Literary Networks in the 19th and Early 20th Centuries Class Exhibit: Mary Shelley

On December 9th at 9:05am, Dr. Kristin Pond’s English 3351: Literary Networks in the Nineteenth- and Early Twentieth-Centuries course will be presenting their Great Exhibition. This is a class project which requires students to explore what artifacts, including original letters, manuscripts and books, photographs, and actual objects exist at the Armstrong Browning Library related to each student’s assigned author.

The exhibition will be on display in the Hankamer Treasure Room for the entire morning December 9th, 2019.

To prepare for the exhibition, students wrote a short biography of their author and practiced analyzing an artifact for what it reveals about their author. A sample of one student’s preliminary research follows.

 

Mary Shelley – Life, Writings, and Browning Correspondence

Mary Shelley, daughter of political radical William Godwin and feminist Mary Wollstonecraft (writer of A Vindication of the Rights of Woman), was born in 1797. Sadly, her mother died due to an internal bacterial infection following childbirth. Possibly to escape a troubled household and a horrible stepmother, 16-year-old Mary eloped in 1814 with the then-married romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley.

Through her husband Percy, Mary Shelley continued to receive encouragement on her writing, as she had for most of her life under the watch of her intellectual father. On the point of Percy’s influence, however, there have been a number of misunderstandings – all at the expense of Mary Shelley’s creative reputation.

In her biography Mary Shelley: Her Life, Her Fiction, Her Monsters, author Anne Mellor analyzes Mary Shelley’s writings and journals through a feminist lens, validating Mary’s standing as an independent writer of Frankenstein, a gothic masterpiece. Contrary to what some may believe, Percy was an avid supporter – not a controlling editor – of his wife’s writings.

Prior to the 21st century, scholars had assumed that Percy had essentially taught his wife how to write well. This assumption may be based on the fact that one of Mary’s copies of Frankenstein contains several grammatical and syntax edits by Percy. In one edition of Frankenstein, Percy actually wrote the novel’s preface as if he was Mary. Moreover, Mary’s writing contains a description of Mont Blanc which some have linked with Percy’s “Mont Blanc” poem. To make matters worse, due to the constraints of the time, the first copies of Frankenstein were actually published under Percy Shelley’s name.

That being said, however, Mary Shelley did craft the vast majority of Frankenstein, not to mention her other works. Being as independent and nonconformist as her feminist mother, Mary most likely would not have permitted over-involved literary edits on Percy’s part. In her History of a Six Weeks’ Tour, when describing the natural world about her, Mary says, “God has not reduced our dwelling-place – as Puritans would his – to a bare meeting-house, all there is radiant in glorious colours” (12). Through her criticism of Puritan religion and her gushing over natural beauty, Mary not only reveals her open-minded, non-conformist attitude towards history and society but also her idealistic writer’s heart.

A romantic spirit, Mary found her soulmate and escape from the world in Percy Shelley, who viewed her as his intellectual equal. For the eight years they lived together, Percy Shelley was deeply in love with Mary, to the point that he sometimes expressed wishes to retreat onto an island with her and his child, them against the world. Evidence of a mutually constructive literary relationship can be found in their correspondence. For example, in a letter by Mary Shelley to a friend, Percy interposes, writing “Poor Mary’s book has come back with a refusal which has put me in rather ill spirits.” In another letter, Percy writes to Mary, “Be severe in your corrections, & expect severity from me, your sincere admirer. – I flatter myself you have composed something unequalled in its kind.” Rather than lead Mary’s writing endeavors, Percy avidly supported them, offering constructive criticisms. His prefaces to Mary’s Frankenstein and History of a Six Weeks’ Tour were part of a collaborative effort, not of a failing on Mary’s part. In turn, Mary offered up her own support and criticisms of Percy’s writing, including his poems “The Witch of Atlas” and “Rosalind and Helen,” which Percy might not have published if not for her encouragement. Following Percy’s tragic drowning in 1822, Mary edited and published Percy’s works posthumously.

Through Frankenstein and Mary Shelley’s account of Frankenstein’s creation, Mary Shelley reveals herself to be curious, conscientious, and sensitive, channeling her life’s questions, worries, and griefs into her writing. In 1816, Mary Shelley received an awaited opportunity to prove her worth as a writer when Lord Byron suggested to his Shelley friends that they each write a ghost story. Having been the only one of her peers to take Byron’s story prompt seriously, Mary Shelley was finally inspired after a period of much creative anxiety. Drawing from her recent grief and nightmares about childbirth, Mary Shelley “gave birth” to a “hideous progeny,” in the form of Victor Frankenstein’s monster. In 1817, at the age of nineteen, Mary Shelley published Frankenstein following the suicide of Percy Shelley’s wife Harriet, the suicide of Mary Shelley’s half-sister Fanny, and the death of Mary Shelley’s infant daughter. Undoubtedly, these deaths influenced the macabre tone and themes of the novel.

Like Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Mary Shelley was a key component of a 19th century network of feminist writers. Just as Elizabeth Browning wrote poems in honor or in critique of other female writers, such as her “Stanzas Addressed to Miss Landon,” Mary Shelley likely looked up to a network of precursing female gothic writers as literary models. These writers included Ann Radcliffe (writer of The Mysteries of Udolpho) and Charlotte Dacre (writer of The Confessions of the Nun of St. Omer).

Yet, in spite of their female literary backgrounds, very little communication existed between Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Mary Shelley. Despite her success as an author, it appears that Mary Shelley was overshadowed by Percy Shelley in the Brownings’ eyes. While Percy Shelley’s writings and beliefs heavily influenced Robert Browning (he became an atheist vegetarian after reading Percy’s Queen Mab), Browning’s only mention of Mary Shelley in his letters was of her sorry state following Percy Shelley’s death. An 1845 letter to Elizabeth Barrett Browning is the only published letter in which Robert Browning writes of her. In this letter, Browning recalls:

The ‘Mary dear’ with the brown eyes, and Godwin’s daughter and Shelley’s wife, and who surely was something better once upon a time…when she and the like of her are put in a new place, with new flowers, new stones, faces…[she] wisely saying ‘ who shall describe that sight ! ‘ — Not you, we very well see…

Robert Browning then goes on to say:

But once she travelled the country with Shelley on arm; now she plods it, Rogers in hand…but she is wrong every where, that is, not right, not seeing what is to see, speaking what one expects to hear — I quarrel with her, for ever, I think.

In spite of Mary Shelley’s success as a writer, Robert Browning saw her as a sort of soft-eyed sweetheart, consumed by grief to the point that she was annoying to be around. Rather than refer to her as “author of Frankenstein” or something more flattering, Browning identifies Mary Shelley by her radical writer relations. Briefly, he does recognize Mary Shelley’s past accomplishments when he says, “something better once upon a time.” Otherwise, he is annoyed by her apparent inability to say or write anything interesting or insightful.

This characterization of Mary Shelley is surprisingly harsh, considering that the Brownings may have respected Mary Shelley’s works. In fact, at least two of the books in their library were ones that Mary Shelley had either written or edited: History of a Six Weeks’ Tour Through a Part of France, Switzerland, Germany, and Holland, and Percy Bysshe Shelley’s Posthumous Poems. That being said, they did not own a copy of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, which may explain their misperception of grieving gothic Mary as overly sweet or passive. If only the Brownings knew that Mary had saved the heart of Percy, a small organ wrapped in a sheet of posthumous poetry and tucked away inside her desk drawer.

Works Cited

Browning, Robert, and Elizabeth Barrett Browning. The Letters of Robert Browning and  Elizabeth Barrett Barrett. Vol. 1, New York and London, Harper and Brothers, Publishers, 1899. 2 vols.

Creech, Melinda. “Giving Nineteenth Century Women Writers a Voice and a Face — Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley [née Godwin] (1797–1851).” Armstrong Browning Library and Museum, Baylor University, 23 July 2013, blogs.baylor.edu/armstrongbrowning/tag/frankenstein/. Accessed 23 Sept. 2019.

Mellor, Anne K. Mary Shelley: Her Life, Her Fiction, Her Monsters. New York and London, Routledge, 2009.

Mercer, Anna. “The Literary Collaboration of Mary and Percy Shelley.” Dove Cottage and the Wordsworth Museum, Wordsworth Trust, 2017, wordsworth.org.uk/blog/2015/02/15/mine-own-hearts-home-the-literary-collaboration-of-mary-and-percy-bysshe-shelley/. Accessed 24 Sept. 2019.

Poetry Foundation, editor. “Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley.” Poetry Foundation, edited by Poetry Foundation, 2019, www.poetryfoundation.org/poets/mary-wollstonecraft-shelley. Accessed 24 Sept. 2019.

Pottle, Frederick A., M.A. Shelley and Browning: A Myth and Some Facts. Pembroke Press, 1923.

Shelley, Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin. History of a Six Weeks’ Tour. London, T. Hookam, 1817.

Shelley, Percy. Letter to Mary Shelley. 10 Aug. 1821. Letters. Edited by Frederick L. Jones, vol. 324. Oxford University, 2015.

Shelley, Percy. Letter to Mary Shelley. 15 Aug. 1821. Letters. Edited by Frederick L. Jones, vol. 339. Oxford University, 2015.

Theisen, Colleen. “Mary and Percy Shelley Letter Mentions Frankenstein Rejections.” The University of Iowa Libraries, U. of Iowa, 8 Oct. 2012, blog.lib.uiowa.edu/speccoll/2012/10/08/special-collections-mary-and-percy-shelley-letter-mentions-frankenstein-rejections/. Accessed 24 Sept. 2019.

Literary Networks in the 19th and Early 20th Centuries Class Exhibit: John Keats

On December 9th at 9:05am, Dr. Kristin Pond’s English 3351: Literary Networks in the Nineteenth- and Early Twentieth-Centuries course will be presenting their Great Exhibition. This is a class project which requires students to explore what artifacts, including original letters, manuscripts and books, photographs, and actual objects exist at the Armstrong Browning Library related to each student’s assigned author.

 

The exhibition will be on display in the Hankamer Treasure Room for the entire morning December 9th, 2019.

 

To prepare for the exhibition, students wrote a short biography of their author and practiced analyzing an artifact for what it reveals about their author. A sample of one student’s preliminary research follows.

 

John Keats

The April 1818 edition of The Quarterly Review reads “Keats is unhappily a disciple of the new school [of] Cockney poetry; which may be defined to consist of the most incongruous ideas in the most uncouth language (1).”

Before John Keats reached worldwide fame, he could not escape being a subject of harsh criticisms such as the sentiment above. The Quarterly Review, Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine, and other prominent literary magazines all branded Keats into a pejorative group known as the Cockney school. This group included English writers such as Leigh Hunt, William Hazlitt, and Percy Shelly, and they were all collectively criticized for a number of shaky reasons. Keats in particular was attacked because of his lower-class upbringing; an editor of The Quarterly Review particularly disapproved highly of the working class meddling with intellectual forms such as poetry. The Review’s editor labels Keats an ‘uneducated and flimsy stripling’ and slams Endymion as an “imperturbable drivelling idiocy” before concluding that “It is a better and wiser thing to be a starved apothecary than a starved poet; so back to the shop Mr John. (2)” We cannot be sure exactly how Keats reacted to this virulence. It’s possible that he was completely undeterred, and it is possible that it adversely affected his health (Shelly actually thought that the criticism contributed to his early death (3)). Whatever the reaction of Keats, the latter opinion was loud enough to cause Blackwood Magazine to go on the defense after his death, writing:

Mr. Keats died in the ordinary course of nature. Nothing was ever said in this Magazine about him, that needed to have given him an hour’s sickness; and had he lived a few years longer, he would have profited by our advice, and been grateful for it, although perhaps conveyed to him in a pill rather too bitter. Hazlitt, Hunt, and other unprincipled infidels, were his ruin. Had he lived a few years longer, we should have driven him in disgust from the gang that were gradually affixing a taint to his name. His genius we saw, and praised; but it was deplorably sunk in the mire of Cockneyism (4).

Although having never corresponded to Keats (not surprising as she was only fourteen when he passed away), Elizabeth Barrett Browning was a staunch believer that the heavy criticism of Keats lead to adverse effects later on in his life. She detested how the “Cockney School” writers, especially Keats, had scurrilous attacks lobbed at them. Even when she later figured out the identity of one of the anonymous authors who took part in the harsh criticism was someone she respected, she still sided with Keats and said they erred in their criticism. She pitied the poet greatly for being “slain outright & inglouriously by the quarterly review’s tomahawk (5)”. As a poet herself Elizabeth Barrett Browning must have known the importance of a poet’s reputation. Keats was financially unstable throughout his life, and his all his earnings came from his poetry. In this sense, his reputation was not just his reputation, but also his living. Seeing a fellow poet slandered caused a justifiable outlash in several of Browning’s letters.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning could see that people did not recognize Keats’ genius. To Browning, Keats was a “grand exception from among the vulgar herd of juvenile versifiers. (6)” Keats was “a seer… Who [wrote] the things you were speaking of yesterday. (7)” He was too ahead of the times to really be appreciated at the start of the nineteenth century. To Browning, the world did not deserve such a prominent and determined poet as Keats. She notes “as singers sing themselves out of breath, he sang himself out of life (8).” Keats put every last ounce of effort into crafting his work, and nowhere was a similar sentiment expressed by his ignorant critics. According to Browning, “Nobody who knew very deeply what poetry is… could draw any case against [Keats]” (9). Keats’ critics did not hold the intellectual ability to truly appreciate his work, making their criticism against the poet inevitable. Browning felt that Keats’ critics’ imaginations could not allow them to ever dream up what Keats, “a poet of the senses” could (9). The dream expressed in “Eve of St Agnes” or anything else so creatively imagined was simply not accessible to their closed minds. Those who criticized Keats were unable to attain such “senses idealized” (9). To Browning, Keats was simply “a fine genius, – too finely tuned for the gross dampness of our atmosphere. (8)”

That Elizabeth Barrett Browning shouted such praise for someone she did not know personally might seem strange and surprising. That said, Browning had definitely become knowledgeable about his work as numerous references to Keats’ writing are sprawled throughout her letters. Robert Browning had a period where he would read Keats to a sick friend every two days, so his work was definitely present in Elizabeth’s life. But still, she never knew him personally (10). Browning’s literary circle did help fill in some knowledge of Keats’ personality, but ultimately, she was left to judge Keats based on his work alone. Sadly, this means that the connection between Keats and Elizabeth Barrett Browning was solely Elizabeth’s posthumous praise for and defense of Keats. The strength of her defense speaks to the genius of Keats’ writing, and how great writers have the potential to influence and inspire and communicate even after their deaths.

To sum up, Elizabeth Barrett Browning felt as if there were already enough burdens weighing down on Keats’ life without the criticism, as the poet’s life leads one to experience “wearing anxieties” regardless of how one’s work is received. Yet sadly Keats died before his work was honored; consequently, this makes Browning ask whether praise is necessary, and even if Keats would have been jealous of the future fame of his works. Browning obviously cannot ask for Keats’ answer, but she dreams something akin to this: Praise would just be “redundant to his content” that Keats got from the joy of creating and the “exercise of art” (11).  There is comfort in such thinking.

 

 

Numbered Sources

  1. Wilson, John. “Review of Keats’s Endymion.” Quarterly Review, Apr. 1818, pp. 204–208.
  2. Lockhart, John. “Endymion Review.” Quarterly Review, Apr. 1818, p. 524.
  3. Shelly, Percy. “Preface.” Adonais, Methuen & Co., 1821, pp. 3–4.
  4. Wilson, John. “Lord Bryon and His Contemporaries.” Blackwood Magazine, 1828, pp. 403–404.
  5. Browning, Elizabeth. “Letter 866.” Received by Mary Mitford, 26 Oct. 1841, London.
  6. Browning, Elizabeth. “Letter 1672.” Received by John Kenyon, Aug. 1844, London.
  7. Browning, Elizabeth. “Letter 2025.” Received by Robert Browning, 7 July 1846, London.
  8. Browning, Elizabeth. “Letter 1029.” Received by Benjamin Haydon, 20 Oct. 1842, London.
  9. Browning, Elizabeth. “Letter 2025.” Received by Robert Browning, 7 July 1846, London.
  10. Browning, Elizabeth. “Letter 4252.” Received by Anna Brownell Jameson, 5 October 1858, Paris.
  11. Browning, Elizabeth. “Letter 1829.” Received by Robert Browning, 3 Feb. 1845, 50 Wimpole Street.

Additional Sources

Keats, John. John Keats. Edited by Elizabeth Cook, Oxford University Press, 1990.

Browning, Elizabeth. “Letter 4252.” Received by Anna Brownell Jameson, 5 October 1858, Paris.

Browning, Elizabeth. “Letter 2472.” Received by Robert Browning, 7 July 1846, London.

Browning, Elizabeth. “Letter 2025.” Received by Robert Browning, 7 July 1846, London.

Browning, Elizabeth. “Letter 1706.” Received by Mary Mitford, 3 Sept. 1844, London.

Browning, Elizabeth. “Letter 1105.” Received by Mary Mitford, 30 Dec. 1842, London.

Literary Networks in the 19th and Early 20th Centuries Class Exhibit: William Wordsworth

On December 9th at 9:05am, Dr. Kristin Pond’s English 3351: Literary Networks in the Nineteenth- and Early Twentieth-Centuries course will be presenting their Great Exhibition. This is a class project which requires students to explore what artifacts, including original letters, manuscripts and books, photographs, and actual objects exist at the Armstrong Browning Library related to each student’s assigned author.

The exhibition will be on display in the Hankamer Treasure Room for the entire morning December 9th, 2019.

To prepare for the exhibition, students wrote a short biography of their author and practiced analyzing an artifact for what it reveals about their author. A sample of one student’s preliminary research follows.

 

William Wordsworth

Biography     

William Wordsworth was born in 1770 in England, and he would grow up to become a well-renowned poet by the time of his death in 1850. Achieving that honor, however, required a great deal of financial strife first. Orphaned at an early age, impoverished throughout his youth, and dissatisfied with his college education at Cambridge, Wordsworth fumbled through his earlier years (Mason, 1-3). He had always been interested in writing, but he did not produce much poetry during this period. However, he did develop a very close relationship with his sister Dorothy. As adults, they eked out an impoverished existence together in a house called Racedown in Dorset, England. It was here, under the influence of his likewise literary-minded sister, that Wordsworth grew into the title of poet, increasing his output by four times as much as he had written in earlier years. As Worthen writes, “…having discovered a way of working with [Dorothy], he now preferred not to write without her” (Worthen, 113-117). This clearly drew Wordsworth into a particularly close emotional bond with his sister. Perhaps more significantly, this new era in his writing might never had come about if not for Dorothy’s support. As he continued writing, she critiqued his work, and “it was [her] propensity for aesthetic judgement, as well as her unwavering emotional support, that Wordsworth most respected, and her comments inspired him to improve his writing” (Mason, 5). Dorothy played a formative role in Wordsworth’s beginnings as a poet, pushing him ever-forwards toward greatness.

As Wordsworth developed as a poet, he formed another important relationship: a friendship with Samuel Coleridge. The two writers “were immediately enamored with each other,” and they soon moved within a few miles of each other. The two (and Dorothy) spent a lot of time together, often taking long walks during which they wrote and talked about poetry (Mason, 7). All evidence points to the fact that Wordsworth and Coleridge were fast friends with much in common. They clearly stimulated each other’s minds and got along quite well, not to mention the fact that Coleridge aided Wordsworth in getting his early work published. Also, in her biographical work on Wordsworth, Emma Mason describes in detail the writing relationship between Coleridge and Wordsworth: “Coleridge… tasked Wordsworth with the writing of a new Miltonic philosophic epic.” This would grow into Wordsworth’s autobiographical poem, “The Prelude.” The pair also co-wrote a book of poetry, aptly titled Lyrical Ballads, and traveled Europe together (Mason, 8). Coleridge was not only a good friend but a good writing partner, bolstering Wordsworth’s writing and, like Dorothy, propelling him towards progress. Their friendship began to sour, however, as Coleridge became addicted to opium and began to push Wordsworth away. Finally, Coleridge broke off the friendship over petty hearsay (Mason, 10-11, 16). Wordsworth, though hurt by this abrupt end to such a long and devoted friendship, moved on and kept writing.

In 1802, Wordsworth would marry Mary Hutchinson (after having a love-affair and a child with a Frenchwoman, Annette), and the two had what appeared to be a loving, relatively happy marriage. The two lived with Dorothy, who remained close with her brother throughout their lives (Mason, 10-13). And, after years of little financial success as a poet, Wordsworth gradually gained widespread recognition as a great poet. In 1843, Wordsworth became Poet Laureate of Britain, the crowning glory of several literary honors that he received. He died in 1850 (Mason, 22).

 

 

Letters

In an 1808 letter to Dorothy Wordsworth (and his wife, Mary), Wordsworth begins the letter by addressing his “Dearest Loves.” He recounts his travels, focusing in particular on the people he has encountered and how they are doing. He mentions Coleridge multiple times, clearly expressing worry about Coleridge’s health (by this time, the latter was well into his opium addiction). Wordsworth also writes that “Coleridge has just had a long Letter, in which is related the fate of Sally’s parents. It has much affected me, and we must do for Sally what we can” (Wordsworth, 1808). This letter is rife with evidence of affection towards Dorothy and Mary, and even more impressive compassion towards his old friend Coleridge and even towards his former servant, Sally. In this letter, Wordsworth comes across as a loving man who tries fervently to love and take care of those around him.

Interestingly, within the same letter, Wordsworth reveals his negative opinion on publishing his work. In distinct contrast to the gentle way he refers to those that he is familiar with, he writes of the “wretched and stupid Public.” He describes how, though he desires to use his writing to benefit the public, he still somehow detests the idea of publishing his work (Wordsworth, 1808). Here the reader receives an intriguing insight into why Wordsworth was slow to publish his work.

Although, as mentioned above, some of Wordsworth’s most significant literary attachments were to his sister Dorothy and to Samuel Coleridge, he also was connected to the Brownings. In a letter to John Kenyon, William Wordsworth references some poems by Elizabeth Barrett Browning that Kenyon sent Mrs. Wordsworth, and he compliments Barrett Browning’s “Genius and attainments” (Wordsworth, 1839). In this letter, he reports his admiration for Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s intelligence and literary accomplishments. Though the indirectness of this compliment toward Elizabeth Barrett Browning might seem to suggest that they were unfamiliar with each other in person, a letter written three years prior (in 1836) disproves this idea. In this letter, written by Elizabeth Barrett Browning herself, she also describes Wordsworth in a complimentary fashion: “I… must have told you that one of my privileges has been to see Wordsworth twice. He was very kind to me, and let me hear his conversation…. His manners are very simple; & his conversation not at all prominent – if you quite understand what I mean by that” (Browning, 1836). It seems that the warm feelings and respect between William Wordsworth and Elizabeth Barrett Browning were definitively mutual. Barrett Browning also gives the reader further clue into Wordsworth’s personality, describing him as kind and “simple,” which I interpret as meaning that he came across as modest despite the literary fame he had achieved by that time. Though Wordsworth and Barrett Browning may not have known each other well, they did appear to deeply respect each other, both in personality and in literary accomplishments.

 

Works Cited

Browning, Elizabeth Barrett to Julia Martin. December 7th, 1836 in The Brownings’ Correspondence, https://www.browningscorrespondence.com/correspondence/621/?rsId=168911

Mason, Emma. The Cambridge Introduction to William Wordsworth, Cambridge University Press, 2010. ProQuest Ebook Central, https://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/bayloru/detail.action?docID=564466.

Wordsworth, William to Dorothy Wordsworth. March 26th, 1808 in Oxford Scholarly Editions Online, https://www-oxfordscholarlyeditions-com.ezproxy.baylor.edu/view/10.1093/actrade/9780198185239.book.1/actrade-9780198185239-div2-10

Wordsworth, William to John Kenyon. February 26th, 1839 in The Letters of William and Dorothy Wordsworth, ed. Ernest de Selincourt et al., 2nd ed., https://www.browningscorrespondence.com/supporting-documents/1147/?rsId=168867&returnPage=1

Worthen, John. Wiley Blackwell Critical Biographies : Life of William Wordsworth: a Critical Biography, John Wiley & Sons, Incorporated, 2014. ProQuest Ebook Central, https://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/bayloru/detail.action?docID=1603102.

Literary Networks in the 19th and Early 20th Centuries Class Exhibit: Dorothy Wordsworth

On December 9th at 9:05am, Dr. Kristin Pond’s English 3351: Literary Networks in the Nineteenth- and Early Twentieth-Centuries course will be presenting their Great Exhibition. This is a class project which requires students to explore what artifacts, including original letters, manuscripts and books, photographs, and actual objects exist at the Armstrong Browning Library related to each student’s assigned author.

The exhibition will be on display in the Hankamer Treasure Room for the entire morning December 9th, 2019.

To prepare for the exhibition, students wrote a short biography of their author and practiced analyzing an artifact for what it reveals about their author. A sample of one student’s preliminary research follows.

 

Dorothy Wordsworth

Early Life

Dorothy Wordsworth was born in 1771 on December 25th in Cockermouth Cumbria. She was the third and only girl out of five children in the family. She was only two years younger than her brother, William Wordsworth. When her mother died at a young age, Dorothy and her brothers continued to live a happy childhood. However, the death of their father happened unexpectedly, leaving them in financial instability and forcing Dorothy and her siblings to live with various relatives. Dorothy was sent to live with her aunt Elizabeth Threldkeld in Halifax, West Yorkshire. At age 25, she was finally able to reunite with her brother William, at Racedown Dorset in 1795.

Poetry and Writings

In 1797 Dorothy and William moved together to Alfoxden House in Somerset, located near Samuel T. Coleridge’s home. The three formed a close friendship. Dorothy started to write about her life with William and Coleridge in her journals, the first being titled The Alfoxden Journal. The journal entries were utilized by William and Coleridge on their collaborated work, Lyricall Ballads. The poems drew heavily from the descriptions of nature Dorothy reported in the journals. However, Dorothy wrote in her journals for her own pleasure, and never aspired for them to be published or to be a famous author like her brother. William’s dependency on Dorothy’s journal entries continued for the rest of his career, as she was able to provide detailed description of nature.

Having been close friends with Coleridge, the three traveled to Germany in 1798-1799. Dorothy recounts their trip in a journal titled, Journal of Visit to Hamburgh and of Journey from Hamburgh to Goslar. In 1799, both William and Dorothy moved into Dove Cottage of Grasmere. Four volumes of journals titled The Grasmere Journal (1800-1802) is known to have the best of Dorothy’s writing. The journals contain entries of the life she lived at Dove Cottage, and the relationship between her, her brother and fellow poet, Samuel Coleridge.

During their time at Dove Cottage, the three would take long walks in the woods, composing poems, and letters. Supposedly, the three would walk among the hills, and lay on the ground pretending they were dead as if in a “trance-like” state.

Later Years

The relationship between Dorothy and her brother was undoubtedly very close. However, when William married Mary Hutchinson in 1802, it is noted Dorothy wore Mary’s ring the night before the wedding ceremony. She gave it back to William in the morning, but did not attend the ceremony. She secluded herself in the attic of Dove Cottage, and not long after, stopped keeping up with her diary entries. Later, historians claimed she was filled with anxiety of being the replaced companion of her brother.

Dorothy never married or intended to get married as she felt too old for her age of 31 years. Instead, Dorothy stayed at Dove Cottage with her brother and Mary for the next 20 years helping them raise their children. There, she wrote books and poetry for the children.

In 1813 the family moved to Rydal Mount where Dorothy continued to travel, write letters, journals, and poetry. In 1829 she fell seriously ill to fever and her health declined from then on. In her last years, its noted she slipped in and out of hallucinations, but was capable to recite Williams poetry. She died at the age of 83 in 1855.

 

Letters

  • Letter to Joshua Watson

This particular letter was written many years after Dorothy’s time in Grasmere, in 1820. At the time she was at Rydal Mount, still living with William and his family. The letter suggests Dorothy’s dependency on William, as she mentions he is the reason she is writing it. She writes about William and how he has been doing, as if she was catching up with an old friend. However, Dorothy does not mention herself or give any personal life update. Only that she is glad to hear from Mr. Watson and his brother.

“My Brother feeling himself stronger and more comfortable this morning than he was yesterday said to me “I think you should write to Mr Watson—and I very much wish to know how he is himself — It is with great pleasure that I avail myself of my Brother’s hint, as an excuse for troubling you a second time.”

 

  • Letter to Samuel T. Coleridge

A letter was written to Samuel T. Coleridge, in later February of 1799. At this time, Dorothy, William, and Coleridge were traveling in Germany. In the letter, it seems that Coleridge traveled to Gottingen Germany, on his own, leaving William and Dorothy back in the town of Goslar.

In this letter, Dorothy recounts the walk her and William took through the Hartz forest. She describes the trees and natural scenery with lengthy description, recalling minute details. The vivid details she provided was probably utilized for Coleridge and his poetry. She updates Coleridge of their time Goslar, as though they were great friends. She also mentions how excited her and William were once they received letters from him.

What’s interesting, is that Dorothy does not sign her name at the end of the letter, highlighting that her and Coleridge were on a friendly basis without the need for formality.

“Some of the pine trees are extremely beautiful. We observed that when they seemed to be past maturity, and perhaps sooner in a close situation their boughs from which had before ascended, making an acute angle with their trunk, descend till they shoot out horizontally or make an obtuse angle with the upper part of the tree.”

 

  • The Grasmere Journal Entry-Monday October 4th, 1802:

This journal entry, recounts Williams marriage to Mary Hutchinson and Dorothy’s feelings. It is clear that Dorothy is uncomfortable with the fact her brother is getting married. She wears the brides ring to sleep the night before they wed and decided not to show up to the ceremony. This suggests Dorothy almost feels replaced by Mary to her brother. She copes with her feelings by retreating to the attic of their house and shortly after their marriage, Dorothy stops writing in her journal.

Literary Networks in the 19th and Early 20th Centuries Class Exhibit: Charles Dickens

On December 9th at 9:05am, Dr. Kristin Pond’s English 3351: Literary Networks in the Nineteenth- and Early Twentieth-Centuries course will be presenting their Great Exhibition. This is a class project which requires students to explore what artifacts, including original letters, manuscripts and books, photographs, and actual objects exist at the Armstrong Browning Library related to each student’s assigned author.  

The exhibition will be on display in the Hankamer Treasure Room for the entire morning December 9th, 2019.

To prepare for the exhibition, students wrote a short biography of their author and practiced analyzing an artifact for what it reveals about their author. A sample of one student’s preliminary research follows.

 

The Life and Literary Connections of Charles Dickens

Charles Dickens was born in 1812 as the second of eight children. His parents did their best to make ends meet, but they were a poor family, and his father was sent to debtor’s prison in 1824. Because of this, Dickens dropped out of school and was forced to work in a factory in order to help provide for his family, spending long hours at a job that gave him meager pay in exchange for his labor. Although he returned to school for a short time, he was forced to give it up again, this time going to work at a newspaper, where his career quickly took off. He began as a reporter and quickly began writing his own short stories, which eventually lead to the writing and ‘conducting’ of his own middle class periodical, Household Words, which was later followed by All the Year Round. Dickens married Catherine Hogarth and had ten children, but his life fell apart in the 1850s with the death of two of his children and a dramatic separation from his wife. He was also known to have had an affair around the time of the end of his marriage with a much younger girl named Ellen Ternan. He wrote fifteen novels throughout his life and died at age 58 with his last work uncompleted.

One of Dickens’s most influential relationships in his lifetime was Wilkie Collins, a man twelve years his junior, who he met in 1851 when Dickens was already at the height of his career, having already published multiple novels and launched Household Words. They met by acting in a play together, and Collins quickly became one of Dickens’s most frequent travel and correspondence companions, forging a friendship which would last until Dickens’s death two decades later. Their literary relationship began with the contributions of Collins to Household Words and eventually morphed into a partnership in multiple works such as The Lazy Tour of Two Idle Apprentices, Frozen Deep, and The Wreck of the Golden Mary. Collins provided Dickens with a welcome respite from the collectedness and decency that was expected from him as a public figure of his status. Michael Slater, an author who spent much of his career studying Dickens, writes in his biography, Charles Dickens, that he “seems… to have found the younger man’s Bohemian attitude attractive” (Slater, 383). In some ways, the relationship between Collins and Dickens was extremely beneficial for them both, as Dickens’s experience and status complemented well the prodigy and playfulness of young Collins. He gave Dickens the opportunity to feel free from his constraints as a celebrity while also challenging him intellectually as a writer.

Although Dickens was an avid writer of letters, he burned all correspondence that he received so no letters to him exist today; however, there is a plethora of letters that are documented from him to others, including many written to Collins. In these letters, it is easy to discern the care that they felt for one another. One such letter from Dickens says, “I always feel your friendship very much, and prize it in proportion to the true affection I have for you” (Letter [25 May]). Collins even dedicated one of his novels, Hide and Seek, to Dickens as “a token of admiration and affection” (Wilkie Collins Info). Dickens thought highly of his friend’s writing, and, after reading Collins’s ‘The Diary of Anne Rodway’ on his train home he was so moved that wrote to Collins, “My behavior before my fellow-passengers was weak in the extreme, for I cried as much as you could possibly desire. . . . I think it excellent, feel a personal pride and pleasure in it, which is a delightful sensation, and I know no one else who could have done it.” These men deeply appreciated the intellect and companionship of one another, and they spent much of their time together critiquing, dreaming, and discussing as they travelled and wrote together.

However, there are some downsides to Dickens finding such a similar companion. Slater points out in his biography that in 1854 Dickens writes to Collins encouraging him to join him in London in his “career of amiable dissipation and unbounded license in the metropolis.” Later in the letter Dickens states, “If you will come and breakfast with me about midnight… I should be delighted to have so vicious an associate” (Slater, 384)(Letter [July 1854]). They were known to often frequent the streets of London and Paris late into the night, and Slater refers to Collins as the friend who “helped to provide Dickens with a desperately-needed new outlet or distraction” (Slater, 406). It could be argued that Collins assisted rather than stopped Dickens when he found himself infatuated with a young actress, Ellen Ternan, whom he saw perform. It is probable that one of the motivations behind the creation of The Lazy Tour of Two Idle Apprentices was so that Dickens and Collins could have a reason to travel Europe and meet up with her multiple times across the cities. In short, Dickens was a man who tended to make decisions based on what he was feeling, and because Collins was also known for being a bit looser in mannerisms, their close association did not help either one of them.

Apparently, this mindset that Dickens possessed bled into his writing in a noticeable way, many readers of his time and later periods found difficulty in reconciling him as a person with the literature that he produced. Elizabeth Barrett Browning is one of those critics, and she writes to a friend that she “was not such an enthusiast as people call themselves… but that he makes me feel his power again and again…” (Browning, Elizabeth Barrett). There were many who, like EBB, were skeptical of his approach to life but at the same time were compelled to his work due to his brilliance as a developer of characters and plot. It is very likely that Collins had something to do with the way that Dickens’ writing and lifestyle pushed boundaries more than was comfortable for readers such as EBB. Charles Dickens’s friendship with Wilkie Collins was one that brought the world a unique brand of literature, a brand that combined old and new, expert and amateur. Without this friendship, the literature that we associate with Dickens would not only be different, but it would be incomplete.

Works Cited

Browning, Elizabeth Barrett. Browning, Elizabeth Barney to Mitford, Mary Russell. 13 June 1843. In The Browning Letters, http://digitalcollections.baylor.edu

“Charles Dickens.” Biography.com, A&E Networks Television, 29 Aug. 2019, www.biography.com/writer/charles-dickens.

Dickens, Charles. Dickens, Charles to Collins, Wilkies. 13 April 1856. In Letters of Charles Dickens to Wilkie Collins. Edited by Laurence Hutton. https://jhrusk.github.io/wc/letters

Dickens, Charles. Dickens, Charles to Collins, Wilkies. 25 May 1858. In Letters of Charles Dickens to Wilkie Collins. Edited by Laurence Hutton.  https://jhrusk.github.io/wc/letters

Dickens, Charles. Dickens, Charles to Collins, Wilkie. July 1854. In Wilkes Collins and Charles Dickens.

Letters of Charles Dickens to Wilkie Collins, jhrusk.github.io/wc/letters/letters.html.

Slater, Michael. Charles Dickens. Yale University Press, 2009.

WILKIE COLLINS AND CHARLES DICKENS, wilkie-collins.info/wilkie_collins_dickens.htm.

https://blog.bookstellyouwhy.com/the-great-friendship-of-charles-dickens-and-wilkie-collins

 

Expressing Thanks To and For Our Benefactors

On November 15th, the Armstrong Browning Library held our annual Benefactors Day program. Benefactors Day provides us an opportunity to thank publicly those who support the work of the library. Our benefactors include those whose financial contributions make possible the growth and preservation of our collections, our research and teaching fellowships, our internships, and public events. Our benefactors also include faculty who engage with the library through classroom instruction, researchers who create and share new knowledge gleaned from the collections, individuals who attend library lectures and conferences, and all who promote the library and its resources to the local community and the broader scholarly community.

Benefactors Day Lecture in the Hankamer Treasure Room at the Armstrong Browning Library

Benefactors Day Lecture in the Hankamer Treasure Room at the Armstrong Browning Library

As part of our Benefactors Day celebration this year, Dr. Lesa Scholl delivered a special lecture on “Healthy Bodies, Healthy Souls: 19th-Century Medicine, Religion, and Literature”. Dr. Scholl is Head of Kathleen Lumley College at the University of Adelaide and the Armstrong Browning Library’s Three-Month Research Fellow. Her lecture was co-sponsored by the Baylor Collaborative on Hunger and Poverty and Baylor’s Medical Humanities Program. Dr. Scholl’s lecture explored nineteenth century religious and social ideas about and attitudes towards fasting as expressed in the Armstrong Browning Library’s pamphlets and tracts collections. Her full remarks are available here: https://mediaspace.baylor.edu/media/Benefactors+Day+2019+featuring+Dr.+Lesa+Scholl/0_ikuf8u10.

Benefactors Day Reception in the Cox Reception Hall

Benefactors Day Reception in the Cox Reception Hall

A reception followed Dr. Scholl’s lecture which provided a varied selection of “healthy” refreshments.

 

If you were able to join us for Benefactors Day, thank you so much for coming. If you were not, we hope you will be able to attend next year’s Benefactors Day celebration for those who support the Armstrong Browning Library.

‘Every common bush afire with God’: Welcome to the Process

‘Every common bush afire with God’: Divine Encounters in the Living World

The exhibition explores the intersection of religious and ecological concerns in nineteenth-century literature and art, from William Wordsworth to Gerard Manley Hopkins. You can read more about its content here. The exhibit was curated by Molly Lewis, a doctoral student of English at Baylor University during a ten-week summer internship through the Armstrong Browning Library.

 

Welcome to the Process: What I Learned and How I Did It

At the beginning of the summer, all I knew about the exhibition was its general topic—ecology and religion. How the Brownings and their contemporaries explored this topic in their writing was a mystery to me. I began by talking to people familiar with the authors at the ABL, especially Dr. Josh King. I also read through a lot of secondary scholarship on my topic and hunted down primary texts those authors may have referenced. Emma Mason’s recent book, Christina Rossetti: Poetry, Ecology, Faith, for example, includes a comprehensive chapter on Rossetti’s relationship with the Tractarians. Though they didn’t end up in the exhibit, the ABL holds a wide collection of tracts and pamphlets from this nineteenth-century religious movement so influential to the poet. I spent several weeks slowly looking through each item my secondary reading suggested to me, often using keyword searches of digital editions to narrow my focus. This kept me from over-handling rare and fragile volumes.

Four editions of Elizabeth Barrett Browning's Aurora Leigh

Four editions of Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s Aurora Leigh

When multiple copies of the same text we available, I compared those copies to determine which one displayed my chosen text most clearly, which was most durable for display, etc. The Library has many copies of Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s Aurora Leigh, for example. Not only did I keep a recently-published critical edition at my desk for my own reference, I looked at half a dozen editions to determine which one showed the “Every common bush afire with God” passage most readably. I compared Wordsworth’s first and second editions of Lyrical Ballads to EBB’s own collection of his poetry to see which would best illustrate not only his conviction about nature’s capacity for spiritual renewal but also the influence that vision had on the poets that came after him.

Exhibit Layout Mockup

Exhibit Layout Mockup

I photographed everything I looked at so that I could reference digital images when necessary. This also reduced how often I handled the books. When I had found a few dozen solidly relevant and compelling texts, I grouped them by theme, and considered how they might relate to one another. Texts that had less in common with the rest, I culled. Sometimes a connection—like the burning bush image in two separate poems by two different authors—made my choice for me. I wasn’t planning on using that particular page of Aurora Leigh to begin with, but it makes for a very interesting comparison with Christina Rossetti’s sonnet, “Tread softly! all the earth is holy ground.”

Christina Rossetti's Sing Song: A Nursery-Rhyme Book

Christina Rossetti’s Sing Song: A Nursery-Rhyme Book

Some discoveries were surprises. For example, I looked at Coleridge’s Rime of the Ancient Mariner self-indulgently. After all, if a first edition Coleridge is available, you ask to look at it. As I was rereading the poem—which I hadn’t really looked at closely for years—I realized that it shared the same central theme of the relationship between recognizing nature’s beauty and being able to pray that several other poets had already considered. Including Mariner pushed me to display the “Linnets” poem from Sing-Song in addition to “Hurt No Living Thing”—even though that meant relying on facsimiles, as the pages don’t face each other.

Once these decisions were made, I began drafting text for each item based on what I knew. I revised that text for brevity, then asked for feedback from peers and professors. This feedback led to a lot more clarification about each item’s unique characteristics as well as their relationship with the overall theme. As I revised, I also digitized some texts for use in blog posts, social media, and other promotional material. I worked with Laura French and others at the ABL to build custom cradles for display. And I continued reading about the subject, the authors, and the texts along the way. There’s still a lot for me to learn about these authors and this subject, but the process of curating the exhibit has been a remarkable opportunity to learn about the Armstrong Browning Library’s resources and the long history of ecological care rooted in robust Christian faith and practice.

 

Read more in this series of blog posts about the exhibit “‘Every common bush afire with God’: Divine Encounters in the Living World“:

“Every common bush afire with God”: How Shall We Live Now?

‘Every common bush afire with God’: Divine Encounters in the Living World

The exhibition explores the intersection of religious and ecological concerns in nineteenth-century literature and art, from William Wordsworth to Gerard Manley Hopkins. You can read more about its content here. The exhibit was curated by Molly Lewis, a doctoral student of English at Baylor University during a ten-week summer internship through the Armstrong Browning Library.

How Shall We Live Now? Recognizing and Caring for the Natural World Where We Are

William Morris and John Ruskin were passionate advocates for attending to the natural world around them, from the shores of the Thames in London to the shores of Lake Coniston at Brantwood. But what mattered to writers and artists in nineteenth-century Britain may look very different for us in the places we live today. Part of recognizing the natural world means observing the unique beauties and vulnerabilities of the places we call home. In Waco, TX, home to the Armstrong Browning Library, there are many ways to respond to these artists’ call to recognize the beauty and dignity of nature, and respond with care:

Gerard Manley Hopkins’s “Binsey Poplars,” from Poems of Gerard Manley Hopkins, 1st Edition. London: Humphrey Milford, 1918.

Gerard Manley Hopkins’s “Binsey Poplars,” from Poems of Gerard Manley Hopkins, 1st Edition. London: Humphrey Milford, 1918.

Gerard Manley Hopkins’s “Binsey Poplars,” from Poems of Gerard Manley Hopkins, 1st Edition. London: Humphrey Milford, 1918.

If you’re moved by Gerard Manley Hopkins’s challenge to remember the lost Binsey Poplars, consider visiting the Carleen Bright Arboretum in Woodway. Part of the Arboretum’s mission and vision is to be “stewards of the natural environments and resources within its boundaries.” Seeing first-hand what this stewardship looks like for them provides a helpful—and beautiful—model for how to steward our own environments and resources.

 

William Morris’s “Wandle” (1884). Reproduced by Sanderson. 2019.

William Morris’s “Wandle” (1884). Reproduced by Sanderson. 2019.

William Morris was so committed to recovering the beauty of the Thames that he wrote a whole novel about it in News from Nowhere. The Brazos River could use some of Morris’s passion. Among their many campaigns for change, Keep Waco Beautiful hosts quarterly Brazos clean-up days. Try joining the next one and consider investing your time in some of their projects to beautify and restore Waco neighborhoods.

 

Christina Rossetti’s “Tread Softly!” from A Pageant and Other Poems. London: Macmillan, 1881.

Christina Rossetti’s “Tread Softly!” from A Pageant and Other Poems. London: Macmillan, 1881.

When we read Christina Rossetti’s words to “Tread softly!” because “all the earth is holy ground,” it can be difficult to imagine what that might look like practically in our daily lives—especially if we live in a city where beautiful landscapes are hard to come by. Mission Waco’s Urban REAP helps us think creatively about how we can use our resources in urban spaces, both responsibly and beautifully. Whether you live in the city or the country, your daily life relies on rural spaces—farm land, fields of cattle, waterways—increasingly at risk thanks to our industrialized agricultural system. World Hunger Relief provides educational encounters and partnership opportunities for those who would like to “tread softly” on the earth that sustains us.

What are some other ways you can recognize and care for the natural world you’re a part of?

 

Read more in this series of blog posts about the exhibit “‘Every common bush afire with God’: Divine Encounters in the Living World“:

‘Every common bush afire with God’: Recognition, Prayer & Gratitude in the ABL’s Archives

‘Every common bush afire with God’: Divine Encounters in the Living World

The exhibition explores the intersection of religious and ecological concerns in nineteenth-century literature and art, from William Wordsworth to Gerard Manley Hopkins. The exhibit was curated by Molly Lewis, a doctoral student of English at Baylor University during a ten-week summer internship through the Armstrong Browning Library.

 

Recognition, Prayer & Gratitude in the ABL’s Archives

This fall, the Armstrong Browning Library is hosting “‘Every common bush afire with God’: Recognition, Prayer & Gratitude in the Nineteenth Century,” an exhibition on the intersection of ecology and religion in the work of some of the century’s most admired poets and artists. Many nineteenth-century British writers were deeply concerned with the destructive consequences of the Industrial Revolution on their natural environment, both as artists of the written word and as deeply religious thinkers. Much of their concern with the despoliation of the natural world stems from their conviction that we encounter God through the living world of plants, animals, water, sky. These writers believed that humanity is not alone in bearing the image of God; all of creation reflects the divine. Recognizing this divine reflection in nature makes prayerful communion with God possible. But, by extension, harming the earth can further separate us from God. The writers and artists represented here were inspired in their own creative acts—works of art like poetry and painting—as they paid attention to and cared for the world of nature around them. Through their words and images, we may better understand how a robust faith encourages us towards better care for creation in the twenty-first century.

William Wordsworth’s “Tintern Abbey,” from Wordsworth’s Poetical Works. Volume 2. London: Edward Moxon, 1836. The Brownings’ Library. P. 162.

William Wordsworth’s “Tintern Abbey,” from Wordsworth’s Poetical Works. Volume 2. London: Edward Moxon, 1836. The Brownings’ Library. P. 162.

The exhibition is broken up into three parts, focusing in turn on “Recognition,” “Prayer,” and “Gratitude” as they relate to human participation in the natural world. Throughout the nineteenth century, writers like Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1806-1861), Christina Rossetti (1830-1894), Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844-1889), and others, saw that both humanity and the natural world are cared for by God. These poets warn against simply using nature rather than recognizing its value in God’s eyes, and suggest that attending to nature’s inherent dignity may lead to a better understanding ourselves of what it means to be children of a creative God. These poets encourage us to ask: What have we missed out on because of the carelessness of our nineteenth-century ancestors? What will our own children miss out on because of our carelessness today?

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The section on “Recognition,” highlights Barrett Browning’s “Patience Taught by Nature,” Hopkins’s poem, “Binsey Poplars,” and Christina Rossetti’s “Innocent Eyes Not Ours.” When Elizabeth Barrett Browning writes, “Grant me some smaller grace than comes to these,” she implies that non-human nature receives God’s grace as freely as humanity does. In “Binsey Poplars,” Gerard Manley Hopkins argues that deliberately harming nature is actually an act of violence against God. Rossetti’s poem is an excerpt revised from her longer work, “To What Purpose Is This Waste?” published by her brother William Michael Rossetti after her death. Both the excerpt and the full poem challenge readers to consider the nature’s value apart from its utility in human industry. Rossetti suggests that such value lies in nature’s inherent posture of praise: “All voices of things inanimate / Join with the song of Angels and the song / Of blessed spirits, chiming with / Their Hallelujahs.” If the natural state of the created world is continual praise of God, we are challenged to treat the natural world with the same reverence we give to the rest of his children. Moreover, we can even learn from nature how best to do praise the Creator ourselves.

The exhibition’s second section on “Prayer” compares works by Elizabeth Barrett Browning, William Wordsworth (1770-1850), Christina Rossetti, and Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772-1834) to see how the theme of prayer through nature is carried across the century. In his poem “Tintern Abbey,” William Wordsworth suggests that the mere memory of nature can restore him when he is confined to “lonely rooms, and ‘mid the din / Of towns and cities.” Wordsworth’s dear friend Samuel Taylor Coleridge and later poets like Elizabeth Barrett Browning draw on such encounters with nature to suggest that being attentive to the created world makes us better able to pray. Whether through the limited view of a window or tramping about on the holy ground of the earth, honoring nature brings us closer to God.

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Barrett Browning’s poetic novel Aurora Leigh offers two especially helpful scenes in which the title character discovers this truth for herself. Confined, like Barrett Browning herself, to a bedroom with a single window connecting her to the natural world, Aurora is struck by the reminder (brought to her by the light of the sun) that God has heard nothing from her but tears in many days. Gradually, as she sits by the window and strokes the leaves of the woodbine just outside, her spirits awakes to life and love. “Wholly, at last,” she cries, “I wakened, opened wide my window and my soul.” Much later on a journey through Italy, Aurora continues her reflection on nature’s capacity to draw the viewer to God. “Earth’s crammed with heaven,” she writes, “And every common bush afire with God.” For Barrett Browning, the natural world is more than material. Like the human person, it bears the stamp of the divine presence. Recognizing its beauty can thus draw us closer to the Creator—even as harming nature drives us away from him.

William Morris’s “Wandle” (1884). Reproduced by Sanderson. 2019.

William Morris’s “Wandle” (1884). Reproduced by Sanderson. 2019.

The exhibition’s third section on “Gratitude” shows how artists and writers like William Morris (1834-1896), John Ruskin (1819-1900), Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828-1882), and Robert Browning (1812-1889) respond to nature in their art and writing, reflecting the beauty of the ordinary world with gratitude and care. Art and social critic John Ruskin argues in The Seven Lamps of Architecture (1849) that “God is a household God, as well as a heavenly one,” encouraging readers to not abandon the world around them for an eternal utopia. He writes:

“God has lent us the earth for our life; it is a great entail. It belongs as much to those who are to come after us…as to us; and we have no right, by anything that we do or neglect, to…deprive them of benefits which it was in our power to bequeath.”

Ruskin’s language of attending to future generations resonates with current conversations about environmental care. In his own time, poets and painters alike were moved by his challenge to create in harmony with the natural world rather than in antagonism with it. In turn, their work inspires readers like us to respond with our own acts of creation—and creation care.

 

Read more in this series of blog posts about the exhibit “‘Every common bush afire with God’: Divine Encounters in the Living World“:

Freedom Schools Visit the Armstrong Browning Library

We had a great day last Friday (July 12, 2019) at the Armstrong Browning Library!

Freedom School Scholars at the Armstrong Browning Library, July 12, 2019

Freedom School Scholars at the Armstrong Browning Library, July 12, 2019

Nearly 40 middle grades scholars from the Transformation Zone at Indian Springs Middle School who are currently enrolled in the Baylor Freedom Schools Program visited the library for a tour. The Baylor Freedom Schools Program is a free literacy enrichment program. It utilizes interactive curriculum along with field trips and special guests to provide meaningful learning for enrolled students.

The Armstrong Browning Library was honored to host the scholars for one of their fieldtrips. The visit began with an introduction to the library and its history in the Martin Entrance Foyer by ABL Curator Laura French. The scholars then divided into four groups and toured the rest of the building with guidance from French, ABL Director Jennifer Borderud, Rare Books Catalog Librarian Amy Runyon, and ABL Library Host Kacie Collin.

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The tour emphasized the life and works of Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett Browning. The artifacts and artwork on display formed the basis for discussions on the lives of the Brownings. The tour also provided the scholars an opportunity to get a close look at the library’s collection of stained-glass windows, many of which illustrate the poetry of Robert and Elizabeth Barrett Browning.

The tour ended in the Cox Reception Hall where scholars created their own stained-glass window designs based on a selected poem. Scholars chose to draw what was literally happening in the poems they chose or to use shapes and colors to create an abstract expression of what their poem was about. Scholars selected from poems by the Brownings, Christina Rossetti, Emily Dickinson, and Walt Whitman, as well as by Langston Hughes, Robert Frost, William Carlos Williams, Gwendolyn Brooks, Gary Soto, Sandra Cisneros, and Juan Felipe Herrera.

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The ABL would like to thank Dr. Lakia Scott, Yasmin Laird, and Alexis Hooker for bringing their scholars to the ABL and providing us the opportunity to share Robert and Elizabeth Barrett Browning with the Baylor Freedom School scholars.

Thank you also to Amanda Gardner for the photographs used in this post.