Commemorating Robert Browning at Westminster Abbey

By Cynthia A. Burgess, Librarian/Curator of Books & Printed Materials

December 12, 2013 was the 124th anniversary of the death of Victorian poet Robert Browning.  Although he died in Venice, Italy while visiting his son and daughter-in-law, he was given the great honor of being buried at Poets’ Corner in London’s Westminster Abbey, and his body was interred there on December 31st, the final day of 1889.

On December 2nd I had the privilege of attending the annual service of commemoration at Browning’s grave sponsored by The Browning Society [UK].  For many years a solemn ceremony has been held there and wreaths have been laid on Browning’s grave on or near the date of the poet’s death.  The Armstrong Browning Library has participated in the ceremony for decades, by having a wreath laid on behalf of the Library, and, whenever possible, by having a group in attendance.

Nancy Jackson with a wreath
at Robert Browning’s grave

This year the Armstrong Browning Library’s group included, in addition to me, Pattie Orr, Baylor University’s Vice-President of Information Technology and Dean of University Libraries; Nancy Jackson, Baylor alumna and former chair of the Library Board of Advisors; and Baylor alumna Patty Burgess.  The ABL’s party also included invited guests:  Xenia Dennen, Director of The Keston Institute, and her husband, Ven. Dr. Lyle Dennen, former Archdeacon of Hackney, now Guild Vicar of St. Andrew, Holborn; and David Rymill, Archivist, Hampshire Archives and Local Studies, and archivist to the Highclere Estate.

Dean Pattie Orr and David Rymill in Poets’ Corner at
Westminster Abbey

Following an Evensong service, sung beautifully by the Lay Vicars of Westminster Abbey, approximately 40 Browning admirers and enthusiasts moved quietly from the Abbey’s nave to nearby Poets’ Corner.  There on the floor is a marble slab — a dark brown center framed by pale gold stone, with, simply, Browning’s name and his birth and death dates marking the place of burial.  Browning lies next to Alfred, Lord Tennyson and near Charles Dickens, his contemporaries and friends; at his feet is the grave of Geoffrey Chaucer, and close at hand, the resting places of other great writers — John Dryden, Samuel Johnson, Rudyard Kipling, Thomas Hardy.  Memorial stones on the floor and the walls name others, not buried, but honored there.  On the floor near Browning’s grave is the newest memorial stone, placed in honor of Clive Staples Lewis only weeks ago.

Following a welcome and a prayer, a short address by Dr. Pamela Neville-Sington, the author of biographies of both Robert Browning and Fanny Trollope, revealed the profound influence of Robert Browning’s poetry on the great Antarctic explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton.  Dr. Neville-Sington then placed a wreath on Browning’s grave for The Browning Society, followed by The Reverend Clive Dunnico laying a wreath for The Robert Browning Settlement (a community service organization), and Nancy Jackson laying a wreath decorated with bells and pomegranates for the Armstrong Browning Library.  I was honored to place a wreath for The Friends of Casa Guidi (an organization supporting the care of the Brownings’ home in Florence).

Cynthia Burgess and Nancy Jackon
laying wreaths on Robert Browning’s grave

Final prayers and a blessing ended the brief but moving ceremony.  Robert Browning is still remembered and his poetry valued nearly a century and a quarter after his death.

A Christmas Card from Robert Browning


The Armstrong Browning Library has in its collections a Christmas card send by Robert Browning to Emily Marion Harris, a poet and writer of romance novels, who corresponded with Robert Browning during the last decade of his life. The inscription reads: “To Miss E. M. Harris, With more love and respect than need accompany so poor a gift. Robert Browning.” The Christmas card is not what you would expect a traditional card to look like. The scene is a landscape painting on an easel, with a palette bearing the solitary word “Remembrance.” The greeting on the card reads: “With best wishes for a Happy Christmas.” The logo on the back of the card indicates that it was published by J. F. Schipper & Co., Art Publishers, London and that the item, No. 860, has a copyright. There is no date printed on the card ; and, unfortunately, Browning did not include a date on his greeting, but it is likely that it was sent sometime between 1884 and 1888.

The J. F. Schipper Publishing Company was dissolved or struck off the register of Joint Stock Companies in 1906. According to the London Gazette, May 9, 1890, the company folded on the 6th day of May, 1890. Periodical articles mentioning the company date from 1882. The company was formerly Herman Rothe Publishers which operated from 1874 until early 1881. Mr. Rothe died in 1881 at the age of 36. The card therefore dates sometime between 1881 and 1889. Another source describes the set of Christmas cards for 1885, saying “one of the most notable series consists of Reproductions of eight of Turner’s Masterpieces.”

Does anyone recognize the painting on the easel as a J. M. W. Turner reproduction? Or where we might get a copy of the sample book of Christmas cards published by J. F. Schipper & Company? Do you have any other information that might help us to date the Christmas card?

Melinda Creech

Merry Christmas from everyone at the

Armstrong Browning Library

We wish you great joy during this beautiful season

and every happiness

throughout the New Year.