Fano Club to Reunite in 2021

 

Each year the Armstrong Browning Library hosts a dinner and meeting of the Fano Club to celebrate Robert Browning’s birthday. The Fano Club was established in 1912 by William Lyon Phelps, a Browning scholar at Yale, and later passed on to Baylor professor A.J. Armstrong in 1943. Its membership shares Robert Browning’s experience of traveling to the small town of Fano, Italy, on the Adriatic coast. There, Browning walked into the Church of San Agostino and saw Guercino’s masterpiece, The Guardian Angel. Inspired by its beauty, Browning penned the eponymous poem that is read by the youngest Fano Club member at each year’s meeting.

This year out of concern for our Fano Club members amidst the ongoing spread of the coronavirus, we will not meet. We will, however, reunite in 2021 to introduce the over 30 new members who joined in 2019, share memories of Fano together, and once again hear Browning’s famous poem. Those interested in joining what has been called “the most exclusive club in the whole world” need only do three things: Visit Fano, see The Guardian Angel painting (which now hangs in the Civic Museum), and send a postcard postmarked from Fano to the Armstrong Browning Library.

While we await next year’s meeting, please consider the following request. We have heard that Fano is one of the areas that has been hit hard by COVID-19. A Fano Club member with family currently living in Fano reached out to tell us of the severity of the conditions there and asked if we would share a link to a GoFundMe campaign to purchase an additional respirator for a hospital in the Marche region of Italy. Here is the link for those who wish to contribute: https://www.gofundme.com/f/coronavirusaiutiamo-gli-ospedali-delle-marche

We look forward to welcoming the Fano Club to the Armstrong Browning Library once again next year and to meeting members new and old.

 

 

 

The Lakeside Browning Club Visits the Armstrong Browning Library

On January 21st the Lakeside Browning Club of Dallas, Texas came to the Armstrong Browning Library for a tour and luncheon. The purpose of their visit was to see in person the items purchased with the generous gift they made to the Armstrong Browning Library last year in anticipation of the Club’s 100th anniversary in 2023.

The Lakeside Browning Club

The Lakeside Browning Club in the Armstrong Browning Library’s McLean Foyer of Meditation.

In 1923, Ella Caruthers Porter founded the Lakeside Browning Club. In its early years the club met every Tuesday during the spring and fall months to discuss “literary, economic, social and civil topics.” Nearly all of these discussions were tied to Robert Browning’s poetry. The members also actively undertook philanthropic activities such as funding scholarships and donating books to the libraries of secondary schools and higher education institutions. Today the club meets monthly and continues its intellectual and philanthropic pursuits.

The Club’s recent gift to the Armstrong Browning Library provided the funds necessary to purchase a copy of Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s Poems Before Congress, a small collection of political poems written in support of the unification of Italy. This particular copy belonged to Charles Dickens and bears his bookplate on the front pastedown endpaper along with a label reading “From the Library of Charles Dickens, Gadshill Place, June, 1870.”

Club members also made possible the purchase of a manuscript in Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s hand of her poem “The King’s Gift,” which was first published after Barrett Browning’s death in the American newspaper the Independent. The poem, which is about Teresa Garibaldi (1845-1903), the daughter of Italian General Guiseppe Garibaldi, was published again in her Last Poems in 1862.

Both rare items are now available for use in research and classroom instruction.

The Lakeside Browning Club on Tour

The Lakeside Browning Club members view their gift on display in the Hankamer Treasure Room while on their tour of the Armstrong Browning Library.

The Lakeside Browning Club has long been a supporter of the Armstrong Browning Library. In 1951, the Club gave a mahogany and green velvet folding chair that belonged to Robert and Elizabeth Barrett Browning during their residence in Casa Guidi to the Library.

The John-Leddy Jones Research Hall, the Library’s bronze doors, and the statue of “Pippa” in front of the Library also have ties to members of the Lakeside Browning Club and their families. The stained-glass window illustrating Browning’s poem “My Last Duchess” was given to the Library by alumnae of the Cocke School of Expression in honor of Mrs. A. A. Cocke, a long-time leader of the Lakeside Browning Club.

The following club members contributed to their group’s gift:

Mrs. Robert Black 

Ms. Katherine L. Blair 

Mrs. Robert Blanshard 

Ms. Kathryn Bond 

Mrs. Charles Scott Burford, Sr. 

Mrs. D. Harold Byrd, Jr. 

Mrs. Byron W. Cain, Jr. 

Mrs. John R. Castle, Jr. 

Mrs. Geoffrey Crowley 

Mrs. E. James Cundiff, II 

Mrs. David C. Dick 

Mrs. Robert Dyer 

Mrs. Robert H. Engstrom 

Mrs. Donald F. Finn 

Mrs. Robert R. Fossum 

Mrs. Wilson Fry 

Ms. Barbara E. Gary  

Mrs. G. Hawkins Golden, II 

Mrs. John R. Guittard 

Mrs. Daniel Hennessy 

Mrs. David Hudnall 

Mrs. Stephen P. Huff 

Mrs. Allen Huffhines 

Mrs. George E. Hurt, Jr. 

Mrs. Phillip Gray John 

Mrs. William B. Kendrick, III 

Mrs. Hugh D. King 

Dr. Cheryl Cox Kinney 

Mrs. Steve Linder 

Ms. Pat Mittenthal 

Mrs. Wanderley Oliveira 

Mrs. James Paschal 

Mrs. Michael C. Petty 

Mrs. Richard Rathwick 

Mrs. Jerry Ridnour 

Ms. Kathey Roberts 

Mrs. Peter H. Roe 

Mrs. Michael Rogers 

Mrs. Douglas M. Simmons 

Mrs. John R. Sloan 

Mrs. Sam Stollenwerck 

Mrs. Lawrence Svehlak 

Mrs. Richard Trimble 

Mrs. Gary S. Utkov  

 

Reflections from a Visiting Scholar: The “Minor English Poets Collection”: National Memory and Ecocritical Poetry

By Jerome Wynter, PhD, Adjunct Assistant Professor, BMCC, City University of New York

Jerome Wynter, PhD, Adjunct Assistant Professor, BMCC, City University of New York

Jerome Wynter, PhD, Adjunct Assistant Professor, BMCC, City University of New York

The Armstrong Browning Library (ABL) at Baylor University boasts an archive of nineteenth-century poetry entitled “The Minor English Poets’ Collection.” Purchased in 1986 from Pickering and Chatto, it contains 249 works of verse and dramatic verse published in the Age of Queen Victoria (1837-1901). My examination of this little-explored collection reveals that the title appears to be a misnomer. The collection features the poetry of authors whose writings appeared in print only occasionally, such as the members of the Glasgow Ballad Club, John Stuart Blackie (1809-1895), John Christopher Fitzachary, James Rennell Rodd (1858-1941) and Charles Whitworth Wynne (1869-1917). But it also includes the works of poets who were well established in their day and who have received serious critical attention in ours, including George Meredith (1828-1909) and William Ernest Henley (1849-1903). Many of the poets also identify themselves as Scots and Irish in their prefaces, and several of the poems are composed in a regional dialect of Celtic or Gaelic origin.

This anomaly notwithstanding, the collection is a rich resource. My purpose in exploring the work of these mid- to late-Victorian “minor” poets was to discover their contribution to the aesthetic, political and social poetic practices to the literature and culture of the period. Kirstie Blair reminds us that with the recovery of so many minor poets “much remains to be said about them and their importance in the literary cultures of their time, not to mention the political, social and religious contexts” (2013: 3). Blair is referring to laboring- and working-class poets, but her remark points to the need for a greater renewal of interest in the study of the work of Victorian minor poets of all social classes.

Reading upwards of twenty volumes of poetry, I investigated how these “minor English” poets might be a corrective to the viewpoint of the canonical poets. I charted the broad themes of daily life. Invariably, these are concerned with poverty, economic disparity between classes, death and loss, and the Christian faith. I also explored the poets’ engagement with local and contemporary politics, national histories and the representation of nature and the environment. It is the final two of these themes that I wish to focus on briefly, paying special attention to two works of ecocritical poetry.

National Memory

This photo from Earle’s Home Poems accompanies the poem “At the Grave of the Nation” (1900)

This photo from Earle’s Home Poems accompanies the poem “At the Grave of the Nation” (1900)

Many of the poems in the archive focused on national history with a concentration on the themes of national memory, patriotism and nostalgia for bygone times. There are tributes to English and Scottish heroes, both historical and literary: Sir Francis Drake (1540-1596), Horatio Nelson (1758-1805), the Duke of Wellington (Arthur Wellesley, 1769-1852), Robert Burns (1759-1796) and Lord Alfred Tennyson (1802-1892). Irish nationalism, on the other hand, is revived mainly through the poetic treatment of legends. In a patriotic homage to Sir Francis Drake in Ballads of the Fleet and Other Poems (1897), for example, Rodd represents the infamous pirate as a hero whose life on the seas is peerless, in “San Juan De Lua” written in two-line stanzas of heroic couplets. In another unapologetically patriotic poem Home Poems (1899), Walter Earle congratulates England for its successful wars, colonial history, and territorial expansion. His goal, it seems, is to bolster national pride and self-confidence. In one poem entitled “The New Century,” the speaker announces, “Well-done, good Land! thou hast another hundred years to go” (Stanza 4), concluding that “So shall our Empire be the Champion of the Right, – / Our Flag unstained, our Name upheld; – then come what may” (Stanza 6). Remarkably, Earle’s poems ignore the effects of colonization and England’s wars during the century.

Ecocritical Poetry

Robert, Earl of Lytton (1831-1891)

Robert, Earl of Lytton (1831-1891)

Poets whose work engages with nature and environment are far less nationalistic. Many of their poems evoke Romantic tropes of nature and the wilderness, but few could be considered ecocritical poetry, which The Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics (2012) defines as “related to the broader genre of nature poetry but can be distinguished from it by its portrayal of nature as threatened by human activities.” Two notable examples of ecocritical writing that denounce the threat human activities posed to the non-human world are the poems After Paradise or Legends of Exile and Other Poems (1887) and Ad Astra (1900) by Robert, Earl of Lytton (1831-1891) and Whitworth Wynne, respectively. Both poets tackle man’s progress and degradation of the natural world, though they do not necessarily foreground the natural world or wilderness. Commenting on poetry of this kind, Karla Armbruster and Kathleen R. Wallace assert that one of the ecocritic’s most important tasks today is to consistently “address a wider spectrum of texts” that are less obviously about “natural” landscapes (2001:2).

This hybrid poetry is represented by the work of both Lytton and Wynne. Writing under the pseudonym Owen Meredith, Lytton’s title poem “After Paradise” comprises several independent sections. The first, The Titlark’s Nest: A Parable, is a fifteen-stanza modified form of the ottava rima that obliquely celebrates nature’s reclamation of the space occupied by a now abandoned temple. Colossally and splendidly built on a Greek island, it had displaced the whistling meadow pipit or titlark, the Tmetothylacus tenellus. The first stanza describes the church “high on the white peak of a glittering isle” (Stanza 1). However, it now stands “a ruin’d fane within a wild vine’s bowers,” a vine that muffles “its marble-pillar’d peristyle” (Stanza 1). Beautifully rendered, these lines capture the irony of a once opulent place of worship, “girt by priests and devotees” where “[a] god once gazed upon the suppliant throng” (Stanza 3) that has been left to rot:

The place was solitary, and the fane

Deserted save that where, in saucy scorn

Of desolation’s impotent disdain,

The reveling leaves and buds and bunches born

From the wild vine along a roofless lane

Of mouldering marble columns roam’d, one morn

A titlark, by past grandeur unopprest,

Had boldly built her inconspicuous nest. (Stanza 2)

The stanza juxtaposes the dead and desolate church building with the emerging life of plant (“buds and bunches born”) and animal (“A titlark”). The diction is one of degradation and the tone is resentful. This is conveyed through the alliterative “saucy scorn / Of desolation’s impotent disdain.” However, this tone gives way to another contrasting and conflicting one: an expression of triumph enacted by the “revelling” of the leaves amid the “buds and bunches born / From that wild vine.” The poet reconciles the former oppressive “grandeur” of the temple with the victory of “one small bird” (Stanza 3). This is a poem of contrasts and repetition, and Lytton seems to emphasize the success of the non-human world over the intrusiveness of man-made structures and the degradation which follows their reckless desolation. In Whitworth Wynne’s Ad Astra, the speaker reflects on man’s torrid relationship with God and nature, and the disastrous effects of his achievements and progress in the last few decades of the expiring century. Written in iambic pentameter, the poem consists of 227 seven-line stanzas, rhyming ababbcc. The speaker is critical of the many advancements man has made in the last decade, especially in electricity in 1887, and ponders:

XXXI

And Man, to what achievements doth he move!

Who shall foretell his boundless destiny!

Out of the earth what untold treasure-trove!

What realms await him in the trackless sky!

The stored lightnings at his bidding fly,

The circuits of the World their bounds decrease

Before the smile of universal Peace.

Initial Findings

Lytton’s and Whitworth Wynne’s ecocritical poetry aside, the majority of the volumes in the Collection, especially by the 1890s poets, that I read reveal a widespread engagement with patriotism and celebration of national history, foreshadowing Rudyard Kipling’s poetic response to empire in The Five Nations (1903). Several poets commemorate the life of Lord Alfred Tennyson (“mighty of heart or brain”), some employing the language of empire to represent the poet laureate as “Warders of Empire’s outposts.” These are but a few of the many themes to be explored in “The Minor Poets’ Collection.” Overall, my initial investigation shows that the “minor English poets,” writing in the final two decades of the nineteenth century, present no clear break with the poetry of the canonical poets of the period, with some original reviewers commenting that the work of Lord Lytton and Whitworth Wynne (pseudonym for Charles Cayzer) is imitative of Tennyson and Robert Browning.

Through the generosity of the Armstrong Browning Library at Baylor University, which awarded me a visiting research fellowship in 2019, I am grateful for the first privilege of sampling this impressive collection of writings by “minor English poets” as part of a second major project. I thank all who made my time at the ABL and Baylor a success, in particular Christi Klempnauer, who was always available to make sure my needs were well seen to, and Assistant to the Curators Melvin Schuetz and the Director Jennifer Borderud.

Works Consulted

Armbruster, Karla, and Kathleen R. Wallace, eds. (2001). Beyond Nature Writing:        Expanding the Boundaries of Ecocriticism. (Charlottesville, NC and London: University Press of Virginia).

Blair, Kirstie, and Mina Gorji, eds, (2013). Class and the CanonConstructing Labouring-Class Poetry and Poetics, 1750-1900. (London: Palgrave Macmillan. Introduction, 1-15).

Boos, Florence (2002). “Working-Class Poetry,” in Richard Cronin, Alison Chapman and Antony H. Harrison, eds., A Companion to Victorian Poetry. Malden, Mass. and Oxford: Blackwell Publishers Ltd., pp. 204-228.

Hoppen, K. Theodore. (1998). The Mid-Victorian Generation, 1846-1886. (Oxford: UOP).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Tale of Two Roberts: My ABL Journey (it’s just beginning….)

By Lesa Scholl, Ph.D., Head of Kathleen Lumley College, University of Adelaide, Australia

When I was preparing to come to the Armstrong Browning Library for my three-month fellowship, I had a range of plans that involved book proposals, chapter drafts, and well-thought-out structures for the research I was going to do. Previous experience should have warned me otherwise. I should have known that my project would become, in the words of Oscar Wilde’s Algernon Moncrieff, “quite exploded”—in the best possible way.

I first visited the ABL in April 2017, when I was primarily using the Nineteenth-Century Collection to examine Anglican pamphlets and tracts that engaged with the Eucharist and the way they talked about poverty, hunger, and social justice. On my last day in the library, I happened upon a particular pamphlet: Remarks on Fasting, and on the Discipline of the Body: In a Letter to a Clergyman. By A Physician (1848).

Title page of 'Remarks on Fasting'. The work was published anonymously by Rivingtons in 1848.

‘Remarks on Fasting’ was published anonymously by Rivingtons in 1848.

This pamphlet intrigued me, primarily because it was a medical doctor writing to a clergyman, not to speak against the practice of fasting, but to encourage appropriate ways in which to fast: ways that would promote bodily and spiritual health. He also gives a fascinatingly detailed description of what an appropriate diet ought to be—although he loses me when he tries to get me to refrain from coffee!

Pages 10 and 11 of Remarks details what the physician deems a regular diet so that one can ascertain whether they are eating too much or too little.

Pages 10 and 11 of Remarks details what the physician deems a regular diet so that one can ascertain whether they are eating too much or too little.

The discovery of this pamphlet led to my current book project, Fasting and Wasting: Religion, Nutrition, and Social Responsibility in Victorian Britain, which I’ve been working on during my semester at the ABL this year. Although I’d taken notes from the pamphlet, and had given papers relating to it since 2017, I was really excited to be able to hold it in my hands again. In this second full reading, I felt prompted to look at a particular text that it referenced. As I read Robert Wilson Evans’s The Ministry of the Body (1847), I realized that this was the text to which Remarks was responding: it was published in the previous year, also by Rivingtons, who had published Remarks, and my doctor-author was not only extremely flattering in his citations of Evans’s work, he proceeded to critique every criticism on fasting that the clergyman had presented! A doctor defending fasting to a clergyman—offering to teach the clergyman how to teach his flock to fast appropriately—isn’t exactly the expected trajectory.

I had found my clergyman, but my doctor continued to elude me. It took a number of Baylor librarians, the Wellcome Library, the Medical Heritage Library, the Royal College of Surgeons Library, the Lambeth Palace Library, and the National Library of Wales to find my answer: another Robert. Robert Bentley Todd, MD, one of the founders of King’s College Hospital in London, was identified.

Lambeth Palace Library’s second edition of Remarks includes a nineteenth-century pencil annotation on the title page that attributes the pamphlet to R.B. Todd, M.D.

Lambeth Palace Library’s second edition of Remarks includes a nineteenth-century pencil annotation on the title page that attributes the pamphlet to R.B. Todd, M.D.

That Todd was the doctor is almost too good to be true. His career and his religious faith, and his determination to include religious training in the training of medical students, fulfilled the desire I had to make his pamphlet one of the centerpieces of my project. The question remains as to why such a prolific writer and influential figure chose to write the pamphlet anonymously. While I haven’t ascertained this answer fully, I suspect it was because it was well-known that Todd was good friends with John Henry Newman from his Oxford days, and it had only been three years since Newman’s extremely controversial conversion to the Roman Church. Given that Newman was also known for his more ascetic religious practices, including extreme fasting, and Todd’s own High Church persuasion, having the pamphlet signed may have influenced the readership to smell the dangers of popery. In fact, Todd was known to be deeply critical of extreme fasting, and, as his pamphlet details, held to fasting as food restriction more than complete abstinence—a stance that resonated with Todd’s and Newman’s fellow Oxfordian, Edward Bouverie Pusey’s attitude toward fasting in Tracts for the Times. Indeed, the reduction of portions rather than complete abstinence was seen as a way to prevent gluttony and intemperance at the end of the fast, and was believed to be more difficult than abstinence.

With my two Roberts—Evans and Todd—at the helm, my research over the semester stretched out into the conversations that were occurring between medical doctors and theologians within nineteenth-century Britain, and the way in which these conversations impacted understandings of social responsibility and public health, as well as spiritual and moral wellness. The ABL introduced me to many sources I hadn’t encountered before, such as the multivolume Bridgewater Treatises (a collection of books written by theologians and medical scientists on the natural sciences as evidence of the glory and power of God manifest in the earth) and the Rivington Theological Library, both of which revealed the deep connections of thought and ethos between medicine and religion in the Victorian period.

The conversation became, as I should probably have expected, much larger and more exciting than I had anticipated. I had the opportunity to bring the materials together in a preliminary way at the ABL’s Benefactor’s Day, where I presented on Healthy Bodies, Healthy Souls: 19th-Century Medicine, Religion, and Literature.

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The ABL’s collection of materials on Alice Meynell and Christina Rossetti aided me in this as well, particularly in accessing Rossetti’s theological texts. This process made me rethink again the structure of my project: I didn’t want it to seem like the women were writing the light literary material while the men wrote the serious medical and theological texts. Rossetti was, in fact, taken quite seriously as a theologian in the nineteenth century, although that was an unusual role for women of the time. (She also happened to be treated by Queen Victoria’s doctors, but that’s a story for another day!)

The majority of the research I’ve been doing at the ABL has engaged with the way in which nineteenth-century doctors and theologians were thinking about the relationship between the body and the soul, and the way that then relates to the social body: how does our impetus to care for our physical bodies affect the way we think about the bodies around us? Are we too spiritual, too busy seeking God alone through prayer and fasting, to notice His presence in the poor bodies in our streets? That question was the crux of the nineteenth-century debate on the role of fasting in the Church. Many thinkers, both scientific and religious, in ways worth pondering in our own age of excess, saw a place for fasting that was both spiritually edifying, but focused outward toward the community: fasting to sympathize and understand; fasting to curb luxury and self-indulgence in an age of excessive consumerism when so many were starving; and, perhaps most importantly, in the words of Pusey, “to give to the widow, or the poor, the amount of that which thou wouldest have expended upon thyself.”

 

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

From the Illustrated London News, December 1848, in the Rare Periodicals Collection of the Armstrong Browning Library. This illustration depicts Queen Victoria, Prince Albert, and their family around a Christmas tree at Windsor Castle.

From the Illustrated London News, December 1848, in the Rare Periodicals Collection of the Armstrong Browning Library

For this year’s Christmas card the Armstrong Browning Library selected an image from the December 1848 issue of the Illustrated London News. Our chosen image depicts Queen Victoria, Prince Albert, and their family around a Christmas tree at Windsor Castle. This image popularized the German tradition of decorating trees inside the home at Christmas time in Great Britain.

A Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to you from your friends at the Armstrong Browning Library

The inside message of our Christmas card.

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to our blog readers!

We look forward to continuing to share the Armstrong Browning Library’s happenings with you in 2020.

 

‘Every common bush afire with God’: Things Not Shown

‘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.

Things Not Shown: What Didn’t Make It into the Exhibit

Matthew Arnold’s “Dover Beach,” from New Poems. London: Macmillan and Co, 1867.

Matthew Arnold’s “Dover Beach,” from New Poems. London: Macmillan and Co, 1867.

The Armstrong Browning Library holds a first edition of Matthew Arnold’s New Poems, including what is perhaps his most famous, “Dover Beach.” Hardly an argument for religion’s advocacy for ecological care, “Dover Beach,” provides a sobering counterpoint to many of the texts displayed in this fall’s exhibition, “‘Every common bush afire with God: Divine Encounters with the Living World.” While most of the exhibition’s writers and artists advocate for creation care because of nature’s participation in the grace and presence of God, Arnold’s poem argues the reverse. Rather than being “afire with God,” the natural world is empty of divine purpose or presence:

The Sea of Faith

Was once, too, at the full, and round earth’s shore

Lay like the folds of a bright girdle furled.

But now I only hear

Its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar,

Retreating, to the breath

Of the night-wind, down the vast edges drear

And naked shingles of the world. (113)

Arnold’s image of the “Sea of Faith…Retreating” represents for many what religious faith in the nineteenth century looked like. In the face of scientific and industrial progress, little room was left for the mystery of a divine Creator.

 

Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s A Drama of Exile, London: George G. Harrap & Co, 1900.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s A Drama of Exile, London: George G. Harrap & Co, 1900.

But other writers not only held to their Christian faith; they were moved by it to care for the world around them and create art and poetry that reflected that world’s beauty, fragility, and dignity. One could argue that Elizabeth Barrett Browning acknowledges Arnold’s perspective in A Drama of Exile. Written as a theatrical narrative of Adam and Eve, A Drama of Exile explores the broken relationship between nature and humanity as a consequence of the fall and expulsion from the Garden of Eden. At one point, Eve laments her separation from nature, remembering what she had been in the Garden:

…was I not, that hour,

The lady of the world, princess of life,

Mistress of feast and favour? Could I touch

A rose with my white hand, but it became

Redder at once? (72-73)

In sinlessness, Eve’s presence made nature more fully itself—the roses more red, the grass more green, the leaves of the trees more quivering with life, the birdsong more glad. In turn, she was more herself as well, more “princess of life, / Mistress of feast and favour.” Eve’s separation from God places her at odds with the natural world, limiting its capacity to communicate divine grace.

It is precisely because of this distance that poets like Barrett Browning must remind us through their poetry that nature has its own unique relationship with God, and that the common material of the world around us is also more than material. The distance incurred by the fall keeps God’s presence in the ordinary world from being self-evident. In her introduction to A Drama of Exile, Barrett Browning argues against those who would separate religious concerns from common life, “As if life were not a continual sacrament to man, since Christ brake the daily bread of it in His hands!… As if the word God were not, everywhere in His creation, and at every moment in His eternity, an appropriate word!” (6).

 

William Blake’s “The Lamb,” from Songs of Innocence and Experience. London: W. Pickering, 1839.

William Blake’s “The Lamb,” from Songs of Innocence and Experience. London: W. Pickering, 1839.

Poets like Barrett Browning who wished to speak prophetically on the state of nature in nineteenth-century imagination drew heavily on William Blake’s poetic works. Blake’s familiar poem, “The Lamb” from Songs of Innocence and Experience, is one such reminder, not only that God made the “Little Lamb,” but that “he calls himself a Lamb” (11). The poem is a gentle, childlike reminder that nature shares in God’s blessings, and that all of God’s creatures are his children—not humanity alone. God can be known and understood by humanity through his other creatures.

 

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

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

Much later in the century, Gerard Manley Hopkins expands beautifully on this idea in his poem “God’s Grandeur.” In it, he describes how the whole earth is “charged with the grandeur of God,” but that we fail to feel his presence because “the soil / Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod” (26). This line echoes the narrative in Exodus in which God commands Moses to remove his sandals before approaching the bush burning with divine presence. The ABL’s current exhibition displays Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s prose novel Aurora Leigh, showing the famous passage quoted in the exhibit’s title: “Earth’s crammed with heaven, / And every common bush afire with God: / But only he who sees, takes off his shoes” (304). Christina Rossetti’s poem “Tread Softly,” from A Pageant and Other Poems is displayed next to Aurora Leigh, which also alludes to the Mosaic narrative: “Tread softly! All the earth is holy ground. / It may be, could we look with seeing eyes, / This spot we stand on is a Paradise” (153). In Hopkins’s poem, our failure to “tread softly” is directly related to our excessive concern with false progress. We have stripped the soil of its fruitfulness and beauty through “trade” and “toil”—both consequences of the fall, like Eve’s distance from the created world—and in the process we’ve “shod” our feet as well.

Hopkins’s poem ends in confidence, however, that “nature is never spent.” Looking back with twenty-first-century hindsight, it’s difficult to have such a hope. His poem “Binsey Poplars,” featured early in the exhibition, seems more honest about the irretrievable loss of nature as a result of human carelessness and destruction. To have hope, we need to take more seriously the possibility that the “grandeur of God” lies within all of nature. We need to believe with Barrett Browning that our deepest humanity is found in recognizing our participation in the natural world, not in setting ourselves at odds with it. Until then, it’s small wonder that Arnold’s poem rings true for so many readers. We have failed to take off our shoes.

 

 

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

Literary Networks in the 19th and Early 20th Centuries Class Exhibit: Mary Shelley

On December 9th at 9:05am, Dr. Kristin Pond’s English 3351: Literary Networks in the Nineteenth- and Early Twentieth-Centuries course will be presenting their Great Exhibition. This is a class project which requires students to explore what artifacts, including original letters, manuscripts and books, photographs, and actual objects exist at the Armstrong Browning Library related to each student’s assigned author.

The exhibition will be on display in the Hankamer Treasure Room for the entire morning December 9th, 2019.

To prepare for the exhibition, students wrote a short biography of their author and practiced analyzing an artifact for what it reveals about their author. A sample of one student’s preliminary research follows.

 

Mary Shelley – Life, Writings, and Browning Correspondence

Mary Shelley, daughter of political radical William Godwin and feminist Mary Wollstonecraft (writer of A Vindication of the Rights of Woman), was born in 1797. Sadly, her mother died due to an internal bacterial infection following childbirth. Possibly to escape a troubled household and a horrible stepmother, 16-year-old Mary eloped in 1814 with the then-married romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley.

Through her husband Percy, Mary Shelley continued to receive encouragement on her writing, as she had for most of her life under the watch of her intellectual father. On the point of Percy’s influence, however, there have been a number of misunderstandings – all at the expense of Mary Shelley’s creative reputation.

In her biography Mary Shelley: Her Life, Her Fiction, Her Monsters, author Anne Mellor analyzes Mary Shelley’s writings and journals through a feminist lens, validating Mary’s standing as an independent writer of Frankenstein, a gothic masterpiece. Contrary to what some may believe, Percy was an avid supporter – not a controlling editor – of his wife’s writings.

Prior to the 21st century, scholars had assumed that Percy had essentially taught his wife how to write well. This assumption may be based on the fact that one of Mary’s copies of Frankenstein contains several grammatical and syntax edits by Percy. In one edition of Frankenstein, Percy actually wrote the novel’s preface as if he was Mary. Moreover, Mary’s writing contains a description of Mont Blanc which some have linked with Percy’s “Mont Blanc” poem. To make matters worse, due to the constraints of the time, the first copies of Frankenstein were actually published under Percy Shelley’s name.

That being said, however, Mary Shelley did craft the vast majority of Frankenstein, not to mention her other works. Being as independent and nonconformist as her feminist mother, Mary most likely would not have permitted over-involved literary edits on Percy’s part. In her History of a Six Weeks’ Tour, when describing the natural world about her, Mary says, “God has not reduced our dwelling-place – as Puritans would his – to a bare meeting-house, all there is radiant in glorious colours” (12). Through her criticism of Puritan religion and her gushing over natural beauty, Mary not only reveals her open-minded, non-conformist attitude towards history and society but also her idealistic writer’s heart.

A romantic spirit, Mary found her soulmate and escape from the world in Percy Shelley, who viewed her as his intellectual equal. For the eight years they lived together, Percy Shelley was deeply in love with Mary, to the point that he sometimes expressed wishes to retreat onto an island with her and his child, them against the world. Evidence of a mutually constructive literary relationship can be found in their correspondence. For example, in a letter by Mary Shelley to a friend, Percy interposes, writing “Poor Mary’s book has come back with a refusal which has put me in rather ill spirits.” In another letter, Percy writes to Mary, “Be severe in your corrections, & expect severity from me, your sincere admirer. – I flatter myself you have composed something unequalled in its kind.” Rather than lead Mary’s writing endeavors, Percy avidly supported them, offering constructive criticisms. His prefaces to Mary’s Frankenstein and History of a Six Weeks’ Tour were part of a collaborative effort, not of a failing on Mary’s part. In turn, Mary offered up her own support and criticisms of Percy’s writing, including his poems “The Witch of Atlas” and “Rosalind and Helen,” which Percy might not have published if not for her encouragement. Following Percy’s tragic drowning in 1822, Mary edited and published Percy’s works posthumously.

Through Frankenstein and Mary Shelley’s account of Frankenstein’s creation, Mary Shelley reveals herself to be curious, conscientious, and sensitive, channeling her life’s questions, worries, and griefs into her writing. In 1816, Mary Shelley received an awaited opportunity to prove her worth as a writer when Lord Byron suggested to his Shelley friends that they each write a ghost story. Having been the only one of her peers to take Byron’s story prompt seriously, Mary Shelley was finally inspired after a period of much creative anxiety. Drawing from her recent grief and nightmares about childbirth, Mary Shelley “gave birth” to a “hideous progeny,” in the form of Victor Frankenstein’s monster. In 1817, at the age of nineteen, Mary Shelley published Frankenstein following the suicide of Percy Shelley’s wife Harriet, the suicide of Mary Shelley’s half-sister Fanny, and the death of Mary Shelley’s infant daughter. Undoubtedly, these deaths influenced the macabre tone and themes of the novel.

Like Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Mary Shelley was a key component of a 19th century network of feminist writers. Just as Elizabeth Browning wrote poems in honor or in critique of other female writers, such as her “Stanzas Addressed to Miss Landon,” Mary Shelley likely looked up to a network of precursing female gothic writers as literary models. These writers included Ann Radcliffe (writer of The Mysteries of Udolpho) and Charlotte Dacre (writer of The Confessions of the Nun of St. Omer).

Yet, in spite of their female literary backgrounds, very little communication existed between Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Mary Shelley. Despite her success as an author, it appears that Mary Shelley was overshadowed by Percy Shelley in the Brownings’ eyes. While Percy Shelley’s writings and beliefs heavily influenced Robert Browning (he became an atheist vegetarian after reading Percy’s Queen Mab), Browning’s only mention of Mary Shelley in his letters was of her sorry state following Percy Shelley’s death. An 1845 letter to Elizabeth Barrett Browning is the only published letter in which Robert Browning writes of her. In this letter, Browning recalls:

The ‘Mary dear’ with the brown eyes, and Godwin’s daughter and Shelley’s wife, and who surely was something better once upon a time…when she and the like of her are put in a new place, with new flowers, new stones, faces…[she] wisely saying ‘ who shall describe that sight ! ‘ — Not you, we very well see…

Robert Browning then goes on to say:

But once she travelled the country with Shelley on arm; now she plods it, Rogers in hand…but she is wrong every where, that is, not right, not seeing what is to see, speaking what one expects to hear — I quarrel with her, for ever, I think.

In spite of Mary Shelley’s success as a writer, Robert Browning saw her as a sort of soft-eyed sweetheart, consumed by grief to the point that she was annoying to be around. Rather than refer to her as “author of Frankenstein” or something more flattering, Browning identifies Mary Shelley by her radical writer relations. Briefly, he does recognize Mary Shelley’s past accomplishments when he says, “something better once upon a time.” Otherwise, he is annoyed by her apparent inability to say or write anything interesting or insightful.

This characterization of Mary Shelley is surprisingly harsh, considering that the Brownings may have respected Mary Shelley’s works. In fact, at least two of the books in their library were ones that Mary Shelley had either written or edited: History of a Six Weeks’ Tour Through a Part of France, Switzerland, Germany, and Holland, and Percy Bysshe Shelley’s Posthumous Poems. That being said, they did not own a copy of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, which may explain their misperception of grieving gothic Mary as overly sweet or passive. If only the Brownings knew that Mary had saved the heart of Percy, a small organ wrapped in a sheet of posthumous poetry and tucked away inside her desk drawer.

Works Cited

Browning, Robert, and Elizabeth Barrett Browning. The Letters of Robert Browning and  Elizabeth Barrett Barrett. Vol. 1, New York and London, Harper and Brothers, Publishers, 1899. 2 vols.

Creech, Melinda. “Giving Nineteenth Century Women Writers a Voice and a Face — Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley [née Godwin] (1797–1851).” Armstrong Browning Library and Museum, Baylor University, 23 July 2013, blogs.baylor.edu/armstrongbrowning/tag/frankenstein/. Accessed 23 Sept. 2019.

Mellor, Anne K. Mary Shelley: Her Life, Her Fiction, Her Monsters. New York and London, Routledge, 2009.

Mercer, Anna. “The Literary Collaboration of Mary and Percy Shelley.” Dove Cottage and the Wordsworth Museum, Wordsworth Trust, 2017, wordsworth.org.uk/blog/2015/02/15/mine-own-hearts-home-the-literary-collaboration-of-mary-and-percy-bysshe-shelley/. Accessed 24 Sept. 2019.

Poetry Foundation, editor. “Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley.” Poetry Foundation, edited by Poetry Foundation, 2019, www.poetryfoundation.org/poets/mary-wollstonecraft-shelley. Accessed 24 Sept. 2019.

Pottle, Frederick A., M.A. Shelley and Browning: A Myth and Some Facts. Pembroke Press, 1923.

Shelley, Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin. History of a Six Weeks’ Tour. London, T. Hookam, 1817.

Shelley, Percy. Letter to Mary Shelley. 10 Aug. 1821. Letters. Edited by Frederick L. Jones, vol. 324. Oxford University, 2015.

Shelley, Percy. Letter to Mary Shelley. 15 Aug. 1821. Letters. Edited by Frederick L. Jones, vol. 339. Oxford University, 2015.

Theisen, Colleen. “Mary and Percy Shelley Letter Mentions Frankenstein Rejections.” The University of Iowa Libraries, U. of Iowa, 8 Oct. 2012, blog.lib.uiowa.edu/speccoll/2012/10/08/special-collections-mary-and-percy-shelley-letter-mentions-frankenstein-rejections/. Accessed 24 Sept. 2019.

Literary Networks in the 19th and Early 20th Centuries Class Exhibit: John Keats

On December 9th at 9:05am, Dr. Kristin Pond’s English 3351: Literary Networks in the Nineteenth- and Early Twentieth-Centuries course will be presenting their Great Exhibition. This is a class project which requires students to explore what artifacts, including original letters, manuscripts and books, photographs, and actual objects exist at the Armstrong Browning Library related to each student’s assigned author.

 

The exhibition will be on display in the Hankamer Treasure Room for the entire morning December 9th, 2019.

 

To prepare for the exhibition, students wrote a short biography of their author and practiced analyzing an artifact for what it reveals about their author. A sample of one student’s preliminary research follows.

 

John Keats

The April 1818 edition of The Quarterly Review reads “Keats is unhappily a disciple of the new school [of] Cockney poetry; which may be defined to consist of the most incongruous ideas in the most uncouth language (1).”

Before John Keats reached worldwide fame, he could not escape being a subject of harsh criticisms such as the sentiment above. The Quarterly Review, Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine, and other prominent literary magazines all branded Keats into a pejorative group known as the Cockney school. This group included English writers such as Leigh Hunt, William Hazlitt, and Percy Shelly, and they were all collectively criticized for a number of shaky reasons. Keats in particular was attacked because of his lower-class upbringing; an editor of The Quarterly Review particularly disapproved highly of the working class meddling with intellectual forms such as poetry. The Review’s editor labels Keats an ‘uneducated and flimsy stripling’ and slams Endymion as an “imperturbable drivelling idiocy” before concluding that “It is a better and wiser thing to be a starved apothecary than a starved poet; so back to the shop Mr John. (2)” We cannot be sure exactly how Keats reacted to this virulence. It’s possible that he was completely undeterred, and it is possible that it adversely affected his health (Shelly actually thought that the criticism contributed to his early death (3)). Whatever the reaction of Keats, the latter opinion was loud enough to cause Blackwood Magazine to go on the defense after his death, writing:

Mr. Keats died in the ordinary course of nature. Nothing was ever said in this Magazine about him, that needed to have given him an hour’s sickness; and had he lived a few years longer, he would have profited by our advice, and been grateful for it, although perhaps conveyed to him in a pill rather too bitter. Hazlitt, Hunt, and other unprincipled infidels, were his ruin. Had he lived a few years longer, we should have driven him in disgust from the gang that were gradually affixing a taint to his name. His genius we saw, and praised; but it was deplorably sunk in the mire of Cockneyism (4).

Although having never corresponded to Keats (not surprising as she was only fourteen when he passed away), Elizabeth Barrett Browning was a staunch believer that the heavy criticism of Keats lead to adverse effects later on in his life. She detested how the “Cockney School” writers, especially Keats, had scurrilous attacks lobbed at them. Even when she later figured out the identity of one of the anonymous authors who took part in the harsh criticism was someone she respected, she still sided with Keats and said they erred in their criticism. She pitied the poet greatly for being “slain outright & inglouriously by the quarterly review’s tomahawk (5)”. As a poet herself Elizabeth Barrett Browning must have known the importance of a poet’s reputation. Keats was financially unstable throughout his life, and his all his earnings came from his poetry. In this sense, his reputation was not just his reputation, but also his living. Seeing a fellow poet slandered caused a justifiable outlash in several of Browning’s letters.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning could see that people did not recognize Keats’ genius. To Browning, Keats was a “grand exception from among the vulgar herd of juvenile versifiers. (6)” Keats was “a seer… Who [wrote] the things you were speaking of yesterday. (7)” He was too ahead of the times to really be appreciated at the start of the nineteenth century. To Browning, the world did not deserve such a prominent and determined poet as Keats. She notes “as singers sing themselves out of breath, he sang himself out of life (8).” Keats put every last ounce of effort into crafting his work, and nowhere was a similar sentiment expressed by his ignorant critics. According to Browning, “Nobody who knew very deeply what poetry is… could draw any case against [Keats]” (9). Keats’ critics did not hold the intellectual ability to truly appreciate his work, making their criticism against the poet inevitable. Browning felt that Keats’ critics’ imaginations could not allow them to ever dream up what Keats, “a poet of the senses” could (9). The dream expressed in “Eve of St Agnes” or anything else so creatively imagined was simply not accessible to their closed minds. Those who criticized Keats were unable to attain such “senses idealized” (9). To Browning, Keats was simply “a fine genius, – too finely tuned for the gross dampness of our atmosphere. (8)”

That Elizabeth Barrett Browning shouted such praise for someone she did not know personally might seem strange and surprising. That said, Browning had definitely become knowledgeable about his work as numerous references to Keats’ writing are sprawled throughout her letters. Robert Browning had a period where he would read Keats to a sick friend every two days, so his work was definitely present in Elizabeth’s life. But still, she never knew him personally (10). Browning’s literary circle did help fill in some knowledge of Keats’ personality, but ultimately, she was left to judge Keats based on his work alone. Sadly, this means that the connection between Keats and Elizabeth Barrett Browning was solely Elizabeth’s posthumous praise for and defense of Keats. The strength of her defense speaks to the genius of Keats’ writing, and how great writers have the potential to influence and inspire and communicate even after their deaths.

To sum up, Elizabeth Barrett Browning felt as if there were already enough burdens weighing down on Keats’ life without the criticism, as the poet’s life leads one to experience “wearing anxieties” regardless of how one’s work is received. Yet sadly Keats died before his work was honored; consequently, this makes Browning ask whether praise is necessary, and even if Keats would have been jealous of the future fame of his works. Browning obviously cannot ask for Keats’ answer, but she dreams something akin to this: Praise would just be “redundant to his content” that Keats got from the joy of creating and the “exercise of art” (11).  There is comfort in such thinking.

 

 

Numbered Sources

  1. Wilson, John. “Review of Keats’s Endymion.” Quarterly Review, Apr. 1818, pp. 204–208.
  2. Lockhart, John. “Endymion Review.” Quarterly Review, Apr. 1818, p. 524.
  3. Shelly, Percy. “Preface.” Adonais, Methuen & Co., 1821, pp. 3–4.
  4. Wilson, John. “Lord Bryon and His Contemporaries.” Blackwood Magazine, 1828, pp. 403–404.
  5. Browning, Elizabeth. “Letter 866.” Received by Mary Mitford, 26 Oct. 1841, London.
  6. Browning, Elizabeth. “Letter 1672.” Received by John Kenyon, Aug. 1844, London.
  7. Browning, Elizabeth. “Letter 2025.” Received by Robert Browning, 7 July 1846, London.
  8. Browning, Elizabeth. “Letter 1029.” Received by Benjamin Haydon, 20 Oct. 1842, London.
  9. Browning, Elizabeth. “Letter 2025.” Received by Robert Browning, 7 July 1846, London.
  10. Browning, Elizabeth. “Letter 4252.” Received by Anna Brownell Jameson, 5 October 1858, Paris.
  11. Browning, Elizabeth. “Letter 1829.” Received by Robert Browning, 3 Feb. 1845, 50 Wimpole Street.

Additional Sources

Keats, John. John Keats. Edited by Elizabeth Cook, Oxford University Press, 1990.

Browning, Elizabeth. “Letter 4252.” Received by Anna Brownell Jameson, 5 October 1858, Paris.

Browning, Elizabeth. “Letter 2472.” Received by Robert Browning, 7 July 1846, London.

Browning, Elizabeth. “Letter 2025.” Received by Robert Browning, 7 July 1846, London.

Browning, Elizabeth. “Letter 1706.” Received by Mary Mitford, 3 Sept. 1844, London.

Browning, Elizabeth. “Letter 1105.” Received by Mary Mitford, 30 Dec. 1842, London.

Literary Networks in the 19th and Early 20th Centuries Class Exhibit: William Wordsworth

On December 9th at 9:05am, Dr. Kristin Pond’s English 3351: Literary Networks in the Nineteenth- and Early Twentieth-Centuries course will be presenting their Great Exhibition. This is a class project which requires students to explore what artifacts, including original letters, manuscripts and books, photographs, and actual objects exist at the Armstrong Browning Library related to each student’s assigned author.

The exhibition will be on display in the Hankamer Treasure Room for the entire morning December 9th, 2019.

To prepare for the exhibition, students wrote a short biography of their author and practiced analyzing an artifact for what it reveals about their author. A sample of one student’s preliminary research follows.

 

William Wordsworth

Biography     

William Wordsworth was born in 1770 in England, and he would grow up to become a well-renowned poet by the time of his death in 1850. Achieving that honor, however, required a great deal of financial strife first. Orphaned at an early age, impoverished throughout his youth, and dissatisfied with his college education at Cambridge, Wordsworth fumbled through his earlier years (Mason, 1-3). He had always been interested in writing, but he did not produce much poetry during this period. However, he did develop a very close relationship with his sister Dorothy. As adults, they eked out an impoverished existence together in a house called Racedown in Dorset, England. It was here, under the influence of his likewise literary-minded sister, that Wordsworth grew into the title of poet, increasing his output by four times as much as he had written in earlier years. As Worthen writes, “…having discovered a way of working with [Dorothy], he now preferred not to write without her” (Worthen, 113-117). This clearly drew Wordsworth into a particularly close emotional bond with his sister. Perhaps more significantly, this new era in his writing might never had come about if not for Dorothy’s support. As he continued writing, she critiqued his work, and “it was [her] propensity for aesthetic judgement, as well as her unwavering emotional support, that Wordsworth most respected, and her comments inspired him to improve his writing” (Mason, 5). Dorothy played a formative role in Wordsworth’s beginnings as a poet, pushing him ever-forwards toward greatness.

As Wordsworth developed as a poet, he formed another important relationship: a friendship with Samuel Coleridge. The two writers “were immediately enamored with each other,” and they soon moved within a few miles of each other. The two (and Dorothy) spent a lot of time together, often taking long walks during which they wrote and talked about poetry (Mason, 7). All evidence points to the fact that Wordsworth and Coleridge were fast friends with much in common. They clearly stimulated each other’s minds and got along quite well, not to mention the fact that Coleridge aided Wordsworth in getting his early work published. Also, in her biographical work on Wordsworth, Emma Mason describes in detail the writing relationship between Coleridge and Wordsworth: “Coleridge… tasked Wordsworth with the writing of a new Miltonic philosophic epic.” This would grow into Wordsworth’s autobiographical poem, “The Prelude.” The pair also co-wrote a book of poetry, aptly titled Lyrical Ballads, and traveled Europe together (Mason, 8). Coleridge was not only a good friend but a good writing partner, bolstering Wordsworth’s writing and, like Dorothy, propelling him towards progress. Their friendship began to sour, however, as Coleridge became addicted to opium and began to push Wordsworth away. Finally, Coleridge broke off the friendship over petty hearsay (Mason, 10-11, 16). Wordsworth, though hurt by this abrupt end to such a long and devoted friendship, moved on and kept writing.

In 1802, Wordsworth would marry Mary Hutchinson (after having a love-affair and a child with a Frenchwoman, Annette), and the two had what appeared to be a loving, relatively happy marriage. The two lived with Dorothy, who remained close with her brother throughout their lives (Mason, 10-13). And, after years of little financial success as a poet, Wordsworth gradually gained widespread recognition as a great poet. In 1843, Wordsworth became Poet Laureate of Britain, the crowning glory of several literary honors that he received. He died in 1850 (Mason, 22).

 

 

Letters

In an 1808 letter to Dorothy Wordsworth (and his wife, Mary), Wordsworth begins the letter by addressing his “Dearest Loves.” He recounts his travels, focusing in particular on the people he has encountered and how they are doing. He mentions Coleridge multiple times, clearly expressing worry about Coleridge’s health (by this time, the latter was well into his opium addiction). Wordsworth also writes that “Coleridge has just had a long Letter, in which is related the fate of Sally’s parents. It has much affected me, and we must do for Sally what we can” (Wordsworth, 1808). This letter is rife with evidence of affection towards Dorothy and Mary, and even more impressive compassion towards his old friend Coleridge and even towards his former servant, Sally. In this letter, Wordsworth comes across as a loving man who tries fervently to love and take care of those around him.

Interestingly, within the same letter, Wordsworth reveals his negative opinion on publishing his work. In distinct contrast to the gentle way he refers to those that he is familiar with, he writes of the “wretched and stupid Public.” He describes how, though he desires to use his writing to benefit the public, he still somehow detests the idea of publishing his work (Wordsworth, 1808). Here the reader receives an intriguing insight into why Wordsworth was slow to publish his work.

Although, as mentioned above, some of Wordsworth’s most significant literary attachments were to his sister Dorothy and to Samuel Coleridge, he also was connected to the Brownings. In a letter to John Kenyon, William Wordsworth references some poems by Elizabeth Barrett Browning that Kenyon sent Mrs. Wordsworth, and he compliments Barrett Browning’s “Genius and attainments” (Wordsworth, 1839). In this letter, he reports his admiration for Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s intelligence and literary accomplishments. Though the indirectness of this compliment toward Elizabeth Barrett Browning might seem to suggest that they were unfamiliar with each other in person, a letter written three years prior (in 1836) disproves this idea. In this letter, written by Elizabeth Barrett Browning herself, she also describes Wordsworth in a complimentary fashion: “I… must have told you that one of my privileges has been to see Wordsworth twice. He was very kind to me, and let me hear his conversation…. His manners are very simple; & his conversation not at all prominent – if you quite understand what I mean by that” (Browning, 1836). It seems that the warm feelings and respect between William Wordsworth and Elizabeth Barrett Browning were definitively mutual. Barrett Browning also gives the reader further clue into Wordsworth’s personality, describing him as kind and “simple,” which I interpret as meaning that he came across as modest despite the literary fame he had achieved by that time. Though Wordsworth and Barrett Browning may not have known each other well, they did appear to deeply respect each other, both in personality and in literary accomplishments.

 

Works Cited

Browning, Elizabeth Barrett to Julia Martin. December 7th, 1836 in The Brownings’ Correspondence, https://www.browningscorrespondence.com/correspondence/621/?rsId=168911

Mason, Emma. The Cambridge Introduction to William Wordsworth, Cambridge University Press, 2010. ProQuest Ebook Central, https://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/bayloru/detail.action?docID=564466.

Wordsworth, William to Dorothy Wordsworth. March 26th, 1808 in Oxford Scholarly Editions Online, https://www-oxfordscholarlyeditions-com.ezproxy.baylor.edu/view/10.1093/actrade/9780198185239.book.1/actrade-9780198185239-div2-10

Wordsworth, William to John Kenyon. February 26th, 1839 in The Letters of William and Dorothy Wordsworth, ed. Ernest de Selincourt et al., 2nd ed., https://www.browningscorrespondence.com/supporting-documents/1147/?rsId=168867&returnPage=1

Worthen, John. Wiley Blackwell Critical Biographies : Life of William Wordsworth: a Critical Biography, John Wiley & Sons, Incorporated, 2014. ProQuest Ebook Central, https://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/bayloru/detail.action?docID=1603102.

Literary Networks in the 19th and Early 20th Centuries Class Exhibit: Dorothy Wordsworth

On December 9th at 9:05am, Dr. Kristin Pond’s English 3351: Literary Networks in the Nineteenth- and Early Twentieth-Centuries course will be presenting their Great Exhibition. This is a class project which requires students to explore what artifacts, including original letters, manuscripts and books, photographs, and actual objects exist at the Armstrong Browning Library related to each student’s assigned author.

The exhibition will be on display in the Hankamer Treasure Room for the entire morning December 9th, 2019.

To prepare for the exhibition, students wrote a short biography of their author and practiced analyzing an artifact for what it reveals about their author. A sample of one student’s preliminary research follows.

 

Dorothy Wordsworth

Early Life

Dorothy Wordsworth was born in 1771 on December 25th in Cockermouth Cumbria. She was the third and only girl out of five children in the family. She was only two years younger than her brother, William Wordsworth. When her mother died at a young age, Dorothy and her brothers continued to live a happy childhood. However, the death of their father happened unexpectedly, leaving them in financial instability and forcing Dorothy and her siblings to live with various relatives. Dorothy was sent to live with her aunt Elizabeth Threldkeld in Halifax, West Yorkshire. At age 25, she was finally able to reunite with her brother William, at Racedown Dorset in 1795.

Poetry and Writings

In 1797 Dorothy and William moved together to Alfoxden House in Somerset, located near Samuel T. Coleridge’s home. The three formed a close friendship. Dorothy started to write about her life with William and Coleridge in her journals, the first being titled The Alfoxden Journal. The journal entries were utilized by William and Coleridge on their collaborated work, Lyricall Ballads. The poems drew heavily from the descriptions of nature Dorothy reported in the journals. However, Dorothy wrote in her journals for her own pleasure, and never aspired for them to be published or to be a famous author like her brother. William’s dependency on Dorothy’s journal entries continued for the rest of his career, as she was able to provide detailed description of nature.

Having been close friends with Coleridge, the three traveled to Germany in 1798-1799. Dorothy recounts their trip in a journal titled, Journal of Visit to Hamburgh and of Journey from Hamburgh to Goslar. In 1799, both William and Dorothy moved into Dove Cottage of Grasmere. Four volumes of journals titled The Grasmere Journal (1800-1802) is known to have the best of Dorothy’s writing. The journals contain entries of the life she lived at Dove Cottage, and the relationship between her, her brother and fellow poet, Samuel Coleridge.

During their time at Dove Cottage, the three would take long walks in the woods, composing poems, and letters. Supposedly, the three would walk among the hills, and lay on the ground pretending they were dead as if in a “trance-like” state.

Later Years

The relationship between Dorothy and her brother was undoubtedly very close. However, when William married Mary Hutchinson in 1802, it is noted Dorothy wore Mary’s ring the night before the wedding ceremony. She gave it back to William in the morning, but did not attend the ceremony. She secluded herself in the attic of Dove Cottage, and not long after, stopped keeping up with her diary entries. Later, historians claimed she was filled with anxiety of being the replaced companion of her brother.

Dorothy never married or intended to get married as she felt too old for her age of 31 years. Instead, Dorothy stayed at Dove Cottage with her brother and Mary for the next 20 years helping them raise their children. There, she wrote books and poetry for the children.

In 1813 the family moved to Rydal Mount where Dorothy continued to travel, write letters, journals, and poetry. In 1829 she fell seriously ill to fever and her health declined from then on. In her last years, its noted she slipped in and out of hallucinations, but was capable to recite Williams poetry. She died at the age of 83 in 1855.

 

Letters

  • Letter to Joshua Watson

This particular letter was written many years after Dorothy’s time in Grasmere, in 1820. At the time she was at Rydal Mount, still living with William and his family. The letter suggests Dorothy’s dependency on William, as she mentions he is the reason she is writing it. She writes about William and how he has been doing, as if she was catching up with an old friend. However, Dorothy does not mention herself or give any personal life update. Only that she is glad to hear from Mr. Watson and his brother.

“My Brother feeling himself stronger and more comfortable this morning than he was yesterday said to me “I think you should write to Mr Watson—and I very much wish to know how he is himself — It is with great pleasure that I avail myself of my Brother’s hint, as an excuse for troubling you a second time.”

 

  • Letter to Samuel T. Coleridge

A letter was written to Samuel T. Coleridge, in later February of 1799. At this time, Dorothy, William, and Coleridge were traveling in Germany. In the letter, it seems that Coleridge traveled to Gottingen Germany, on his own, leaving William and Dorothy back in the town of Goslar.

In this letter, Dorothy recounts the walk her and William took through the Hartz forest. She describes the trees and natural scenery with lengthy description, recalling minute details. The vivid details she provided was probably utilized for Coleridge and his poetry. She updates Coleridge of their time Goslar, as though they were great friends. She also mentions how excited her and William were once they received letters from him.

What’s interesting, is that Dorothy does not sign her name at the end of the letter, highlighting that her and Coleridge were on a friendly basis without the need for formality.

“Some of the pine trees are extremely beautiful. We observed that when they seemed to be past maturity, and perhaps sooner in a close situation their boughs from which had before ascended, making an acute angle with their trunk, descend till they shoot out horizontally or make an obtuse angle with the upper part of the tree.”

 

  • The Grasmere Journal Entry-Monday October 4th, 1802:

This journal entry, recounts Williams marriage to Mary Hutchinson and Dorothy’s feelings. It is clear that Dorothy is uncomfortable with the fact her brother is getting married. She wears the brides ring to sleep the night before they wed and decided not to show up to the ceremony. This suggests Dorothy almost feels replaced by Mary to her brother. She copes with her feelings by retreating to the attic of their house and shortly after their marriage, Dorothy stops writing in her journal.