Browning at Downton Abbey: Stalking in Scotland

by Melinda Creech

Inveraray Castle in Scotland

Inveraray Castle in Scotland – photo by Jim Brodie []

Most of the season three finale did not occur at Downton Abbey at all. The Crawley family traveled to the Scottish estate of Duneagle, belonging to their cousin “Shrimpie,” to enjoy stalking hinds, fishing, and dancing the Highland reel, and, of course, the season ended with a tragic accident.

The castle in the movie was actually Inveraray, the residence of the Duke of Argyll, in Browning’s day. Although I could not establish that Browning, who actually came from Scottish stock, visited Inveraray, he did visit all around the area. The Brownings travelled to St. Andrews (September 1868), Lock Luichart (August 1869), Loch Tummell (August-October 1872), Brahan Castle (October 1872), and Lamlesh (August 1876) all within 100 miles of the Inverary Castle that was featured in the season three finale.

In the letters here at the Armstrong Browning Library, I was surprised to find a very unusual coincidence, and a much happier ending. Robert Browning and his son, Robert Barrett Browning, affectionately known as “Pen,” went to Scotland on hunts and reading-parties several times. Pen’s Aunt Sarianna, Robert Browning’s sister, lamented the fact that “it is strange how little parents can prevent youths from following the current of his age. Here, in England, the tide set in for athletics—for rowing, shooting, and such like rubbish—in one sense, though useful in another” [Sarianna Browning to Joseph Milsand, November, 1869]. Three years later Robert Browning wrote to Isa Blagden that “Pen has been quite well and enjoying himself in Scotland: shooting, riding, & dancing the Highland Reel. He had a miraculous escape about a fortnight ago: driving a friend in a pony-chaise drawn by a big horse—he came to grief—by no sort of fault of his own—to grief in a place I know exactly, at the foot of a bridge over a ravine close by my last years abode: the carriage came to pieces, the horse rushed at the bridge, with the wreck on his heels, guiding him was out of the question, and Pen was sent flying over the bridge through a tree which broke the fall,–his companion, a man, going along with the cushions &c, over Pen’s head at the same time, with no hurt to either but a few bruises and general stiffness” [Robert Browning to Isa Blagden, October 3, 1872]. Have the writers at Downton Abbey been reading Robert Browning’s mail? Truth, it seems, is stranger than fiction.

A Letter from Robert Browning to Isa Blagden (1872)

A Letter from Robert Browning to Isa Blagden (1872) [Photo courtesy of Armstrong Browning Library, Baylor University]

Browning at Downton Abbey: Conversations at Highclere

by Melinda Creech

The conversations at Downton Abbey propel the plot and leave us curious to know how the relationships will unravel or be knit together. Of course, many of the most interesting conversations occur in the hallways and behind doors in the servants’ quarters. However, some take place when the men gather by themselves after the meal in the smoking room. Others unfold as the visitors and residents stroll across the lovely grounds of Highclere Castle.

The Smoking Room in Highclere Castle

The Smoking Room in Highclere Castle []

Robert Browning found himself engaged in these conversations. The Political Diaries of the Fourth Earl of Carnarvon, edited by Peter Gordon (2009), contends that “Carnarvon’s greatest pleasure . . . was discussing literary matters with distinguished authors.” The conversations in the smoking room, according to Thomas Hay Sweet Escott in Anthony Trollope: His Public Services, Private Friends, and Literary Originals (1967) sometimes involved Browning and often focused on the literature of the Classics. The smoking room clientele included Lord Carnarvon, Browning, Anthony Trollope, J. R. Green, J. R. Seeley, Charles Kingsley, and H. P. Liddon and resembled “Cicero’s country-house parties at his Tusculum.”

Browning, however, also enjoyed those strolling conversations on the grounds. Lady Knightley in The Journals of Lady Knightley of Fawsley, edited by Julia Mary Cartwright (1915), has this recollection of a conversation with Browning at Highclere.

Talking to remarkable people is certainly very hard work! Here I have been divided between Count Beust and Mr. Browning nearly all day. The occupation, amusement, or whatever you like to call it, has been a walk and luncheon at a little house by a lovely lake. Mr. Browning is as different from his poems as anything one can imagine — a loud-voiced, sturdy little man, who says nothing in the least obscure or difficult to understand!

Perhaps it was just such conversations that caused Robert’s weariness as described by his sister, Sarianna Browning, in a letter dated December 1, 1869, to her dear friend in Paris, Joseph Milsand. She says: “Robert is with the earl of Carnarvon at Highclere castle since Saty [Saturday]. He will stay a few days longer but soon gets wearied.”

How delightful to imagine Robert Browning sitting in the smoking room at Highclere discussing Homer, strolling the grounds unveiling his poetry to Lady Knightley, or participating in a shooting party.

Be sure to check back later this week for the next installment in the Browning at Downton Abbey series!

Sarrianna's Letter to Joseph Milsand

Sarianna’s Letter to Joseph Milsand dated December 1, 1869 [Photo courtesy of Armstrong Browning Library, Baylor University]

Browning at Downton Abbey: The Shooting Party

A Shooting Party scene from the set of Downton Abbey

A scene from the Christmas shooting party from Downton Abbey []

by Melinda Creech

The season two finale for Downton Abbey, entitled “Christmas, 1919,” showcased a shooting party at Downton Abbey. As Alastair Bruce, historical advisor for Masterpiece, explains in a supplemental video, the shooting party had several purposes. Of utmost interest to the participants was the social import of the event. It was an opportunity to see and be seen by the elite of the society, and often required the tailoring of a new wardrobe. The harvesting of game during the shoot supported the community’s needs, providing Christmas gifts of food for the participants, residents of Highclere, and the staff. The shoot also contributed to the ecological balance of the one thousand acre estate.

Browning’s involvement in the shooting party is a little unclear. The Political Diaries of the Fourth Earl of Carnarvon, 1857-1890, Colonial Secretary and Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, edited by Peter Gordon (2009), indicates: “as a member of a shooting party there in 1873 Browning was able to claim in a single day 218 pheasants, 40 hares, 20 rabbits, and 1 partridge.” Gordon obtained this information from a letter from Robert Browning to Sarianna Browning, dated November 20, 1873. However, Browning writes to his sister, Sarianna, that “the main party of men are gone out to shoot” while he has “been walking in the park and after luncheon, shall begin again.” As almost a postscript in the last line of the letter he adds: “5 o’clock/ Day’s sport, (5 guns)—218 pheasants, 40 hares, 20 rabbits, 1 partridge.”

Whether as an attendee or a participant, Browning, no doubt, enjoyed the shooting party at Highclere, November 15-22,1873.

Shooting Party at Highclere Castle

Shooting Party at Highclere Castle [December 1895] with Lady Almina (center) and the Prince of Wales in attendance. Do you recognize any other famous faces?

A Sample of Some of the Beautiful Stained-Glass Windows in the Library & Museum

Recently, we are pleased to announce, the Armstrong Browning Library & Museum was named among the 50 most beautiful libraries in the world. Among the most beautiful items within the ABL&M are the sixty-two stained-glass windows. Below are photos of the three oldest windows in the building. Based on poems by RB, they were originally placed in the old main library’s Browning Room in 1924. 1) The Guardian Angel; 2) How they brought the good news from Ghent to Aix; 3) The Pied Piper.

One of three windows placed in the Browning Room (Old Main Library) in 1924

Browning at Downton Abbey

by Melinda Creech

Highclere Castle

Photo by Eladesor (

While preparing the letters of Robert and Elizabeth Barrett Browning to be digitized for the Baylor University Libraries Digital Collection, I made an interesting discovery. A letter in the Armstrong Browning Library’s Browning Letters Collection, dated June 23, 1868, was sent by Robert Browning to Lady Evelyn Carnarvon. The name might have slipped my attention and remained one of the hundreds of correspondents of Robert Browning with whom I have little or no knowledge, however, last fall I joined the ranks of the army of fans devoted to the weekly viewing of the affairs of Downton Abbey.

I had watched with rapt attention “The Secrets of Highclere Castle,” a historical account of Highclere, the real “Downton Abbey,” which aired on January 6 as a prequel to the first episode of the third season. The character Robert Crawley, Earl of Grantham, living at Downton Abbey, is loosely based on George Edward Stanhope Molyneux Herbert, 5th Earl of Carnarvon, who resided at Highclere Castle. The 5th Earl of Carnarvon is best known as the financial backer of the search for and the excavation of Tutankhamun’s tomb in the Valley of the Kings. I was delighted to discover that Robert Browning was acquainted with his father, Henry Howard Molyneux Herbert, 4th Earl of Carnarvon; and in fact, Peter Gordon in The Political Diaries of the Fourth Earl of Carnarvon, records that “Robert Browning was often a welcome visitor at Highclere.”

According to Baylor’s online database The Brownings: A Research Guide, there are twenty-six Browning letters to or from the Carnarvons, one supporting document that mentions the Carnarvons in relation to the Brownings, and at least one other Victorian letter that refers to the Carnarvons but does not mention the Brownings specifically. An in-house Browning database indicates that there are seventy references to Highclere or the Carnarvons in the Browning letters and supporting documents, and the Armstrong Browning Library owns nineteen of those letters or supporting documents.
During the next few weeks I plan to investigate the letters and supporting documents to find out more about Robert Browning at “Downton Abbey.” Upcoming blogposts will include a description of a hunt at Highclere where Browning was a participant, a diary account of Lady Knightley of Fawsley’s conversations with Robert Browning at Highclere, and an account of a conversation between Trollope and Browning in the smoking-room at Highclere Castle.

Stay tuned.

Influence on Popular Fiction of RB’s “Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came”

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came painted by Thomas Moran in 1859.

“Childe Roland” has served as inspiration to a number of popular works of fiction, including: American author Stephen King for his The Dark Tower series of stories and novels (1978–2012).

The Joseph Milsand Archive in the Armstrong Browning Library & Museum

Joseph Milsand (1817-1886), French literary critic and philosopher and long-time friend of Robert Browning, became known to English and French readers through his critical writings on English literature which included, besides notices of the Brownings, articles on Thomas Carlyle, Alfred Tennyson, and William Blake. Milsand’s book-length study of John Ruskin, L’Esthetique anglais (Paris, 1864), was the first comprehensive French assessment of Ruskin’s work. Milsand’s interest in philosophy and religion resulted in numerous publications, among which were articles on the Quakers, English philosophers, modern French Protestantism, and an important evaluation of Martin Luther, Luther et le serf-abitre (Paris, 1884), a book recommended by William James, who said of its author: “He is undoubtedly a man of genius with an insight into the deepest relations of things.

The Joseph Milsand Archive, now owned by the ABL&M, contains over 4,000 autograph letters as well as numerous rare books, pamphlets, journals, photographs, drawings, newspapers, and albums. It includes original manuscripts of nearly all of Milsand’s known writings, together with a large number of annotated proofs and most of his printed works, documenting his career from the age of 20 until his death. Over 62,000 manuscript pages of Milsand’s articles, essays, study notes, and personal journals (mostly handwritten in French) record his thoughts and observations.

Source: Introduction to The Milsand Archive written by Browning scholar and publisher Mr. Philip Kelley. Mr. Kelley arranged for the Milsand family to sell the Archive to the ABL&M. Also, Kelley’s Wedgestone Press has, thus far, published 19 volumes of a projected 40, of The Browning Correspondence.

Kelley, Philip et al. (Eds.) The Brownings’ correspondence. 19 vols. to date. (Wedgestone, 1984-) (Complete letters of Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Robert Browning to 1853.)

The Milsand Archive contains over 60,000 items, mostly in French, relating to Browning, the Milsand family, and the Anglo-French literary scene from the 1860s to 80s. Additional information about the Library’s collections is also available in the online Browning Guide. Source: Armstrong Browning Library & Museum website.

Robert Browning & Joseph Milsand:

RB and Milsand were close friends from the early 1850’s until Milsand’s death in 1886.