“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into Victorian wedding journeys and Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s own enlightening experience as expressed in her unpublished honeymoon poem.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.

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

At the Armstrong Browning Library, 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. The Library Services Assistants greet and register researchers. They provide directional information for the 3rd floor and the Austin-Moore Elizabeth Barrett Browning Salon to building visitors. Additionally, Library Services Assistants inventory archival collections and transcribe archival materials. Please stop and say, “hello” to them when you are on the third floor of the Armstrong Browning Library.

Hudson Baker

Hudson Baker

Hudson Baker

Hometown: Houston, Texas
Major: University Scholars (Linguistics, Biochemistry, Philosophy, Medical Humanities)
What are you looking forward to about working in the ABL? I’m looking forward to the beautiful artwork, reflective atmosphere, and rich history.
What food do you miss most when away from home? I miss my sister’s desserts: Butterfinger pudding, pizookie, and dessert lasagna, to name a few.

Azaria Finley

Azaria Finley

Azaria Finley

Hometown: I come from a military family, so I call home California since I lived there the longest.
Major: Social Work
What are you looking forward to about working in the ABL? I am looking toward to interacting with different people and groups, and being able to form a community surrounded by literature. Being able to listen to the angelic voices of the Baylor Choir when they practice at the library is the highlight of my day.
What food do you miss most when away from home? I miss my mother’s beef stew with mac and cheese. She normally cooks it around Fall/Winter, and I associate this with Christmas being around the corner.

 

 

Melvin Schuetz Retires After 26 Years of Service to Baylor University

Melvin Schuetz

Melvin Schuetz, Assistant to the Curators at the Armstrong Browning Library, retired May 1 after 26 years of service to Baylor

On May 1, 2020, amid the coronavirus pandemic, Melvin Schuetz, assistant to the curators at the Armstrong Browning Library (ABL), retired after 26 years of service to Baylor University.

As a skilled internet sleuth, Melvin was instrumental in contributing to the growth of the Library’s collections by discovering Browning letters, manuscripts, library books, presentation and association volumes, photographs and other likenesses, artwork, artifacts, and miscellaneous Browingiana in library catalogs and on auction and bookseller websites. His expertise and assistance were also respected and appreciated by Browning scholars and scholars of the nineteenth century from around the world.

Melvin's Retirement Celebration

Colleagues celebrated with Melvin during a retirement reception online

A collector in his own right Melvin amassed a personal library of first editions of the Brownings’ works. He installed an exhibition featuring a chronological display of his British first editions of Robert and Elizabeth Barrett Browning works in the ABL’s Hankamer Treasure Room in February of this year.

Melvin is also passionate about the space program and the work of space artist Chesley Bonestell. He authored A Chesley Bonestell Space Art Chronology, published in 1999; collaborated on an illustrated book The Art of Chesley Bonestell in 2001 for which he received a Hugo Award; and co-produced a multi-award winning documentary on Bonestell, Chesley Bonestell: A Brush with the Future, in 2018.

Collecting the BrowningsThe Armstrong Browning Library wishes Melvin a happy retirement, but his collegiality, curiosity, and dedication will be missed!

Collecting the Brownings, an exhibition curated by Melvin H. Schuetz, originally scheduled to close at the end of July, will remain on display through December 2020 in the Hankamer Treasure Room of the Armstrong Browning Library.

 

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.