Introducing the Armstrong Browning Library’s Graduate Assistants, 2020-2021

The Armstrong Browning Library has two new Graduate Assistants this fall. They are both from Baylor University’s Masters of Arts in Museum Studies program. Through their graduate assistantships, they will gain insight into the day-to-day operations of a special collections library and the uses and importance of primary source materials. Graduate Assistants receive practical experience handling, processing, and preserving rare books and manuscripts. Additionally, they have the opportunity to digitize materials, develop and install exhibits, and prepare and participate in delivering instruction sessions for classes utilizing Armstrong Browning Library materials.

Rachel Jacob

Rachel Jacob

Rachel Jacob

Hometown: Coming from a military family, I have lived in a lot of places but do not have a proper hometown. During the four years of my undergraduate studies, I lived in Northwest Arkansas and grew to consider that home.
Why are you completing an MA in Museum Studies? I am passionate about history and hope to use my MA in Museum Studies to further preserve history and allow objects to continue telling historical truths for the coming generations.
What do you hope to learn while working at the ABL? I hope to learn about the conservation and care of rare or historical objects, so that I can use that knowledge to preserve history as the Armstrong Browning Library has preserved Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s history.
What are you looking forward to about working in the ABL? I am excited to be working in a world-class library with such amazing facilities as the Armstrong Browning Library. I look forward to learning the inner workings of a library and museum doing so much historical preservation and providing so many research opportunities.
What food do you miss most when away from home and why? My mother makes absolutely delicious homemade chicken nuggets and I always miss them when I am away from home.

 

Joy Siler

Joy Siler

Joy Siler

Hometown: Arlington, Texas
Why are you completing an MA in Museum Studies? I have a strong passion for the field of public history. I believe in its mission and what it does for academia, preservation, and public education alike. I am pursuing this degree so that I may have the various knowledge, training, and qualifications necessary to work in multiple museum contexts and positions.
What do you hope to learn while working at the ABL? By working at the ABL, I hope to gain critical professional experience and expand my skill set for working with collections of various rarities. This position will also help me to understand the day-to-day tasks needed to run a full-functioning museum and library–a unique combination that I believe would interest me as a career choice.
What are you looking forward to about working in the ABL? My personal interest in the type of collections that the ABL holds, and the era that their mission focuses on interpreting, makes me very excited to have this opportunity! The building itself is a gorgeous example of the dedication that its patrons have had for celebrating the Brownings and their contextual influences in literature, on 19th-century society, and beyond. Learning about that context while working with the collections is an adventure that I am definitely looking forward to!
What food do you miss most when away from home and why? I miss my mom’s homemade lasagna the most! It was a childhood favorite and I always asked for her to make it on my birthday every year. It is still one of my favorite foods and I can always eat a ton of it!

 

 

Introducing the Armstrong Browning Library’s Student Hosts, 2020-2021

At the Armstrong Browning Library, Student Hosts, play an important role in the day to day operations of the library. They are the first point of contact for visitors to the library, and one of their chief responsibilities is to be friendly and welcoming to guests. Additionally our Student Hosts are expected to acquire a working knowledge of the building, the ABL’s history, the collections, and Robert and Elizabeth Barrett Browning so they can answer guests questions and give tours. This year’s Student Hosts are listed below. Please greet them as you enter the Armstrong Browning Library and feel free to (gently) quiz them.

Bailey Havis

Bailey Havis

Bailey Havis

Hometown: Ingram, Texas
Major: Psychology
What are you looking forward to about working in the ABL? I am looking forward to being back at ABL because of the community I have built with my coworkers and the beautiful architecture!
What food do you miss most when away from home? When I am away from home, I miss my mom’s Mexican casserole and my dad’s steak!

Andrew Lindbloom

Andrew Lindbloom

Andrew Lindbloom

Hometown: Scottsdale, Arizona
Major: Anthropology
What are you looking forward to about working in the ABL? I am looking forward to learning about Robert Browning, as well as sharing some of that acquired knowledge with visitors, scholars, and fellow students.
What food do you miss most when away from home? I will miss my family’s cooking which varies from traditional Mexican, Italian, and recently Middle Eastern cuisine.

Karina Macias

Karina Macias

Karina Macias

Hometown: Waco, Texas
Major: Entrepreneurship
What are you looking forward to about working in the ABL? I am thrilled to be working in a space that shares the beauty of literature and poetry, and I am excited to give tours in such a beautiful and historically fascinating place as this!
What food do you miss most when away from home? Since I am originally from Mexico, I can truly say that nothing beats good enchiladas and homemade churros!

Allison Pettit

Allison Pettit

Allison Pettit

Hometown: Fort Walton Beach, Florida
Major: Public Health
What are you looking forward to about working in the ABL? Being able to share the splendor of Armstrong-Browning that I first experienced when I was a freshman
What food do you miss most when away from home? Fried shrimp, because there’s nothing like freshly caught Gulf Coast shrimp!

Allie Pfleghaar

Allie Pfleghaar

Allie Pfleghaar

Hometown: Murphy, Texas
Major: Anthropology
What are you looking forward to about working in the ABL? Just being in such a serene, beautiful building each week!
What food do you miss most when away from home? Any of my mom’s cooking–she is the best cook!!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Trinity College Joins The Browning Letters Project

By Eric Stoykovich, PhD, of the Watkinson Library, Trinity College (Hartford, Connecticut)

The Armstrong Browning Library (ABL) at Baylor University is responsible for curating The Browning Letters project, a collaboration to make the correspondence written by and to the Victorian poets Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett Browning digitally viewable in high-resolution. Recently, the Watkinson Library at Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut, contributed to this effort by digitizing several unique items in its manuscript holdings with the main purpose of making them widely available for the first time through The Browning Letters project. Within its large holdings of rare books, manuscripts, and archives, the Watkinson Library, a public research library, preserves a number of collections which touch upon the lives and works of the Brownings. The two now-digitized autograph letters penned by the poets – Elizabeth’s November 1836 letter, written in London before her marriage, is addressed to publisher Samuel Carter Hall, and Robert’s July 1862 letter to Frances Davenport Perkins, written after his wife’s death – reside in separate but related collections at the Watkinson.

Elizabeth B. Browning to Samuel Carter Hall, November 22, 1836

Elizabeth’s letter to Hall, who was then in London working as editor of The New Monthly Magazine and Literary Journal, deals partly with two poems – “The Romaunt of Margret” and “The Poet’s Vow” – which Hall had just published. Elizabeth apologized for the appearance of her unresponsiveness to Hall’s previous letters, as well as her inability to enclose forthwith “the poem I am at present engaged upon,” namely “The Seraphim.” Instead she substituted “one of a simpler character,” probably “The Island,” published in January 1837 in the same periodical. Elizabeth’s letter is part of the William R. Lawrence Papers, an autograph collection assembled by Lawrence (1812-1855), son of industrialist Amos Lawrence. It is unknown how they arrived at the Watkinson.

Even if comprised of just 1 cubic feet of material, the Lawrence Papers bring together quite a few notable British literary figures, including Elizabeth Barrett Browning. Her November 1836 letter appears to have entered the Lawrence collection in March 1852 directly from Samuel Carter Hall. Someone, perhaps Lawrence himself, then took time to write brief descriptions of the individuals whose autographed letters are represented in the collection. Portraying Elizabeth as a highly unusual poet (even in an era of published females), that commentator praised the poet’s work:

“The Poetess, resides in London. Her productions are unique in this age of lady authors. Her excellence is her own; her mind is colored by what it feeds on; the fine tissue of her flowing style comes to us from the loom of Grecian thought. She is the learned poetess of the day, familiar with Homer, and Aeschylus and Sophocles.”

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Robert Browning to Frances Davenport Perkins, 11 July 1862

Robert Browning’s July 11, 1862, letter is part of the Watkinson’s British Notables Collection, which also includes letters and manuscripts penned by clergy, soldiers, and authors such as William Makepeace Thackeray, George Bernard Shaw, Charlotte M. Yonge, and William Cobbett. It seems to have been partly the creation of the aforementioned Samuel Carter Hall (1800–1889) and his wife, Anna Maria Hall (née Fielding, 1800–1881), both noted authors in their day.

Browning’s letter was written to Frances Davenport Perkins (née Bruen, 1825–1909), then residing at Rome with her husband, Charles Callahan Perkins, her unmarried sister, Mary Lundie Bruen, and mother, Mary Ann Bruen. As the black border of Browning’s letter indicates, he was still in mourning for the loss of his wife some twelve months earlier: “With this you will get the Hair you ask for, & which I give with all my heart. Also, three photographs for your sister & mother as well as yourself.”

A lock of Elizabeth B. Browning’s hair (in locket) with Satin Box (Browning Guide #H0481)

The “hair” is Elizabeth’s—one of eleven known locks that have surfaced. With the letter is a slip of paper, originally enwrapping EBB’s hair, on which Browning wrote: “For Mrs Bruen—from RB.” The lock is now encased in a garnet-bordered locket, housed in a blue satin box, from the house of Shreve Crump & Low, Boston. One may confidently surmise that the locket was acquired after the family returned to Boston following the American Civil War. The Perkinses and Bruens disembarked from the “S.S. Russia” in New York City on June 29, 1869, the eighth anniversary of Mrs. Browning’s death (Passenger Lists of Vessels Arriving at New York, NY, 1820-1897, June 29, 1869).

Robert Browning’s owner’s inscription, dated April 27, 1889, less than eight months before Robert Browning’s death on December 12, 1889.

The locket and box with Elizabeth’s hair, the letter from Robert, and one of the three photographs of Robert which he sent to Mrs. Perkins, all came to the Watkinson Library in a single donation in early 1973, along with a number of other important literary works from the Victorian era and the twentieth century. The donor, Arthur Milliken, former headmaster of a private school in Simsbury, Connecticut, also gave 27 first editions of Robert Browning’s works, including the eight-volume “Bells and Pomegranates,” as well as Browning’s own inscribed copy of a set of “Life and Works” by Robert Burns. A Yale graduate, Milliken nevertheless thought that his collection would be treasured more by a smaller college like Trinity (Hartford Times, March 1973).

Robert Browning’s “Balaustion’s Adventure” (1871), in The Statue and the Bust (copy printed after 1880).

While the manuscripts that Milliken donated to the Watkinson Library were apparently added to the mixed-provenance British Notables Collection, the over 100 books he donated were catalogued separately. One of Milliken’s books is especially intriguing: a copy of “The Statue and the Bust” contains eight lines of Robert Browning’s “Balaustion’s Adventure,” dated November 22, 1871, authentically handwritten by Browning himself, while in London, and tipped into the front matter. However, the printed and bound parts of the book actually consist of a skillful forgery of The Statue and the Bust by famous Victorian hoaxer Thomas J. Wise. The authentic manuscript may have been placed strategically to distract attention from the post-1880 print forgery, later detected by its type and its esparto with chemical wood paper.

Robert Browning, The Statue and the Bust (forged copy by Thomas J. Wise, after 1880)

Robert Browning, The Statue and the Bust (forged copy by Thomas J. Wise, after 1880)

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The Watkinson Library in Hartford, Connecticut, serves as a public research library, as well as the rare book library, special collections, and archives of Trinity College. Started in 1858 as a non-circulating reference library for all citizens of Hartford and other visitors to Connecticut, the Watkinson Library has been transformed by its 70-year partnership with Trinity College into a place for many types of instruction, research, and collaboration with local community members and global scholars. It has a number of collecting strengths, particularly in books of hours, incunables, Americana, ornithology, American Indian languages, Hartford socialites and authors, early 20th-century posters, artists’ books, and college records which date prior to 1823, the founding of Trinity College.  The vision of the Watkinson Library is to create a welcoming space for all to encounter and interact with the cultural materials held by it, and to facilitate creative and intellectual production based on or inspired by its collections.

The first four images above are courtesy of Amanda Matava, Digital Media Librarian, Trinity College Library, who deserves thanks for the high-quality photography of multi-dimensional artifacts. The author scanned the final three images. The author would also like to thank Philip Kelley for his editorial and research assistance.

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The Armstrong Browning Library is grateful to Trinity College for its participation in The Browning Letters project. Institutions and individuals interested in making their Browning letters accessible by joining this project can contact ABL Director Jennifer Borderud.

The Armstrong Browning Library Expands Study Spaces

For Fall 2020, the Armstrong Browning Library (ABL) has temporarily added additional tables and seating to the Hankamer Treasure Room and the Cox Reception Hall.

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In order to return (and hopefully keep) students, staff, and faculty on campus this fall, Baylor University has implemented a number of health and safety measures. Part of these efforts include reducing building and room capacity. At the Armstrong Browning Library this means we have fewer seats available for students studying in the John Leddy-Jones Research Hall.

To help alleviate the loss of dedicated study space in the Research Hall, the ABL has added 5 tables with 9 chairs to the Hankamer Treasure Room on our main floor. In the Cox Reception Hall, on the ground floor, we have brought in 3 tables with 9 seats as well.

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As the semester gets underway we hope students will take advantage of these additional study spaces to help practice social distancing. And do not forget that while we might not have electrical outlets in our walls and floors, we do have portable chargers which you can borrow from the main floor office.

Researching at the Armstrong Browning Library, Fall 2020

The Armstrong Browning Library’s collection materials will (again) be available to readers in the third-floor Belew Scholars’ Room beginning August 24th. Baylor University’s procedures and practices for the COVID-19 pandemic apply to all individuals in the Armstrong Browning Library. At this time the capacity of the Belew Scholars’ Room is 3 researchers. Individuals needing to access collection materials in the Belew Scholars’ Room will be accommodated on a first-come, first-served basis.  To schedule an appointment and reduce wait time for materials, readers are encouraged to email, abl_office@baylor.edu, at least 48 hours before their visit to request the materials they expect to use.

ABL Belew Scholars' Room

ABL Belew Scholars’ Room

We are currently asking readers to complete the “Application for Use of Research Materials” prior to arriving at the Armstrong Browning Library and encouraging applications along with a copy of a photo ID to be submitted electronically (.jpg and .pdf files recommended) to: abl_office@baylor.edu.

Adaptations to the Armstrong Browning Library’s “Regulations for Use of Research Materials

1. Researchers should not enter the Library Services Center. They should show photo ID and tell the Library Services Assistant their name, so that the Library Services Assistant can sign-in the reader.

2. Readers are encouraged to email, abl_office@baylor.edu, at least 48 hours before their visit to request the collection materials they expect to use.

6. When leaving the Belew Scholars’ Room, researchers must notify the Library Services Assistant who will sign-out the reader, unlock the researcher’s locker, and either remove materials to quarantine area or unlock the holds cabinet so that readers can place the materials they wish to place on hold inside the cabinet.

* Researchers must leave their masks on while in the Belew Scholars’ Room (even if they are the only person present).

Armstrong Browning Library’s Adaptations to Collections Access

  • Hand sanitizer is available in the Belew Scholars’ Room near the public computers and the reference collection.
  • Researchers may request materials via email: abl_office@baylor.edu rather than filling out call slips.
  • Materials will be pulled twice daily, at approximately 10am and 2pm (depending on staff availability).
  • Materials pulled and delivered using gloves.
  • After use by reader, materials will be quarantined for 3 days before they will be re-shelved or available for use by another reader.
  • Only the Library Services Assistant will unlock and lock (touch the keys and handles of) lockers and the holds cabinet.

Virtual research assistance is available via email for individuals unable to visit the Belew Scholars’ Room.

Browning Day Celebration Deferred

The Armstrong Browning Library annually holds a Browning Day Program to celebrate the lives and works of Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett Browning. This year out of concern for our community we will not host a gathering. We are disappointed to have to wait to hear from our anticipated speaker, internationally recognized artist, writer, and scholar Barbara Neri, on “Creating Elizabeth Barrett Browning in Lace, Silk and Velvet: The Poetry and Politics of Her Fashionable Photographs” but are grateful that she has agreed to return at a “to be determined” date. In the meantime you can learn about Ms. Neri and her work from her website and in the upcoming issue of the Baylor ITS & Libraries Magazine.

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We miss you all and look forward to the day when we can welcome you back into the Armstrong Browning Library.

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.”