Reflections from a Visiting Scholar: Adventure in the Archives

By Cheri Larsen Hoeckley, Ph.D., Professor of English, Westmont College

Cheri Hoeckley

Cheri Larsen Hoeckley, Ph.D., Professor of English, Westmont College

Like many great adventures, this one involved a passport. Actually, it involved several passports, and none of them were mine. Nor did any of them really resemble the uniform-sized, differently colored booklets I have seen while passing through customs lines.

Before the passports were in front of me, my adventure actually started—as many other great adventures do—with a database. I had come to the Armstrong Browning Library to research the language Elizabeth Barrett Browning and her circle used to describe their travel through Europe to and from Italy. I was curious how Barrett Browning’s travel descriptions formed her imagination of Aurora and Marion Erle’s journeys in Aurora Leigh, and about how that poetic reflection might have informed her lived experience as a woman living outside her country of birth. Some history of every-day English was guiding my search. For instance, the Brownings relocated to Florence before “expatriate” was a noun in English and at a point when English speakers used the verb “migrate” only metaphorically when speaking of humans. Furthermore, Barrett Browning travelled in the specific context that prompted W. R. Greg in 1862 to coin the term “redundant woman” to identify what he saw as a social problem of an excess of single women in England, and his solution was to send those women abroad in search of husbands.[1] I arrived at Baylor enthusiastically anticipating technological assistance with Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s everyday language about her journey to Florence and her life away from England. The Armstrong Browning Library’s Wedgestone Database for the Brownings’ twenty-six volumes of known correspondence promised precise guiding through that dauntingly vast linguistic landscape. Those digital explorations were fruitful, but a side trip into material objects for travel from two Victorian men proved equally productive.

This adventure, then, took me through a series of observations of beautiful objects that I had not expected to find, but that helped to piece together the bureaucratic conditions Elizabeth Barrett Browning, and many women like her, would have confronted when they left England for travel on the Continent. The adventure also gave me insight into how various forms of social capital–Englishness, masculinity, middle-class status, celebrity–helped travelers to navigate those conditions.

Guided by the database, that first nineteenth-century passport I discovered did not belong to either of the Brownings. It belonged to a much less remembered Irishman, William Henry Darley. A painter and frequent traveler, Darley was a long-time friend of Joseph Milsand. Because Darley asked Milsand to serve as his executor, Darley’s passports made their way to the Armstrong Browning Library with Milsand’s extensive papers. Darley’s passport was one of those research turns down an unmarked road that became a highlight of the journey because of the insight they provided on nineteenth-century European travel and surveillance. The focus of my adventure narrowed from language of travel for Victorian women to the variety of international legal mechanisms that regulated their Continental travel in the mid-nineteenth century.

William Henry Darley's British passport, dated 1852

William Henry Darley’s passport, dated 1852 (ABL/JMA V008)

The Joseph Milsand Archive actually holds two of William Henry Darley’s passports. One was issued in 1852 by the British Ambassador to Paris, and the other by the French government on 10 July 1835.  Anglo-Irish colonial history explains Darley’s possession of an English passport, rather than an Irish one. My first impression, though, was that it seemed a little cloak-and-dagger that he would have an earlier French passport, as well. Jennifer Borderud stepped in and added to that element of international intrigue when she brought me an 1834 Russian passport issued to Robert Browning (translated in German on the reverse), and an 1856 Austrian passport issued to him written primarily in Italian.

Passport for Robert Browning’s travels in Russia, issued at St. Petersburg on 31 March 1834 (left), with German translation on second folio sheet (right) (Browning Guide #H0629)

As any reader of Casa Guidi Windows knows, the Brownings were resident in Florence during Austrian occupation before the Risorgimiento.[2] So, while they rightly imagined themselves in an Italian city, they needed Austrian visas to stay there or to travel. I digressed again away from both the database and material objects at this point to look into the history of European passports. That side trip revealed that before the first World War, passports were not proof of national identity, but rather documents granting permission to travel.[3] French nationals, then, carried passports through France. British subjects, whether Irish or English, applied to the British government for documents giving them permission to travel and often expected those documents to be honored by other national governments. Travelers from Continental regions were less likely to expect that courtesy from local officials when they were away from home.

Darley’s French passport details some of those international mechanisms with a list of ten “Regulations required by the French government to be observed by Foreigners in France” printed in French on one side and in English on the reverse.  According to regulation #2: “Every foreigner, on arriving in a sea-port or frontier-town, is to present himself before the local authorities, to produce his passport, and deposit it in their hands.” So, Darley would have surrendered his British document and acquired the French “passport” after arriving in Paris that would enter him into a bureaucratic system of surveillance as he traveled around the country from there. Regulations 3 & 4 describe that process of submitting original travel documents at the traveler’s port of entry and acquiring new ones in Paris. The new French document is not necessarily permission to travel that British travelers often anticipated, but it is documentation necessary for foreigners who want to travel. The later British passport is one he acquired at the British consulate in Paris as a courtesy request for unencumbered travel on his return to England. Darley’s passports, that’s to say, make clear the difference between many passports issued on the Continent in the first half of the nineteenth-century and the privilege that British subjects imagined in passports for freer travel.

Darley's passport, dated 1835

William Henry Darley’s passport, dated 1835 (ABL/JMA V008)

The presence of identifying information also differs among passports. Darley’s British passport carries his signature as the only protection against the use of stolen documentation. His French passport carries both his signature and a column to fill in traits of physical description. For instance, “Age” (He was 36 years old.); “Taille” (He was 1 meter 85 centimeters.); “Cheveux” (He was blond.); “Visage” (He had an oval face.); “Yeux” (He had blue eyes); “Nez” (His nose was medium.). The final entry for “signes particuliers” is blank, suggesting that he has no particular identifying marks.  Browning’s Russian passport includes a similar column to fill in ten physical traits, or “kennzeichen” as the German translation calls them. That document informs customs officers that Browning is of middle height with a normal face, adding no specificity to the description with a blank in the final item asking about special marks. Browning took his 1834 journey to St. Petersburg by invitation from and in the company of Chevalier George de Benckhausen, the Russian consul-general. The imprimatur of his traveling companion seems to have diminished the need for rigorous identifying information.

RB Austrian passport

Passport issued to Robert Browning by Austrian Embassy in London on 18 October 1856 (Browning Guide #H0631)

Contrasting with the large, visa-marked, single-sheet documents from the 1830’s, as well as with Darley’s British passport from 1852 , Browning’s Austrian passport is a diminutive booklet–4 ½” by 2 ½,” of forty pages with different stamps, handwritten certifications, or visas on each page, plus a cover of the same paper with a sewn binding. Most pages have a four- or five-digit number in one of the upper corners, suggesting that the issuing consulate was centrally recording visas or entrances.

RB Austrian passport with Tuscan Consulate Stamp

Page 2 of passport issued to Robert Browning by Austrian Embassy in London on 18 October 1856 with Tuscan Consulate stamp (Browning Guide #H0631)

The second page indicates that the passport was supported by the Tuscan Consul General in London. The close juxtaposition of the Tuscan authority with the Austrian governing presence brought home the military occupation that surrounded the Brownings’ movements for a period of their life in Florence. The voice from Casa Guidi’s windows sometimes had to move among German speaking military men to leave Florence, or even to move through the city. A passport, of course, can’t answer the question of whether the Brownings’ English  accents and British travel documents carried them outside the fray, or simply positioned them differently in it. Comments in their letters about the exhaustion of travel to other Italian locations come into sharper focus, though, with the passport’s concrete representation of life in a conflict zone.

I had come to the Armstrong Browning Library to think specifically about Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s language for life outside England and how it helped understand women who traveled in a time when W. R. Greg and others often categorized these extra-domestic women as social problems. None of the passports I was looking at seemed to belong to women. Robert Browning’s Austrian passport, however, made clear that nineteenth-century coverture practices—where the husband’s identity legally covers that of his wife—held in international travel, as well as in property, suffrage, and child rearing. In the small booklet, a few visas have similar lines written after “Signior Roberto Browning”:  “la sua consorte, un figlio, l’annunziata cameriera Lena” translated as “the spouse, one son, and a maid named Lena Annunziata”–or some variation of that household description. Lena Annunziata was Barrett Browning’s maid from 1857-61. Her name also appears on the cover of the booklet, whether she is explicitly named because she was not a legal member of the family she traveled with or because she was Florentine is not clear. It’s also not clear how Lena would have returned securely to Florence without the Brownings and their travel documents if she were fired or needed to quit. What is clear is that Robert’s person represented the household when they traveled so that Elizabeth’s and Pen’s names are irrelevant. The well known female English poet registers in the passport only as “la sua consorte”—his wife.

Passport issued to Robert Browning by Austrian Embassy in London on 18 October 1856 with statement “sua consorte, un figlio, l’annunziata cameriera Lena” (right) (Browning Guide #H0631)

In England just after their marriage, as Robert and Elizabeth hastily and covertly planned their departure for Italy, a detail in one of Robert’s letters indicates that English officials shared the practice of giving husbands family travel documents. On 17 September, Robert writes “I will take out a passport” (letter 2609, emphasis added). That single indefinite article didn’t really strike me until after I had looked through the Florentine documents. That first shared English passport—albeit materially lost to the archives—gets frequent mention in Elizabeth’s letters to Arabella as a source of anxiety after they lost track of it in Havre. The Brownings’ eventual ability to replace their travel documents in Paris is an adventure for another story. One wonders, though, how or whether her name appeared on the English travel papers.

This stage of the adventure leaves me with more thoughts to explore on femininity, class, and travel in the nineteenth-century Europe. Does femininity make a difference for travelers when married women might not have their own passport? Does it make a difference for single women when a passport of their own would announce to a border agent that they were not married? What kind of difference might it make in how one imagined oneself when one appeared at the border as the servant of a household with one’s name, like Lena Annunziata, written on the passport of a man she was not legally related to? Of course, these relationships were all part of the daily lives of people in the Brownings’ Anglo-Florentine circle under coverture laws and middle-class domestic practices. The existence or lack of passports did not make the relationships so.  However, official documents do have a way of bringing to the forefront effects of one’s identity that might otherwise remain unarticulated. Documents of the import of national identification and travel permission can shape one’s self understanding as empowered or disempowered. How would that official paper influence how one imagined entering Florence, or Paris, or leaving London? At the end of the adventure, I return to young Aurora’s fear of the “stranger with authority,” (I 224) who frightens the child by tearing her away from her “cameriera” and putting her on board the ship that will take her England. And later of Marian Erle’s life in the shadows of Paris. And of the single poet Aurora’s ability to help her find refuge in Italy. As well as of the nearly magical ease with which Romney finally appears in Florence. Poetry, of course, doesn’t demand documents, but its imaginative worlds might help us understand the impact of those documents.

I am grateful to the staff of the Armstrong Browning Library for using their authority to grant me the freedom to take this adventure. Along with my fellow visiting scholars, they made the journey possible and deeply pleasurable.

[1] W. R. Greg, “Why Are Women Redundant?” National Review 14, April 1862, 434-460. Reprinted in 1871 as a pamphlet.

[2] For a helpful overview of Italian conflict at mid-century, see Alison Chapman, “On Il Risorgimento,” Branch Collective, https://www.branchcollective.org/?ps_articles=alison-chapman-on-il-risorgimento Accessed 15 June 2019.

[3]For an example of discussions of European and British passports post-Napoleanic Wars, see Martin Anderson’s “Tourism and the Development of the Modern British Passport, 1814-1858”  Journal of British Studies 49 (April 2010): 258-282.

 

“Preserve All Opinions”: Elizabeth Barrett and Critical Conversation at the ABL

By Rachael Isom, Assistant Professor of English, Arkansas State University

Rachael Isom, PhD, Assistant Professor of English, Arkansas State University

Rachael Isom, PhD, Assistant Professor of English, Arkansas State University

In recent years, many published authors have taken to Twitter to promote their work and engage with readers. We might think about popular writers like Celeste Ng or Lin-Manuel Miranda, both of whom maintain active online presences and tweet about everything from book signings to traffic jams. Social media has given us more immediate access to the thoughts of people who write them down for a living, but these kinds of author-reader exchanges aren’t new. Authors were concerned about how to present their work publicly and respond to criticism long before the Internet made it so easy. As I observed during my recent residence as a Visiting Scholar at the Armstrong Browning Library (ABL), many 19th-century writers took care to construct literary personae, to monitor how those public selves were received, and sometimes even to respond.

My current project analyzes how “enthusiasm”—a term that, in the 18th century, signified both religious zeal and poetic fervor—captured the interest of British women writers in the early 19th century. Enthusiasm was an important concept for describing personal experience but also for presenting a public self. I’m interested in how women used the figure of the female enthusiast to engage with a Romantic poetic theory that had made it difficult for them to respectably claim inspired genius and powerful emotion. At the ABL, I took both broad and targeted approaches to this question. I explored the 19th-Century Women Poets collection to see how women were writing about enthusiasm in the 1820s and 1830s; then I consulted the ABL’s materials to better understand how this legacy influenced Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s self-presentation and response to critique. This post analyzes one such moment of exchange in EBB’s early career.

EBB, Preface to An Essay on Mind, with Other Poems (D0247)

EBB, Preface to An Essay on Mind, with Other Poems (D0247)

In 1826, EBB published anonymously An Essay on Mind, with Other Poems, and the event came with high expectations from the poet and her parents. The title poem—the fair copy of which resides at the ABL—is a philosophical essay in blank verse. The preface anticipates its reception: “the imputation of presumption is likely to be attached to me, on account of the form and title of this production” (iv). EBB heads off critique here but also implies that readers will find a way to “attach” undesirable qualities to her even with no name on the title page. She was already thinking about how this poem would affect her career once her authorship was discovered.

So was Mary Moulton-Barrett. Keen to collect reviews of her daughter’s poetry, she wrote to EBB on April 4, 1826: “Take care of Miss P’s note because I want to preserve all opinions I can collect of the poem (BC, I, 242). The “care” taken by Mary—and enjoined on EBB—demonstrates the family’s desire to establish a thorough record of public opinion.

EBB, An Essay on Mind, with Other Poems (1826) ABL Rare X 821.82 Q D912 e c. 6

EBB, An Essay on Mind, with Other Poems (1826) ABL Rare X 821.82 Q D912 e c. 6

EBB took her mother’s advice to document the reception of her poems. As she told Hugh Stuart Boyd in March 1827: “[N]o one can be more solicitous to obtain, or more earnest in valuing, fair & candid criticism” (BC, II, 36). Here, I’ll showcase two such critiques of An Essay on Mind. The first consists of marginalia by Arabella Graham-Clarke, EBB’s maternal aunt; the other includes commentary from the Reverend Henry Cotes (1759?-1835), who received a detailed response from a young poet eager to defend her work and hone her craft.

The ABL holds seven first-edition copies of An Essay on Mind, with Other Poems. Copy 6 is a particularly interesting one, as the only name on the title page is that of the owner, not the author.

EBB, An Essay on Mind, with Other Poems (1826), Copy 6; see also Browning Guide #C0028

EBB, An Essay on Mind, with Other Poems (1826), Copy 6; see also Browning Guide #C0028

We can imagine Arabella Graham-Clarke receiving this volume and proudly placing it alongside her copy of EBB’s first published work, The Battle of Marathon (also at the ABL). But Graham-Clarke didn’t just collect her niece’s poems—she annotated them. Take, for example, her quibble with the musical metaphor on page 58:

EBB, An Essay on Mind, with Other Poems (1826), Copy 6

EBB, An Essay on Mind, with Other Poems (1826), Copy 6

“Concord of Sounds I believe is called Harmony, a pleasing succession of them is Melody –”

Or her suggestion that EBB substitute “setting” for “pilgrim” on page 88:

EBB, An Essay on Mind, with Other Poems (1826), Copy 6

EBB, An Essay on Mind, with Other Poems (1826), Copy 6

These annotations register thoughts many of us have when reading poetry. We ask why a poet uses one metaphor instead of another; we mentally rewrite a particular line. But one aspect of Graham-Clarke’s marginalia surprised me: her astute commentary on form. A good example of this occurs on pages 22-23, where she notes many “bad dactyls, & very few good” in EBB’s poem (22). A dactyl is made of one stressed syllable followed by two unstressed syllables—not an easy metrical foot to use in English—but EBB’s aunt pulls no punches in her critique:

EBB, An Essay on Mind, with Other Poems (1826), Copy 6, pp. 22-23, with “illustrate” underlined on p. 22 and marked with metrical notations on p. 23

EBB, An Essay on Mind, with Other Poems (1826), Copy 6, pp. 22-23, with “illustrate” underlined on p. 22 and marked with metrical notations on p. 23

This pair works like a footnote. EBB’s aunt underlines the faulty phrase and then explains her objection to it in the lower margin: “I was sorry to see in a Poem of so original a cast & one that gives so great a promise, such a dactyl as ill as that made” (23). It’s a backhanded compliment followed by an in-depth explanation of EBB’s mistake. We might expect this sort of commentary from Sir Uvedale Price, a respected classical scholar who noted the same “bad dactyl” in a letter of July 1826 (BC, I, 252; scan HERE), but its presence in this marginalia is significant because it shows Graham-Clarke’s technical expertise and knowledge of literary history.

My favorite instance of her marginalia isn’t technical at all. On page 9, pictured here, EBB calls the Romantic poet Lord Byron “the Mont Blanc of Intellect.” Her aunt underlines the metaphor.

EBB, An Essay on Mind, with Other Poems (1826), Copy 6

EBB, An Essay on Mind, with Other Poems (1826), Copy 6

“A high degree of eminence even for Byron,” she writes, simultaneously acknowledging Byron’s fame and questioning whether he deserves so much of it. After that, she pivots abruptly: “I wish the loftiest summit of the Alps had a more poetical name & not a French one.” Graham-Clarke’s thoroughly British disdain of anything French takes a literary turn: she wishes that the mountain featured in many Romantic-era poems could be free of its French name. The comment is light, humorous, but also fascinating in terms of political and literary histories. If EBB read these notes, I like to imagine that this particular page made her chuckle as it did me.

In addition to sharing her own criticism of EBB’s volume, Graham-Clarke appears to have been instrumental in securing a second reader in Henry Cotes, Vicar of Bedlington and a published author himself (see BC, II, 112n). As Cotes explains to EBB later, on March 17, “my Criticisms upon your Poem were elicited by your Aunt they were not exactly voluntary. She requested my full & firm & clear Opinion upon that Work – She did not say by whom written” (Ms. D0250; see also BC, II, 391-92).

Henry Cotes to Elizabeth Barrett, March 17, 1828 (D0250)

Henry Cotes to Elizabeth Barrett, March 17, 1828 (D0250)

From this comment, we learn that Cotes, like many of EBB’s early readers, approached Essay with no knowledge of its author and no expectation of a response. He was clearly surprised to receive what is now Ms. D0250, a spirited letter from the 22-year-old poet, on March 8, 1828:

Elizabeth Barrett to Henry Cotes, March 8, 1828 (D0250)

Elizabeth Barrett to Henry Cotes, March 8, 1828 (D0250)

“I received yr criticisms from Mrs. Hedly who was unwilling that I shd lose such an opportunity of being interested & instructed . . . . I sincerely thank you for a good opinion rendered so valuable to me by the openness & unreserve with which you have mentioned what you departed from & condemned. May I venture to speak to you with great freedom – and to explain exactly exactly [sic], when I at once submit to ‘kiss to rod’ and where I shd. like to escape doing so.” (BC, II, 112; scan HERE)

Along with this autograph letter, the ABL holds Cotes’s notes (which appear in a large hand on small sheets of paper) and return correspondence. Essentially, we have the full picture of this moment in EBB’s reception history, which I’ll present briefly by returning to a couple of the passages mentioned above and showing how EBB contended with Cotes’s feedback.

Henry Cotes, Comments of EBB’s An Essay on Mind, [Early March 1828] (D0250))

Henry Cotes, Comments of EBB’s An Essay on Mind, [Early March 1828] (D0250)

Cotes, too, observes EBB’s praise of Byron, but he harshly calls it “All Trash.” EBB responds: “At page 9 & 10, you have written with reference to the eulogy on Ld. Byron, “all trash” which I propose reading “half trash” inasmuch as half the eulogy (or the half containing yr. quotation) is applied to Campbell. If I had said that Ld. Byron ‘touched the heart and won the judgement too’, my trash wd. have been unquestionable . . . But as the verses stand, I do not think I do this.”

Elizabeth Barrett to Henry Cotes, March 8, 1828 (D0250)

Elizabeth Barrett to Henry Cotes, March 8, 1828 (D0250)

EBB’s defense is light yet firm—she is willing to admit flaws in her poem, but she also points out that Cotes’s primary objection comes from his misreading, not her poor writing. I suspect that EBB is also deflecting a rebuke that had become tiresome to her. As a Byron devotee in her youth, she would have contended often with those who viewed her admiration as inappropriate, even sinful. Thus, she qualifies: “I speak of the passion & sublimity of Ld. Byron’s genius, not of his moral & pious characteristics.” Though she imagines Cotes “will not admit any further modification of [his] decision,” she finishes the exchange with a playful flourish: “if they remain half trash, I may console myself with kinder assurance of half’s being better than the whole.”

This isn’t the only place where EBB is willing to meet Cotes halfway. For example, in the case of that deplorable dactyl, “illustrate,” EBB responds to Cotes almost as an editor. She considers his suggestion of “verify” but, finding it unsatisfactory, chooses a third option: “vindicate”:

Henry Cotes, Comments of EBB’s An Essay on Mind, [Early March 1828] (L0080.1) and Elizabeth Barrett to Henry Cotes, March 8, 1828 (D0250)

Top: Henry Cotes, Comments of EBB’s An Essay on Mind, [Early March 1828]; bottom: Elizabeth Barrett to Henry Cotes, March 8, 1828 (D0250)

In this reply letter to Cotes, we can see that EBB viewed “candid criticism” as an opportunity for reflection and revision, but also that she sought to retain control of her work amid critiques from various readers. I don’t think they minded. In fact, Cotes’s second letter advises EBB, “consult your own MIND; don’t mind what I say, who am not one Under Authority.” An Essay on Mind was never republished in EBB’s lifetime, but she certainly faced similar challenges to her later work and to her evolving public persona. Our access to these conversations illuminates EBB’s relationship with the literary marketplace of her day. And perhaps in learning more about her acts of self-fashioning, we can understand our own reading experiences as conversations, too. Whether we respond to an author’s work with marginal notes, a list of critiques, a blog post, or silent musings, we engage in a mode of intellectual exchange that has a long, rich history.

By way of conclusion, I want to express my gratitude to the Armstrong Browning Library for supporting my research on 19th-century women’s poetry. I’m especially grateful to the ABL’s staff for the kind hospitality and invaluable expertise they shared during my stay, and to my fellow Visiting Scholars for the many stimulating conversations we enjoyed in the halls of the ABL. As I’ve tried to show in this post, these are the kinds of exchanges that make scholarship interesting, productive, and incredibly fun.

Introducing…The Victorian Collection at the Armstrong Browning Library: A Baylor Libraries Digital Collection

The Armstrong Browning Library is pleased to announce the release of The Victorian Collection online. This new digital collection contains over 3,000 letters and manuscripts connected to prominent and lesser known British and American figures and complements the Armstrong Browning Library’s unparalleled collection of materials relating to the Victorian poets Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett Browning.

Below is a Q&A with Dr. Melinda Creech, Graduate Research Assistant at the Armstrong Browning Library and the driving force behind this digitization project. In the interview, Dr. Creech discusses how this project came about and highlights some of her favorite items in the collection.

The Armstrong Browning Library will celebrate the release of this new digital collection with short presentations by Dr. Creech and Darryl Stuhr, Associate Director, Digital Preservation Services, Library and Academic Technology Services, on Thursday, November 29 at 3:30 pm in the Armstrong Browning Library Lecture Hall. A reception will follow in the Mary Armstrong Seminar Room.

Melinda Creech

Melinda Creech organizes and describes letters from the Armstrong Browning Library’s Victorian Collection

How did you become involved in the project to digitize the Victorian Collection and what role did you play in the project?

I first came to work at the Armstrong Browning Library in the summer of 2011. One of my first jobs was to transcribe the letters in the Kenyon/Frizell Album that had been purchased in June of that year. The album had one letter from Robert Browning to John Kenyon, and two letters from Elizabeth Barrett Browning to John Kenyon. John Kenyon, an English poet and philanthropist, was Elizabeth’s distant cousin and introduced her to Robert. He became their dear friend. However, in addition to these three letters, there were eighty-three other letters in the album. Several were from other notable authors of the nineteenth century: Dickens, Carlyle, and Thackeray. As I struggled to read the handwriting of so many correspondents, I began to realize that although they may not have had the notoriety of the Brownings, all these people had led interesting lives and had fascinating stories to tell.

I continued to pay attention to interesting Victorian letters that I ran across. This led to the creation of a several exhibits and blog posts, “Beyond the Brownings,” “Giving Nineteenth Century Women Writers A Voice and a Face,” “Seeing Many Beautiful Things,” “They Asked for a Paper,” and “White Star Lines: Titanic Connections at the ABL.”

There was not a comprehensive list of the Victorian letters. I remember asking about how many Victorian letters were thought to be in the collection. When I was told about 500, I was surprised, based on my personal experience with the letters, and asked if I could  create a more comprehensive list of the Victorian letters, those not directly related to the Brownings. In the summer of 2014, I began the Victorian Letters Project. That summer Kara Long helped me to create a schema for collecting the metadata, and I spent the summer collecting the metadata from existing card catalogues, and continued adding letters discovered in albums, tipped into books, and hidden in other collections. In January of 2017, having collected all the metadata on almost 4000 letters, we began to make plans for digitizing the letters and manuscripts.

Sarah Rude

Sarah Rude digitizes letters from the Armstrong Browning Library’s Victorian Collection at the Riley Digitization Center

Who were some of your collaborators and what roles did they play in making this digital collection possible?

Jennifer Borderud, new director of the ABL, Darryl Stuhr, Assistant Director for Digital Projects, Allison Riley, Digitization Coordinator, and Kara Long, Metadata and Catalog Librarian, and I finalized plans for digitizing the Victorian Letters Collection at the ABL in January, and the work began. The letters had to be properly identified, transcribed, if necessary, housed, and transported to the Riley Digitization Center. I was not involved in the process at the Digitization Center, which involved scanning the letters, editing and saving the images, processing the images, archiving them, recording all the processes, and returning the letters to the ABL. Once the letters were returned they had to be checked in and returned to their storage area. Many graduate assistants and paid staff, both at the ABL and the Riley Digitization Center, were instrumental in the completion of the project. I’m not sure I can recall everyone, but here are some who helped: Darryl Stuhr, Allyson Riley, Michael Galindo, Katherine MacKenzie, Sarah Rude, B.J. Thome, Evangeline Eilers, Josh Pittman, and Meagan Anthony.

What aspects of the project were the most rewarding?

The most rewarding part of the project was bringing to light letters and manuscripts that had been hidden for a long time. Finding the Dowden letters was thrilling. Mrs. Dowden had been a correspondent of the Brownings and of Dr. Armstrong. She lived in Ireland during a time of great unrest in the early part of the twentieth century. After corresponding with Dr. Armstrong for a while, she decided that her letters would be safer at the ABL. She sent the letters of her husband, Edward Dowden, first, and eventually sent her letters also to Dr. Armstrong, with the stipulation that they were only to be published after her death. The letters, almost 400, are filled with contemporary literary criticism. Prof. Dowden was the first English literature professor in Ireland. The letters had been safely stored in the vault at the ABL, and were undisturbed, I think, until I opened the drawer in 2016.

I often write to scholars all over the world with questions about letters, and those questions have, in some cases, opened new avenues of research for them. Sometimes scholars responded to blogs that I had written about the Victorian Letters, and a lively correspondence grew between us. Those correspondents included a Dickens scholar in Ireland, a science historian in Germany, a religious biographer in Florida, a maritime museum curator in Greenwich, a Purefoy-Fitzgerald scholar at the Bodleian, Wordsworth and Carlyle scholars in Grasmere, and a Hopkins scholar in York.

What aspects of the project were the most challenging?

Four thousand letters are a lot of letters. Just collecting the metadata on that many letters seems an almost impossible job for one person to do. I suppose one of the most frustrating moments came after all 1100 letters that had been housed in the filing cabinets in the vault had been prepared, sent to digitization, returned, and refiled, when I received word that the scanning machine at the digitization center had not been working properly, and all the letters would have to be returned and scanned again. That was pretty discouraging, but the rescanning took a lot less time the second time around.

Percy Florence Shelley Letter

Letter from Percy Florence Shelley to Tom Taylor, dated 11 January 1871, in the Armstrong Browning Library’s Victorian Collection

What item or items in the collection are the most interesting to you?

There have been many, many interesting stories associated with the letters. I remember how excited I was one afternoon as I was making my way through a bundle of letters that were related to the cartoonist Tom Taylor. Most of the letters were letters of condolences to his wife after his death. However among the letters I found one signed “Percy Shelley.” A quick bit of research revealed the letter was from the poet’s son, Percy Florence Shelley, and unlocked a fascinating story about the plays he produced in a theater in his own house. There was a letter from the artist and writer John Ruskin to his protégé, Lilias Trotter, who became a life-long missionary to Algeria. This was timely, because we were showing a film about Lilias Trotter’s life here at the ABL at the time. Her biographer was thrilled to find this bit of correspondence between Ruskin and Lilias. There are letters from writers, artists, musicians, scientists, explorers, clergy (even Baptists), statesmen, soldiers, and even cricket players. There are many letters related to scientists and explorers, artists and musicians, clergymen and politicians, and actors and stage managers. My hope is that digitizing these letters, which are outside the purview of the literary world of the ABL, will provide scientists, artists, musicians, and historians a new glance into the life of someone in their particular field for whom they have a passion.

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For the complete series of blog posts on the Victorian Collection:

Literary figures represented in the Victorian Collection are covered in the blog series: Beyond the Brownings

 

 

 

Reflections from a Visiting Scholar: Whittling Robert Browning

By Derham Groves, Ph.D., University of Melbourne, Australia

What do The Beatles and Robert Browning have in common? Read Dr. Derham Groves’s post below to find out.

Dr. Derham Groves at the ABL in 2015

Dr. Derham Groves at the ABL in 2015

Dr. Groves is a faculty member of Architecture, Building and Planning in the Melbourne School of Design at the University of Melbourne, Australia. He was a visiting scholar at the Armstrong Browning Library from December 2014 through January 2015. You can read about Dr. Groves’s experience researching at the Armstrong Browning Library here. You can also read about an Armstrong Browning Library-related project he assigned students in his 2015 Popular Architecture and Design course here.

*****

In semester two 2018, each of the 200-plus Master of Architecture students doing my Popular Architecture and Design course at the University of Melbourne (Australia) were each asked to whittle the head of a ‘pop culture icon’—i.e. an actor, an architect, an artist, a fictional character, a politician, a TV personality, a writer, etc. who I discussed or at least mentioned during my lectures—from a block of wood using only a pocket knife.

Students in Dr. Groves Popular Architecture and Design class at the University of Melbourne whittled heads of pop culture figures as a class assignment.

Whittled Heads on Display in Architecture Library, University of Melbourne. Students in Dr. Groves Popular Architecture and Design class at the University of Melbourne whittled heads of pop culture figures as a class assignment.

Being a former Armstrong Browning Library visiting scholar, Robert Browning, Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Dr. A.J. Armstrong were on my list of pop culture icons. However, I ended up with no heads of Elizabeth or Dr. Armstrong and two of Robert. Oh well, two heads are better than one! I thought the friends of the Armstrong Browning Library might like to see them (along with a sampling of others).

None of the students had ever tried whittling before. (It’s more of an American pastime than an Australian one.) So I was pleasantly surprised by how good many of the heads were. But all of them—the good, the bad and the ugly—are currently on display in the Architecture Library at the University of Melbourne. What inspired this exercise—one of five the Popular Architecture and Design students completed this semester—was the cover of The Beatles’ 1967 LP Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, designed by Peter Blake (b. 1932) and Jan Haworth (b. 1942).

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Melvin Schuetz for the Moon

Melvin Schuetz with his House Resolution. Photo by Carl Flynn.

Melvin Schuetz with his House Resolution. Photo by Carl Flynn.

Melvin Schuetz, the Armstrong Browning Library’s assistant to the curators, is having an amazing year!

The documentary he co-produced on space artist Chesley Bonestell, Chesley Bonestell: A Brush with the Future, made its debut at the Newport Beach Film Festival in May and took home the Audience Award in the Art, Architecture, and Design category. The film then went on to win Best Documentary at the Comic-Con International Independent Film Festival in San Diego, California, in July.  In October, Melvin received a resolution from the State of Texas congratulating him on the success of his documentary and commending him for his expertise and contributions to the film.

Chesley Bonestell: A Brush with the Future will screen this Monday, October 29, at 7:00 pm at the Waco Hippodrome as part of Baylor Student Activities’ “Movie Mondays.” The screening is already SOLD OUT, but the trailer can be viewed below.

The Armstrong Browning Library is proud of Melvin for his hard work and success!

To learn more about Melvin, his interest in Bonestell and space, and his involvement with Chesley Bonestell: A Brush with the Future, visit the following links:

Eric Ames. “Documentary Co-Producer Melvin Schuetz Talks Chesley Bonestell and ‘Chesley Bonestell: A Brush with the Future.’” Promoting Discovery: Presenting Stories from the Baylor University Libraries. Updated May 31, 2018.

Carl Hoover. “Sci-fi documentary aided by Baylor assistant to curators gets Comic-Con screening.” Waco Tribune-Herald. July 19, 2018.

Carl Hoover. “Baylor library worker co-produces Comic-Con prize-winning documentary.” Waco Tribune-Herald. July 29, 2018.

Liesbeth Powers. “Bonestell Film Gains Momentum Throughout the Summer.” Baylor Media Communications. August 8, 2018.

Carl Hoover. “Space movies coming to Waco screens, plus ‘Neighbor,’ ‘RBG.’” Waco Tribune-Herald. August 22, 2108.

Waco Showing Scheduled for ABL Staff Member’s Award-Winning Documentary.” Baylor University Libraries. October 11, 2018.

Armstrong Browning Library Welcomes New Library Host

Kacie Collin, Library Host, Armstrong Browning Library

The Armstrong Browning Library is pleased to welcome Kacie Collin as a part-time library host. Kacie began working at the ABL in August. She works in the afternoons on the main floor of the library greeting visitors and providing tours. She also assists in the Gift Gallery and with special events. Kacie is new to Waco. She is originally from Washington State. She has a BA in History with minors in French and Biblical Studies from George Fox University in Newberg, Oregon.

Why were you interested in working as a Library Host at the ABL?

As someone who is fresh out of undergrad with a history degree, I was often met with the question “so what are you going to do with that?” That question often puzzled me, as it has always seemed clear that a well-rounded knowledge of history and the historical method is something that transcends the classroom. History itself encompasses all the disciplines and draws people in – creating links between the larger narrative of mankind and an individual’s experience. I cannot tell you how many tours I have given where people resonate personally with a piece of art, with a poem, or call to mind a memory from their childhood – all from listening to stories from the past. This link between history and individual, and my ability to help convey it, is what drew me to pursue the Library Host position at Armstrong Browning Library.

What has been your favorite part of the job so far?

As a self-proclaimed history nerd, let me be the first to say that nothing brings me more joy than giving tours and helping to draw the listener in to the story of Dr. Armstrong, Robert, and Elizabeth. I have taken pleasure in doing my own research to find out fun facts about Robert Browning that I convey during the tour to add a bit of humor to the experience. For example, in the Research Hall, there is a painting of Saint Sebastian, the patron saint of good health. It belonged to Robert and it hung in his home in Casa Guidi. I take it upon myself to mention that as a testament to his robust health, it was said that “Browning could eat a pint of mayonnaise with a spoon, like ice cream, and then go horseback riding.” That one always gets a good chuckle.

What are your career goals and how might this position help you achieve those goals?

In the future, I would like to be a university professor and teach theology and church history. In a position such as that, one must be able to synthesize research in order to make it accessible to those listening. That means knowing what information most pertains to one’s audience, and understanding the importance of voice control and projection. I cannot think of a better position than mine at ABL to help prepare me for such a career.

Armstrong Browning Library Welcomes Three-Month Research Fellow

By Meagan Anthony, ABL Graduate Research Assistant and PhD candidate, Department of English

Professor Clare Simmons, ABL Three-Month Research Fellow for 2018

On Friday, September 7, the Armstrong Browning Library (ABL) welcomed Professor Clare Simmons to Baylor with a reception held in the ABL’s Cox Reception Hall where she was introduced by Dr. Joshua King, Margarett Root Browning Chair in Robert Browning and Victorian Studies, and Jennifer Borderud, Director of the ABL. Professor Simmons is the ABL’s Three-Month Research Fellow for the fall of 2018. The library offers this research fellowship every year to established and recognized scholars of nineteenth-century studies from outside Baylor. This fellowship is offered as a means to support in-residence research for scholars to advance a major project using ABL’s unparalleled resources connected to the Brownings and other influential authors from the nineteenth-century.

Professor Clare Simmons with faculty from Baylor’s English Department

Professor Simmons is one of the foremost scholars of nineteenth-century medievalism. Her extensive publications include books as well as scholarly articles and demonstrate her dedication to the use of archival materials. Professor Simmons’s past publications contribute to our understanding of how nineteenth-century Britain used conception of the medieval period in their texts, and she illuminates how the British people conceptualized their own history and national identity. Additionally, as the director of undergraduate studies for the Ohio State English Department, she has shared her passion for literature with the next generation of scholars through interactive workshops and engaging presentations.

In her three-month residency at the ABL, Professor Simmons will be conducting research to complete a book on “festive medievalism” in nineteenth-century literature and culture. As well as researching, Professor Simmons will be interacting with Baylor students and faculty through presentations and workshops. Consequently, on Friday, September 21, Professor Simmons will be presenting a workshop titled “Publishing Your First Article and Submitting to Conferences.” This presentation will be from 3:30-4:30 pm in the Armstrong Browning Library’s Seminar Room. Toward the end of her residency, on November 16, Professor Simmons will give a talk encapsulating the results of her research during her fellowship at the Armstrong Browning Library. The focus of this talk will center on the festivities of the Christmas season.

Learn more about Professor Clare Simmons here. Learn more about the ABL’s Three-Month Research Fellowship here.

Rhyme and Reform: Victorian Working-Class Poets and Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s “Cry of the Children”

a multi-site, digitally networked symposium organized by
the Armstrong Browning Library at Baylor University (US)
and the Universities of Strathclyde and Manchester (UK)

October 4-5, 2018
To register and learn more, please visit
baylor.edu/library/rhymeandreform

Many know that Victorian factories and mines were dangerous places to work, but how often do we really consider the human lives and stories they shaped?  What was it like to be a child working in these places? How did workers write about their conditions? How did authors on the outside respond to reports of labor abuse? Can these stories still speak to our times?

Please join us in considering these questions at “Rhyme and Reform” as we investigate Victorian portrayals of industrial labor in verse and narrative.  This multi-site, digitally linked series of events will be hosted by the Armstrong Browning Library in partnership with the University of Strathclyde in Scotland and the University of Manchester in England.

“Rhyme and Reform” marks the 175th anniversary of Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s poem “The Cry of the Children,” which protested the abuse of child workers in British mines and factories.

This symposium will put “The Cry of the Children” and representations of labor by Victorian working-class authors in conversation through scholarly presentations, performances of laboring-class balladry, interactive workshops, and a combination of physical and digital exhibitions by scholars and students.

The centerpiece of these exhibitions is “‘Orphans of earthly love’: Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s Protest for Working Children,” which was designed by undergraduates in my recent Victorian Poetry seminar at the Armstrong Browning Library (ABL). This exhibition will open at the ABL on the first day of “Rhyme and Reform.”  We would be especially delighted for Benefactors of the library to join us for this occasion, when students from the class will attend—in person and digitally—to discuss their work.  A version of this exhibition will also be on the event site, where it will be accompanied by displays about working-class poetry supplied by the “Piston, Pen & Press” project, which highlights the literary cultures of workers in nineteenth-century industrial Scotland and northern England.  This project is sponsored by the British Arts and Humanities Research Council, and led by faculty and staff at the University of Strathclyde, the University of Manchester, and the National Railway Museum (York, UK).

Through “Rhyme and Reform,” we hope to illuminate the contexts, concerns, and ongoing relevance of Victorian depictions of industrial labor. Calling these subjects “relevant” might seem a stretch.  Most who witness this conference will probably have no personal experience of mines or factories, which have largely moved out of eyesight in “first-world” countries.  Yet our wardrobes and powerplants still depend upon their often-inhumane operation around the globe, and far more children endure slavery and forced labor today than in Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s time.  Furthermore, people everywhere are feeling the effects of another legacy from Britain’s industrial age, dependency on fossil fuels.  How we respond to this inheritance will define our shared future.

This symposium seeks to contribute to that response by experimenting with a more sustainable form of international conferencing and collaboration.  Rather than flying everyone to one site, it will digitally link two event centers across the Atlantic, use a digital suite of tools called COVE to create a cooperative annotation of “Cry of the Children,” and invite participants around the world to access exhibitions and live-streamed presentations through the event website.

I warmly encourage you to visit this website to review the schedule and make time in yours to attend.  If you are unable to join us physically, please make a note to return to the website during the symposium for streamed and prerecorded events.

Dr. Joshua King
Associate Professor of English, Baylor University
Margarett Root Brown Chair in Robert Browning and Victorian Studies
Armstrong Browning Library

Reflections from a Visiting Scholar: Manuscripts and Marginalia at the Armstrong Browning Library

By Denae Dyck, PhD Candidate, University of Victoria, Canada

Denae Dyck, PhD Candidate, University of Victoria, Canada

Denae Dyck, PhD Candidate, University of Victoria, Canada

For two weeks in March, I spent time as a visiting scholar at the Armstrong Browning Library (ABL). I am grateful to have had the opportunity to do research at a library with unique and extensive collections related to the texts, writers, and intellectual traditions that I am examining in my PhD studies at the University of Victoria, Canada. My dissertation looks at the uses of biblical wisdom literature by Victorian writers responding to the higher criticism, criticism that broke new ground by approaching the Bible primarily as a composite, historical, and literary document. This focus means that I am interested not only in the particular place of this wisdom literature within changing ideas about authority and revelation in nineteenth-century thought but also in the broader field of hermeneutics. Working with manuscripts and marginalia at the ABL has helped me to think about the task of interpretation from some new angles.

Among the many intriguing materials at the ABL, the autograph manuscript of Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s (EBB’s) A Drama of Exile (her poetic engagement with the biblical narrative of humankind’s expulsion from Eden) held special interest for me because this poem is one of the primary texts that I am analyzing in my dissertation. Beginning where the third chapter of Genesis concludes—the fallout of the fall, if you will—EBB’s dramatic poem of 2272 lines takes up questions about the order of the cosmos and the meaning of suffering, the very questions raised by biblical wisdom literature, especially the book of Job. First published in 1844, A Drama of Exile incorporates elements of an earlier, unpublished piece entitled “Adam’s Farewell to Eden in His Age,” which is also held at the ABL and which has recently been published in the fifth volume of The Works of Elizabeth Barrett Browning (2010). Through studying the manuscript of A Drama of Exile at the ABL, I was able to further trace the development of EBB’s thought.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning. Manuscript of A Drama of Exile. Page 25. [D0216]

Elizabeth Barrett Browning. Manuscript of A Drama of Exile. Page 25. [D0216]

The experience of transcribing EBB’s small (and sometimes untidy) handwriting gave me the thrill of seeing familiar lines made strange: her manuscript differs from the published text in subtle yet interesting ways. As I found, seemingly small changes in word choice or sentence structure often reflect larger patterns and themes. For instance, whereas this manuscript compares the angelic songs heard by Adam and Eve in the wilderness to a “healing rain,” the published poem likens this music to a “watering dew,” a simile that brings Edenic imagery into the wilderness. Changes such as these intensify EBB’s overall emphasis on divine immanence within the mortal, material world. Although this manuscript does not include the entire poem, I was delighted to find that it contains two variants of EBB’s first scene with Adam and Eve. Comparing these versions against each other and against the published text of A Drama of Exile shows the non-linear elements of EBB’s writing process: even though one draft had more similarities to the final text than the other, the published poem includes distinctive elements from both fragments. One page from what I take to be the latter of these two versions offers an exciting glimpse into EBB’s thought. In the margins of a speech wherein Eve declares “since I was the first in the transgression, with my little foot / I will be the first to tread from this sword-glare / Into the outer darkness of the waste,” EBB has pencilled in an “x” and commented at the bottom of the page, “I do not like ‘little’ – it is almost coquettish—with my firm foot?” In the published version, the line reads “with a steady foot” (l. 547). This substitution reinforces EBB’s reinterpretation of Eve from the original sinner blamed in centuries of patriarchal exegesis to a figure of strength and insight.

While this annotation shows the dialogue of the poet’s mind with itself, I was able to further explore the exchange of ideas that shaped A Drama of Exile through perusing unpublished letters to EBB from her cousin John Kenyon. Reading these letters allowed me to fill in some of the missing pieces from the multi-volume collection of The Brownings’ Correspondence, which contains EBB’s letters to Kenyon but not all of his to her. Kenyon played an interesting role in the poem’s formation: when EBB fell into despair and felt inclined to burn her manuscript, her cousin intervened by offering to give her his honest opinion, as EBB explains to her scholarly mentor H.S. Boyd in a letter that is included in The Brownings’ Correspondence (volume 8, pp. 267-68). The letters from Kenyon at the ABL, which date from sometime after this incident, provide both encouragement and critique. He tells EBB, “The more I read of your poem the more I admire & love it”; nevertheless, he also questions some of her archaic diction choices (“Why do you – who taught me to say – between – say betwixt?”) and makes suggestions involving characterization. These letters reinforce that the process of composition does not take place in a vacuum.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning. Detail of Marginalia in Xenophon’s Memorabilia. Page 181. [ABLibrary Brownings’ Library XBL 888.3x55m]

Elizabeth Barrett Browning. Detail of Marginalia in Xenophon’s Memorabilia. Page 181. [ABLibrary Brownings’ Library XBL 888.3x55m]

In addition to manuscripts and unpublished letters, the ABL has a large collection of books from the library of EBB and Robert Browning that show the breadth and depth of these two poets’ intellectual engagement—all the more so because many of these volumes contain marginal notes. For instance, EBB’s markup in her four-volume set of Henry Hallam’s Introduction to the Literature of Europe of the Fifteenth, Sixteenth, and Seventeenth Centuries (1837) critiques Hallam’s arguments on subjects ranging from the Protestant Reformation to John Donne’s poetry. Such marginal commentary underscores the fact that creative writing is often a form of rewriting—A Drama of Exile, for instance, responds not only to biblical texts but also to John Milton’s Paradise Lost (1667), along with other literary precedents. Given my interests in hermeneutics and wisdom literature, I was curious about the Brownings’ volumes of Socratic dialogues and their notations therein. As I discovered, these notes highlight points of intersection between classical and biblical traditions. In her copy of Xenophon’s Memorabilia, EBB likens Socrates’ words about the duties of a general to the pastoral advice given in 1 Timothy chapter 3. The holdings from the Brownings’ library also include their copy of Introduction to the Dialogues of Plato (1836) by Friedrich Schleiermacher, the theologian whose work brought together religious and secular hermeneutics. The pencil markings in this book call attention to Schleiermacher’s view of dialogue not merely as a rhetorical trick but, more importantly, as a method for catalyzing the search for knowledge.

George MacDonald. Marginalia in Christmas-Eve and Easter-Day: A Poem, by Robert Browning. London: Chapman and Hall, 1850. Page 15. [ABLibrary Rare X821.83 P5 C466c c.13]

George MacDonald. Marginalia in Christmas-Eve and Easter-Day: A Poem, by Robert Browning. London: Chapman and Hall, 1850. Page 15. [ABLibrary Rare X821.83 P5 C466c c.13]

Of further interest to me were the marginal notations in George MacDonald’s first edition of Robert Browning’s Christmas-Eve and Easter-Day (1850), two dramatic monologues that wrestle with the topics raised by the higher criticism. In “Christmas-Eve,” the speaker moves from a satiric rejection of what he regards as a misguided sermon to a sympathetic recognition of all interpretation as imperfect, going on a supernatural night-time journey that takes him from a British dissenting chapel to a Roman catholic church to a German lecture hall—not unlike the journey of Ebenezer Scrooge in Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol (1843). Engaging with this comic yet thoughtful poem at the level of both sound and sense, MacDonald indicates stressed and unstressed syllables in select lines and writes “remark” or “remarks” in the margins of key passages. These notes lay the foundation for MacDonald’s review of this poem in The Monthly Christian Spectator (May 1853), as well as for the lectures he gave on Browning in subsequent decades.

Robert Browning. Marginalia in Sartor Resartus, by Thomas Carlyle. Boston: James Munroe and Company, 1837. Page 72. [ABLibrary Brownings’ Library X BL 824.8 C286s 1837]

Robert Browning. Marginalia in Sartor Resartus, by Thomas Carlyle. Boston: James Munroe and Company, 1837. Page 72. [ABLibrary Brownings’ Library X BL 824.8 C286s 1837]

Browning’s own influences can be seen in his copy of the 1837 edition of Thomas Carlyle’s experimental prose essay Sartor Resartus. This densely allusive text emphasizes the challenge of interpretation, as Carlyle adopts the metafictional guise of an English editor translating the work of a German professor. In addition to tracking some of Carlyle’s references to writers such as Jonathan Swift or William Shakespeare, Browning’s notes thicken the book’s intertextual dialogue. In a chapter where Carlyle discusses wonder with reference to Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s Wilhelm Meister’s Apprenticeship (1796), Browning writes, “In wonder all knowledge begins – in wonder it ends & admiration fills up the interspace. But the first wonder is the child of ignorance – the last is the parent of admiration – the first is the birth-throe of knowledge: the last its culmination & apotheosis.” These sentences paraphrase Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s words in a passage from Aids to Reflection (1829), a collection of aphorisms that quote from and comment on various theologians and philosophers in what amounts to a Victorian equivalent to the book of Proverbs. Here, Browning comments on Carlyle’s reflections on Goethe by evoking Coleridge (who, in turn, develops arguments from Aristotle’s Metaphysics) . . . and so on.

These examples are just few of the gems held at the ABL. Other items that I had the chance to look at included pages of EBB’s unpublished girlhood writings that show the growth of her literary ambitions, as well as a notebook of additional manuscript material from the 1840s containing drafts of poems that vary in interesting ways from her published pieces. The rare books collection at the ABL features two illustrated versions of MacDonald’s Phantastes (1858), his first fairy tale for an adult audience: one set of illustrations by John Bell (1894) and the other by Arthur Hughes (1905), each of which offer very different visual interpretations of this story. The library also holds MacDonald’s copy of Coleridge’s Aids to Reflection, which shows evidence of longstanding and affectionate use: the inside cover has the bookplate of MacDonald’s son, while other front matter bears the signature of MacDonald’s father, as well as what appears to be an unpublished sonnet from George MacDonald dated 5 November 1847 and addressed to Louisa Powell, whom he married on 8 March 1851. (My thanks go to manuscript specialist Melinda Creech for helping me to identify this handwriting).

As a result of my time at the ABL, I have not only uncovered additional content for my dissertation but also deepened the way that I understand this content. In addition to informing my current research, the materials here have provided me with ideas for further study that I hope to pursue at a later date. My experience was made all the more enriching by the hospitality of the ABL faculty and staff, who made me feel welcome and generously shared their expertise with me in the kind of conversations that are the very best part of intellectual inquiry.

Reflections from a Visiting Scholar: Transatlantic Exchanges

By Mark Sandy, Professor of English, Durham University, United Kingdom

Professor Mark Sandy at the Armstrong Browning Library

Between August and September 2017, I held a one-month Visiting Scholars Fellowship to conduct research in the Armstrong Browning Library, Baylor University, Waco, Texas, for my current book-length project, Transatlantic Transformations of Romanticism: Aesthetics, Subjectivity, and the Environment (under contract with Edinburgh University Press).

Consequently, nestled away in Central Texas, a stone’s throw away from the Brazos River, my family (partner, Hazel, and son, Michael) and I discovered the unexpected charm of the Armstrong Browning Library, with its distinctive and beautiful wrought bronze doors, Italianate marble interiors, and iridescent stained-glass windows. All of these decorative features by the design of the library’s founder, Dr A. J. Armstrong, reflect the life and work of Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett Browning. As you might expect, a large part of the library’s rare manuscripts and books collection is dedicated to the Brownings. As a scholar of Percy Bysshe Shelley, I was fascinated, for example, to peruse a copy of the same edition of Shelley’s Posthumous Poems held in Robert Browning’s personal library. But such findings are not the only precious treasures to be found here.

Posthumous Poems of Percy Bysshe Shelley. London: Printed for John and Henry L. Hunt, 1824.

Outside of the Brownings’ circle, the collection of manuscripts, letters, rare books, and periodicals held at the Armstrong Browning Library reveal the life and work of other prominent nineteenth-century figures (including William Wordsworth, Thomas Carlyle, Felicia Hemans, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Henry David Thoreau, and Ralph Waldo Emerson) on both sides of the Atlantic.  It was the possibility of what these holdings might tell about the intellectual, imaginative, and cultural transatlantic exchanges between Emerson and Thoreau and key British Romantic poets that, before I had experienced its architectural and contemplative charm (especially of the Foyer of Meditation echoic, on occasion, with choral singing), sparked my interest in the Armstrong Browning Library.

Exploring these transatlantic conversations between British and American writers is something of a daunting undertaking, so I concentrated my primary focus on the correspondence between William Wordsworth and his American editor, Henry Reed, as well as some unpublished letters of Wordsworth held at the Armstrong Browning Library. Amongst these unpublished materials of particular interest was a letter by William Wordsworth, dated 10 June, 1834, to John Heraud, author of The Judgement of the Flood. This letter, in Wordsworth’s hand on three pages and (on the basis of two letters with the same date) considered to have been composed at Rydal Mount, expresses the poet’s concern about having trouble with his eyes.

Letter from William Wordsworth to John Abraham Heraud, 10 June 1834. Pages 1 and 4.

Letter from William Wordsworth to John Abraham Heraud, 10 June 1834. Pages 2-3.

About a year earlier, Emerson’s account of his first visit (28 August, 1833) to Rydal Mount corroborates Wordsworth’s concerns about his poor eyesight. This concern with physical eyesight and poetic vision helped inform an article I was completing on “‘Strength in What Remains Behind”: Wordsworth and the Question of Ageing’ (forthcoming in a 2018 special issue of Romanticism on ‘Ageing and Romanticism’, edited by Jonathon Shears and David Fallon), as well as speaking to Emerson’s emphasis on the image of the all-seeing and clear-sighted ‘transparent eyeball’ (Nature).  These observations will inform the discussion of the introduction to my study of Transatlantic Transformations of Romanticism.

After this initial foray into Wordsworth’s correspondence, I wanted to cast my net more widely within the Armstrong Browning Library collection in order to arrive at a deeper understanding of the interactions (positive and negative) of Emerson and Thoreau with the ideas, thoughts, and works of the British Romantics (including Wordsworth, Coleridge, Byron, Keats, and Shelley). Pertinent copies of American printed nineteenth-century editions and anthologies of British Romantic writers accessible at the Armstrong Browning Library, included The Poetical Works of S.T. Coleridge (New York, circa 1888) and The Works of Lord Byron (New York, 1845), as well as anthologies, such as British Poets of the Nineteenth Century (Chicago, 1929).

The Works of Lord Byron in Verse and Prose. New York: Alexander V. Blake, 1845.

With these earlier editions and anthologies, I was able to arrive at a much more fine-grained understanding of which particular works by British Romantic poets were in circulation in the United States and, by cross-checking with bibliographical records of Thoreau’s personal library and Emerson’s library borrowings, which works especially were likely to have been read by Emerson and Thoreau.  My task was also helped by the fact that, on several occasions, as was the case with the edition of The Works of Lord Byron (New York, 1845; originally published 1835), owned by Thoreau, and the edition of Percy Bysshe Shelley, Essays, Letters from Abroad, Translations, and Fragments (London, 1840), read by Emerson, the Armstrong Browning Library owned the exact same or later edition of that publication.

A manuscript edition twenty-volume set of The Writings of Henry David Thoreau. 20 Vols. (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1906), signed by the publisher and containing an original leaf (in Thoreau’s hand) of his reflections on the idea of suffering in ‘The Sankhya Karika’ also provided further insights into Thoreau’s thought, more generally, and, more specifically, his particular responses to British Romantic poets. For instance, on observing the Charles River, one ‘cloudy evening’ in the summer of 1845, Thoreau is moved towards a sense of Wordsworthian things sublime and remarks, ‘“I was reminded of the way that in which Wordsworth so coldly speaks of some natural visions or scenes “giving him pleasure.”’ (Vol. 8, Journal II, p. 295).

Henry David Thoreau. The Sankhya Karita. Manuscript. Page 1.

Henry David Thoreau. The Sankhya Karita. Manuscript. Page 2.

Having the opportunity to investigate these personal and cultural exchanges, through using the nineteenth-century rare manuscripts and books collections at the Armstrong Browning Library, has greatly informed the underpinnings of my present book project’s larger mapping of these transatlantic transmissions and transformations of, as well as exchanges with, British Romanticism. On a more personal and pleasurable note of my own, I cannot thank the staff of the Armstrong Browning Library enough for all their unstinting helpfulness, good humour, kindnesses, and hospitality to both myself and my family during our visit.