In the Footsteps of the Brownings in Italy

By Jennifer Borderud, Associate Director and Access and Outreach Librarian

Josh and Jennifer Borderud in front of the Pantheon, Rome

Josh and Jennifer Borderud in front of the Pantheon, Rome

On this day—June 29—in 1861, poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning died in Florence, Italy, and was buried two days later in the English Cemetery there. In March of this year—2016—my husband Josh and I had the opportunity to travel to Italy, the place Robert and Elizabeth Barrett Browning called home during their 15 years of marriage, with faculty, students, and friends of Baylor’s George W. Truett Theological Seminary. The nine-day trip, which included stops in Rome, Pompeii, Herculaneum, and Florence, was part of a course on early Roman Christianity taught by our good friend Dr. Joel Weaver.

The itinerary was full with guided tours of the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls, the Colosseum and the Roman Forum, the Basilica of St. John Lateran, and the Catacombs of St. Sebastian in Rome; St. Peter’s Basilica and the Sistine Chapel in Vatican City; the ruins of Pompeii and Herculaneum at the foot of Mount Vesuvius; and the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore, the Piazza della Signoria, and the Accademia Gallery in Florence. Despite the ambitious agenda, my husband and I (and at times an interested seminarian or two) used the free time we were given in Rome and Florence to seek out sites related to the Brownings and their circle.

Letter from Elizabeth Barrett Browning to Richard Horne on display at the Keats-Shelley House

Letter from Elizabeth Barrett Browning to Richard Horne on display at the Keats-Shelley House

In Rome, we visited the Keats-Shelley House, a museum dedicated to the English Romantic poets who were enamored with and influenced by Rome. John Keats died in this house in 1821 in a room on the second floor overlooking the Spanish Steps. On display throughout the house were books, manuscripts, and other items relating to the lives and works of Byron, Shelley, and Keats. There were items relating to the Brownings as well.

After our visit to the museum, a short walk took us to the doorstep of Bocca di Leone 43, where the Brownings lived during extended winter stays in Rome. A plaque at the corner of the street commemorates the Brownings’ residency.

Via Bocca di Leone, Rome

Via Bocca di Leone, Rome

Angel of Grief by William Wetmore Story, Non-Catholic Cemetery, Rome

Angel of Grief by William Wetmore Story, Non-Catholic Cemetery, Rome

Heading quickly back toward the Spanish Steps, we had just enough time to take a taxi to Rome’s Non-Catholic Cemetery (Il Cimitero Acattolico di Roma). Located adjacent to the Pyramid of Caius Cestius, the Non-Catholic Cemetery is the burial place of both John Keats and Percy Shelley. American sculptor and Browning friend William Wetmore Story and his wife Emelyn are also buried there. I had seen photographs of the grave stone Story designed for his wife, called the Angel of Grief, and was particularly interested in seeing it in person. It was stunningly beautiful. Not long after we returned to Waco from Italy, I learned that a replica of Story’s Angel of Grief could be found in Waco’s Oakwood Cemetery, practically in my own backyard.

We only spent a day and a half in Florence, but we had just enough free time to make two important stops. After walking across the Ponte Vecchio, we found our way to Casa Guidi, the Brownings’ primary home in Italy, which has been restored to look as it did when the Brownings lived there. We stood in the salon where Elizabeth spent time writing Casa Guidi Windows and Aurora Leigh, and we walked along the balcony where Robert and Elizabeth would take walks and where Elizabeth watched processions celebrating political victories.

Casa Guidi, Piazza San Felice 8, Florence

Entrance to Casa Guidi at Piazza San Felice 8, Florence

Jennifer Borderud with Julia Bolton Holloway (left) and a Roma woman who takes care of the cemetery (center)

Jennifer Borderud with Julia Bolton Holloway (left) and a Roma woman who takes care of the cemetery (center)

We did not have time to visit the nearby Pitti Palace and Boboli Gardens, which were frequented by the Brownings. However, we did visit the Protestant Cemetery (Cimitero degli Inglesi), where we met Julia Bolton Holloway, the custodian of the cemetery, who works with the Roma people to maintain the cemetery and grounds. We also laid flowers on Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s grave to honor her life and work.

Laying flowers on Elizabeth Barrett Browning's Grave

Laying flowers on Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s Grave

We had a wonderful week, and while there are more Browning sites to see, we understand why they loved Italy. We also made sure to rub the bronze boar’s snout in the Mercato Nuovo to ensure our return to Florence and another opportunity to follow in the footsteps of the Brownings.

Thank you to Dr. Joel Weaver and Dr. Steve Reid and to the students and friends of the George W. Truett Theological Seminary for letting us explore Italy with you.

Faculty, students, and friends of the George W. Truett Theological Seminary, Vatican City, 8 March 2016

Faculty, students, and friends of the George W. Truett Theological Seminary, Vatican City, 8 March 2016



Text Mining the Brownings’ Love Letters

With love in the air as Valentine’s Day quickly approaches, Digital Scholarship Liaison Librarian Megan Martinsen decided to text mine the love letters of Robert and Elizabeth Barrett Browning to see what discoveries she might make about the Brownings’ romance using digital tools. What she found she described in a recent blog post as “interesting, staggering, and heartwarming.” Read Megan’s full post here, and find the Brownings’ love letters with full transcriptions on the Baylor University Libraries Digital Collections website.

Color Our Collections

Coloring enthusiasts get ready! The Armstrong Browning Library and more than 30 other special collections libraries and cultural heritage institutions are inviting you to #ColorOurCollections, an event organized by the New York Academy of Medicine Center for the History of Medicine and Public Health. From February 1-5, 2016, download images from the Armstrong Browning Library’s collection, color them, and share them on social media using the hashtag #ColorOurCollections.

To download an image, click on the image below and then print or click on the image, right click, and “save image as” before printing. To download the coloring book version of the image, click on the link provided.

Special thanks to Eric Ames, curator of digital collections for the Baylor Libraries, for creating the coloring book pages for us!

Happy coloring!

The Grave, a Poem by Robert Blair. Illustrated by Twelve Etchings Executed from Original Designs [by William Blake]. London: Printed by T. Bensley, for the proprietor, R.H. Cromek, and sold by Cadell and Davies, [etc.], 1808. [ABLibrary Rare OVZ X 821.59 B635g]

Coloring book version: Blake Coloring Page

The Pied Piper of Hamelin by Robert Browning. Illustrated by Jane E. Cook. London: Printed for Private Circulation, 1880. [ABLibrary Rare OVZ X 821.83 O1 C771p c.2]

Coloring book version: Browning Coloring Page

Sketch by Robert Browning, Sr., father of poet Robert Browning. [Browning Collections J4]

Sketch by Robert Browning, Sr., father of poet Robert Browning. [Browning Collections J4]

Sketch by Robert Browning, Sr., father of poet Robert Browning. [Browning Collections J23.1]

Sketch by Robert Browning, Sr., father of poet Robert Browning. [Browning Collections J23.1]

The Works of Geoffrey Chaucer, Now Newly Imprinted. Ornamented with pictures designed by Sir Edward Burne-Jones, and engraved on wood by W. H. Hooper. Upper Mall, Hammersmith, Middlesex: Kelmscott Press, 1896. [ABLibrary 19thCent OVZ PR1850 1896]

Coloring book version: Chaucer Coloring Page

Goblin Market and Other Poems by Christina Rossetti, with two designs by D. G. Rossetti. Cambridge, London: Macmillan and Co., 1862. [ABLibrary 19thCent PR5237 .G6 1862 and online]

Coloring book version: Rossetti Coloring Page

Aratra Pentelici. Six Lectures on the Elements of Sculpture, Given before the University of Oxford in Michaelmas Term, 1870 by John Ruskin. New York: John Wiley and Sons, 1891. [ABLibrary 19thCent ND467 .R93 1891]

Coloring book version: Ruskin Coloring Page

The Works of Mr. William Shakespear. London: Printed for Jacob Tonson, 1709. [ABL Stokes Shakespeare 822.33 S527w 1709 v.1]

Coloring book version: Shakespeare Coloring Page

New Research and Teaching Tool for 19th-Century Studies Unveiled

By Jeremy Land, Ph.D. Candidate, Department of English

Baylor’s 19th Century Research Seminar (19CRS), an interdisciplinary forum for faculty and students in and outside of Baylor University to present and hear original research in all areas of nineteenth-century studies, is proud to announce the launch of its completely redesigned website. This project was developed in conjunction with Baylor’s English department and the Armstrong Browning Library. In the past, 19CRS’s blog was simply a message board to notify interested parties about upcoming events. The redesigned site will still keep our supporters informed about all the innovative research sponsored by 19CRS; however, the added features are designed to make the site more of a tool for all those interested in studying the nineteenth century.

19CRS has complied an exhaustive list of internet sites to support both research and teaching. Topics range from nineteenth century art to African-American studies to Victorian literature and everything else we could possibly compile.  All of these resources are either peer reviewed by NINES or hosted by a university so that we could guarantee the quality of the materials.  In addition we only selected sites that provide immediate access to records, images, manuscripts, or other digital information useful to scholars, students, and teachers.

In case you were unable to come to our monthly seminars, 19CRS’s new site has begun to catalog our past presenters’ presentations. If you missed a presentation, or perhaps you want to reference something from a lecture in your own research, you can now down load a PDF copy, when available, for your projects. Or if you really enjoyed the current lecture and felt there was not enough time to finish the discussion or were later inspired by what you heard, 19CRS’s blog now offers a discussion forum for interested parties.

Other features include a place for teachers to share syllabi, reviews showcasing important books from Baylor faculty and 19CRS presenters, and the Armstrong Browning Library’s latest acquisitions. Regardless of your level of experience or expertise, we think our new site has something to offer those interested in the nineteenth century. As always, we invite you to share in our new site, offer feedback on improving it, and to join us for our monthly lecture series.

19CRS Blog

Learn more about the 19th-Century Research Seminar here:


The 2,000,000th Volume

By Rita S. Patteson, Director of the Armstrong Browning Library

When Jennifer Borderud and I chatted with University of Houston librarians Pat Bozeman and Julie Grob at the annual Rare Books and Manuscripts Preconference in Las Vegas in June, we learned a very interesting fact. In 1998, a special edition of Robert Browning’s Men and Women (Hammersmith: Doves Press, 1908) was the two-millionth volume added to the M.D. Anderson Library at the University of Houston.

And what a volume!  It is one of only thirteen copies printed on vellum, hand-decorated and signed by Edward Johnston, and specially bound in 1914 at Doves Press by T.J. Cobden-Sanderson. This two-volume edition contains the bookplates of three noted former owners: “The Doves Press. Ex Libris. Alfred Fowler”; “Ex Libris Cortland Field Bishop”; and “John S. Saks.”  It was sold at Christie’s New York auction house as part of Mr. Saks’ Doves Press collection and presented to the Anderson Library by the current and former University of Houston Libraries staff, with assistance from Detering Book Gallery, Inc.

Excuse me for being jealous!

Page 184, volume 2, of Doves Press Men and Women

Page from Baylor’s Doves Press edition (one of 250 printed on paper), alas, not one of the 13 on vellum!

Dr. Armstrong’s “Mammoth” Pied Piper Pageant

Ninety years ago on 9 June 1924, Dr. A.J. Armstrong, founder of the ABL and chair of Baylor’s English department from 1912-1952, staged in the middle of Baylor University’s campus what the Waco Times-Herald called in an article on 1 June 1924 a “mammoth” pageant.  The pageant was based on Robert Browning’s poem “The Pied Piper of Hamelin” and featured Baylor students as well as 400 Waco school children under the direction of Lillie Martin, professor of primary education at Baylor.  Parents of the children who participated in this dramatic presentation of Browning’s poem were instructed to provide their children “with a costume for a rat, something on the order of the brownie costumes, one piece with rat ears, a tail which should be stuffed with cotton or excellsior and perhaps wired.  The length of the tail,” the instructions continued, “should vary according to the age of the child.”

Baylor student Annie Lee Truett as the Pied Piper

Baylor student Annie Lee Truett as the Pied Piper

During the pageant, the children, dressed as white, gray, brown, and black rats, remained out of view of the crowd until they were lured by the sound of the Pied Piper’s flute from their hiding places in the doorways of buildings and the bushes around the Burleson Quadrangle.  After scurrying through the crowd, the children once again disappeared as they followed the Pied Piper, played by Annie Lee Truett, later returning to join the crowd as “children” for the remainder of the event.

Crowd at Pied Piper Pageant

Crowd at the Pied Piper Pageant. Dr. Armstrong is the man in white holding a little boy in his lap. (Photo: Whayne H. Farmer, Waco, Texas)

The pageant, which according to the Waco News Tribune on 10 June 1924 drew a crowd of several thousand from Waco and all over Texas, was one part of a larger program that featured the dedication of three stained-glass windows for the Browning Room in Carroll Library.  Mrs. Moselle Alexander McLendon presented Baylor with a window based on Browning’s “Pied Piper” poem.  Mrs. J.V. Brown on behalf of San Marcos Academy presented a window representing Browning’s “How They Brought the Good News from Ghent to Aix.”  And Mrs. E.D. Head, speaking for Mrs. Carrie C. Slaughter of Dallas, presented a window depicting Browning’s poem “The Guardian Angel.” The windows, designed by the Haskins Studio of Rochester, New York, were received by Baylor President Samuel Palmer Brooks.

Pied Piper Window

The Pied Piper Window, Leddy-Jones Research Hall, Armstrong Browning Library

The presentation was preceded by an operetta of The Pied Piper of Hamelin by R.H. Walthew and was sung by Baylor Professor W.N. Payne, Mrs. Royal C. Stiles, Mrs. Harold T. Dawson, and Mr. C.S. Cadwallader.  Professor Robert Markham accompanied the performance on the piano.  The crowd was invited to view the windows in the Browning Room at the conclusion of the program.  The three windows presented to Baylor at the 1924 Pied Piper Pageant can now be seen in the Leddy-Jones Research Hall of the Armstrong Browning Library.


Selection for Margarett Root Brown Chair in Robert Browning and Victorian Studies Announced

During the Armstrong Browning Library’s annual Browning Day celebration on May 7, Pattie Orr, Vice President for Information Technology and Dean of University Libraries, publicly announced the selection of Dr. Joshua King, Associate Professor (effective August 2014) of English at Baylor University, as the next holder of the Margarett Root Brown Chair in Robert Browning and Victorian Studies.

Brown Chair Announcement

Dean Pattie Orr announces the selection of Dr. Joshua King as holder of the Margarett Root Brown Chair in Robert Browning and Victorian Studies

As Chair, Dr. King will serve as a scholar-in-residence for the Armstrong Browning Library, researching and publishing on materials related to the Library’s holdings and attending and designing scholarly and outreach events to promote the Library’s standing as a world center for Victorian studies.

Since its establishment by the Brown Foundation in 1971, this position has been held by members of the Baylor faculty as well as visiting international scholars. Past Chair holders include Dr. Jack W. Herring (1971-1984), Dr. Roger L. Brooks (1987-1994), Dr. Mairi Rennie (1996-2002), Dr. Stephen Prickett (2003-2008), and Dr. Kirstie Blair (2012).  Dr. King will begin his three-year term as Chair this summer (2014) and will be eligible for additional terms thereafter.

Browning Day Program 2014

Browning Day Program 2014

In addition to Dean Orr’s announcement, this year’s Browning Day, celebrating Robert Browning’s 202nd birthday, featured music organized by ABL Artist-in-Residence Carlos Colón and performed by Chris Martin, recognition of D.M. Edwards in appreciation of the D.M. Edwards Library Internship Endowed Scholarship Fund, and a presentation on The Browning Letters project.  The presentation, given by Darryl Stuhr and Eric Ames from Baylor University, Ian Graham from Wellesley College, and Anna Sander and Fiona Godber from Balliol College, was followed by a reception in the Library’s Seminar Room.  Visit the Baylor University Libraries Digital Collections Blog to learn more about the presentation and The Browning Letters project.

ABL Makes List of the “16 Coolest College Libraries in the Country”

The Business Insider, a business and technology news website, recently listed the Armstrong Browning Library as one of the “16 Coolest College Libraries in the Country.”

Other special collections libraries included on the list were the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Yale University, the George Peabody Library at Johns Hopkins University, and the Wilson Library at the University of North Carolina.

Commemorating Robert Browning at Westminster Abbey

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

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

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

Nancy Jackson with a wreath
at Robert Browning’s grave

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

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

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

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

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

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

Armstrong Browning Library Benefactors Day 2013 Exhibit

Letters of Robert and Elizabeth Barrett Browning at Wellesley College

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

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

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


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

28 [-29] May 1828.

Courtesy of Wellesley College Library, Special Collections

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

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

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


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

29 November 1842.

Courtesy of Wellesley College Library, Special Collections

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

One example follows:

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


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

Courtesy of Wellesley College Library, Special Collections

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

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

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


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

Courtesy of Armstrong Browning Library

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

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

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


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

19 July 1843.

Courtesy of Wellesley College Library, Special Collections

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

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


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

16 September 1843.

Courtesy of Wellesley College Library, Special Collections

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

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

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


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

1 January 1844.

Courtesy of Wellesley College Library, Special Collections

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

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


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

[Early July 1846].

Courtesy of Wellesley College Library, Special Collections

EBB hints at her plans to marry RB:

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

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


Letter from Elizabeth Barrett Browning to Mary Russell Mitford.

[18 September 1846].

Courtesy of Wellesley College Library, Special Collections

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

EBB writes to Miss Mitford:

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


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


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


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


 Letter from Elizabeth Barrett Browning to Anna Brownell Jameson.

30 April [1849].

Courtesy of Wellesley College Library, Special Collections

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

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

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


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

Courtesy of Wellesley College Library, Special Collections

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

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

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


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

Courtesy of Wellesley College Library, Special Collections

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

RB writes of the indiscretion to Mr. Kenyon:

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


Letter from Elizabeth Barrett Browning to Mary Russell Mitford.

[21-22 January 1852].

Courtesy of Wellesley College Library, Special Collections

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

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

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

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


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

Courtesy of Wellesley College Library, Special Collections

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

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


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

Courtesy of Wellesley College Library, Special Collections

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

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


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

Courtesy of Wellesley College Library, Special Collections

EBB writes of her estrangement from her father:

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


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

Courtesy of Wellesley College Library, Special Collections

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

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