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:

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.

Armstrong Browning Library Welcomes Summer Interns

Each year the Baylor Libraries offer paid summer internships for Baylor graduate and undergraduate students. This summer Molly Lewis, a PhD candidate in the Department of English, and TJ Watson, a University Scholars major, were selected for internships with the Armstrong Browning Library (ABL).

Molly Lewis evaluates a volume of Christina Rosetti's poetry for inclusion in her exhibit.

Molly Lewis evaluates a volume of Christina Rosetti’s poetry for inclusion in her exhibit.

Molly will spend the summer curating an exhibit for the “Ecology and Religion in 19th Century Studies” conference which will take place September 18-21, 2019. Under the supervision of ABL Curator Laura French, Molly will plan, write, fabricate, and install the exhibit. She will also develop a plan and content for the marketing of the exhibit through the ABL’s various social media streams.

“This exhibit promises to be a great opportunity for me to propel my own graduate research on the convergence of ecological concerns and religious convictions in the nineteenth century,” Molly said. “More than this, however, I’m excited to discover how the resources of the ABL uniquely contribute to the conversation scholars are having in this field, and to be part of bringing that contribution to light.”

TJ Watson scans a score from the Armstrong Browning Library's Music Collection.

TJ Watson scans a score from the Armstrong Browning Library’s Music Collection.

Working across campus at the Riley Digitization Center in Moody Memorial Library, TJ will digitize materials from the ABL’s Browning Music Collection. He will edit and provide quality control of the digital files and load them into the digital asset management access system. Additionally, TJ will gain insight into digital project technology and processes, digital preservation standards, digital project metadata, and library technology.

When asked what excites him most about his internship, TJ replied: “The great opportunity to care for our original manuscripts and to realize their humanness in our digital recreations has been an eye-widening experience. It has also been exciting to learn about the media technologies which make digital collections possible. Lastly, I’ve been humbled and encouraged by the thought that I have been given a part to play in preserving great works for our future generations.”

More on the progress of Molly’s and TJ’s projects will be forthcoming on this blog.

To learn more about summer internship opportunities with the Baylor Libraries, visit the Baylor Libraries website.

The Armstrong Browning Library is grateful to the generous donor who made these internships possible through the establishment of the Armstrong Browning Library Endowed Internship Fund.

Reflections from a Visiting Scholar: The Victorian Cactus Craze? Succulents in Nineteenth-Century Poetry

By Lindsay Wells, PhD Candidate, Department of Art History, University of Wisconsin-Madison & Dissertation Fellow, Winterthur Museum, Garden & Library

Lindsay Wells

Lindsay Wells, PhD Candidate, Department of Art History, University of Wisconsin-Madison & Dissertation Fellow, Winterthur Museum, Garden & Library

When we think about Victorian houseplants, the phrases fern craze and orchidmania likely spring to mind.  Or maybe it is images of palm-festooned parlors and conservatories, such as those found in the colorful paintings of James Tissot.  Many forms of houseplant horticulture can trace their roots back to nineteenth-century Britain, where ferns, orchids, and palms enjoyed perennial favor amongst home gardeners.  But what about the humble cactus?

At first glance, cacti and other succulents may seem more of a contemporary phenomenon than a Victorian one.  From echeverias and jade plants to sedums and aloes, these plants have become the darlings of many a Twitter feed and Instagram account devoted to indoor gardening. [Figures 1-3]

Yet succulents were also grown extensively in the nineteenth century, when, as Andreas Stynen notes, the modern concept of “houseplants” first emerged (219).  In her groundbreaking guide to indoor gardening, Flora Domestica (1823), Elizabeth Kent included a lengthy entry on the “Great-flowered Creeping Cereus”—a type of cactus renown for its bright blossoms (84). The horticultural polymath Jane Loudon also wrote about the merits of cereus cacti, which she described in her Practical Instruction in Gardening for Ladies (1841) as “singular looking plants” that “should be kept in only green-house heat” (394). [Figure 4] Meanwhile, terrarium inventor Nathaniel Bagshaw Ward recommended “Aloes, Cactuses, Mesembryanthemums, and other succulent plants” to readers of his 1842 treatise on ornamental plant cases (60), as did houseplant expert Elizabeth A. Maling, whose handbook In-Door Plants (1862) featured a pink-flowering cactus in its frontispiece. As these and countless other texts demonstrate, the popularity of potted succulents has proved as hardy and long-lasting as the plants themselves.

My doctoral dissertation, “Plant-Based Art: Indoor Gardening and the British Aesthetic Movement,” explores how houseplant horticulture influenced botanical imagery in Victorian painting and literature. During my recent fellowship at the Armstrong Browning Library, I identified and analyzed various houseplants that found their way into nineteenth-century poems, particularly those from the Library’s 19th Century Women Poets Collection.  Orchids and geraniums are recurrent motifs in these works, as are ferns, palms, and other leafy greens commonly associated with the Victorian parlor garden. [Figure 5]

Fig. 5, Red Geranium watercolor from E.F.C.’s Flowers Culled from Browning’s Poems (DATE), Armstrong Browning Library

Fig. 5, Red Geranium watercolor from E.F.C.’s Flowers Culled from Browning’s Poems (no date), Armstrong Browning Library

However, I also encountered a surprising number of poems about succulent plants.

While some of these works, such as Emily Shaw Forman’s “Prickly Pear (Cactus)” (1895) or Ina Coolbrith’s “Retrospect (In Los Angeles)” (1895), describe cacti growing in the wild or in outdoor gardens, others reference specimens that the Victorians typically kept indoors. [Figures 6-7]

These included the aloe, the night-blooming cereus, and the cactus speciosissimus.  By comparing these poems to nineteenth-century gardening books, I realized that Victorian poets and horticulturalists valued many of the same aesthetic characteristics of the succulent family.  In what follows, I want to highlight some of the poems I examined at the Armstrong Browning Library that illustrate how different nineteenth-century writers took advantage of the expressive potential of succulents in their work.

Much like today, succulents of the Victorian period enjoyed widespread popularity, thanks in large part to their reputation as a low-maintenance houseplant.  Resistant to dry and dusty air, succulents could withstand the conditions of nineteenth-century homes that were heated by coal fires or gas.  Horticulturalist Charles McIntosh noted in 1838 that cacti “require much less labour and attention” than “other exotic plants,” adding that “many of them will exist a long time and without water, without sustaining injury” (171).  The Victorian nurseryman Benjamin Samuel Williams was of the same mind, though he described the appeal of succulents a bit more bluntly: “they will bear with impunity a greater amount of neglect than almost any other plants” (38).

Because of their robust nature, succulents offered nineteenth-century poets a compelling vegetal motif for exploring themes of longsuffering, patience, and fortitude.  The succulent that particularly embodied these virtues was the aloe.  Since they often took decades to flower, aloes, or agaves, earned the colloquial name of “Century Plant.”  Embodying a temporality of the singular and the exceptional, aloes could serve as poetic shorthand for events of extreme rarity.  “Thou art the aloe of the skies” [30] exclaimed American writer Rosa Vertner Jeffrey in her poem about the 1858 sighting of Donati’s Comet, which only passes the earth once every two-thousand years (81).  Poets also refer to this succulent in poems about history.  For example, in “On the Celebration of the Three Hundredth Anniversary of the Foundation of Trinity College, Cambridge” (1849), Anna Potts likens the establishment of a storied university college to the long life of an aloe plant:

’Tis said, once only in a hundred years,

The unbending aloe its bright blossom rears,

But, as those years roll silently between.

Far spread its roots, its leaves are thick and green; [55-58]


Image of that brave plant whose leaves expand,

Whose roots are deepening in the grateful land,

First planted by the royal Tudor’s hand.

Fostered by sunshine, sheltered from the blast.

Three centuries have o’er it scatheless past [61-65]


By drawing parallels between Trinity College and the steadfast, “unbending” leaves of the aloe, Potts implies that this institution “planted by the royal Tudor’s hand” will continue to flourish for many a century to come.

Fig. 8, Dora Greenwell’s “The Aloe,” from Carmina Crucis (1869), Armstrong Browning Library

Dora Greenwell, meanwhile, used the lengthy growth cycle of the aloe to extoll human affections founded upon patience, rather than fancy.  Instead of the common garden flowers—“subtle fancies light and gay” [4]—that bloom each summer only to “spend their souls away in fond excess” [14], Greenwell’s speaker in “The Aloe” (1869) celebrates “A flower that is not fair, / But wondrous” and “rare” [22-24], which won’t culminate in a fleeting moment of passion (3-4). [Figure 8] Such works show how poets mapped concepts of tenacity and constancy onto these sturdy plants.

Another attribute that made succulents fashionable amongst not only gardeners but also poets was their aesthetic charm.  As Williams observed in his handbook on Choice Stove and Greenhouse Ornamental-Leaved Plants (1876, 2nd ed.), “these plants neither lack beauty of form nor diversity of colour, nor singularity or even grotesqueness of appearance” (37). With their sculptural stems and colorful flowers, succulents afforded writers an opportunity to indulge in detailed descriptive passages about vegetal beauty.  Take, for instance, Lydia Howard Sigourney’s “To the Cactus Speciosissimus” (c.1841), which opens with the following tribute:

Who hung thy beauty on such rugged stalk,

Thou glorious flower?

Who pour’d the richest hues,

In varying radiance, o’er thine ample brow,

And like a mesh those tissued stamens laid

Upon thy crimson lip? —  [1-6]

In a later passage, Sigourney adds that these brilliant red flowers:

“[…] bidd’st the queenly rose with all her buds

Do homage, and the green-house peerage bow

Their rainbow coronets.” [11-13]


Similar paeans to the grace and grandeur of cactus blossoms appear in poems by Lady Flora Hastings and Mrs. Graham Campbell.

However, as Kent notes in Flora Domestica, the beauty of flowering cacti was often “short-lived,” for the most striking blooms lasted only a “very short duration” (84).  Many nineteenth-century poets singled out the night-blooming cereus as both the most beautiful and the most transient of such blossoms.  As its name suggests, the night-blooming cereus—a catchall term for several cactus varieties—produces its large, fragrant, snowy blossoms only one night per year.  In her language of flowers handbook, Flora’s Lexicon (1858), Catherine Waterman calls the night-blooming cereus “one of our most splendid hothouse plants.”  Its flower, she adds, is not just “remarkable” because of it is great size and luminous petals, but also because of “the rapidity with which it decays” (150).  Julia Emily Gordon similarly speaks of “transient glee” and “evanescence” (59) when describing a cereus blossom in her poem “The Carnival of Night” (1880), while Eliza Lee Cabot Follen compares the “transient lustre” of this flower to the fading of life’s “sweetest pleasures” and “brightest blessings” (107).

As these poems show, succulents possess an appealing paradoxical complexity that can simultaneously epitomize ephemerality and endurance.  Both the aloe and the cereus weather long seasons of growth before they start to bloom, thereby concentrating a wide spectrum of emotional significance into a single plant.  The current popularity of succulents suggests that these plants are here to stay, and there remains plenty of research to be done on their cultivation history.  I am deeply grateful to the staff of the Armstrong Browning Library for supporting my research on this project and for sharing these collections with me.


Works Cited

Coolbrith, Ina. Songs from the Golden Gate. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1895.

Follen, Eliza Lee Cabot. Poems by Mrs. Follen. Boston: William Crosby & Company, 1839.

Forman, Emily Shaw. Wild-Flower Sonnets. Boston: Joseph Knight Company, 1895.

Gordon, Julia Emily. Songs and Etchings in Shade and Sunshine. New York: Scribner and Welford, 1880.

Greenwell, Dora. Carmina Crucis. London: Bell and Daldy, 1869.

Jeffrey, Rosa Vertner. The Crimson Hand, and Other Poems. Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott & Co., 1881.

Kent, Elizabeth. Flora Domestica, or the Portable Flower-Garden; with Directions for the Treatment of Plants in Pots. London: Taylor and Hessey, 1823.

Loudon, Jane. Practical Instruction in Gardening for Ladies. Second. London: John Murray, 1841.

Maling, E.A. In-Door Plants, and How to Grow Them for the Drawing-Room, Balcony, and Greenhouse. London: Smith, Elder and Co., 1862.

McIntosh, Charles. The Greenhouse, Hot House, and Stove. London: William S. Orr and Co., 1838.

Potts, Anna H. Sketches of Character and Other Pieces in Verse. London: John W. Parker, 1849.

Sigourney, Lydia Howard. Selected Poems. Philadelphia: Edward C. Biddle, 1843.

Stynen, Andreas. “‘Une Mode Charmante’: Nineteenth-Century Indoor Gardening Between Nature and Artifice.” Studies in the History of Gardens & Designed Landscapes 29, no. 3 (2009): 217–34.

Ward, Nathaniel Bagshaw. On the Growth of Plants in Closely Glazed Cases. London: John Van Voorst, 1842.

Waterman, Catharine H. Flora’s Lexicon: An Interpretation of the Language and Sentiment of Flowers. Boston: Phillips, Sampson, and Company, 1858.

Williams, Benjamin Samuel. Choice Stove and Greenhouse Ornamental-Leaved Plants. 2nd ed. London: Published by the Author, 1876.

19th Century Valentines

"Wilt Thou Be Mine?" Victorian Valentine Collection, Armstrong Browning Library

“Wilt Thou Be Mine?” Victorian Valentine Collection, Armstrong Browning Library

Much of today’s Valentine’s Day expectations were created by the Victorians. While sending and receiving Valentines had been fairly commonplace before the 19thcCentury, it was the Industrial Revolution’s advances in paper making and printing which greatly reduced the cost of the traditional, small, and elaborate Valentines. Machine made paper and new printing processes and techniques allowing for combined colors (chromolithography), metallic inks, and die-cutting worked together to decrease the price of Valentines. Victorian Valentines could be purchased ready-made or senders could create original assemblages of materials available from a stationer’s shop. These items included paper lace, mirrors, bows, ribbons, seeds, sachets, gold and silver foil appliques, silk flowers, die-cut mottos or designs, and other items. Additionally, postal pricing reform recommended by Rowland Hill in 1837 and fully adopted in Britain in 1840 with the introduction of the Uniform Penny Post incentivized mass production of Valentines.

"A loving heart is a priceless treasure" Victorian Valentine Collection, Armstrong Browning Library

“A loving heart is a priceless treasure” Victorian Valentine Collection, Armstrong Browning Library

The growth of Valentine’s Day’s commercialization is clearly demonstrated in the increased sending of Valentines as tracked by the British Post Office. Its records indicate that up to 60,000 Valentines were sent in England in 1836. After the introduction of the Uniform Penny Post, 400,000 Valentines were posted throughout England in 1841. The numbers continued to climb, with 542,000 Valentines mailed within London in 1865 and nearly double that amount were sent into London from the surrounding countryside. These numbers led to Victorian postmen receiving a special allowance for refreshments to help them keep up their energy in the 2-3 days leading up to February 14th.

"Valentine's Day; 'Oh! Here's The Postman!'", The Illustrated London News, February 10th, 1872. From the British Library's Collections, Copyright British Newspaper Archive.

“Valentine’s Day; ‘Oh! Here’s The Postman!'”, The Illustrated London News, February 10th, 1872. From the British Library’s Collections, Copyright British Newspaper Archive.

If you are lamenting Valentine’s Day as a commercial racket, blame the Victorians. If you are looking forward to sharing tokens of affection with friends and loved ones, thank the Victorians. Either way here are some Victorian Valentines that you can download and print to share with those in your life expecting or deserving a Valentine’s Day expression of love:

A four page PDF with scans of Victorian Valentines from the Armstrong Browning Library’s Victorian Valentines Collection. Two pages are a classic layout of 9 cards to print and cut out. One page has 4 horizontal designs with a back and front that can be printed, cut, and folded in-half as a card. One page has two vertical designs with a back and front that can be printed, cut, and folded in-half as a card.

If you would prefer individual pages as a JPG file: classic layout page 1, classic layout page 2, horizontal designs, and vertical designs.

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Fall 2018 Instruction Sessions in the ABL

In Fall 2018, the Armstrong Browning Library (ABL) was privileged to either host or contribute materials to 16 instruction sessions. There was one class from each of the following departments: music, art, German, and a University 1000 course. The rest of our instruction sessions were evenly divided between English and history, with each department having 6 class visits.

ABL's Director, Jennifer Borderud, gives University 1000 students a tour of the ABL.

ABL’s Director, Jennifer Borderud, gives University 1000 students a tour of the ABL.

Two classes kicked off their semesters with tours of the ABL in August. Baylor’s Chamber Singers, who practice in the ABL’s McLean Foyer of Meditation twice a week, took a tour of the library to learn the history of the building and to view materials from the library’s Browning Music Collection. A University 1000 came for a tour as well, so they could learn why Baylor is home to one of the most beautiful academic libraries in the United States and discover some of the rich resources that can be found here.

History 1307 students analyze primary sources.

History 1307 students analyze primary sources.

In September, our first section of English 2301: British Literature came twice. The first visit was to compare and contrast our collection of 18th-century editions of Shakespeare’s The Tempest and the second was to compare and contrast publications of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales from 1600 to the present. The Central Libraries Special Collections collaborated with us and provided half of the Chaucer texts. Also, in September, we carried a selection of 19th-century abolitionist literature to Moody Library’s Active Learning Lab (Moody 104) for a History 1307: World History since 1500 class’s instruction session. The Texas Collection, the Baylor Libraries Book Arts Collection, and the Central Libraries Special Collections all contributed resources to an examination of written records of slavery in the United States.

Our ABL Teaching Fellows, past and present, chose to bring their courses to the library during October. The month started with 2017 Teaching Fellow Paul Gutacker bringing his 8:00 a.m. History 2365: History of the U.S. to 1877 class to the library to analyze primary sources relating to 19th-century reform movements. Midway through the week, 2018 Teaching Fellow Joel Iliff brought his History 2365: History of the U.S. to 1877 class to analyze primary sources relevant to the themes he was covering. While the history classes overlapped in their topics and themes, each instructor selected very different sets of resources. At the end of the month, our second Teaching Fellow for 2018, Dr. Ginger Hanchey, brought her three sections of English 2301: British Literature to the ABL for a tour of the building one day, and then brought them back a second day for the opportunity to survey items from the collections which corresponded to the main themes of her course.

ABL resources waiting to be opened by students.

ABL resources waiting to be opened by students.

In between the Teaching Fellows instruction sessions at the beginning and end of October, additional English faculty brought their courses to the ABL. English 5304: Bibliography and Research Methods came to the ABL to learn how to find archival and rare book collections using digital resources and then to explore the variety of resources which are found in special collections. And another English 2301: British Literature class visited the ABL for a short tour of the building and rare materials display of manuscripts relating to the authors they were reading.

November saw the return of 2017’s Teaching Fellow for one last session, and while we are happy to open the library early for instruction sessions (or stay late on occasion) those mornings do require an extra cup of caffeine. In the middle of the month, Art 3356: 19th-Century European Art came for a day to study 19th-century printed illustration styles and techniques. And our final instruction session of the semester involved escorting German 4320: Special Topics in German through the ABL as an exemplar of what constitutes beauty and how such determinations are made.

We at the Armstrong Browning Library are always pleased when faculty members request to bring their classes to the building for tours or instruction sessions utilizing the collections. We are looking forward to returning classes and those coming for the very first time in Spring 2019. For more information about class visits, contact ABL Curator Laura French.

A Curator at California Rare Book School

By Laura French, Curator, Armstrong Browning Library

What is Rare Book School?

Rare book school is a professional (or personal) development opportunity for librarians, curators, academics, antiquarian book sellers, and book collectors to complete an intensive, one-week study of a discrete topic within bibliography and the history of the book. Terry Belanger founded the original Rare Book School at Columbia University in 1983. It has since moved to the University of Virginia.

Attendance at Rare Book School has developed into a sort of rite of passage for librarians working in or interested in working with special collections. Special collections are the research materials that libraries collect which are too valuable, rare, or fragile to leave the library. (The Armstrong Browning Library is made up almost entirely of special collections.) By their very nature of these materials requires additional training beyond what a librarian typically learns in their graduate program. The fastest way to learn the proper way to look after specific types of materials within special collections is to attend a course on that material type or custodianship issue at a rare book school.

Over time several similar institutes have developed. These include:

California Rare Book School

Texas A&M’s Book History Workshop

The Colorado Antiquarian Book Seminars

London Rare Book School

Ligatus Summer School

University of Otago’s Center for the Book’s Australasian Rare Book School

Institut d’Histoire du Livre

The Montefiascone Conservation Project’s Study Programme

What Class Did I Attend? & Why?

This past summer I attended California Rare Book School’s course “Better Teaching with Rare Materials”. The class was led by Michaela Ullmann, Exile Studies Librarian in Special Collections at the University of Southern California, and Robert Montoya, Assistant Professor and Director of the Doctoral Programs in the Department of Information and Library Science in the School of Informatics, Computing and Engineering at Indiana University, Bloomington. The course trains librarians and teaching faculty how to design instruction sessions utilizing special collections materials which will increase students’ primary source literacy.

This course provided me the opportunity to spend one full week focusing on instructional strategies prior to my first semester teaching with the Armstrong Browning Library’s collections. I wanted to attend this course, in part, because this past year the Society of American Archivists and the Association of College and Research Libraries’ Rare Books and Manuscripts Section jointly approved “Guidelines for Primary Source Literacy.” The course also allowed me time to increase my familiarity with the new guidelines prior to the start of the Fall 2018 semester.

What Did We Do?

The five days were broken up into: direct instruction, discussions, and fieldtrips to a variety of special collections and cultural heritage institutions within driving distance of UCLA. The class covered topics such as: setting up an instruction program, special collections pedagogy, strategies for collaborating with teaching faculty, in class assignments and exhibit curation, digital instruction tools, digital scholarship tools, curriculum mapping, and assessment techniques. There were frequent discussions of the instructors, participants, and guest speakers’ successes and failures in each area. Participants were encouraged to envision how they would implement or adapt each of the topics covered for their institution.

The fieldtrips were a valuable component of the course. We visited Special Collections at UCLA, USC, and Occidental College and the Museum of Tolerance. It was so helpful to see the variety of institutions’ instruction space and to hear about the kinds of instruction that they are doing.

What Was the Result?

This course was a great way to prepare for the fall instruction sessions. I came away with plans to create materials which will describe the possible ways the Armstrong Browning Library’s collections can be used by faculty in their courses and new ways to promote instruction sessions to Baylor faculty.