Giving Nineteenth Century Women Writers a Voice and a Face — (Julia) Augusta Webster [née Davies], [pseud. Cecil Home] (1837–1894)

We ought to make out what we mean, and to teach definitely one system or the other; goodness for its own sake, or goodness for its extraneous rewards.

 Augusta Webster, “Virtue is its own Reward,”
The Examiner, 23 Feb 1878, p. 238.

Webster’s series of essays first appeared in the Examiner and were later published as a book,  A Housewife’s Opinions (1879). Dr. Patricia Rigg, author of Julia Augusta Webster: Victorian Aestheticism and the Woman Writer, and Professor, Department of English and Theatre, Acadia University, Canada, suggested the above quotation. In the essay, Webster takes a very practical approach to morality. She discusses the phrase “virtue is its own reward,” arguing that virtue, in fact, generally causes loss to the practitioner. She warns that systems of extrinsic and intrinsic motivation are mutually exclusive and that choosing one course or the other is a better plan for educating our children. A similar concern was more recently expressed by Alfie Kohn, the author of Punished by Rewards (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1993 / 1999).

Augusta Webster was an accomplished scholar, learning Italian, Spanish, French, Greek, and Latin. She pursued her passion for painting but was expelled from the South Kensington Art School in London for whistling. She published translations of Aeschylus and Euripides. Her first book of poetry, Blanche Lisle: and other poems (1860), was published under a pseudonym, Cecil Home, but later publications were done under her own name. She gained her greatest popularity with her dramatic monologues, in part inspired by Robert Browning. These monologues gave a voice to women and reflected her feminist interests.

There has been a renewal of interest in Webster in the last few years focusing on her roles as writer, professional critic, activist, and political figure. Her sonnet sequence, Mothers and Daughter (London: Macmillan and Co., 1895), published posthumously, has also gained attention recently among scholars. In the sonnets, Webster presents an unreserved tribute to motherhood, rescuing the experience of birth and motherhood from their typical use in the nineteenth century as metaphors for male creativity. William Michael Rossetti, English writer and critic, wrote the introduction, in which he comments:

Nothing certainly could be more genuine than these Sonnets. A Mother is expressing her love for a Daughter – her reminiscences, anxieties, and hopeful anticipations. The theme is as beautiful and natural one as any poetess could select…. It seems a little surprising that Mrs. Webster had not been forestalled – and to the best of my knowledge she never was forestalled – in such a treatment. But some of the poetesses have not been Mothers.

London: Macmillan And Co. and New York, 1895.

The Armstrong Browning Library owns two volumes of Webster’s poetry, A Woman Sold and Other Poems (London: Macmillan and Co., 1867) and A Book of Rhyme (London : Macmillan, 1881).

An advertisement in the back of A Woman Sold and Other Poems for Dramatic Studies, another volume of poetry by Webster, includes this quote from Contemporary Review: “Mrs. Webster’s dramatic and poetic poems are of no common order. Her special line is the subjective analysis of thought and feeling.” Another note of interest is that the Hathi Trust online edition of the book was a “Gift of Prof. J. R. Lowell of Cambridge,” to Harvard  University.

At least one volume of Augusta Webster’s work was owned by Robert Browning. A Book of Rhyme (1881), in the Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand bears the following inscription: “To Robert Browning from the Author A.W. July 1881.” The ABL owns a copy of the same edition that Robert Browning owned.

Melinda Creech

Notes and Queries: Does anyone know where to find the photograph alluded to on the engraving of Augusta Webster: “Photographed by Ferrando, Roma”?

I have not found a copy of the original photo, however, I have found a variant image of her — also credited to Ferrando.
It is in the article: “Le odierne poetesse inglesi.” That is, “Today’s English poets.” Pages 104-113.
The Webster image is on page 108.


Giving Nineteenth Century Women Writers a Voice and a Face — Frances Ridley Havergal [pseuds. Sabrina, Zoide] (1836–1879)

Take my life, and let it be
Consecrated, Lord, to Thee.
Take my moments and my days;
Let them flow in ceaseless praise.

Take my hands, and let them move
At the impulse of Thy love.
Take my feet, and let them be
Swift and beautiful for Thee.

Take my voice, and let me sing,
Always, only, for my King.
Take my lips, and let them be
Filled with messages from Thee.

Take my silver and my gold;
Not a mite would I withhold.
Take my intellect, and use
Every power as Thou shalt choose.

Take my will, and make it Thine;
It shall be no longer mine.
Take my heart, it is Thine own;
It shall be Thy royal throne.

Take my love; my Lord, I pour
At Thy feet its treasure-store.
Take myself, and I will be
Ever, only, all for Thee.

Frances Ridley Havergal, “Consecration Hymn,”
Loyal Responses; or, Daily Melodies for the King’s Minstrels,
London: James Nisbet & Co., 1878.

Dr. Krista Lysack, Assistant Professor of English, King’s University College at Western University, suggested this hymn as one of the most representative of Frances Ridley Havergal. In her article in Victorian Review, Volume 37, pp. 17-22, Lysack notes what a prolific writer Havergal was, composing over 850 pages of verse and over 75 hymns.

Frances Ridley Havergal began to write verse at the age of seven and committed her life to religious and philanthropic work. Her most widely known hymn is “Take My Life and Let It Be,” quoted above. She also wrote the words for “Like A River Glorious,” “I Gave My Life for Thee,” “Who Is on the Lord’s Side?,” many short devotional tracts, prose narratives designed for children, and a popular autobiography. The Armstrong Browning Library owns one of her books, The Ministry of Song (1880).

  Frances Ridley Havergal. The Ministry of Song.
London: James Nisbet & Co., 1880.

The harp was Frances Havergal’s personal emblem and was published on the cover of her first book, The Ministry of Song, in 1869. The edition featured above was published in 1880 and bears the inscription “FORTY-EIGHT THOUSAND” on the title page, indicating how many books had been published.

Frances Ridley Havergal died of peritonitis at the age of 42.

Melinda Creech

Giving Nineteenth Century Women Writers a Voice and a Face — Christina Rossetti (1830-1894)

Christina Rossetti. “The World” from The Goblin Market and Other Poems. Cambridge, London: Macmillan and Co., 1862.

Dr. Antony H. Harrison, Distinguished Professor and Head, Department of English, North Carolina State University, and author of several books on Christina Rossetti, recommends this sonnet as one of his favorite. Rossetti uses the Petrachan sonnet, usually a device for expressing erotic love and seduction, to express the temptation of erotic sin in the world. She rejects the traditional role of the Petrachan sonnet along with the traditional role of erotic love.

Christina Georgina Rossetti was one of four children born to Italian parents who were exiled from Italy. Rossetti was educated at home by her mother and began composing before she could write. By the age of twelve, Rossetti had written and dated poetry in her notebooks, which was privately published by her grandfather. Her brother Dante Gabriel Rossetti was a famous Pre-Raphaelite painter, and Christina sat for several of his paintings. Christina primarily wrote poetry and is best known for her symbolic religious works. Two of her poems, “Love Came Down at Christmas” and “In the Bleak Midwinter” were set to music and even today are popular Christmas carols.

The ABL has ten volumes written by Christina Rossetti and published during her lifetime. One of the books, Goblin Market and Other Poems, was part of Robert Browning’s library.The frontispiece and vignette title page were illustrated by Christina’s brother, Dante Gabriel Rossetti. The ABL’s advance copy of this work was sent to Robert Browning by the Rossetti family and remained in his library until his death.

Christina Rossetti. Goblin Market and Other Poems.  Cambridge, London: Macmillan and Co., 1862.

 The ABL also owns one letter from Christina Rossetti to Robert Browning. In this letter Christina asks Browning to dinner and sends her Mother’s compliments:  “May we hope that you will again help us to as pleasant an evening as we have not forgotten?”

Letter from Christina Rossetti to Robert Browning.
[21 December 1868].

Melinda Creech

Armstrong Browning Library Benefactors Day 2013 Exhibit

Letters of Robert and Elizabeth Barrett Browning at Wellesley College

In 2012, Wellesley College graciously collaborated with Baylor University in allowing the love letters between Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett Browning housed in Wellesley’s special collections to be digitized and made freely available for viewing on The Browning Letters page of the Baylor University Libraries Digital Collections site. In evidence of their continuing partnership and commitment to make the compelling story of the two poets available to scholars and enthusiasts around the globe, this fall eighteen boxes (1,050 letters) traveled to Baylor University from Wellesley College in Massachusetts to be added to The Browning Letters digitization project. A selection of these letters is presented here in celebration and appreciation of the Armstrong Browning Library’s donors and supporters.

The letters on display from Elizabeth Barrett Browning are to some of her most frequent correspondents and intimate friends.  Among the recipients are scholar Hugh Stuart Boyd, artist and writer Benjamin Robert Haydon, cousin John Kenyon, writer Mary Russell Mitford, art critic and writer Anna Brownell Jameson, and family friend Julia Martin. In the letters, Elizabeth shares the joy she feels after becoming the wife of Robert and the mother of a healthy baby boy.  She dramatically recounts an incident in which her pet Spaniel Flush was dognapped and recovered. She also reveals the pain she experienced when her close friend Mary Russell Mitford betrayed her trust and when her father’s death ended the possibility of reconciliation with him.

The letters on display from Robert Browning to John Kenyon and Julia Martin provide further insight into Elizabeth’s dispute with Mary Russell Mitford and her estrangement from her father.  In a letter to William Cornwallis Cartwright, a friend and former Member of Parliament in London, Robert recalls the engagement and marriage of his son Pen.  Also included is a letter from John Ruskin, leading art critic of the nineteenth century, to Robert praising Elizabeth’s Aurora Leigh as the greatest poem in the English language.


Letter from Elizabeth Barrett Moulton-Barrett to Hugh Stuart Boyd.

28 [-29] May 1828.

Courtesy of Wellesley College Library, Special Collections

Hugh Stuart Boyd (1781-1848) was a scholar with whom EBB shared a passion for Greek literature.  He was also an admirer of her poetry.

In this letter, EBB thanks Mr. Boyd for reading The Battle of Marathon, a poem she wrote at a very young age.

I am at once sorry & pleased that you should have actually read thro’ the little book which forms the subject of your letter—sorry, to have inflicted such dulness on you,—& pleased, to receive such a proof of your friendship.


 Letter from Elizabeth Barrett Moulton-Barrett to Benjamin Robert Haydon.

29 November 1842.

Courtesy of Wellesley College Library, Special Collections

Benjamin Robert Haydon (1786-1846), an artist and writer, and EBB became acquainted in 1841 through their mutual friend Mary Russell Mitford.  The pair corresponded frequently “by little notes on great subjects,” EBB wrote to Miss Mitford on 6 December 1842.

One example follows:

An infinite Being like the Creator, sees the essential & the abstract object; but we who are finite understand nothing except by comparison & contrast. Referring to our daily experience we may observe, that we discern nothing in the external world except by the help of two colours. If there were no color but one shade of green, .. whatever might be the variety of form, we should see only one great green flat—no line, no angle, no difference between hill & valley or Heaven & earth. And this being so in the material, it is also so in the spiritual. Adam in his first day’s joy, was good & happy, undiscerningly, unconsciously: his goodness was his life, & not his choice & preference & glory. He knew nothing of his good. He was blind & deaf to it. The knowledge of it came with the knowledge of Evil—& was the fruit of the same tree. After all, what is evil? Do we know more of that, than of its origin?


Letter from Elizabeth Barrett Moulton-Barrett to John Kenyon. 19 May 1843.

Courtesy of Wellesley College Library, Special Collections

John Kenyon (1784-1856) was a distant cousin of EBB’s and a mutual family friend of EBB and RB.  He was responsible for bringing the two poets together.

In this letter, EBB thanks Mr. Kenyon for sending her a letter from RB in which he praises her poem “The Dead Pan.”

And then Mr Browning’s note! Unless you say ‘nay’ to me, I shall keep this note which has pleased me so much—yet not more than it ought– Now I forgive Mr Merivale for his hard thoughts of my easy rhymes.– But all this pleasure my dear Mr Kenyon, I owe to you, & shall remember that I do–


 Letter from Robert Browning to John Kenyon. [19 May 1843].

Courtesy of Armstrong Browning Library

RB’s letter to Mr. Kenyon about EBB’s poem “The Dead Pan” is housed at the Armstrong Browning Library.  It is here reunited with EBB’s letter to John Kenyon housed at Wellesley College.

Thank you very heartily for the leave to read (& re-read) the noble verses I return. Most noble!

And what famous versification! The grand rhymes pair in virtue of their essential characteristics only, and the accidents (of a mute or a liquid) go for nothing: just as tree matches with tree in a great avenue, elm-bole with elm-bole, let the boughs lie how they may: in a spruce park ring-fence, knob-head-rail must needs go with knob-head, and spear-point with spear-point,—or retired-citizen Snodgrass would never hear the last of his bad taste.


Letter from Elizabeth Barrett Moulton-Barrett to Benjamin Robert Haydon.

19 July 1843.

Courtesy of Wellesley College Library, Special Collections

In 1843, Mr. Haydon submitted “cartoons” in a competition to select frescoes for the new Houses of Parliament.  Mr. Haydon’s entries were not included among the winners, and he was resentful of the loss.  Of his reaction to the outcome, EBB writes to Mr. Haydon:

Now try to forgive me for not being sure of the existence of this conspiracy against you– I am used, you know, to hold that occasional adversities, failures, & misconceptions are evils in the way of a noble ambition—& that the world throws stones before the feet of such an Ambition, instead of gravelling her path. Your late disappointment is a very bitter one—I can enter painfully into the whole bitterness of it—but it is not worse than other men of genius have sustained, & risen higher in consequence of. When Corinna took the crown from over Pindar’s head, all Greece looking on, he was mortified & grieved of course—but he did not upbraid his judges with treachery: and who speaks now of Corinna? Wordsworth, all the reviewers & three quarters of the public laughed to scorn, as an inarticulate idiot; but he upbraided none of them with conspiracy: and who scorns Wordsworth now?


Letter from Elizabeth Barrett Moulton-Barrett to Mary Russell Mitford.

16 September 1843.

Courtesy of Wellesley College Library, Special Collections

Mary Russell Mitford (1787-1855) was a well-known writer and was introduced to EBB by John Kenyon in 1836. EBB corresponded with Miss Mitford for nearly two decades and wrote more letters to her than to any other person.

In this letter, EBB dramatically recounts the dognapping and recovery of her pet Spaniel Flush, a gift from Miss Mitford after the death of her brother “Bro” in 1840.

[The dogstealer] said also with most marvellous coolness, “that they had been for two years on the watch for Flush, & that they had hoped to get hold of him the other day when he was out with the lady in the chair, as he had been several times lately.” Conceive the audacity!—and the hardheartedness!! They must have guessed at my state of health, by the very movement of the chair,—drawn for a few steps & then resting!—and to calculate cooly on such an opportunity of taking away the little dog of which I was obviously so fond!– I said so to my brothers; & they laughed. “Hardheartedness! Why they wd have cut your own throat for five pounds”!– And that is true.


Letter from Elizabeth Barrett Moulton-Barrett to Benjamin Robert Haydon.

1 January 1844.

Courtesy of Wellesley College Library, Special Collections

Although they corresponded with one another for three years, EBB and Mr. Haydon never met in person.  In this letter, EBB responds to Mr. Haydon’s request to exchange portraits. Not having a suitable image available, EBB determines to describe herself in prose.

I mean to try to be remembered by my soul rather than by my body […] Yet to give scanty data to your fancy,—thus,—I am “little & black” like Sappho, en attendant the immortality—five feet one high,—with the latitudes straight to correspond—eyes of various colours as the sun shines— .. called blue & black, without being accidentally black & blue—affidavit-ed for grey—sworn at for hazel—& set down by myself (according to my ‘private view’ in the glass) as dark-green-brown—grounded with brown; & green otherwise; what is called “invisible green” in invisible garden-fences .. I shd be particular to you who are a colourist. Not much nose of any kind, .. certes no superfluity of nose; but to make up for it, a mouth suitable to a larger personality—oh, and a very very little voice, to which Cordelia’s was a happy medium. Dark hair & complexion. Small face & sundries.


 Letter from Elizabeth Barrett Moulton-Barrett to Hugh Stuart Boyd.

[Early July 1846].

Courtesy of Wellesley College Library, Special Collections

EBB hints at her plans to marry RB:

From my heart I may say to you, that, looking back to that early time, the hours spent with you, appear to me some of the happiest of my life .. a life in which the “happiest part has not prevailed,” as is the chorus of Agamemnon. A prophet said to me (by his way) a week since, that God intended me compensation, even in the world, & that the latter time would be better for me than the beginning.

Mr. Boyd was supportive of RB and EBB’s marriage, and his home was the first place EBB visited after the secret marriage ceremony on 12 September 1846.


Letter from Elizabeth Barrett Browning to Mary Russell Mitford.

[18 September 1846].

Courtesy of Wellesley College Library, Special Collections

EBB reveals in this letter to Miss Mitford that she has married RB.  Miss Mitford did not think favorably of RB, writing of her first impressions of the poet to Charles Boner on [22 February 1847]:  “I saw Mr Browning once & remember thinking how exactly he resembled a girl drest in boy’s clothes.”  She described his poetry in the same letter as “one heap of obscurity confusion & weakness.”

EBB writes to Miss Mitford:

… when you read this letter I shall have given to one of the most gifted & admirable of men, a wife unworthy of him. I shall be the wife of Robert Browning. Against you, .. in allowing you no confidence, .. I have not certainly sinned, I think—so do not look at me with those reproachful eyes. I have made no confidence to any .. not even to my & his beloved friend Mr Kenyon—& this advisedly, & in order to spare him the anxiety & the responsibility. It would have been a wrong against him & against you to have told either of you—we were in peculiar circumstances—& to have made you a party, would have exposed you to the whole dreary rain—without the shelter we had– If I had loved you less—dearest Miss Mitford, I could have told you sooner.


How can I tell you on this paper, even if my hands did not tremble as the writing shows, how he persisted & overcame me with such letters, & such words, that you might tread on me like a stone if I had not given myself to him, heart & soul. When I bade him see that I was bruised & broken .. unfit for active duties, incapable of common pleasures .. that I had lost even the usual advantages of youth & good spirits—his answer was, “that with himself also the early freshness of youth had gone by, & that, throughout his season of youth, he had loved no woman at all, nor had believed himself made for any such affection—that he loved now once & for ever


Think how I must have felt to have listened to such words from such a man. A man of genius & of miraculous attainments .. but of a heart & spirit beyond them all!——


the truth became obvious that he would be happier with me than apart from me—and I .. why I am only as any other woman in the world, with a heart belonging to her. He is best, noblest—— If you knew him, you should be the praiser.


 Letter from Elizabeth Barrett Browning to Anna Brownell Jameson.

30 April [1849].

Courtesy of Wellesley College Library, Special Collections

Anna Brownell Jameson (1794-1860) was an art critic and writer and a mutual friend of RB and EBB before their courtship and marriage. She traveled to Italy with the Brownings shortly after their marriage and remained a close friend of EBB’s until her death in 1860.

In this letter, EBB delights at the health of her son Robert Wiedeman Barrett Browning, later known as “Pen,” who was born on 9 March 1849 when EBB was forty-three.

Dearest friend, if you could see him at this moment you would wonder how such a child could be my child, .. just as I wonder myself. Such large round cheeks, such a superfluity of chins, such a broad chest, and vigorous legs & arms—and really a beautiful child too—called “a model for Michal Angelo” by the accoucheur and “un Jesu bambino” by the monthly nurse, the wet nurse being of opinion that “the Signora must have seen some very pretty people when she walked out in the streets!”– What has been curiously beautiful from the beginning is his complexion– No “red gum” nor rashes of any kind, nor weak eyes, nor other common scourges of early babyhood– Now his two cheeks have roses in them, one on each side. And such a good baby! So serene & unfretful! Robert walks with him in his arms up & down the terrace, & I could’nt if I tried ever so, the weight is so great.


Letter from Elizabeth Barrett Browning to Julia Martin. [17 September 1851].

Courtesy of Wellesley College Library, Special Collections

Julia Martin (1792-1866) was a neighbor of the Moulton-Barrett family when they lived at Hope End, their large estate in Herefordshire. Supportive of EBB’s marriage to RB, Mrs. Martin encouraged the reconciliation of Edward Moulton-Barrett and his daughter after her elopement with RB.

In this letter to Mrs. Martin, EBB describes her father’s refusal to see her during a trip to England.

For the rest, the pleasantness is not on every side. It seemed to me right, notwithstanding that dear Mr Kenyon advised against it, to apprize my father of my being in England. I could not leave England without trying the possibility of his seeing me once .. of his consenting to kiss my child once. So I wrote—and Robert wrote– A manly, true, straightforward letter his was, yet in some parts so touching to me, & so generous & conciliating everywhere, that I could scarcely believe in the probability of its being read in vain. In reply he had a very violent & unsparing letter, .. with all the letters I had written to Papa through these five years, sent back unopened .. the seals unbroken. What went most to my heart was, that some of the seals were black, with black-edged envelopes,—so that he might have thought my child or husband dead, yet never cared to solve the doubt by breaking the seal. He said, he regretted to have been forced to keep them by him until now, through his ignorance of where he should send them. So, there’s the end. I cannot of course write again. God takes it all into His own Hands, & I wait.


Letter from Robert Browning to John Kenyon. 14 January 1852.

Courtesy of Wellesley College Library, Special Collections

EBB and Mary Russell Mitford’s friendship was tested in 1852 when Miss Mitford published an account of the tragic drowning death of EBB’s brother “Bro” in her book Recollections of a Literary Life.

RB writes of the indiscretion to Mr. Kenyon:

I was informed last week, by a lady-friend, that Mr. Philarète Chasles, one of the Professors at the College de France, had mentioned in his lecture (on “Literature derived from Germanic sources,” or some such title[)], that in the course of his labours he should need to treat of such & such English Poets, and of “their greatest poetess, E.B.B, from whose life such a veil had just been raised by Miss Mitford”—with much flourish that I omit. We knew Miss M. had been bookmaking, criticising &c—but had no notion she could be so silly & thoughtless as to leave that legitimate business for a notice of anybody’s private life, least of all, Ba’s—whose acute, even morbid feeling on the subject she well knows.


Letter from Elizabeth Barrett Browning to Mary Russell Mitford.

[21-22 January 1852].

Courtesy of Wellesley College Library, Special Collections

EBB writes of the distress Miss Mitford has caused her by making the painful memory of her brother’s death public knowledge in Recollections of a Literary Life:

My very dear friend, Let me begin what I have to say by recognizing you as the most generous & affectionate of friends. I never could mistake the least of your intentions: you were always, from first to last, kind & tenderly indulgent to me—always exaggerating what was good in me, always forgetting what was faulty & weak—keeping me by force of affection, in a higher place than I could aspire to by force of vanity—loving me always, in fact. Now let me tell you the truth. It will prove how hard it is for the tenderest friends to help paining one another, since you have pained me. See what a deep wound I must have in me, to be pained by the touch of such a hand … But the truth is that I have been miserably upset by your book, & that if I had had the least imagination of your intending to touch upon certain biographical details in relation to me, I would have conjured you by your love to me & by my love to you to forbear it altogether.

Mary Russell Mitford. Recollections of a Literary Life; or, Books, Places and People. New York: Harper, 1852.

The passage that so offended EBB begins at the bottom of page 170.


Letter from John Ruskin to Robert Browning. 27 November 1856.

Courtesy of Wellesley College Library, Special Collections

In this letter to RB, John Ruskin (1819-1900), the leading art critic of the 19th century, praises EBB’s Aurora Leigh:

I think Aurora Leigh the greatest poem in the English language: unsurpassed by anything but Shakespeare—not surpassed by Shakespeares sonnets—& therefore the greatest poem in the language. I write this, you see, very deliberately, straight, or nearly so, which is not common with me, for I am taking pains that you may not think—(nor anybody else) that I am writing in a state of excitement, though there is enough in the poem to put one into such a state.


Letter from Robert Browning to Julia Martin. 3 May 1857.

Courtesy of Wellesley College Library, Special Collections

RB reflects on the death of EBB’s father on 17 April 1857:

So it is all over now, all hope of better things, or a kind answer to entreaties such as I have seen Ba write in the bitterness of her heart. There must have been something in the organisation, or education, at least, that would account for and extenuate all this; but it has caused grief enough, I know; and now here is a new grief not likely to subside very soon. Not that Ba is other than reasonable and just to herself in the matter: she does not reproach herself at all; it is all mere grief, as I say, that this should have been so; and I sympathise with her there.


Letter from Elizabeth Barrett Browning to Julia Martin. 1 July [1857].

Courtesy of Wellesley College Library, Special Collections

EBB writes of her estrangement from her father:

I believe hope had died in me long ago of reconciliation in this world. Strange, that what I called ‘unkindness’ for so many years, in departing should have left to me such a sudden desolation! And yet, it is not strange, perhaps.


Letter from Robert Browning to William Cornwallis Cartwright. 16 October 1887.

Courtesy of Wellesley College Library, Special Collections

In this letter to his friend William Cornwallis Cartwright (1825-1915), a former Member of Parliament in London, RB recounts the engagement and marriage of his son Pen to American Fannie Coddington:

My dear Cartwright,—had I known where to find you, be sure I would have written long ago and told you all about Pen’s engagement. Yet “long ago” is not so very long, since I only became aware of Pen’s wishes about two months ago—I being at St Moritz and he at Dinant: but the proposal and acceptance had taken place in London some weeks before,—unaware as I was of the matter,—whereupon the parties separated, Pen to Belgium, and the lady and her sister to Swizterland,—where I was duly applied to for my consent—which was given most heartily, for I had long been acquainted with the lady’s family—a most estimable one: while Pen’s attachment, it seems, was simply of fourteen years’ standing, so the more likely to be durable. I could not discover a single objection to the match,—rather advantage in every way,—consequently was as much delighted as surprised,—and, all things co-operating happily, the marriage befell on the 4th of this October, at Pembury in Kent, under the auspices of the lady’s only relatives in England. I could not select any fitter wife for Pen,—peculiarities and all,—than the dear good woman he has had the wit to seek early and find—not too late.







Giving Nineteenth Century Women Writers a Voice and a Face — Lucy Larcom (1824–1893)

Home-life, when one always stays at home, is necessarily narrowing. That is one reason why so many women are petty and unthoughtful of any except their own family’s interests. We have hardly begun to live until we can take in the idea of the whole human family as the one to which we truly belong.

Lucy Larcom, A New England Girlhood (1846)

Lucy Larcom, a well-published poet in her lifetime, is best known today for her autobiography, A New England Girlhood. She was an advocate for women’s rights to economic independence, child labor laws, and abolition. The Armstrong Browning Library owns three of her books. An Idyl of Work (1875) contains her inscription to a highly regarded Quaker poet: “John G. Whittier from his friend Lucy Larcom, June 1895.” Landscape in American Poetry (c.1879) contains illustrations on wood from drawings by J. Appleton Brown (1844–1902), an American painter nicknamed “Apple Blossom Brown” because of his penchant for poetic and light-filled compositions with apple blossoms as the subject. Poems (1869) includes a portrait of the author from a magazine clipping. The Laurel Song Book: For Advanced Classes in Schools, Academies, Choral Societies, Etc. (1927) contain not only Lucy Larcom’s hymn, “Draw Thou, My Soul,” but also an excerpt from Robert Browning’s “Rabbi Ben Ezra,” the first song in the book.

Larcom also anonymously edited three volumes of John Greenleaf Whittier’s work. The ABL owns editions of these three books: Child-Life: A Collection of Poems (1871), which contains poems by Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Robert Browning, Child Life in Prose (1874), and Songs of Three Centuries (1876).

The ABL also owns a nineteenth-century autograph album and scrapbook, which was once the property of Elizabeth Whittier Pickard, niece of John Greenleaf Whittier.  It contains a letter, dated 20 October 1856, from Robert and Elizabeth Barrett Browning to J.G. Whittier, thanking him for his “book of manly and beautiful verse” (The Panorama and Other Poems (1856)). In addition the album also contains letters by Julia Ward Howe, J.T. Fields, Edward Everett, and an undated note by Whittier to his nephew, Greenleaf. Notes and autograph signatures by Phoebe Cary, U.S. Grant, Alice Cary, Emily Faithfull, Thomas Wentworth Higginson, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Bayard Taylor, A. Bronson Alcott, Henry W. Longfellow, Daniel Webster, Celia Thaxter, William Cullen Bryant, Edward Everett, William Lloyd Garrison, Joaquin Miller, P.T. Barnum, Edward E. Hale, Oliver Wendell Holmes, George and Louis MacDonald, and many others are scattered throughout. The album also contains an autograph poem by Lucy Larcom, encouraging the owner of the album to hold her own name, Elizabeth, sacred.

Melinda Creech

Notes and Queries: In addition to the autograph album, The Armstrong Browning Library has four other letters by John Greenleaf Whittier and seventy-three books, many with interesting inscriptions.

Lucy Larcom’s poem to Elizabeth Whittier Pickard reads:

For the name thou bearest—
Tender love thou sharest.
Hold it sacred unto death
The dear name – Elizabeth.

Does the “tender love” and “dear name,” indicated by Lucy Larcom, that Pickard shared refer to Elizabeth Hussey Whittier, John Greenleaf Whittier’s sister?