Introducing Spring 2021 Student Assistants.

This spring the Armstrong Browning Library has added a few new Library Hosts and Library Services Assistants. Student Hosts 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. The Library Services Student Assistants help researchers access Armstrong Browning Library materials and support the library’s efforts to increase the visibility of its collections. Please stop and say, “hello” to our new colleagues when you next at the Armstrong Browning Library.

Jordan Vanderpool, Student Host

Male young adult standing in front of a stained glass window.

Student Host, Jordan Vanderpool

Hometown: China Spring, Texas

Major: Double major in University Scholar and Spanish

What are you looking forward to about working in the ABL? The Armstrong Browning library is incredibly beautiful and peaceful. I love just being in the building, and furthermore, I love Robert Browning’s poetry, so it’s just great to work in a place so rich in literary history.

What food do you miss most when away from home? I miss most vegetables grown at my house, like swiss chard and turnips.

Hannah Barker, Library Services Assistant

Female young adult standing in front of a stained glass window.

Library Services Assistant, Hannah Barker

Hometown: Lewisville, Texas

Major: Accounting

What are you looking forward to about working in the ABL? I’m excited to be surrounded by so much history and part of a community that values literature and its preservation.

What food do you miss most when away from home? I miss my Dad’s fish fry and my Mom’s spaghetti – really just homemade food in general.

Madeleine Svehla, Library Services Assistant

Female young adult standing in front of a mural.

Library Services Assistant Madeleine Svehla

Hometown: Morrison, CO
Major: Master of Divinity
What are you looking forward to about working in the ABL? I am a huge fan of Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s poetry (my favorite poem by her is entitled “The Best Thing in the World”). I have always had a deep passion for the power of the written word, and I am honored to be a part of the process of preserving ABL’s incredible collection! I admire the way the ABL combines beauty and research in ways that inspire creativity and contemplation.
What food do you miss most when away from home? The food I miss the most when I am away from home is my father’s Big Breakfasts. These meals usually consist of scrambled eggs, hash browns, bacon, sausage, English Muffins, orange juice, and occasionally, (just to mix it up) can also include either French Toast or waffles. My whole family gathers every Sunday to share this meal after church and I look forward to laughing and spending time together each week- these brunches are something I miss a great deal when I am away from home!

Matilda Weeden, Library Services Assistant

Female young adult standing next to a stained glass window.

Library Services Assistant, Matilda Weeden

Hometown: Monroe, Wisconsin (the Swiss Cheese capital of the US)

Major: International Studies

What are you looking forward to about working in the ABL? I am most looking forward to helping show people around and being surrounded by the beauty of the library on a regular basis.

What food do you miss most when away from home? When I am away from home I miss my mom’s homemade bread rolls or Culver’s crinkle cut fries dipped in chocolate frozen custard. Fries in ice cream just aren’t as good anywhere else!

2020’s Browning Collections Acquisitions

As the “library of record” of research materials relating to Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett Browning, the Armstrong Browning Library is constantly seeking to acquire original letters, manuscripts, books from the poets’ library, personal affects, portraits, all of the first and many successive editions of their poetry, secondary works and criticisms, their poetry set to music, and memorabilia. Every piece of Browningiana we add to our collections has the potential to provide researchers greater understanding of Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett Browning. Over the course of 2020, we added the items listed below to our Browning Collections.

THE BROWNINGS’ LIBRARY
The Art Review. Volume I (1890). London: Walter Scott, 1890.
Browning Guide #A0111.

Hausted, Peter. Ten Sermons, Preached Upon Several Sundayes and Saints Days …. London: Printed by Miles Flesher, Bernard Alsop, and Thomas Fawcet for John Clark, 1636.
Browning Guide # A1145.5.

Heine, Heinrich. Buch der Lieder. Stuttgardt: Verlag von Karl Crabbe, 1889.
Browning Guide #A1163.5.

BROWNING LIBRARY COPIES
Cruden, Alexander. A Complete Concordance to the Holy Scriptures. 4th Edition. London, 1785.

ASSOCIATION VOLUMES
Browning, Elizabeth Barrett. Aurora Leigh. London: Chapman and Hall, 1957.
Browning Guide # M0020.5.

Browning, Robert. Dramatis Personæ. London: Chapman and Hall, 1864.
Browning Guide # M0127.3.

BROWNING LETTERS (ALS, autographed letter signed)
Elizabeth Barrett Browning to Louis Cappel, 29 July 1843. ALS
Gift of the Baylor University English Department in Honor of Dr. Dianna Vitanza.

Robert Browning to Charles Hamilton Aidé, 14 May [18]86. Signed note on photograph print, framed.

Robert Browning to D.[aniel] S.[argent] Curtis, 21 October 1882. Envelope also, framed. ALS

Robert Browning to Emilie Schlesinger, [undated]. “Pray forgive the delay in answering your note….” ALS

Robert Browning to Julia Sturgis, 3 March [18]63. ALS

Robert Browning to Lady Goldsmid, [undated]. “How very happy I shall be to go to you….” ALS

Robert Browning to Lady Goldsmid, [undated]. “Pray forgive my stupidity….” ALS

Robert Browning to Lady Goldsmid, 20 February 1869. ALS

Alexander Gilchrist to Robert Browning, 19 January 1855.

MANUSCRIPTS OF ROBERT BROWNING
Browning, Robert. Vetturino Endorsements.
Browning Guide #E0578.5.

LIKENESSES OF ROBERT BROWNING
Frederick Jones’ photograph of Robert Browning. London, c. 1868.
Browning Guide #G0048.

WORKS OF ART, HOUSEHOLD AND PERSONAL EFFECTS
Hat Pins. Pair of silver pins with decorative filigree ball head, c. 1750. Accompanied with visiting card inscribed by Fannie Browning.
Browning Guide #H0578.5.

WORKS OF ROBERT BROWNING, SR.
Browning, Robert, Sr. Drawings of heads. Five heads, pencil, N.D.
Browning Guide #J0024.5.

Browning, Robert, Sr. Oddments. Collection of 30 sketches, N.D.
Browning Guide #J0028.8.

EPHEMERA
Staffordshire Elizabeth Barrett Browning Powder Bowl, circa 1850.

RARE BOOKS
Browning, Elizabeth Barrett. Sonnets from the Portuguese. London: George Bell & Sons, 1902.
Provided by the Jack and Daphne Herring Memorial Endowment Fund

Browning, Elizabeth Barrett. Sonnets from the Portuguese. Portland, Maine: Thomas B.Mosher, 1898. Second edition.

Browning, Robert. Italy My Italy: IV Lyrics. Portland, Maine: Thomas B. Mosher, 1910.

Browning, Robert. Selections from Robert Browning’s Poetical Works. London: Smith, Elder, & Co., 1892.
Provided by the Jack and Daphne Herring Memorial Endowment Fund

Browning, Robert. Selections from the Poetical Works of Robert Browning. First and second series. London: Smith, Elder & Co., 1900.

Mitford, Mary R. Narrative Poems on the Female Character in various relations of human life, Including Blanch and the Rival Sisters. NewYork: Eastburn, Kirk & Co, 1813.

Sotheby, Wilkinson & Hodge, firm. The Browning Collections. Catalogue of Oil Paintings, Drawings & Prints; Autograph Letters and Manuscripts; Books; Statuary, Furniture, Tapestries, and Works of Art; the Property of R. W. Barrett Browning, Esq….London: Sotheby, Wilkinson & Hodge, [1913].

[Ruskin, John]. Stray Letters from Professor Ruskin to a London Bibliopole. London: Privately printed (T.J. Wise), 1892.

RARE PERIODICALS
The Browning Society’s Papers. London: The Browning Society, 1889-1891.

RARE PERIODICAL ARTICLES
Robert Browning: Some Personal Gossip about the Great Poet,” in Saint John Globe, 29 May 1880, Saint John, New Brunswick, Canada.

FOREIGN LANGUAGE COLLECTION
Barrett Browning, Elizabeth. Poemes et Poesies. Traduitde l’anglaiset etude par Albert Savine.Paris: Biblioteque Cosmopolite, 1905.

Dimensione “D”: Atti del seminario Elizabeth Barrett Browning. Centro Studi Cultura e Progresso, Gabinetto G.P. Vieusseux, The British Institute. Firenze, Italia, Marzo 1992.

Fano, Centinarola, Rosciano, Cuccarano, Carrara, Bellocchi, zona artigianale, Madonna Ponte, Metaurilia, Torrette, Marotta, pianta della città. Map of the City. Bologna: Studio F.M.B., 1975[?].

MUSICAL SCORES COLLECTION
Heggie, Jake, music; Robert Browning, poetry. “Grow Old Along with Me.” For Baritone and Piano. Bill Holab Music, publisher, unknown date.

ABL LPs
Browning, Robert. “How They Brought the Good News from Ghent to Aix: Robert Browning Reciting the First Four Lines of His Poem.” BBC, [1960].

Also known as “The Voice of the Master” or “The Master’s Voice” this is a recording of Robert Browning reciting the first four lines of “How They Brought the Good News from Ghent to Aix” on a phonogram (old wax cylinder) in April, 1889.

NON-RARE
Browning, Elizabeth Barrett. Casa Guidi Windows. London: Collins’ Clear-Type Press, [between 1900 and 1910?].

Browning, Elizabeth Barrett. Casa Guidi Windows. With a prefatory note by William A. Sim. Drawings by Giulio Giannini, Jr. Florence: Giulio Giannini & Figlio, [192-?].

Browning, Elizabeth Barrett. Rhyme of the Duchess May. Illustrated by Katharine Cameron. London and Edinburgh: T. N. Foulis, [1907].

Browning, Elizabeth Barrett. Through the Year with Mrs. Browning. Boston: DeWolfe, Fiske & Co., [1912?].

Browning, Robert. Pippa Passes, & Men & Women. Illustrated by Eleanor Fortescue Brickdale. Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott Company, 1909.

Browning, Robert. Rabbi Ben Ezra and Saul. London: Siegle, Hill & Co., [1911].

Browning, Robert. Robert Browning. London: Robert Rivière & Son, 1916.

Browning, Robert. The Browning Birthday Book. Arranged by James Weston. London and New York: Frederick Warne & Co., [19–?].

Browning, Robert. The Pied Piper of Hamelin. Illustrated by Kate Greenaway. London: Bracken Books, 1986.

Carleton, Marjorie. The Barretts. A Comedy in Three Acts. Boston and Los Angeles: Baker’s Plays, 1940.

DeVane, William C. Browning’s Parleyings; the Autobiography of a Mind. Yale University Press, 1927.

Hutton, John A. Guidance from Robert Browning in Matters of Faith. Edinburgh and London: Oliphant, Anderson & Ferrier, 1905. Second edition.

Ingram, John H. Elizabeth Barrett Browning. Famous Women Series. Boston: Roberts Brothers, 1888.

Meynell, Alice. The Colour of Life and Other Essays on Things Seen and Heard. London and New York: John Lane, The Bodley Head, 1904.

Orr, Mrs. Sutherland. Life and Letters of Robert Browning. In two volumes. Boston and New York, 1896.

The Voice of Robert Browning and “The Voices of Browning”. Waco, TX; Baylor University, [1960].

An essay on the recording of Robert Browning reciting the first four lines of “How They Brought the Good News from Ghent to Aix” on a phonogram (old wax cylinder) in April, 1889 and descriptions of recent Browning acquisitions by the ABL.

Ward, T.H. The English Poets. 5 volumes. London: Macmillian, 1891.

Wedgwood, Barbara and Hensleigh. The Wedgwood Circle 1730-1897. Westfield, New Jersey: Eastview Editions, Inc., 1980.

NON-RARE PERIODICAL ARTICLES
Byatt, A.S. “A. S. Byatt on Robert Browning” in The Independent Magazine. Issue 12, 26 November 1988, p. 78.

Smith, Cornelia Marschall. “Proverb Lore in The Ring and the Book” in PMLA: Publications of the Modern Language Association of America. Vol. LVI, Num.1, March 1941. Pp. 219-227.

Researching at the Armstrong Browning Library, Spring 2021

The Armstrong Browning Library’s collection materials continue to be available to readers in the third-floor Belew Scholars’ Room. 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 5 researchers.

Individuals needing to access collection materials in the Belew Scholars’ Room are encouraged to schedule an appointment at least 48 hours before their visit. To schedule an appointment and request materials email, abl_office@baylor.edu.

We are currently asking first-time 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 should email, abl_office@baylor.edu, at least 48 hours before their visit to request the collection materials they expect to use.
  3. 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 should 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 are 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.

To You and Yours

The Armstrong Browning Library wishes a

“Merry Christmas and Happiest of New Years!”

Robert Browning in a santa hat.Knowing we could all use something to smile about this year, Maggie Liu, a senior graphic design intern with the Baylor University Libraries added a festive touch (the Santa hat) to the portrait of Robert Browning on the front of the Armstrong Browning Library’s Christmas card.

Miniaturist Ella Bush Shepherd (1862-1948) painted the original portrait. She was an American artist and member of both the Los Angeles Browning Society and the Pasadena Browning Society.

Included in our Christmas card is a request for current contact information. If you would like to update your contact information or be added to our mailing list, please email abl_office@baylor.edu with your current details.

Thank you for reading and subscribing to our blog. We look forward to continuing to share the Armstrong Browning Library’s 2021 happenings with you in this space.

Reflections from a Graduate Assistant: On Fall 2020 & Browning Societies

By Rachel Jacob, Armstrong Browning Library Graduate Research Assistant

Beginning graduate school is an intimidating endeavor. There are questions swirling in your mind such as whether or not you can make it through, if this graduate school was the right choice, and if you will enjoy the work when it actually becomes your job. I was fairly confident that I would be able to handle the academic requirements of graduate school. It was my graduate assistantships that concerned me the most. I could not be sure that I would be good at my job. Of course, it was not expected for me to already be experienced and know what I was doing. The point of a graduate assistantship is to give you that experience and that practical knowledge. But still, I had questions which needed answering.

One of the first substantial jobs I did at the Armstrong Browning Library was to organize materials from Browning societies or clubs across the world. Before my graduate assistantship at the ABL, I had no idea that the Brownings were such monumental figures in literature. I had read some of Robert and Elizabeth’s poetry, but was completely unaware of the devoted fans who follow them and their works to this day. The task of organizing and cataloguing the materials from different Browning societies opened my eyes to this fascination that still surrounds them. Each Browning society met consistently to discuss literary topics, mainly focused around the Brownings. With each society came things such as a yearbook for each year the club was in existence, meeting notices for each meeting, programs for every special event, and newspaper clippings with mentions of the club or the Brownings. The clubs spanned from Waco, to Seattle, to New York, to Manchester England. Certain clubs had materials which spread decades and generations. Some of these club are still in existence today.

At the start of this project, I was processing the yearbooks or meeting notices from different societies. Once I finished organizing and cataloging those, I began work on the New York Browning Society’s materials. This was separate from the yearbooks. In this material there were financial records, meeting minutes, bulletins, and event programs, and other miscellaneous society materials. This portion of the collection was mainly from the 1970’s through the 1990s. Unlike the yearbooks, which needed to be re-homed and catalogued, this material was partially unorganized. This presented new obstacles for archival work. There were certain areas of the materials which were organized with a clear original order. Those materials were not to be rearranged because the original order is kept as intact as possible. However, this whole collection did not have an original order. For the sections which no original order could be determined, it was my responsibly to decide what the best order was for these materials. This required intellectually and physically rearranging these materials to help them to make sense with the original order, while also being usable for research.

Two boxes sitting on a table.

NYC Browning Society Boxes

This whole project not only taught me about the enthusiasm that encompasses the Brownings, but also vital archival skills. Every object had to be arranged chronologically, catalogued, and described before being re-homed in a document box. This is basic archival work which I knew in theory, but was able to receive practical experience in.

The most important thing which this project, and everything I have done at the Armstrong Browning Library this semester, taught me was the answer “it depends”. There were countless times I would ask questions about organizing, archival processes, or the way things were done at the ABL to receive the answer “it depends”. In archival work, there is not always a right answer or an obvious choice. There are many variables that lead to the solution, and often times it is up to the archivist to make the decisions which will lead to the best solution.

Once I began receiving the answer of “it depends” at the ABL, I noticed that questions in my classes were answered with an it depends as well. In the museum field, there may be no right answer, no one-size-fits-all answer. Instead, the classes and the experiences of our graduate assistantships are giving us the information necessary to create our own framework to know how to proceed when the answer is “it depends”. I may still have the questions which I had at the beginning of the year, and this semester may have raised other questions in my mind, but I am in a program and working graduate assistantships which are teaching me how to answer my questions. And I look forward to continuing to learn through my experiences, particularly with archival and conservation work at the ABL in order to continue in their mission to preserve the Brownings in order to encourage the continued study of their works.

Reflections from a Graduate Assistant: On Fall 2020

By Joy Siler, Armstrong Browning Library Graduate Research Assistant

Graduate Assistant Desk and laptop. Stained glass window depicting Robert Browning's Ferishtah's Fancies above desk.

Graduate Assistant Work Space

What are you most proud of?

I am most proud of the collections processing work that I have done for the ABL’s Browning Society Ephemera Collection! Many of these items were inaccessible and disorganized before and now they are reaching a point where they can be easily located. Its important to make sure that all our materials are stored properly and readily available to the next person who needs to use them. Files of correspondence, meeting minutes, announcements, and many other documents will now be preserved and accessible!

What helped you learn the most?

I was very happy to be able to assist Dr. King’s course about the Brownings’ poetry at the library this fall semester! It was a great opportunity to familiarize myself with what the library has to offer, how its resources are organized, and the processes of making those resources available to those who request them. I also learned about handling and preparing some of the rarer materials in the collection to be digitized as the students prepared a virtual exhibit. It was very exciting, and I enjoyed working with the artifacts, books, and manuscripts!

What would you like to do more of?

I would love to continue working with the collections directly and preparing them for researchers! I really enjoy being in touch with developments in the academic community and then providing the resources that they need to learn about their subject. The physical collections we have are fascinating and I enjoy discovering new things every day!

Fall 2020 Instruction Sessions

With many more Baylor University courses being offered online or as hybrid versions this semester, the Armstrong Browning Library has provided study spaces for more students than in the past few semesters. The temporary increase in online courses has, understandably, meant fewer requests from faculty to bring their classes to the Armstrong Browning Library or to develop instruction sessions utilizing Armstrong Browning Library collections. We still have had faculty members request instruction sessions for their online or in-person classes.

Virtual Instruction Sessions:

Since so many of the classes coming to the Armstrong Browning Library request a tour, either as part of their instruction session or for their entire instruction session, we created a virtual version of the tour this summer. For the virtual tour we created a series of short videos. Each video highlights one of the spaces covered by our in-person tour. This was so instructors could choose either all the videos or just the spaces which they normally request for their class session.  As faculty began preparing to teach online during the fall semester, the Armstrong Browning Library shared the tour with faculty when we received requests for virtual tours.

A few of the classes which have previously come to the Armstrong Browning Library to utilize our resources for instruction sessions asked to collaborate on a virtual version of their standard sessions. One of the English 2301, British Literature courses has come in to analyze the presentation and transmission of Christina Rossetti’s “Goblin Market” from its first publication to the present. For this course, we selected fewer examples of the text from our collection than we did for previous in-person sessions. Then we photographed the volumes together and individually focusing on the same parts of the books and the same selections within the poem. The images were added to a slide presentation along with bibliographic information about each volume and guiding questions to help students analyze the volumes.

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In-Person Instruction Sessions:

Though many of the faculty who routinely bring their students to the Armstrong Browning Library are teaching online this fall, a few still had in-person classes and several of those instructors reached out to collaborate on socially distanced lessons using books, manuscripts, art, and artifacts from our collections. All of our instruction sessions were set up in the Hankamer Treasure Room this fall.

Baylor’s photography classes came to study the Julia Margaret Cameron photograph collection and examples of Victorian photography. We spread out resources so that there were only 1-3 items per table (depending on the table and the item’s size). This allowed 1 student to be at each table at a time. We stationed ABL staff members with the bound volumes of photographs so that we could turn the pages for students.

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We look forward to more in-person instruction sessions in the spring and we are prepared to help faculty teaching online find ways to integrate the Armstrong Browning Library’s collections into their courses, as well.

“Wilder Ever Still & Wilder!”: A Successful Benefactor’s Day 2020

By Joy Siler, Armstrong Browning Library Graduate Research Assistant

On November 5th, the Armstrong Browning Library & Museum upheld its annual tradition of hosting a Benefactor’s Day program to thank all those that support the functions of our institution. The celebration looked a bit different this year—being presented virtually on Zoom to all the ABL’s benefactors and supporters—but was held in the same joy as all previous programs.

Wilder Ever Still & Wilder Image

Benefactors’ Day graphic designed by Baylor Libraries Marketing and Communications Department

Dr. Beverly Taylor and Dr. Marjorie Stone provided the afternoon’s presentation about their collaborative research into Victorian wedding journeys and Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s own enlightening experience as expressed in her unpublished honeymoon poem. Dr. Beverly Taylor is a Professor of English at the University of North Carolina and Dr. Marjorie Stone is the McCulloch Professor Emeritus of English at Dalhousie University. They discussed the historical and biographical context of EBB’s composition in the light of the Victorian era’s development of the honeymoon ritual and the transition of the Brownings’ courtship into intimate married life. Following the lecture, a Q&A session was held for viewers to ask questions over the presentation. A full recording of the celebration program may be viewed at https://www.baylor.edu/library/index.php?id=973376

Thank you to all who choose to support the Armstrong Browning Library and continue to contribute to our efforts towards providing collections, research, fellowships, and programming to our communities. We hope that you can join us again next year!

Armstrong Browning Library Looks Forward to Welcoming Visiting Scholars

Pandemic-permitting, the Armstrong Browning Library (ABL) looks forward to welcoming the following visiting scholars to the Library during the 2020-2021 academic year:

  • Joshua Brorby, Washington University, St. Louis, Missouri
  • Lindsey Chappell, Georgia Southern University
  • Michael Meredith, Eton College, United Kingdom
  • Fabienne Moine, University of Paris Nanterre, France
  • Kevin Morrison, University of Connecticut and Henan University, China
  • Jordan Welsh, University of Essex, United Kingdom

These scholars will spend one month at the ABL conducting research in the Library’s collections to advance their current book or dissertation projects and will provide a summary of their findings on the Armstrong Browning Library & Museum blog. Visiting scholars also often have opportunities to attend on-campus events and interact with Baylor faculty and graduate students who share their research interests.

To learn more about the Visiting Scholars Program, visit our website. You can also read blog posts by recent visiting scholars on the Library’s blog.

For questions, please contact Jennifer Borderud, Director of the Armstrong Browning Library, via email at Jennifer_Borderud@baylor.edu.

Reflections from a Visiting Scholar: In Pursuit of the Brownings as Readers of Balzac

By Michael Tilby, PhD, Selwyn College, Cambridge, UK

And why shouldn’t Balzac have a beard?
EBB to Mary Russell Mitford, 11 February 1845

On my tombstone may be written ‘ci-gît the greatest novel reader in the world’
EBB to Henry Fothergill Chorley, [10] March 1845

Michael Tilby

Michael Tilby, PhD, at the Armstrong Browning Library

The extremely productive and enjoyable month I spent as a Visiting Fellow at the Armstrong Browning Library (ABL) was devoted to researching the response of Robert and Elizabeth Barrett Browning to the works of the French novelist Honoré de Balzac, whom they never met in person but read avidly.  The declaration in Bishop Blougram’s Apology ‘All Balzac’s novels occupy one shelf/The new edition fifty volumes long’, which would later be cited by various writers and essayists concerned to advance Balzac’s literary reputation in Victorian England, harked back to an ambition the Brownings had harboured from early in their Italian sojourn and which EBB described to Mary Russell Mitford in her letter of [4] July 1848: ‘When Robert & I are ambitious, we talk of buying Balzac in full some day, to put him up in our bookcase from the convent–if the carved wood angels, infants & serpents shd not finish mouldering away in horror at the touch of him.  But I fear it will be rather an expensive purchase even here,’ though, for all their obvious humour, her words are also illustrative of a readiness to relish Balzac’s reputation as a dangerous or forbidden author, most of whose works had indeed been placed on the Papal Index.

Bishop Blougram's Apology

Lines 108-109 of Browning’s “Bishop Blougram’s Apology” from Men and Women, Chapman and Hall, 1855. ABL Rare Collection X821.83 P7 C466m v. 1.

The Brownings’ fascination with Balzac’s works, initially conceived and pursued independently and then, following their engagement and marriage, jointly, has long been recognized by Browning scholars, receiving, for example, relatively detailed illustration in Roy E. Gridley’s helpful ‘chronicle’ The Brownings and France (1982).  As a Balzac specialist, my concern has been to analyse the phenomenon from a complementary perspective, examining it less in respect of the bearing it has on an understanding of RB and EBB’s poetic principles and practice and more in relation to the reception of Balzac in nineteenth-century England.  From this perspective, the Brownings’ reflections on their reading of the French author are of exceptional interest.  Although caution is needed with regard to the impression sometimes given that they had read most, if not all, of what Balzac wrote, the number of his novels they are known to have read may justly be considered uncommonly high. What makes their position unique is the prominence they accorded to discussing their reading of them.  This, at a time when the paucity of translations of his work meant that many English readers were more likely to have read accounts of Balzac in the periodical press than actually to have read examples of his work.  Although the Brownings were not alone amongst Victorian literati to possess a more or less adequate reading knowledge of French, they can be seen to demonstrate a rare appreciation of Balzac’s creative disregard for linguistic and literary norms.  If  Aurora Leigh’s confidence ‘I learnt my complement of classic French /(Kept pure of Balzac and neologism)’ may fairly be regarded as an instance of her creator in strictly autobiographical mode, it was indirect acknowledgement by EBB of how far her familiarity with the French language had developed  since the equivalent stage in her own linguistic education.

From the perspective of Balzac studies, consideration is needed not only of what the Brownings did read but also of the French author’s works they appear not to have read and of which they may even have been unaware, though the absence of reference to such titles in the letters of theirs to have survived does not constitute categorical proof.  That notwithstanding, the construction on that basis of a list of EBB’s Balzac reading, at least, contains both some surprising inclusions and some surprising omissions, at the level of individual titles and category alike.  Tracing their reading of his work in both cases reveals its essentially haphazard nature.  Awareness of his writings was acquired unsystematically and was dependent on chance mentions in the periodical press or the personal recommendations of others. Obstacles to knowledge were sometimes encountered, if only temporarily, as a result of Balzac’s partiality for re-naming his novels and stories in subsequent editions.  Regardless of whether or not the original title was retained, later editions invariably represented revised versions that were sometimes significantly expanded.  Works were read as and when they proved available.  The two enthusiasts for Balzac were subject to the vagaries of booksellers and the proprietors of circulating libraries.  Although some of his titles were serialized in newspapers to which the Brownings had ready access, others appeared in organs that were less accessible.

Still more importantly, coming to the enquiry from a position of familiarity with Balzac’s oeuvre encourages analysis that goes beyond the reproduction of comments which, when considered in isolation from the individual work that provoked them, largely restricts their import to an illustration of the extent of the Brownings’ enthusiasm for the author and the overall importance they assigned to his writing.  A more analytical assessment, rooted in a concern to pinpoint further, more specific, levels of significance, requires recognition of the remarkable diversity of Balzac’s compositions.  There is no one comprehensively typical Balzac novel.  There is therefore a need to take into account the particular characteristics of the form and subject matter of the composition in question and the weighting of its various compositional elements, with attention paid to potentially relevant factors in the work’s genesis and the novelist’s advertised intentions, both internal and external to the text.  Also pertinent to the discussion is the extent to which the novel or story is to be seen as distinctive or typical when viewed in relation to the author’s oeuvre as a whole.  Rather than treating a single observation as if it were a considered, not to say definitive, judgment, it is more appropriate to see it as part of an unfolding discussion in need of chronological reconstruction.  In this way, the various pronouncements acquire significance from the position they occupy on a scale running between, on the one hand, continuity and, on the other, tensions or contradictions.  Ultimately, it is a question of also bringing into play what RB and EBB do not say.  Their preferences within his disparate oeuvre, the works they come to prioritize, provide, in other words, instructive pointers to what they find significant or important in his writing,

At the same time, the importance of a reflection on the status of the documentary evidence became increasingly clear as my research progressed.  At one level, it is simply a matter of identifying errors or misunderstandings committed by the Brownings or by one of their correspondents or acquaintances.  More important, especially with regard to the predominance of letters from EBB, is to recognize the imbalance (and potential distortion) stemming from the lacunary nature of the correspondence and, as is the case with the exchanges between RB and EBB, the transition from letters to oral discussions that survive, if at all, only in the odd reference in a letter to a third party.  As with all correspondence, the tone and content of the remarks will reflect a degree of sensitivity to the identity and character of the recipient.  (This is separate from the absence of letters containing reference to Balzac from certain other figures who had strong opinions both for and against his worth as a writer; of these the acerbic Thomas Carlyle is one likely to have communicated his view of Balzac to RB particularly forcefully, whether by letter or face-to-face.)  This leads to the most important factor of all, namely that these letters are not embryonic critical essays designed for publication.  The reflections on Balzac they contain, especially those of EBB, are the responses of readers rather than critics, even if it can be shown that they were often provoked by views disseminated by the literary critical fraternity.

Following on from that observation, two further forms of context are essential in determining the significance of the Brownings’ assertions on the subject of Balzac.  Together they take us beyond the realm of personal literary preferences and allow their cult of Balzac to be seen as part of the wider picture of the reception of Balzac in Victorian England.  The first is the Brownings’ commitment (echoed by Mary Russell Mitford) to assessing Balzac’s novels in relation to those of a group of other novelists regarded as belonging, with Balzac, in a ‘new school of French literature’, namely George Sand, Victor Hugo, Eugène Sue, Alexandre Dumas, Frédéric Soulié, Jules Janin, and Charles de Bernard.  EBB strode into an already established debate as to whether Balzac or Sand was the greater writer.  There is evidence to suggest that in the 1830s and 1840s in England Sand was the more highly acclaimed of the two.  She certainly appears to have been the more popular.  Writing in 1844, G.H. Lewes reported that he had been told by a prominent foreign bookseller in London that scarcely a day passed without his being asked for a work of Sand’s, whereas Balzac’s works, with the exception of his latest title, were rarely asked for.  There exist statements by EBB that, if taken in isolation and at face value, provide strong support for Juliette Atkinson’s contention, in her magisterial 2017 study French Novels and the Victorians, that the author of Aurora Leigh placed Sand above Balzac, but it can also be argued that the totality of EBB’s remarks on the question, expressed over a period, betray a certain hesitation and ambivalence, and that the nature of her engagement with Balzac’s writing was such as to imply a recognition of his greater importance.

EBB to Mary Russell Mitford 11 February 1845

Letter from EBB to Mary Russell Mitford, dated 11 February 1845. Original housed at Wellesley College, Margaret Clapp Library, Special Collections.

The second of these two additional contexts, of which the first was, in fact, a consequence, was constituted by the assessment of Balzac’s writings in critical essays and reviews in the English periodical press, principally George Moir [Bussey], John Stuart Mill, John Wilson Croker, Henry Fothergill Chorley, G.W.M. Reynolds, G.H. Lewes, and Jules Janin, together with certain authors of unsigned articles who remain to be identified. (Some of these essays and reviews are widely known, but others have not previously been adduced in relation to either the Brownings or the reception of Balzac in Victorian England.)  Although some of the journalist-critics in question aspired to the title of aristarch, the articles were not universally negative.  In some cases, it is possible to detect instances of a particular essay shaping EBB’s responses, even if her evaluation of Balzac ended up being diametrically opposed to that of the critic in question.  Atkinson has perceptively noted that EBB tempers her laudatory assessment of his work by appending what one might term a ‘moral health warning’ that retains from Balzac’s contemporary English denouncers elements of their outrage, but I am inclined to go beyond seeing this as either genuine queasiness or an expedient attempt at disculpation (with reference to a verbal sketch of Alfred de Musset EBB sent to Mitford in 1852, Elisabeth Jay, in British Writers and Paris 1830-1875 (2016) speaks of her managing ‘the neat trick of maintaining her reputation for moral probity […] by providing a brief coda of disapprobation to her salacious inventory of gossip’) and argue for its being part of a thinly disguised delight in the very ‘wickedness’ of the majority of his novels.  At the same time, with reference to Balzac, Charles de Bernard and Soulié, she insisted, in her letter to Mitford of 11 February 1845: ‘if you had not a pleasure just as I have, in abstract faculty & power, you would not bear one of these writers…& scarcely one of their works.’

*****

My research has focused on four main areas as follows:

1. RB’s early works and Balzac’s philosophical fictions
2. EBB and Mary Russell Mitford as readers of Balzac
3. RB and EBB’s shared interest in Balzac
4. RB and Balzac: the later years

 1. RB’s early works and Balzac’s philosophical fictions

Hovelaque

Manuscript inscription to Dr. Armstrong in the presentation copy of Henri-Léon Hovelque’s La Jeunesse de Robert Browning. ABL Foreign Languages Collection Fr 821.83 D H845j.

It has proved profitable here to re-open the question of Balzac’s Louis Lambert as a significant element in the genesis of Pauline, starting from a re-consideration of the claims made in 1932 by the Belgian academic Henri-Léon Hovelaque. That these should have been given short shrift by subsequent Browning scholars is understandable in the light of the demonstrable shortcomings in Hovelaque’s presentation of his thesis.  His fundamental belief is nonetheless supported by certain observations contained in a previously unidentified nineteenth-century lecture that was obscured from view by the combination of an incorrect attribution and the absence of bibliographical information, though, in turn, some of that author’s suggested textual parallels harking back to Balzac’s are invalidated by dint of being additions Balzac made to his text after the publication date of Pauline. It has also been necessary to revisit, in context, RB’s assertion, made to Ripert-Monclar in 1835, that he did not know Balzac’s work as well as he would have wished.  The rehabilitation of Louis Lambert in this connection does not however invalidate the relevance that RB’s editors are inclined to accord La Peau de chagrin in relation to the poem. The discovery of a hitherto unrecorded unsigned review of Pauline can be used as additional support for their view.  This leaves the question of how Browning became aware of La Peau de chagrin (1831).  His personal contact with his uncle, William Shergold Browning, in Paris and his French tutor in London are possible sources of information. In the case of the former, his neglected miscellaneous writings betray a certain awareness of contemporary French writing, though they contain no reference to Balzac.  There are grounds on which to consider also John Stuart Mill, whose close engagement with Browning’s poem in preparation for a review that never reached publication was accompanied by an early interest in all things French. (Although the author of Pauline may not have known Mill personally at that point, he was an intimate of W. J. Fox and Eliza Flower.)  Above all to be taken into account, though, are various accounts of La Peau de chagrin that had appeared in the English periodical press immediately prior to the composition of RB’s poem.  Certain textual details of RB’s poem can likewise be shown to echo at least one of Balzac’s contes philosophiques from the same period, while Paracelsus parallels the same author’s frequent mentions of the physician and alchemist.

2. EBB and Mary Russell Mitford as readers of Balzac

EBB to Mitford 08 February 1847

EBB’s handwritten list of Balzac titles appended to her letter to Mary Russell Mitford, dated 8 February [1847]. Original housed at Wellesley College, Margaret Clapp Library, Special Collections.

As indicated above, my concern here is to analyse in detail this unique exchange of letters both chronologically and in context in order to tease out the significance of the way Balzac is viewed by the two correspondents and how it evolved over time from initial doubts and even hostility to a shared passion that was nonetheless able to accommodate temporary instances of dissension. This evolution, in which Le Père Goriot was a watershed experience for EBB, requires also to be seen against shifts of emphasis in their allegiance to the principal French rivals for their admiration.  In addition to re-evaluating the elements of moral disapprobation and highlighting the piecemeal way in which they acquired familiarity with Balzac’s writings; the interaction of their discussion of their reading with the critical reception of his work in early Victorian England; and their concern to rank Balzac, Sand and their contemporaries in order of importance, the aim has been to identify the elements of Balzac’s writing to which they were particularly drawn. Thus, notwithstanding their (and especially EBB’s) self-confessed, though unrealized, desire to read his entire oeuvre, they were especially enthused by the many works of his in which a major concern was with writers (or journalists), creative genius, or the predicament of single women, themes which were not infrequently interwoven.

D1204

Draft MS of EBB’s translation of a poem (‘Chant d’une jeune fille’/’The Song of a Young Girl’) ascribed to the fictional poet Canalis in Balzac’s Modeste Mignon. D1204.

Of particular significance in the case of each correspondent is her reaction to reading Béatrix (featuring a character obviously modelled in part on George Sand), Modeste Mignon, the tripartite Illusions perdues (with, in the second part, its notorious attack on journalists which was at the root of the subsequent spat between Balzac and Janin) and the first three parts of its sequel, Splendeurs et misères des courtisanes, which presented the eagerly awaited answer to the question of the destiny of the failed poet Lucien de Rubempré.  In addition to providing a portrait of another poet of questionable merit, Modeste Mignon featured in its eponymous heroine a character who sets to music a poem that EBB would translate into English, a draft of her version being preserved in ABL. This requires to be related to the discussion in these letters of translating Balzac and, indeed, of his ‘untranslatability’.  Especially noteworthy, in a wider context that is dominated by moral anxiety, is the responsiveness of EBB and Mitford to Balzac, George Sand, and Victor Hugo’s creative extension of the possibilities of the French language, though it would be to RB that she would most eloquently express Balzac’s pre-eminence in this regard.  At the same time, a would-be complete appreciation of these letters needs to acknowledge that on a personal level, the reading of Balzac for EBB and Mitford was a prism through which to create a sentimental relationship sustained by the cultivation of a shared sense of moral boldness and linguistic and cultural superiority.  Every opportunity was seized by them to drop the name of ‘our Balzac’, or some such phrase, even in contexts unlinked to him or his works.  The picture is further completed by consideration of Mitford’s observations on Balzac in letters to others and in her 1855 volume of reminiscences.

3. RB and EBB’s shared interest in Balzac

Beatrix

First installment of Béatrix in Le Siècle, 13 April 1839. Available online via Gallica.

The first concern here is to establish the extent to which RB, like EBB, developed a familiarity with Balzac’s novels prior to their relationship. In the years after the publication of Pauline and Paracelsus, he eagerly followed the serialization of the first part of Béatrix in Le Siècle in 1839, though it was the initial chapters describing the small Breton town of Guérande and its environs that exerted a particular attraction. He would have been unaware, however, that the version he was reading had been doctored out of respect for the susceptibilities of a mass audience. It may be that he read in this format some or all of the other works of Balzac that were serialized in the same newspaper. There is, on the other hand, no trace of his having read the short story Un drame au bord de la mer (1834), which was set in the same area in Brittany and offered the added interest of employing Louis Lambert as narrator.  Unlike EBB, RB showed no sign of wishing to proselytize with regard to Balzac’s compositions; it was Hugo’s work in this period that he pressed upon the attentions of Alfred Domett. In the letters the Brownings exchanged prior to their marriage, Balzac is prominent and it may be assumed that discussion of works such as La Recherche de l’absolu continued during his visits to Wimpole Street. It is difficult to imagine EBB not being as wide-ranging in her later references to his work as she was in her letters to Mitford.  Balzac’s pre-eminence in their estimation was bolstered by the fact that RB did not share his wife’s admiration of Sand, though his objections to Consuelo were not phrased in the reprehensible language to which Carlyle had recourse when denouncing her writings a few years previously.  He was quick to pick up on any reference to Balzac in the press, especially hostile mentions in English literary periodicals, and was keen to read any work of his, whether new or less recent. And only partly out of knowledge that this was guaranteed to please EBB and provide a fertile topic of conversation. Although textual evidence is relatively scant for the years separating their departure for Italy and EBB’s death, it is clear that both continued to read Balzac’s novels and remained committed to making them fundamental reference points in their discussions, though it was probably EBB who ensured that this was so.  This was in spite of obstacles in the way of reading Balzac in Italy that were both logistical and the result of censorship. Their shared interest in the writer and his work was kept alive by several expatriate residents or visitors who had either known him or were keen to share their own interest in him. The most easily documented example is that of Margaret Fuller Ossoli. The Brownings’ joint reading of Le Cousin Pons in 1850 merits particular attention.  EBB reported that they were both greatly affected by Balzac’s death a few months’ later, an event that deprived them of making his acquaintance during their Parisian sojourn of 1852, when, however, they attended one of Sand’s ‘evenings’.   At the same time, there are signs that, to a certain extent, they employed different yardsticks in their assessment of Balzac as a creative artist, though this can only have served to provide a basis for stimulating debate.  The view frequently advanced that, following their reading of Madame Bovary in 1858, Balzac was toppled from the pedestal on which RB had placed him nonetheless invites qualification.

4. RB and Balzac: the later years

Beatrix 2

Page from the opening chapter of the first edition of Béatrix containing references to Guérande, Batz, and Le Croisic. Available online via Gallica.

The principal focal point in this period is RB’s discovery of the area of Brittany that Balzac had immortalized in Béatrix and which he himself went on to celebrate in The Two Poets of Croisic (1878). The same place names are present in both works: Guérande, Batz, and Le Croisic.  A closer comparative study of the two works can certainly be envisaged, though Balzac recalls druidic monuments in other of his works of fiction as well.  There is no reason to challenge Mrs Orr’s statement: ‘His [RB’s] allegiance to Balzac remained unshaken, though he was conscious of lengthiness when he read him aloud.’  An entry in Evelyn Barclay’s Venice diary a month before RB’s death records a visiting French art historian and historian of literature professing that ‘he had never met any one, who had such a deep and thorough knowledge of french literature’ before going on to state categorically that RB’s ‘favourite french author was Balzac.’  It is notable that RB’s later works, e.g. The Inn Album and Red Cotton Night-Cap Country, stimulate such author-critics as Swinburne, Stevenson, W.E. Henley, John Addington Symonds, Arthur Symons, Saintsbury (in the 1911 edition of Britannica) and Gerard Manley Hopkins (albeit with regard to the opening of The Ring and the Book in a comment that was unflattering to both writers) to propose parallels with Balzac’s novels, while the forgotten minor French poet, Charles des Guerrois, who translated poems by both RB and EBB, stands out by virtue of his claim in 1885 that ‘Aurora Leigh me fait penser par moments à notre Balzac.’ (The previous year an Italian critic had emphasized the Balzac-like detail of RB’s descriptions.)  Although the probing of such affinities lies outside the scope of my study, certain shared characteristics suggest themselves for further consideration, amongst them a positive form of prolixity and a penchant for neologism and stylistic hybridity, together with an intellectual and cultural eclecticism that results in evocative bric-à-brac or clutter and poses interpretative difficulties of an epistemological nature. Also ripe for further comparison are the effects created on occasion by each author’s embedding of a central narrative in a related secondary one.

*****

Literary-historical research invariably has unintended consequences.  In my case, a fascination with the French novel in Pen Browning’s French Abbé Reading at the top of the staircase at ABL resulted in an additional project that has continued on my return from Baylor in the form of an article with the working title ‘Pen Browning’s French abbé revisited.’

French Abbe Reading

French Abbé Reading by Robert Barrett Browning, 1875. Armstrong Browning Library.

*****

My research at the Armstrong Browning Library was made possible by the award of a Visiting Research Fellowship funded by Baylor University.  It is with pleasure that I extend warmest thanks to the Director, Jennifer Borderud, and her staff, all of whom went out of their way to ensure that my time at ABL was as enjoyable as it was rewarding.  Melvin Schuetz not only brought research materials to my table with preternatural rapidity, but willingly placed his unrivalled knowledge of the collections and their history at my disposal.  No question of a practical nature was either too great or too trivial for Christi Klempnauer, who unfailingly produced information or a solution with the warmest of smiles.  It was a privilege to be able to work undisturbed in such comfortable surroundings.  Immediate access to key works and the remarkable Wedgestone online edition of The Brownings Correspondence (including content not generally available) made for extremely efficient working practices, especially for someone new to the bibliography.  As for the richness of the specialized holdings, I was able to make a number of related discoveries that would not have been possible in any other single library.  A supplementary pleasure was afforded by an awareness of the provenance of certain volumes, especially those that had been presented by their author to Dr Armstrong.  Along with all other Visiting Fellows, I imagine, I felt it was incumbent on me to end up producing a study that he would have approved of.  Since my return, Philip Kelley has shown great kindness in revealing to me not only the facts behind an enigmatic 1961 newspaper report of the discovery of a Pen Browning painting that turned out to be his portrait of Joseph Milsand and which is now in ABL, but also the extraordinary story of his own involvement in establishing the sitter’s identity and the provenance of the painting was well as keeping track of its whereabouts prior to its long-delayed appearance at auction.  He has also been equally generous in drawing my attention to several items related to my main topic of research of which I would otherwise have remained unaware.