Reflections from a Visiting Scholar: Adventure in the Archives

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

Cheri Hoeckley

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

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

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

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

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

William Henry Darley's British passport, dated 1852

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

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

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

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

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

Darley's passport, dated 1835

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

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

RB Austrian passport

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

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

RB Austrian passport with Tuscan Consulate Stamp

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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]

(82)

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]

(34)

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.

Reflections from a Visiting Scholar: Hair and Hairwork at the Armstrong Browning Library

By Heather Hind, PhD Candidate, Universities of Exeter and Bristol, United Kingdom

Heather Hind at the Armstrong Browning Library

I was delighted to find out earlier this year that I’d been awarded a one month fellowship with the Armstrong Browning Library (ABL) to carry out research for a chapter of my PhD thesis on the Brownings. Even with my preliminary enquiries into the ABL’s collections, I did not anticipate just how fruitful my time here would be.

My thesis is a study of hairwork—the art of making decorative objects such as jewellery and embroidery out of human hair—in Victorian literature and culture. This topic tends to get rather polarised reactions: some are in disbelief that it was a common practice (the hashtag #HairyArchives on Twitter is testament to this), some are a bit grossed-out by idea of keeping hair clippings, while others show enthusiasm for something so curious and of its time. The latter, thankfully, was the reaction of the ABL staff who have all been incredibly helpful and supportive during my stay.

Robert Browning’s grandfather’s hair in an 1830s memorial brooch (H0500).

Robert Browning’s grandfather’s hair in an 1830s memorial brooch (H0500).

I should first explain that hairwork was not an invention of the Victorians. If you count locks of hair plaited and curled into reliquaries and rings, it dates back at least as far as medieval times (see Margaret Sleeman’s ‘Medieval Hair Tokens’, 1981). In the seventeenth century bracelets made of hair had a moment, as attested to by their romantic exchange in John Donne’s ‘The Relic’ and ‘The Funeral’ (1633) and Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1600), in which Egeus complains that Lysander has ‘stolen the impression of [Hermia’s] fantasy / With bracelets of thy hair’. The fashion for memento mori jewellery in the eighteenth century, which often meant incorporating a lock or woven background of hair into a brooch or ring, marks the beginning of the more familiar use of hair for memento mori and mourning purposes. Robert Browning’s grandfather’s hair brooch is a prime example of this. The seed pearls around the brooch were common elements in mourning jewellery, signifying teardrops, and the back of the brooch makes its memorial function clear: ‘Robert Browning Esqr. Obt. Decr. 11th 1833. At. 84’. The popularity of sentimental fiction such as The Sorrows of Young Werther by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1774) played a part in shaping this period of hairwork, associated with romance and deep affection but tied, almost inevitably, to death and mourning. While these morbid associations persisted to some extent in the Victoria era, during the heyday of hairwork in the 1840s-60s it had far more to do with love, family, and friendships—with relationships with the living—than it did with anticipating or memorialising death. This is one of the key points that I make in my thesis and, with the aid of the ABL’s collections, one that can be demonstrated by looking at the place and prevalence of locks of hair and hairwork in the Brownings’ poetry, letters, and personal effects.

There is a lot of the Brownings’ hair to consider. There are forty-nine recorded articles of hair and hairwork connected with the Brownings listed across the The Browning Collections Catalogue and two related archives housed by the ABL, The Altham Archive and The Joseph Milsand Archive. Though the majority of these locks have found themselves stranded in libraries and museums all over the world (at least from Eton to Wellesley College), the ABL holds eighteen of these articles—and they are some of the more interesting pieces, too. Along with eleven plain or ‘unworked’ locks of hair, there are three locks coiled into lockets, three hair bracelets and a brooch. Of these, half are attributed to RB or EBB.

From top clockwise: Hair bracelet engraved ‘E B Barrett’ (H0474), hair bracelet of Mary Moulton-Barrett (G17), and hair bracelet of Henrietta Clutterbuck engraved “March 9th 1838” (G18).

From top clockwise: Hair bracelet engraved ‘E B Barrett’ (H0474), hair bracelet of Mary Moulton-Barrett (G17), and hair bracelet of Henrietta Clutterbuck engraved “March 9th 1838” (G18).

The three hair bracelets in the Altham Archive are the most elaborate pieces in the collection, though they are not unusual for the time they were made. The bracelet belonging to Mary Moulton-Barrett, EBB’s mother, another in memory of Henrietta Clutterbuck (a family friend from when the Barretts lived at Hope End), and the one of EBB’s hair are very similar in appearance. Each consists of a wide band of woven hair fitted with a flat clasp: a popular design in the 1820s and 30s and comparable to other early-nineteenth-century bracelets, such as one made of Anne Brontë’s hair in the Brontë Parsonage Museum, Haworth.

From top clockwise: A hairwork frame from William Martin’s Hair Worker’s Manual (1852), a hair bracelet of Anne Brontë’s hair (HAOBP: J14), and part of the frontispiece of Emilie Berrin’s Thorough Instructions for Women on the Production of All Possible Kinds of Hairbraids (1822).

From top clockwise: A hairwork frame from William Martin’s Hair Worker’s Manual (1852), a hair bracelet of Anne Brontë’s hair (HAOBP: J14), and part of the frontispiece of Emilie Berrin’s Thorough Instructions for Women on the Production of All Possible Kinds of Hairbraids (1822).

This style of hairwork would have been made on a frame or weighted across a cushion in order to plait the many strands of hair evenly and, while this set-up could have been achieved at home by the amateur, was more likely completed by a jeweller or professional hairworker. This transaction was, however, not without anxiety. There is mention in the Brownings’ letters of hair going missing while in the possession of jewellers. Part of a lock of EBB’s hair, requested in a letter by RB and the subject of her poem ‘I never gave a lock of hair away’ (Sonnets from the Portuguese, 1850), was placed in a ring bearing her nickname, ‘Ba’, and sent to a jeweller to be resized for RB’s little finger. When he received the ring back from the jeweller EBB’s hair was gone. She sent him another lock, RB reasoning that ‘it seems probable that there was no intentional mischief in that jeweller’s management of the ring—the divided gold must have been exposed to the fire,—heated thoroughly, perhaps,—and what became of the contents then!’ (15 December 1845; BC 11, 240-41).

Lock of hair cut when Robert Barrett Browning was nine days old (H0501), and lock of hair cut later in life, but undated (H0502).

Lock of hair cut when Robert Barrett Browning was nine days old (H0501), and lock of hair cut later in life, but undated (H0502).

Finely woven hairwork offered a way for friends and family to memorialise their relations and relationships in a wearable and touchable memento. Locks of hair, however, could be equally precious, treasured not for their intricate form but for the affections and memories they manifest. The two locks of Pen Browning’s hair demonstrate this most clearly, one cut when he was nine days old and another undated but, by judging its grisly appearance, cut in later life. The lock cut in Pen’s childhood is curled into the shape of a bow, or perhaps an infinity symbol, a golden token of youth and possibility. The other lock curls untidily round itself, its various shades of blonde and brown and grey marking the passing from youth to old age. EBB wrote fondly of Pen’s hair in her letters (which are fully searchable using the in-house database ABL Research Tools) and occasionally sent locks out to her friends, proud of but precious about his long golden ringlets. She writes to Joanna Hilary Bonham Carter, for instance, ‘I will send you in some niggardly way the ‘hairs’ you ask for—confessing myself a miser’ (25 May 1854; BC 20, 225-26). I am interested also in how hair is aligned in the Brownings’ poetry with gold and precious goods—be they a figure of spiritual wealth or worldly economic value—particularly in EBB’s ‘The soul’s rialto hath its merchandise’ (1850) and ‘Only a curl’ (1862), and RB’s ‘Porphyria’s Lover’ (1842) and ‘Gold Hair: A Story of Pornic’ (1862). The collections of the ABL have provided a rich source of material as I chart these uneasy intersections between hair and money, the gift of hair and its expected return, and hairwork and poetic work.

From left: Hair album of the Estes Family (Texas Collection), manuscript of EBB’s ‘Lines on the Portrait of the Widow of Riego’ and lock of the widow’s hair (H0508), replica of a locket worn by EBB containing RB’s hair (H0493), manuscript page of Leigh Hunt’s ‘To Robert Batty, M.D., on His Giving Me a Lock of Milton's Hair’ (ABL Victorian Collection), and a lock of EBB’s hair (H0479).

From left: Hair album of the Estes Family (Texas Collection), manuscript of EBB’s ‘Lines on the Portrait of the Widow of Riego’ and lock of the widow’s hair (H0508), replica of a locket worn by EBB containing RB’s hair (H0493), manuscript page of Leigh Hunt’s ‘To Robert Batty, M.D., on His Giving Me a Lock of Milton’s Hair’ (ABL Victorian Collection), and a lock of EBB’s hair (H0479).

There are many more curious hair tokens I would like to share from my research, just a sample being: a replica of EBB’s locket encircled by a serpent containing the hair of RB; a beautifully plaited and coiled lock of EBB’s hair; the long plaited lock of the widow of Riego which is tucked inside the manuscript of EBB’s poem on her portrait; a page of the manuscript of Leigh Hunt’s poem on Milton’s hair which begins ‘There seems a love in hair though it be dead’; and the hair album of the Estes family from The Texas Collection of the Carroll Library. Each of these unique artefacts offers a further step to understanding the vibrant and varied culture of hairwork in the nineteenth century.

As Dr Duc Dau noted in her blog post for the ABL last year, ‘For the tactile among us, there’s a certain thrill at the experience of touching these manuscripts and bits of paper’, but it’s this thrill that forms a key part of my project. Sometimes, physical proximity and touch can illuminate more about an artefact than reading about it can—you get a real sense of the scale, texture, opacity or translucency, incongruous lightness or heaviness, and of the fragility or sturdiness of an item that you simply cannot work out with even the best quality digital image. And it’s these precise qualities that need to be defined if we are to understand the affective power hairwork held for the Victorians. The embodied experience of handling and viewing and contemplating locks of hair—seeing the way they want to uncurl and escape from envelopes and regarding the light-reflecting litheness of woven hair bracelets even two hundred years on—makes sense of their lively and allusive presence in the poetry of the Brownings.

I would like to end by thanking all of the ABL staff for their incredible support and for helping me to find resources (and, of course, hair) for my research in places I would never have thought to look. And I would strongly encourage other graduate students in Victorian studies to look into the collections of the ABL—there is much more than just a few locks locked away in the archives.

Reflections from a Visiting Scholar: Whittling Robert Browning

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

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

Dr. Derham Groves at the ABL in 2015

Dr. Derham Groves at the ABL in 2015

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

*****

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Denae Dyck, PhD Candidate, University of Victoria, Canada

Denae Dyck, PhD Candidate, University of Victoria, Canada

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reflections from a Visiting Scholar: Transatlantic Exchanges

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

Professor Mark Sandy at the Armstrong Browning Library

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reflections from a Visiting Scholar: Arnold at the Armstrong Browning Library

By Rose Sneyd, PhD Candidate, Dalhousie University, Canada

Rose Sneyd

Rose Sneyd, Dalhousie University, Canada

While the Armstrong Browning Library’s (ABL’s) trove of EBB- and RB-related resources is a magnet for scholars of both poets, I was drawn to Waco, TX, by the library’s distinct collection on Matthew Arnold. As a doctoral candidate writing my dissertation on the connections between the great Victorian poet-critic and the Romantic poet Giacomo Leopardi, I was very fortunate to receive a two-week fellowship to explore the ABL’s intriguing holdings on Arnold last winter.

One of several highlights of this collection is those unpublished letters of Arnold that are held by the ABL. These include, among others, an 1865 letter to Sir Theodore Martin – one of the earliest translators of Leopardi’s poetry – who sent his translation of Goethe’s Faust to Arnold, who seems to have approved of it; letters (1866, 1873) to an American journalist and acquaintance of Emerson, Charles F. Wingate, to whom Arnold makes fascinating comments about English reviewers and their tendency to “lose[… themselves] in a number of personal and secondary questions”; and a refusal to produce an entry on Samuel Taylor Coleridge in Chambers Encyclopaedia (1888-92) sent to David Patrick in 1887. Such letters provide vital nuggets of information on Arnold’s network of friends and acquaintances on both sides of the Atlantic.

Arnold 1873_2

Letter from Matthew Arnold to Charles F. Wingate, dated 13 September 1873, page 2

Arnold Letter 1873_1

Letter from Matthew Arnold to Charles F. Wingate, dated 13 September 1873, page 1

Another fascinating element of the Arnold author collection is the many editions of Arnold’s works that were owned by prominent Victorian writers, for example: a copy of Arnold’s Culture and Anarchy that he presented to Robert Browning; an 1852 edition of Empedocles on Etna, also given to Browning; John Ruskin’s copy of Merope (1858); and Charles Kingsley’s New Poems (1867). Of peculiar interest are the markings made by some of the owners of these volumes – particularly by the latter two – that provide a delightful insight into how they read Arnold’s work. Ruskin, for instance, took issue with Arnold’s preface to Merope (Arnold’s most concerted attempt to revive the art of Greek tragedy in mid-19th century England). Here, Arnold suggests that the role of the chorus in Greek tragedy is merely to summarise, but Ruskin contends that the chorus’s role is autonomous – not reliant on the drama’s action. “[B]ut surely,” Ruskin protests in imaginary debate with Arnold, “the actors were (at least in Sophocles and Aeschylus) dependent on and subordinate to the actions of the chorus. Not vice-versa” (xliii). Shortly afterwards, Ruskin pursues this marginal disagreement with Arnold. Where Arnold writes that the chorus is “the relief and solace in the stress and conflict of the action,” Ruskin comments: “or an uncomfortable spasm of poetic inspiration” (xliv)! Perusing his copy of New Poems, the reader discovers that Kingsley was greatly interested by Empedocles’s prosaic-monotonous monologue atop Etna – a fact to which his highlighting more than a third of its stanzas testifies – but he also loaded the philosophically antithetical “Rugby Chapel” with strokes of his pencil.

Merope

Marginalia by John Ruskin in his copy of Matthew Arnold’s Merope: A Tragedy, London, 1858 (ABLibrary 19thCent PR4022 .M3 1858 c.3)

But perhaps the most valuable aspect of the Arnold collection are those 100+ volumes from Arnold’s personal library, which were purchased after the death of his grandson Arnold Whitridge. These were acquired by past ABL director Roger Brooks and include, as Brooks put it in a PR release at the time, “Many of the works [that] were well-known influences upon Arnold during his most formative years as a poet and critic.” Thus, there are editions of Aeschylus’s and Euripides’s tragedies (1843, 1855), Aristotle’s Metaphysics (1848), Arnold’s copy of Madame de Stael’s De L’Allemagne, as well as a number of his volumes on Goethe. While library staff have not yet confirmed that the marks and marginalia were written in Arnold’s hand, Brooks was convinced of it: “[Arnold’s] marginalia, underscoring, and indexing are in many of the volumes along with his well-known book plate,” he writes in the same release. Furthermore, the passages highlighted in these volumes are marked in a manner that is consistent across the books in Arnold’s library and there is a letter in an edition of Poems (1881) held by the library against which his handwriting can be compared. It does, then, seem highly likely that the illuminating “marginalia, underscoring, and indexing” are Arnold’s own.

Bouddha

Mathew Arnold’s markings in his copy of J. Barthélemy Saint-Hilaire’s Le Bouddha et sa religion, Paris, 1860 (ABL Matthew Arnold Lib X 294.3 B285b 1860)

Perhaps the two volumes that were of most interest to my research – in terms of their insight into Arnold’s stoic-pessimism – were his copies of J. Barthélemy Saint-Hilaire’s Le Bouddha et sa religion (1860) and of George Long’s translation of Epictetus: The Discourses of Epictetus; with the Encheiridion and fragments (1877). What particularly struck me about Arnold’s underscoring in Saint-Hilaire’s Le Bouddha was his evident interest both in Siddartha’s emphasis on the abandoning of desire: “la pauvreté et la restrictions des sens” (as Saint-Hilare puts it – 21), and in Siddartha’s insistence on the imperative of sharing the knowledge of “truth” that he has gained with men and women (26). The first element – the abandonment of desire – is reminiscent of Epictetus’s stoic tenant that one should be resigned to whatever happens that is beyond our control. Arnold’s interest in this doctrine of salvation – whether espoused in ancient Eastern thought or in ancient Western thought – is something that he shared with Leopardi. The Romantic Italian poet believed that “pleasure” was an impossible, elusive goal for humans, and that it was better for all of us to confront this bitter truth and to ally ourselves against a cruel and indifferent Nature.

Epictetus

Annotations by Matthew Arnold in his copy of The Discourses of Epictetus, translated by George Long, London, 1877 (ABL Matthew Arnold Lib X 188 E64d 1877 )

Similar themes in Epictetus appear to be of much interest to Arnold. In the back of Long’s translation, Arnold has noted an index of those elements which, presumably, interested him most, including, enigmatically, the “fallacy.” On following the page references that Arnold includes alongside this term in his text, you realise that he actually has reservations about the stoic doctrine that I outlined (in very broad terms) above. Thus, when Epictetus writes of “learn[ing] to wish that every thing may happen as it does” (1.12.42), Arnold comments in the margin: “fallacy.” Similarly, when Epictetus poses the rhetorical question: “And will you be vexed and discontented with the things established by Zeus, which he with the Moirae (fates) who were present and spinning the thread of your generation, defined and put in order?” (1.12.44), Arnold writes “fallacy.” However, Arnold seems sympathise more with Epictetus when the philosopher suggests that human beings can overcome the desire to control those “things” in their life that are actually beyond their control: “Do you not rather thank the gods that they allowed you to be above these things which they have not placed in your power, and have made you accountable only for those which are in your power?” (1.12.45). Here, Arnold writes: “between the truth and the fallacy,” and one can only wish that he had elaborated a little on what he meant here!

Despite the enigmatic nature of some of Arnold’s comments, tracing his interests through the markings and marginalia that he left behind in these books is a fascinating enterprise, and one that I hope to pursue at a later date.

Reflections from a Visiting Scholar

 

By Li Gloria” Liu, PhD candidate, Hunan Normal University, Changsha, China

Li “Gloria” Liu in the John-Leddy Jones Research Hall, Armstrong Browning Library.

Li “Gloria” Liu in the John-Leddy Jones Research Hall, Armstrong Browning Library.

I am Li “Gloria” Liu, a PhD student from Hunan Normal University, Changsha, China,majoring in English language and literature. My special interest lies in Robert Browning and his dramatic monologues. Right now I am drafting some chapters of my dissertation. I was fortunate to be awarded a visiting scholarship from September to October 2016 at Armstrong Browning Library and the one-month stay has left me many wonderful memories.

I had been expecting to visit ABL for quite some time for it is one of the most prestigious libraries on Robert Browning. Then my interest was further increased by a professor who told me that this library was a “shrine” to Browning scholars. ABL’s fellowship made my dream come true, so I am greatly appreciative of this precious opportunity. The place is indeed a shrine (for the detailed introduction to its architecture and decoration style, click here). What strike me most are the beautiful stained glass windows, on each of which there are lines extracted from the Brownings’ famous poems. Each piece tells a story and has a style of its own. The artifacts on exhibit are closely related to the poets and their family, including Robert’s ring, letters addressed to relatives and friends, as well as their manuscripts. In one of the drawers of the cabinet in the Treasure Room, there is a portrait drawn by his son (Pen Browning), picturing Robert in a very amusingly arrogant posture. Precious materials of this kind cannot be seen elsewhere. It seems to me that the exhibits try to convey the great poets’ concerns in life, endeavoring to recapture the scene of them working their way to prove that “man’s reach should exceed his grasp” (“Andrea del Sarto,” 97).

One of the most exciting experiences at ABL is to gain access to the rare materials, such as manuscripts and unpublished items. The revisions of works made by Robert Browning are certainly valuable to study, for they reveal the poet’s working process and changing attitudes, as is shown in The Ring and the Book. The poems destroyed by him but accidentally survived in his friends’ hand-copies are also of great value, like his juvenile poem “The Dance of Death,” copied by Sara Flower in her letter to W. J. Fox. Reading his manuscripts, I reached a clearer idea of the development of Browning’s aesthetics, which is of immense importance to me because my dissertation focuses on the transitional role Browning serves between Romanticism and Modernism. Besides, getting in touch with their manuscripts triggers my greater interest in the poets. Browning’s handwriting is difficult for me, especially when he scribbled, which was quite the usual case with him. In contrast, he wrote neatly when he copied his poems (though always short lines). One can perhaps conclude that when he was thinking fast, he wrote fast. I also wondered what the fact may tell us about Elizabeth Barrett Browning that, when doing the final proofreading of her Sonnets from the Portuguese for the publisher in 1856, she copied those poems in their entirety instead of just making the slight changes they needed, as most poets would generally do.

There are whole sets of reference books on the shelf in Belew Scholars’ Room on the third floor, including all series of authoritative texts, comprehensive sets of letters, and the newest publications, etc. The Brownings’ Correspondence not only has an index book for greater convenience, but has full texts in the computer. One just needs to type in the keywords and he can accurately locate the original text. I have also collected all Browning bibliographies from 1971 to 2001, which succeed the two bibliography books tracing back to the year of 1830.

The staff of ABL are very nice and generous to help me. Interim Director Jennifer Borderud is patient and considerate of every bit of my concern. Right after my arrival, Curator of Books and Printed Materials Cynthia Burgess helped with all the necessary information for the use of the library. Not only so, she even printed for me the information of articles and books she thought might be important for my dissertation. It was thirty pages long and very helpful. Every time I requested an item Assistant to the Curators Melvin Schuetz immediately helped me to get it, sometimes even with some other supporting documents. The supporting documents were very useful, because they generally offered greater background information than my knowledge could allow. When I had questions, I would always ask them for help. The most admirable way of their help was that they could provide detailed and accurate information within texts. Graduate Assistant Melinda Creech is very resourceful with my questions and concerns. Discussions with her about poetry and some other related topics were also enjoyable.

Robert Browning, Fra Lippo Lippi, quotation of lines 300–306, “Copied for Mrs. Robert Glover,” 3 April 1871.

Robert Browning, Fra Lippo Lippi, quotation of lines 300–306, “Copied for Mrs. Robert Glover,” 3 April 1871.

I am very thankful to Dr. Joshua King, Margarett Root Brown Chair in Robert Browning and Victorian Studies, who enlightened me with important criticism on my research and suggestions about my argument development. I am especially struck by his reminding me of my neglect of two larger pictures concerning the dramatic monologue as a genre.  He also kindly invited me to have lunch with him even in his tight schedule. The conversation with him was wonderful. I was greatly inspired by his way of thinking. His vision is wide and deep. I also enjoyed very much the discussion with him about some poems by Andrew Motion, former English Poet Laureate who was recently invited to give his poetry reading at ABL. It is so nice of Professor King to offer further help if I have more questions.

When I speak of being fortunate to be at ABL, I do not refer only to the opportunity of conducting researches here, but also of meeting people working here. The ABL staff and faculty of Baylor University in general have greatly impressed me with their way of working and living. Shortly after my arrival, I was kindly invited to join Rita Patteson’s retirement party, the Director of ABL since 2009. I was amazed when I found that she had worked at ABL for 45 years. Her persistent and specialized devotion to both the Brownings and the library is admirable and has made Browning studies even more fascinating. Besides, I also met many professors who are her life-long friends at the reception. The lasting and close friendship among the like-minded people is always a dream for me. What a happy and meaningful life they must have lived!

I owe a lot of thanks to Administrative Coordinator Christi Klempnauer, especially the first week when I suddenly had skin rash. I must apologize for calling her at 5:00 am when the illness became serious, but she always kindly and repeatedly assured me that “I am so glad you called me.” She took me to hospital whenever I needed and was so concerned about my condition that she texted me every short period to make sure of my well-being. She is more than a friend to me. Everyone at ABL has been very nice and kind. They always made me feel welcome and comfortable. Their easy and intimate relationship makes ABL a big happy family.

Furthermore, there are many wonderful cultural events at ABL, even though I am told that September is not the busiest month for such events. Besides the wonderful poetry reading by Andrew Motion, I also had the privilege of enjoying a concert, given by St. Martin’s Voices, a world-level professional choral team and Baylor Bella Voce together. Their music was so beautiful that it deeply touched my heart.

I am thankful to be able to come here and have been happy during my stay. The ABL has allowed me to be with excellent scholars in this field, who have shown to me that doing academic researches, even on such obscure and difficult writer as Robert Browning, could be fun and worthy of life-long passions. The wonderful memories of my stay, I believe, will serve as “life and food” (Wordsworth, “Tintern Abbey,” 65-6) for my future years.

To learn more about the Armstrong Browning Library’s Visiting Scholars Program, visit our website.

Reflections from a Visiting Scholar

By Duc Dau, Research Fellow in English and Cultural Studies, The University of Western Australia

Duc Dau

Dr. Duc Dau, Research Fellow in English and Cultural Studies, The University of Western Australia

In this blog post I hope to provide readers with an insight into some of my recent experiences as a visiting scholar at the Armstrong Browning Library (ABL) and the extraordinary privilege of being able to access unpublished or incredibly rare and precious manuscripts.

I am a research fellow in English and Cultural Studies at the University of Western Australia (yes, it’s very far away from Waco!). I specialise, among other things, in Victorian literature and theology, and am working on a book about the reception of the Song of Songs in Victorian literature and culture. I was awarded a visiting library fellowship at the ABL which I took up in February-March 2016. It was my first trip to both the ABL and Baylor University, and I hope it won’t be my last.

Last year Dr Joshua King, the Margarett Root Brown Chair in Robert Browning and Victorian Studies at the ABL, informed me that the library had strong holdings not simply on Robert Browning (RB) and Elizabeth Barrett Browning (EBB), but also on Michael Field. Michael Field is the pen name of an aunt-niece couple, Katharine Bradley and Edith Cooper, who wrote poetry and drama and kept a multi-volume journal. The ABL has a good number of first editions of their works as well as microfilm copies of their 30 volumes of journal material and 8 bound volumes of correspondence, held in the British Library. Most of the diary material and the letters remain unpublished. Given that I had started writing about the religion and love in EBB’s poetry and about death and conversion in Michael Field’s journals and poems, I decided to apply for a library fellowship and am grateful to have been successful.

One of the best things about being a researcher is having the opportunity to visit the most extraordinary libraries and to gain access to rare and priceless collections. The ABL is one such library. The ABL’s Belew Scholars’ Room is a beautiful and well-resourced location for scholarly research and contemplation. Within minutes of requesting material, the helpful staff are at one’s desk with the items. At the end of the day, the material is placed in one’s own cabinet. One rarely receives this kind of service elsewhere. Staff at the ABL have the wonderful opportunity of locating and purchasing nineteenth-century materials from around the world, and I have been regaled with stories of some of these purchases. Indeed, I have noticed that staff have a strong interest and investment in the library’s holdings and in the Brownings. This passion for the subject matter translates into their work and in their desire to help one make the most of one’s visit to the ABL.

Sonnet 43

“Sonnet 43,” in EBB’s hand, from Sonnets from the Portuguese (D0876)

Researchers are afforded the privilege of accessing and touching (and, for some of us, secretly smelling) handwritten manuscripts and letters written by long-dead authors. These items are usually locked away and not normally available to the general public. For the tactile among us, there’s a certain thrill at the experience of touching these manuscripts and bits of paper. It’s a thrill that few, apart from literary scholars or die-hard fans, would understand, let alone know existed. I was able to view and touch one of the ABL’s most precious items, one of only three extant copies of EBB’s Sonnets from the Portuguese, written in her hand. The sonnets are now part of popular culture and are known and treasured by readers worldwide. In fact, I had emailed a friend and colleague at my university, telling her about the quiet pleasures of being able to access something such as EBB’s handwritten Sonnets from the Portuguese. A few days later she emailed to inform me that when she mentioned my trip to a friend of hers, her friend immediately gushed that she had been reading EBB, admired her work, and thought how wonderful it would be to read the original letters between EBB and RB.

Alas, EBB’s handwriting can sometimes be difficult to decipher and therefore the pleasure of seeing and feeling the pages is blunted by a degree of frustration, at least for me, at the inability to read the words. Such was the case when I first encountered her writing: her notes on two of her Bibles housed at a library elsewhere. I was therefore pleased to discover at the ABL that all her poems have all now been published, so I could divert my attention elsewhere, such as the wealth of secondary materials and historical reviews relating to EBB’s poetry.

Line Upon Line

A page from Line upon Line in which EBB has altered the text to meet her approval (ABLibrary Brownings’ Lib X BL 220.95 H362l v.1-2)

The ABL has acquired items from EBB and RB’s library over the years, and one of the most fascinating books that ABL librarian Cynthia Burgess found for me was a two-volume religious instruction guide for their son Pen. Line upon Line; or, a Second Series of the Earliest Religious Instruction the Infant Mind is Capable of Receiving interprets the Bible through a Christian lens, acting as a didactic tool for children. What I found most fascinating was the fact that EBB had altered select passages to her liking. Every so often a word, several words, or even an entire sentence, would be altered, whited out, to meet her approval. Sometimes these sections are left blank, but usually EBB has written (legibly) over them. Ever the poet, she would occasionally seek to improve on the didactic rhymes dotted throughout the two volumes. Thus, being able to access such items owned and altered by EBB offers scholars an insight into her religious thinking and indeed her personality. At the ABL I was able to delve deeper into my work on the kinds of romantic, religious, and communal love based on Song of Songs imagery in EBB’s works.

I had worked with the original Michael Field material at the British Library, but left much of it untouched as a result of time restraints. At the ABL I had free access to the collection on microfilm, which saved me a great deal of time. My work on Michael Field focuses on how passages from the Song of Songs appear when the authors write about death, particularly at the deaths of Edith’s mother, their mentor and literary hero RB, and their beloved dog Whym Chow. At the ABL I focused on their letters to Browning and on their journal entries written around the time of their conversion to Roman Catholicism and Edith’s final months before her death from cancer. While Edith and Katharine wrote their journal for posterity and publication, they could not have known the identities of their future readers and that I would be one of them, scrolling through their journals in the small microfilm room at the ABL.

Edith and Katharine’s grief at the loss of loved ones is profound in their journals and letters. Their writing about grief furnishes scholars with compelling insights into Victorian mourning, their love of animal companions, and the complex feelings associated with the conversion experience. The poets’ grief at the death of Whym Chow runs over many, many pages, much of it unpublished. They expressed their wish to be reunited with him after death. They wrote a book of poems about him titled Whym Chow: Flame of Love. He was the “flame of love,” whose death, they believed, was the tragedy that brought them into the arms of the church.

For scholars, researching about death and writings concerned with death is never a happy task. It was poignant to see Edith Cooper’s writing deteriorating noticeably in the months leading up to her death from cancer. She had refused painkillers and was in extreme pain. Unlike a novel, a journal does not have a typical beginning or ending; as she wrote she could not have known when her last breath would be. At one point, Edith talks about receiving Viaticum, the Eucharist given to a person in danger of death. At the time she must have thought she was living her final hours. But she was to live and suffer for a few more months.

In the final months she wrote often about flowers, whether they be from the garden, or gifts, or offerings on the altar. She often spoke about lilies and roses. On the day she wrote about “my Solemn Vow of Chastity” Edith says, “So the crucifix is ‘inter lilia’, as the Beloved is among the spouses in Paradise; & ‘inter lilia’ in His real earthly Presence, as the Holy Host, He will rest when he comes to our Home.” The Latin phrase “inter lilia” means “among the lilies,” and derives from the Song of Songs. In this entry, the poet uses the biblical reference to describe lilies on a shrine and then progresses to its rich, theological significance about spiritual purity, union with the divine, and the incarnation. Elsewhere in the journal, Edith reflects on prematurely blossoming roses, “[t]heir rich, marvellous blossoming [that] fades as a very dream.” One feels that she might also have been reflecting on her own premature demise; she would die relatively young, at the age of 51.

Field inscription to RB

RB’s copy of The Father’s Tragedy, Etc., by Michael Field, inscribed: “R. Browning Esq./with sincere regards./Michael Field./June 8th 1885.” (ABLibrary Brownings Lib X BL 821.89 F445f)

I’d like to conclude by saying that, while much of the intellectual work at the ABL occurs among books and manuscripts (among the lilies of the library, as it were), I also found many moments of intellectual stimulation from the lively conversations about poetry, religion, politics, relationships, and Texas with staff and graduate students in the reading rooms, corridors, and kitchen. I was also able to meet or catch up with some of the leading scholars in my field at the library’s fantastic “The Uses of ‘Religion’ in 19th Century Studies” Conference, held in the final week of my visit. All these factors contributed to making my trip to the ABL so pleasurable and memorable.

Dr Duc Dau is a research fellow in English and Cultural Studies at The University of Western Australia, whose position is funded by an Australian Research Council Discovery Early Career Researcher Award. Author of Touching God: Hopkins and Love (2012) and co-editor of Queer Victorian Families: Curious Relations in Literature (2015), her articles have appeared in such journals as Literature and Theology, Religion and Literature, The Hopkins Quarterly, Victorian Literature and Culture, and Victorian Poetry.

To learn more about the Armstrong Browning Library’s Visiting Scholars Program, visit our website.