks.

Tessa Bridal’s Effective Exhibit Interpretation and Design. [ABL Non-Rare 069.4 B851e 2013]

In memory of Dr. Cornelia Marschall Smith by Martha and Roger Brooks.

The Letters of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Volume V: 1866-1874. [ABL Non-Rare]

In honor of Joy and Herbert H. Reynolds by Martha and Roger Brooks.

The Letters of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Volume VI: 1875-1882. [ABL Non-Rare]

In memory of Etta and Robert Withers by Martha Withers Brooks.

Catherine Addison’s A Genealogy of the Verse Novel. [ABL Non-Rare 821.009 A225g 2017]

In loving memory of My Parents Mr. and Mrs. Ben Skrabanek by Rita S. Patteson.

Fiona Samson’s Two-Way Mirror: The Life of Elizabeth Barrett Browning. [ABL Non-Rare 821.82 B S192t 2021b]


In honor of Jeanne Wood Nowlin by Kay and Mike Brown.

Elizabeth Ludlow’s The Figure of Christ in the Long Nineteenth Century. [ABL Non-Rare 809.93351 L945f 2020]

By Charlotte and Robert Lloyd.

Fiona Samson’s Two-Way Mirror: The Life of Elizabeth Barrett Browning. [ABL Non-Rare 821.82 B S192t 2021b]

In honor of Dr. Rynell Stiff Novak by Joseph R. Novak.

Fiona Samson’s Two-Way Mirror: The Life of Elizabeth Barrett Browning. [ABL Non-Rare 821.82 B S192t 2021b]

In honor of Rebekah Novak Proctor by Her Parents Rynell and Joseph Novak.

Heather Bozant Witcher and Amy Kahrmann Huseby’s Defining Pre-Raphaelite Poetics. [ABL Non-Rare 820.9008 W819d 2020]

In memory of Celia Dilworth Morgan, Class of 1938, by Nancy and Phil Wedemeyer.

Isobel Armstrong’s Victorian Poetry: Poetry Poetics and Politics. [ABL Non-Rare 821.809 A735v 2019]

In honor of the Anna and Bob Wright Family by Mike and Kay Brown.

Clare Pettitt’s Serial Forms: The Unfinished Project of Modernity, 1815-1848. [ABL Non-Rare 070.5 P511s 2020]

In memory of Rev. Al Novak, 1929, by Rynell and Joseph Novak.

Krista Lysack’s Chronometres: Devotional Literature, Duration, and Victorian Reading. [ABL Non-Rare 028.9 L993c 2019]

In honor of Joseph R. Novak, BU 1951, by Dr. Rynell S. Novak.

Karen Swann’s Lives of the Dead Poets: Keats, Shelley, Coleridge. [ABL Non-Rare 821.709 S972l 2019]

In memory of Dr. Margaret Jones Chanin by Gretchen Peterson Thomas.

Fiona Samson’s Two-Way Mirror: The Life of Elizabeth Barrett Browning. [ABL Non-Rare 821.82 B S192t 2021b]

In memory of Celia Dilworth Morgan, Class of 1938, by Nancy and Phil Wedemeyer. 

John H. Falk and Lynn D. Dierking’s Learning from Museums. [ABL Non-Rare 069.1 F191l 2018]

In memory of Dorothy Cunningham Lamberth by many Tyler friends who love her.

Sarah Glendon Lyons’ Algernon Swinburne and Walter Pater: Victorian Aestheticism, Doubt and Secularisation. [ABL Non-Rare 820.9008 L991a 2015]

In memory of Jesmarie Harvey Hurst by libraries board of advisors and library staff.

Joseph Crawford’s Inspiration and Insanity in British Poetry: 1825-1855. [ABL Non-Rare 821.709 C899i 2019]

In memory of Jesmarie Harvey Hurst by loving Tyler friends.

Philipp Erchinger’s Artful Experiments: Ways of Knowing in Victorian Literature and Science. [ABL Non-Rare 820.9356 E65a 2018]

In memory of Jesmarie Harvey Hurst by Martha and John Minton.

John Blades’ Robert Browning: The Poems. [ABL Non-Rare 821.83 D B632r 2018]

In loving memory of Ann Miller, an outstanding English professor, from her friends Nancy and Fred Logan.

Elise Partridge’s The Exiles’ Gallery. [ABL Non-Rare 811.6 P275ex 2015]

In honor of Mary Barton Robinson, BA 1950, by Kathy Robinson Hillman.

Jessica L. Lacher-Feldman’s Exhibits in Archives and Special Collections Libraries. [ABL Non-Rare 021.7 L137e 2013]

In honor of my parents, Mr. and Mrs. William F. Schuetz, by Melvin H. Schuetz.

Michael Wheeler’s The Athenaeum: More Than Just a London Club. [ABL Non-Rare 367 W563a 2020]

In honor of my wife, Carol L. Schuetz, by Melvin H. Schuetz.

Fiona Sampson’s In Search of Mary Shelley: The Girl Who Wrote Frankenstein. [ABL Non-Rare B S544s 2018]

In honor of Connie Schuetz Wright by Melvin H. Schuetz

Silvio Bar and Emily Hauser’s Reading Poetry, Writing Genre: English Poetry and Literary Criticism in Dialogue with Classical Scholarship. [ABL Non-Rare 821.009 B223r 2019]

In honor of our granddaughter Natalie Grace Belew for her character, diligence, and dedication, from her grandparents Ruth and John Belew.

Melisa Klimaszewski’s Collaborative Dickens: Authorship and Victorian Christmas Periodicals. [ABL Non-Rare 823.8 K65c 2019]

In memory of Carroll Hague.

Ben Glaser and Jonathan Culler’s Critical Rhythm: The Poetics of a Literary Life Form. [ABL Non-Rare 808.1 G548c 2019]

In honor of Frankie Carson by Melvin H. Schuetz.

Ana Sampson’s Night Feeds and Morning Songs: Honest, Fierce and Beautiful Poems about Motherhood. [ABL Non-Rare 808.81 S192n 2021]


In honor of Sue and Wilburn “Dub” Wright by George W. Monroe.

Paul E. Kerry’s Thomas Carlyle and the Idea of Influence. [ABL Non-Rare 828.809 K41t 2018]

In honor of William F. Schuetz, Jr. by Melvin H. Schuetz.

Daniel Karlin’s Street Songs: Writers and Urban Songs and Cries, 1800-1925. [ABL Non-Rare 821.009 K18st 2018]

In memory of Louise H. Schuetz by Melvin H. Schuetz.

Albert D. Pionke’s Teaching Later British Literature: A Thematic Approach. [ABL Non-Rare 820.7 P662t 2019]

In honor of Lumae Cunningham and Roger Spurgeon Brooks by Roger Leon Brooks.

Britta Martens’ The Poetry of Robert Browning. [ABL Non-Rare 821.83 D M377p 2016]

In honor of Lynn Schuetz by Melvin H. Schuetz.

Shane McCorristine’s Spectres of the Self: Thinking about Ghosts and Ghost-Seeing in England, 1750-1920. [ABL Non-Rare 133.1 M191s 2010]

In memory of Dr. Susan Burrow Colón by Ivy, Greg, and Luke Hamerly.

Andrew Hodgson’s The Poetry of Clare, Hopkins, Thomas, and Gurney: Lyric Individualism. [ABL Non-Rare 821.809 H691p 2019]

In memory of my father, William F. Schuetz, by Melvin H. Schuetz.

David Kerler and Timo Muller’s Poem Unlimited: New Perspectives on Poetry and Genre. [ABL Non-Rare 808.1 K39p 2019]

In honor of Shirley Schuetz by Melvin H. Schuetz.

Brian Rejack and Michael Theune’s Keats’s Negative Capability: New Origins and Afterlives. [ABL Non-Rare]

In honor of my wife, Carol L. Schuetz by Melvin H. Schuetz.

Kevin Klipfel and Dani Cook’s Learner-Centered Pedagogy: Principles and Practices. [ABL Non-Rare 025.56 K65l 2017]




More information about the Baylor Book Society and other Baylor Library programs can be found at:

Interview with Katrina Gallegos, Curator of “Mythic Women”

Interview Questions by Anna Clark, M.A. Student in History and Armstrong Browning Library Graduate Research Assistant

This fall, the Armstrong Browning Library & Museum is hosting “Mythic Women: Archetypal Symbology in ‘Fifine at the Fair,'” an exhibition exploring the topics of sexual desire, social class, and the male objectification of women in Robert Browning’s 1872 poem “Fifine at the Fair.” This exhibit was curated by Katrina Gallegos, a Master’s student of Museum Studies at Baylor University. Gallegos’ exhibit is on display in honor of the poem’s 150th anniversary from August 17, 2022 – February 15, 2023.

I had the opportunity to ask Katrina Gallegos some questions regarding her exhibit, Mythic Women: Archetypal Symbology in “Fifine at the Fair.” 

Gallegos is a M.A. candidate in the Museum Studies department at Baylor University. This past spring semester, Gallegos partnered with the Armstrong Browning Library and Museum to curate an exhibit exploring the topics of the male gaze, the sexual objectification of women, and Greco-Roman symbols in Robert Browning’s poem “Fifine at the Fair” on its 150th anniversary of publication.

Gallegos’ exhibit is on display in the Armstrong Browning Library and Museum Hankamer Treasure Room through February 15, 2023. We invite you to come see the exhibit before it closes this winter.

How did you become interested in creating an exhibit on Robert Browning’s “Fifine at the Fair”? 

“Fifine” was actually my second choice. Originally, I was going to curate an exhibit based on women poets of Texas. However, as I was researching secondary sources in ABL’s closed stacks I came across literature that swayed me to curate an exhibition based on the poem. This poem is one of Robert Browning’s more obscure works and it was published later in his life. 2022 celebrates the poem’s 150th anniversary.

A 1872 first edition of Browning’s “Fifine at the Fair” on display

How did your previous research experiences assist you with this exhibit? 

My background is in Spanish and the culinary arts, but my experience as a graduate student in the Department of Museum Studies aided my research. I have taken an exhibition curation course which taught us how to conduct preliminary research when developing a new exhibit. Additionally, my experience as a McNair Research Scholar at the undergraduate level assisted me in finding the secondary sources to support my thesis of the male gaze. There are published literary works in the Armstrong Browning Library’s periodicals which explore and analyze this theme. 

In your exhibit, you highlight how Browning wrote about the provocative subjects of sexuality, desire, and the male objectification of women in a conservative Victorian society. Why do you think Browning was willing to address such topics that were generally considered taboo in Victorian England?

Robert Browning

After reading the secondary literature and comparing that against contemporary sources one can find many examples of explicit sexuality in Victorian Literature. For example, Charlotte Brontë ‘s novel Wuthering Heights contains a few erotic scenes and sentiments. A specific example is when Heathcliff goes to Catherine’s bedchamber and replaces his rival’s hair with his own. The language of that and the succeeding scenes are erotic. And while not in the same generation, Lord Byron and the Romantics of the proceeding generation were a little scandalous. Also, if one looks to the Pre-Raphaelite movement of painting one can see both the male gaze, desire and sexuality. One famous painter Rossetti who was both a mentee and friend of Robert Browning painted many women who are beautiful and flirtatious. Also, if one considers the date of publication, 1872 one can posit why R. Browning wrote such a poem. By this point Elizabeth Barrett Browning (EBB) had been deceased for 11 years and R. Browning never remarried nor taken a lover, a close friend, nothing. One can only imagine he must have had moments of loneliness and desire, he was after all, a living breathing human just like you and me. However, there are some contemporary and more recent secondary sources that argue that this poem was written as a critique on the Rosetti’s love life. As mentioned before R. Browning and Rosetti were friends, yet Rosetti was not as devoted to his wife as R. Browning was with EBB. After the poem was published, Rosetti was furious and ended his friendship with R. Browning. Browning was astonished, and nothing could persuade Rosetti to reconsider. Rosetti believed it was a personal and public attack on his behavior. From my research I could not find any document written by R. Browning which supports this theory. If I were to be very generous, I’d say both could be true. R. Browning was lonely, still had desires, and also disapproved of his friend’s behavior. The Victorians were and were not conservative. As with any society it is nuanced. The era is named after one individual, Queen Victoria, who was conservative. Queen Victoria’s successor, her son Prince Albert, known as “Bertie” was a scandalously licentious in his behavior. He took many lovers outside of his marriage and was a disappointment to his mother. I believe we, 21st century denizens, attribute much of our beliefs of this time around one person’s values and behavior. This is a disservice because there is much more to this era than one person.    

How do you think Browning’s “Fifine at the Fair” contributed to late 19th century discussions regarding women’s suffrage, the cult of true womanhood, the aesthetic dress movement, and women’s role in both the private and public spheres? 

I do not think the poem contributed much to these discussions. If anything, the poem reinforces the idea of “true womanhood” through its fetishization of a minority woman in direct comparison to a white English woman. As far as women’s suffrage I am only guessing therefore the following is an opinion, Donna Elvire has less than 20 lines of speech in this poem, and it is only at the beginning. If I recall correctly, Fifine has none. Therefore, I’d argue that R. Browning was not appealing to the females in the room. Could a woman have read it and its content affirmed her belief that a woman should have a voice and a right, sure. But I cannot definitively say that it had that effect. I am not entirely familiar with the aesthetic dress movement so I cannot speak to it. However, I do think R. Browning’s wife, EBB, contributed much more to women’s rights. She delicately balanced her public and private roles in a way that was far more unexpected and influential than her husband’s. He did what was expected, she did not. EBB wrote poems about slavery and child labor; she was a poet activist.  

Satirical cartoon on what it means to be “a lady” versus “a woman”

What do you believe is the most enduring legacy of Browning’s “Fifine at the Fair” on its 150th anniversary of publication? 

That people change yet remain the same. Even today, different can be seen as exotic and desirable and a welcome relief from what expected and common. Also, famous people, poets, politicians, etc. are just people, they’re just trying to express themselves and figure it out like the rest of us.  

Read more in this series of blog posts about the exhibit “Mythic Women: Archetypal Symbology in ‘Fifine at the Fair'”:


Heartiest Christmas Wishes

from your friends at the Armstrong Browning Library.

The image on the front of the Armstrong Browning Library's 2022 Christmas card.

Jean-Arnould Heyermans’ oil painting of Pen Browning painting while seated between a cobbler and his daughter. H0011, Brownings’ Works of Art & Effects.

The Armstrong Browning Library recently acquired three oil painting by Robert Wiedeman Barrett (Pen) Browning (1849-1912), son of Robert and Elizabeth Barrett Browning, and an oil painting by Pen’s teacher, Belgian artist Jean-Arnould Heyermans (1837-1892). The front of the ABL’s Christmas card features the Heyermans painting, which depicts a cobbler and his daughter with an artist seated between – the artist is Pen Browning. Robert Browning often stated his gratitude to Heyermans for instructing his son: “I cannot let it go without expressing once again my deepest thanks to you for all you have done for my boy. I consider it one of the most extraordinary pieces of good fortune which have ever befallen me that he came under your notice, — convinced as I am that no master in the world would have done so much for him.” The Armstrong Browning Library is grateful to the generous donors who made the acquisition of these paintings possible.

The Armstrong Browning Library will be closed from December 23rd, 2022 through January 2nd, 2023. We hope to see you in the new year!


Analyzing “Fifine at the Fair” Through Symbology

by Anna Clark, M.A. Student in History and Armstrong Browning Library Graduate Research Assistant

This fall, the Armstrong Browning Library & Museum is hosting “Mythic Women: Archetypal Symbology in ‘Fifine at the Fair,'” an exhibition exploring the topics of sexual desire, social class, and the male objectification of women in Robert Browning’s 1872 poem “Fifine at the Fair.” This exhibit was curated by Katrina Gallegos, a Master’s student of Museum Studies at Baylor University. Gallegos’ exhibit is on display in honor of the poem’s 150th anniversary from August 17, 2022 – February 15, 2023.

Examining Browning’s Characters Through the Lens of Symbology

Gallegos is a graduate student at Baylor University pursuing her Master’s degree in Museum Studies. Employing her interest in symbology, Gallegos’ exhibit explores Greco-Roman symbols she uncovered through her analysis of Browning’s poem and how these symbols connect to the topics of sexuality, desire, and male objectification of women in the late 19th century.

Particularly, Gallegos explains the symbols Robert Browning employs to describe the three central characters of the poem: Don Juan, Don Juan’s staid wife Donna Elvire, and Fifine, the exotic gypsy woman who is the object of Don Juan’s sexual desire.

Don Juan

Gallegos explains Browning’s usage of Don Juan, a fictional folk figure throughout European literature whose reputation is synonymous with being a womanizer. From the first introduction of Don Juan in the Spanish dramatist Tirso de Molina’s play The Trickster and and the Stone Guest, the Casanova character of Don Juan lives in the public imagination as a man who enjoys the thrill of seduction and conquest of women regardless of socioeconomic class and marital status.

In “Fifine at the Fair,” Don Juan is portrayed by Browning as a Victorian gentleman of education and rank. He is married to Donna Elvire, his wife of many years, and the two are first depicted as having a loving relationship. However, Gallegos points out that this marriage is not as happy as it appears. Despite his respect for Donna Elvire’s virtues, Don Juan has the roving gaze of his namesake and unjustly compares his loyal wife to a gypsy woman he sees at the fair named Fifine.

Gallegos describes how Don Juan attempts to justify his sexual objectification of both his wife and the gypsy through reference to Greek and Roman myths.

A satirical cartoon depicting a man’s sexual fantasies

Donna Elvire

The symbols used to describe Don Juan’s wife Donna Elvire are, as Gallegos points out, nautical. In the poem, Don Juan compares his wife to a “calm sea” and a “sturdy ship.” Gallegos connects these nautical metaphors to Greco-Roman mythology in which women were often associated with the sea. The mythological characters of Venus, the goddess of love and beauty who rose from the sea at birth, and the sirens, female mermaids who led sailors to their death by their enticing songs, are important symbols in the poem.

A woman in Victorian dress

It is of note that Donna Elvire is compared to a calm sea and a sturdy ship, not to the beautiful Venus or the enchanting sirens of myth. Instead, Gallegos argues that Donna Elvire is a passive character, who is along for the ride like a ship at a calm sea and steady wind. She is silent throughout most of the poem, overtaken by the dominating personality of Don Juan and his monologues on idealized female beauty.


Whereas Donna Elvire is plain and respectable, Fifine is depicted through Don Juan’s male gaze as alluring and seductive. Gallegos notes the comparisons to various femme fatales throughout Greco-Roman mythology: Helen of Troy, the goddess Venus, and Cleopatra. Fifine is described with a “Greek-nymph nose,” “Hebrew eyes,” “spangled hips,” and “wiry hair,” which all add to her exotic appeal.

In the poem, Don Juan peers upon Fifine as she is changing and refuses to avert his gaze. Instead of acknowledging his wrongdoing, Don Juan blames Fifine’s attractive appearance for his lustful eye and thoughts. Gallegos explains how Don Juan attempts to use his comparisons to Greco-Roman mythological symbols to justify his betrayal of his wife and objectification of a young gypsy girl; like the Helen and Cleopatra figures of old, Fifine’s irresistible beauty has left Don Juan at the whim of his passions.

Venus, the Roman goddess of love and beauty

Gallegos asks her audience to reflect on the issues of the phenomena of the male gaze and the objectification of women through her study of Browning’s characters. These topics of lust, sexuality, and objectification are especially interesting in the context of Robert Browning’s Victorian England of 1872.

Come and celebrate the 150th anniversary of Browning’s complex poem “Fifine at the Fair” through the research of Katrina Gallegos. The exhibit will be on display in the Armstrong Browning Library and Museum’s Hankamer Treasure Room through February 15, 2023.

Read more in this series of blog posts about the exhibit “Mythic Women: Archetypal Symbology in ‘Fifine at the Fair'”:

Benefactors Day: “Harriet Martineau, Spirit of the Victorian Age”

By Carolina Criscione, Assistant to the Curators

On November 17th, The Armstrong Browning Library had the distinct privilege to learn about a fascinating historical figure in the lecture “Harriet Martineau, Spirit of the Victorian Age” from the distinguished Dr. Deborah A. Logan, this year’s speaker for Benefactors Day. Benefactors Day is a yearly celebration of our wonderful community of supporters that ensures the future of the Armstrong Browning Library’s scholarship and programming work. A professor emerita of Victorian Literature at Western Kentucky University, Dr. Logan captured this year’s audience by shedding light on the life and works of the Victorian author, economist, journalist, sociologist, and Browning correspondent, Harriet Martineau.

Dr. Logan’s lecture

It is safe to say that if Martineau had a LinkedIn profile back in the day, her accomplishments, publications, and skills sections would run about a mile long. As a self-supported woman, who was also deaf and battled long bouts of illness, Martineau refused to be contained by the typical societal constraints placed on Victorian women. She was a widely celebrated and respected writer in her day and offered progressive ideas to Victorian society about the world around her. Martineau wrote about topics ranging from the global anti-slavery movement, religion, health, farming, and the economy (to mention just a few). Her book Illustrations of Political Economy (1832) was an instant success, even though Martineau’s literary and intellectual fame came with its fair share of detractors and challenges. In this lecture, Dr. Logan emphasized Martineau’s commitment to exploring the relationship between one’s principles and practices. Dr. Logan offered insight into Martineau’s life based on her extensive research into the author’s personal correspondence and on her own exploration of the geographic world Martineau inhabited (Dr. Logan once stayed the night in Martineau’s room!). The afternoon’s lecture finished with a Q&A session, which was then followed by lively discussion during a reception in the Cox Reception Hall. For those interested in learning more about Harriet Martineau, we have included a recording of Dr. Logan’s lecture here:



Floral arrangement and Martineau biography

Also accompanying the special event was the official debut of several items related to Harriet Martineau, donated to the ABL by Dr. Logan herself! Dr. Logan’s gift includes over 100 volumes of literary works by Martineau, as well as scholarly critiques, all of which are now available at the library for research. The ABL invites you to visit the Hankamer Treasure Room to view the temporary display, curated by graduate assistant Anna Clark, highlighting the recent acquisition. You can also learn more about the collection here .The Martineau display will be available through 1 March 2023.

Reception Table – Photograph by Lexie Renee Photography

We look forward to the future scholarship and learning this collection will facilitate, especially in bringing female historians like Martineau back into the narratives of history. We are very grateful for Dr. Logan’s support for the Armstrong Browning Library’s mission and are thankful for all ABL benefactors who make our research, collection expansion, and programming possible. We look forward to seeing you at next year’s Benefactor Day!

Reflections from a Visiting Scholar: Texan Heat and Archive Fever: Browning’s Interest in Islamic Literature

By Alexander Abichou, PhD

‘[Browning] borrowed his jewels from the East and from the West; from art, from nature[…] from legend and history; from fancy and imagination [as well as] poets, painters, dervishes, saints [ and] took them all as the colours of his scenery, the figures in his drama, the sphere in which his imagination worked’ (Browning Society Papers, Sixth session, 1886-7. Forty-Fourth Meeting, Friday, October 29, 1886. pp.165-6)

Alexander Abichou, PhD

Alexander Abichou, PhD, in the Belew Scholars’ Room, Armstrong Browning Library

Having traversed acres of prairie connecting the highways of Dallas-Fort Worth to Waco, I arrived at Baylor University to visit the unique Rare Books and Manuscript Collection at the Armstrong Browning Library which serves as a testimony to the life and writings of the Browning family and exemplifies a level of academic dedication (from inception to present) which would prove to be as endearing as it was informative. Although the quietude of the ABL stood in stark contrast to the grandiose lone star state that encompassed it, there was a warmth which resonated across the pomegranate engravings of the library doors, the minimalist walls of the Mark Rothko chapel, and the endless fields surrounding Gatesville’s Last Drive-In Picture Show. I had undertaken the fellowship as a means of broadening the scope of my current monograph, Mythographic thought and Islamic theosophy: From early Romanticism to Late Victorianism, focusing on Percy Shelley and Robert Browning as the respective exemplars of their age for determining a mythopoetic form of Orientalism where Eastern theological concepts were creatively integrated into a poetic oeuvre encompassing multiple traditions re-presented for contemporary audiences. I aimed to uncover details regarding the circles engaged in mythographic and Orientalist scholarship among Browning’s immediate acquaintances to determine how discussions pertaining to the evolution and role of myth vis-à-vis Christianity informed his depictions of Islamic personages and concepts. For the subsequent month, therefore, I was eager to immerse myself both in the archives as well as Texan culture which had previously been an unknown quantity due to never visiting this part of the United States. Neither aspect would disappoint.

When discerning the nature of Browning’s exposure to Islamic intellectual history, it was pivotal to examine his interactions with the Arabist, Charles James Lyall, prompting me towards a series of correspondences between both parties as well as the drafts of critical editions for Arabic and Persian literature that Lyall translated and sent to his treasured companion. On December 13th 1884, Lyall offered linguistic corrections for Ferishtah’s Fancies which extended beyond simply noting alterations to be made for names such as, ‘Tahmasp,’ or, ‘Rakhsh,’ but also providing etymological insight into the lineage of these Persian and Arabic words from Hakim, signifying ‘Ruler, giver of commands [derived ] from hikmat, wisdom’, as well as Firdusi, connoting ‘paradise.’ The letter highlights Browning’s relation with Lyall as characterised by a growing exposure to classical Oriental literature with the British Arabist casually gesturing, ‘you may remember certain translations of old Arabian poetry of which I ventured to send you copies from India a few years ago.’ The interlinguistic quality that Lyall afforded Browning’s Oriental poetics offsets a general tendency to completely translate the Other and instead, humbles the reader into a position where meaning can be deduced but not necessarily authenticated. This polysemic approach affords those foreign terms a space to where the historical significance must be consulted before presuming mastery without wholeheartedly removing artistic intent for those both uninformed and seeking to be exposed to fresh terminology. Acknowledging this polyvocal quality of Browning’s work, Lyall writes in his English rendition of the Mu’allakah of Zuhair (Ode to Zuhair) that the metre adopted in the seventh stanza of Abt Vogler resembles, ‘the noble cadence called the Tawil, most loved by the ancient poets’, with the page number for this passage being noted on Browning’s personal copy (see below).

The Mo'allaqah of Zuheyr rendered into English

Robert Browning’s copy of The Mo’allaqah of Zuheyr rendered into English: with an introduction and notes by C.J. Lyall. ABL Brownings’ Library X BL 892.71 Z94m 1878

Lyall’s Mo’allaqah proved a useful source of classical Arab history and literary style offering a tapestry of poetic conceits and formal idiosyncrasies relayed through annotated footnotes which Browning would condense into his own passages such as, the ‘Slit-eared, unblemished, fat, true offsprings of Muzennem’, echoing Lyall’s comment that, ‘[c]amels of good breed had a slit in the ear [making them] the offspring of a certain Muzannam’. Aside from repurposing Zuhayr ibn Abi Sulma’s pre-Islamic vocabulary, Lyall and Browning also discussed the merits of Omar Khayyam’s Sufism in a letter dated 21st January 1885 as the former argues that the Persian polymath was, ‘more of a Sûfi than he seems in a superficial view’, since his discomfort towards the Sufistic longing for absorption within a Divine Beloved did not necessarily derive from unbelief but rather a scientific proclivity which sought to maintain selfhood. Intriguingly this comment is prefaced with an acknowledgment of Browning’s already established familiarity of the topic, ‘Sûfism, as you doubtless know, looks upon all phenomena as manifestations of the One, who is God, and considers the end of all to be absorption in Him.’ Lyall also reminds Browning of a previous poetry collection containing unpublished works from Lebid ibn Rabi’ah, ‘[t]he piece of which I showed you a translation when I called on Thursday last is taken from this Dîwân [of Lebîd’s poetry]’, highlighting a continued interest from both parties to share their thoughts on Arabian literature and prompting Lyall’s high praise of Lebid as standing, ‘between the Old time and the New, between the Ignorance and el-Islâm’. Akin to Lebid occupying the horizon line of these distinct eras, Browning’s correspondences reveal a willingness to bridge disparate cultures within an informed Oriental poetics that incorporates linguistic, topographical and conceptual material from the rural expressions found in pre-Islamic odes to the sufistic divans of figures such as Khayyam and Firdowsi informing Browning’s dervishes, Moleykeh and Ferishtah.

Outside personal relationships, I also wanted to broaden the scope of my research to include the voices responding to Browning’s work either contemporaneously or in the immediate aftermath of his death as a means of bolstering the veracity of my approach to Browning’s Islamic mythopoetics by finding likeminded interpretations espoused in the writings of his Victorian colleagues and critics. I perused volumes of the Browning Society Papers to glean choice quotes that foreground unconventional attitudes to reading his Eastern poetry which might highlight how my own interest in Browning’s engagement with Islamic literature is reflected in readings conducted during his lifetime.

The Browning Society's Papers. ABL Periodicals Rare

The Browning Society’s Papers. ABL Periodicals Rare

In due course, I uncovered a transcript of the forty-seventh meeting conducted Friday April 25 (1890) in which the notion of a semitic affinity throughout Browning’s writing is examined by Joseph Jacobs’s paper on ‘Browning’s Theology’ where he highlights the characteristic elements of obscurity, moralism and symbolism imbuing Browning’s literature with traits found in sacred texts – overcoming canonical distinctions between poet and theologian. Jacobs lauds Browning’s dramatic rendition of theological concepts for its inclusive approach to non-Christian imagery whereby such Talmudic or mythohistorical allusions indicate, ‘[a] certain sympathy with Jewish ways of thought and fancy’, and yet, acknowledges that these references largely stemmed from the poets’ Broad Churchism and were not necessarily, ‘very profound.’ During the committee meeting, Reverend Johnson develops Jacobs’s examination of Semitic thought in Browning’s literature by contesting that the connection between Jewish, Islamic and Broad Church monotheism are not as divergent as the essay implies, ‘[the] Arabians were the great Unitarians, and the Jews, as he was endeavouring to convince Mr. Jacobs, stood in a secondary position to the Moslems.’ Dismissing the binary distinctions Jacobs’s upholds for Jewish and Broad Church Unitarianism, Johnson sought to reinforce how, the ‘great founders of the Unitarian faith in the world’, following the collapse of the Roman Empire,  ‘were the Arabians’, and as such, there was a need to recognise historic interconnectivity rather than dissimilarity when examining Browning’s Broad Church depiction of Oriental imagery. By recontextualising this discussion of Browning’s Unitarianism in light of, ‘Koran[ic references] to the sublimity of Allah’, Johnson widens the matrix of Eastern allusions available in his poetry beyond the Jewish mythohistoric figures noted by Jacobs (e.g. Abraham ibn Ezra and Jaehanan Hakkadosh) and insists, ‘the religious literature of the Arabians,’ was also relevant to a holistic discussion of Browning’s transhistorical poetics. Although Johnson acknowledges the importance of Jewish theology as a precursor to Christian thought, he also calls for a reappraisal of Muslim literature in spawning a genre of secular romances through the ‘unsurpassed’ Arabian Nights which delighted the Oriental imagination of key eighteenth and nineteenth century authors (e.g. Coleridge’s ‘Kubla Khan’, Tennyson’s ‘Recollections of the Arabian Nights’) and in turn, placed the ‘Mohammedans [at] the fountain-head of religious imagination [amongst the Eastern empires]’.  By emphasising the dialogical rather than exclusionary nature of historical influence, Reverend Johnson acknowledges Islam was a central faith in shaping contemporary Western fancy with regards to the East and as a result, warrants inclusion within the dialogic web of Browning’s traditional influences, ‘[t]he Jews were intermediaries between the Moslems and the Catholic Church’. Echoing Johnson’s sentiment that Browning’s Unitarianism was amenable to a Qur’anic focus on God’s, ‘unweariedness, his sleeplessness, and his height above all created beings’, Frederick Furnivall (joint founder of the Browning Society) contrasts the standard Broad Church assignment of, ‘Christ in the place of God and […] the Holy Spirit on one side altogether’, against Browning’s monotheism which more distinctly echoed, ‘the one great God of the Jews and the Arabians.’ Although Dr. Furnival admits Browning’s work allows the godship of Christ, there remains an emphasis on, ‘God the Father [before] God the Son’, and an overarching  belief in, ‘one God irrespective of persons,’ that engendered an empathy with Jewish and Islamic Unitarianism. In particular, Dr. Furnival suggests that Jacobs overlooks Browning’s Eastern poetics as a medium for critiquing certain traditional theological tenets often associated with Trinitarianism from, ‘Church sacraments [and] regeneration in baptism [to] apostolic succession’, where figures such as Abd-el-Kadr in Through the Metidja and the titular Muleykeh provide didactic lessons on the nature of miracles or the atonement of sins in an unorthodox guise.

It was fascinating to uncover those members of the Browning Society who gestured towards descriptions of Allah, The Arabian Nights and Islamic imperial expansion within wider discussions concerning the poet’s reimagination of non-Christian traditions whether it be Reverend Johnson’s recognition of Islam’s world-historical impact on secular romance literature or Dr. Furnival’s supposition that Browning’s sympathies aligned with a more staunch Semitic monotheism. Although neither thinker presumes deep acquaintance nor desire for authenticity, these early efforts expanded the notion of Browning’s Jewish affinity beyond Joseph Jacobs’s or Moncure Conway readings by incorporating Islamic verbiage within literary analysis as a means of foregrounding Abrahamic Unitarianism as the broader connective tissue driving Browning’s creative interest in, each ‘great branch[… of this] one great system.’

Review of Ferishtah’s Fancies in Church of England Pulpit and Ecclesiastical Review. Vol. 19. London, 17 January 1885, pp. 35-36. ABL Periodical Articles Meynell (Browning Guide #A0653)

Review of Ferishtah’s Fancies in Church of England Pulpit and Ecclesiastical Review. Vol. 19. London, 17 January 1885, pp. 35-36. ABL Periodical Articles Meynell (Browning Guide #A0653)

In addition to the scholarly perception of Browning couched within committee manuscripts, I investigated newspaper reviews to deduce not only the reception of his Eastern-inspired output but also the content of articles surrounding these appraisals as his work can be noted appearing alongside other pieces espousing a pseudo-syncretic attitude towards the Orient. In particular, The Church of England Pulpit and Ecclesiastical Review provides an intriguing case study for discerning Browning’s position within this growing drive to solve contemporary problems with Eastern solutions. The nineteenth volume (January 17, 1885) contains a critique of Ferishtah’s Fancies as well as an adjoining discussion concerning ancient Jerusalem and its ties to modern Bedouin culture. The Review of Ferishtah’s Fancies exemplifies how susceptible the general audience was to Browning’s rendition of a Christian didactic narrative within an unfamiliar Dervish outfit for the critic offers a narrative breakdown of short stories comprising the work as well as a brief exegesis as to the core ethical lessons explored in each section. Although the piece is commended for blending poetic metre and philosophical concepts through the ‘supposed utterances of an Eastern sage,’ emphasis is placed on the moralistic insights that this Persian soothsayer can offer his Christian readership from the general theophanic outlook upon nature replete with divine signs for contemplation to extolling the potency of constant prayer. The reviewer exhibits a willingness to engage Browning’s Oriental anecdotes such as, ‘A Camel-Driver’ and ‘Shah Abbas’, where references to nomadic Bedouins or the Safavid King of Iran are not superficially questioned as irrelevant to struggles within Victorian society but rather embraced in a positive process of theological identity formation. Despite passages mimicking the Dervish rites of initiation or adopting the linguistic tone of Sufistic parables outlined in Lyall’s scholarly works, there is a an intense focus on the content and messaging of each ethical quandary that the arabesque design is appreciated as a vessel for relaying more universal truths.

Initially, I bypassed the paragraph prior to this review as simply a response to an article concerning the Eucharist where an anonymous reader offers an excerpt from William Thomson’s, The Land and the Book, (1860) but further investigation highlighted a curious thematic correlation as the East was similarly believed to possess a storehouse of forgotten traditions suitable for modern Christian interpretations. Urging his fellow believers to return towards the Holy Land for authenticity, the reader chastises the, ‘foolish asceticism of our civilisation,’ for placing a stigma on eating and drinking that, ‘did not exist in the Oriental mind’, arguing modern societies are unable to appreciate corporeal symbols whereas, ‘the Jews and other Eastern nations,’ (p.34) maintained a tradition of rejoicing in bodily senses and as such, were better equipped to understand the notion of Supper. It is intriguing that this reader would appeal to the ‘Oriental mind’ in order to conduct Biblical hermeneutics on the basis that the Middle East possessed a present geo-historical connection to the, ‘land where the World-made-flesh dwelt amongst men.’ In particular, a passage is cited where the Bedouin practice of welcoming guests through bread and dates (brotherhood; khuwy) is likened to the Eucharistic covenant. Although the book refers to Muslims as fanatic and ignorant, there remains a subtle acknowledgement of the transhistorical interconnectedness between the Abrahamic faiths via their current and past connection to Jerusalem as multiple denominations inhabit, worship or restore shared sites of cultural and religious significance, ‘many shrines of the Moslem, and other sects, owe their sanctity to events recorded in Biblical history.’(p.229) These cross-cultural intersections include: Joseph’s workshop being housed in the Muslim quarter and his tomb resembling ‘the common Moslem graves of the city’; contemporary Arab phraseology referring to casting the wife off as a slipper during divorce being associated with the narrative in Deuteronomy xxv. 7-10; and, the Bedouin law of hospitality practised through dabbihah (slaughtering a calf) thought to resemble an old custom practised by, ‘Abraham and Gideon, and Manoah.’ I believe it is not incidental that the Ecclesiastical Review situates this excerpt of William Thomson’s Middle Eastern travel narrative alongside their review of Ferishtah’s Fancies as this association highlights a willingness among Browning’s Christian readership to interpret his Jewish or Islamic allusions in a supplementary manner to inform their own theological identity. Likewise, Browning’s Eastern poetics can be contextualised within a greater movement towards refreshing contemporary Christian rhetoric by incorporating mythos previously dismissed on the basis of historical irrelevance.

By investigating archives unrelated to Browning’s personal correspondence, I realised how the humanistic tone of his religious poetics encouraged contemporary scholars and journalists to conduct a more hybrid literary analysis (incorporating disparate cultural codes) while also producing works that resonated with a Christian public seeking to reclaim traditional practices upheld in the East. I noted a mutually constitutive relationship form between Browning’s syncretistic approach to Eastern poetics shaping the way public figures approached Oriental tropes and the wider social shift towards integrating Arab or Persian lexis within cultural discourse which informed his own portrayal. The simultaneously innocuous and impactful nature of these references can be gleamed from an 1839 letter between Browning and Fanny Haworth where he wishes luck to two racing horses named, ‘Paracelsus’ and ‘Avicenna’, which are both references to Swiss and Persian physicians. Rooted within the mundanity of a horse race is the central character of Browning’s poem Epistle Containing the Strange Medical Experience of Karshish the Arab Physician for the titular protagonist is an amalgamation of these two formative figures who sought to similarly bridge the gap between religion and science and, as Hédi Jouad speculates, may even have derived his name from Koushayr (Avicenna’s professor). Regardless as to whether this scenario was coincidental or informative, it bolsters the narrative thread throughout these records that Middle Eastern and Islamic history had begun rooting itself into Victorian collective consciousness to the extent that neither Browning nor his associates would have found it strange to insert Qur’anic descriptions, Arab etymology or Persian poetics during their discussions.

Beyond the academic story unearthed from these tomes, my personal narrative at Baylor shall serve as a cherished memory thanks to the outstanding staff members who supported this endeavour and helped me piece together this image of Browning’s literary engagement with Middle Eastern culture. Christi Klempnauer and Laura French proved to be stalwart figures not only offering council when navigating the library system but also providing genuine, insightful conversations at the beginning and end of each day.  Likewise, the experience would not have been possible without Jennifer Borderud’s acceptance of my application enabling this wonderful month spent as a researcher, guest and (now) ambassador for Waco. Although I acquired invaluable material towards my wider work on Browning, Shelley and Islam, it is these human moments that I will truly treasure, reminisce  … archive.