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.

Lighting Up the Armstrong Browning Library & Museum

Fig. 1

Exterior of the Armstrong Browning Library (above); Georgian-era bow-fronted sideboard (below)

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

Looking at the Armstrong Browning Library and Museum (ABL&M) from the street, the front façade resembles a Georgian-era bow-fronted sideboard, which is in keeping with the building’s overall function as a container for the Browning collection or, more specifically, a Browning cabinet of curiosities.

However, having read the correspondence between Dr. Armstrong and the two architects who separately were responsible for the design of the building, Wyatt C. Hedrick and Otto R. Eggers, and also having bummed around the ABL&M myself as a visiting scholar in December 2014 and January 2015, it was very clear to me that, architecturally speaking, Hedrick’s design of the exterior of the building fell short of Egger’s interiors and the marvelous Browning treasures housed inside the building.

While this was by no means the original intention of either the client or the architect, the ABL&M building’s rather dull exterior is very easily explained. Firstly, so much money had been spent on the interior that savings had to be made on the exterior.

Secondly, by the end of the long-drawn-out design and construction process, the relationship between Armstrong and Hedrick had deteriorated to such an extent that, putting myself in the architect’s shoes, I would have just wanted to finish the job as quickly as possible and move on to the next one.

White Night Festival, Melbourne, Australia

White Night Festival, Melbourne, Australia

Being an architect myself, my inclination was to put things right—albeit decades after the building’s completion. Inspired by the Baylor University community’s enthusiasm for lighting up the Christmas tree in December 2014, I wanted to likewise light up the ABL&M building.

In Melbourne, Australia, where I live, the ‘White Night Festival’ is held for one night only in February each year. On this occasion, many downtown buildings are magically transformed by projecting colours, images and patterns onto their facades. The same thing could very easily happen at the ABL&M.

White Night Festival, Melbourne, Australia

White Night Festival, Melbourne, Australia

So I asked the 110 Master of Architecture students who did my history and theory course, Popular Architecture and Design, at the University of Melbourne in semester two 2015 to design some light projections specifically for the front façade of the ABL&M.

The students focused on mainly four themes: (1) the idea that the ABL&M is a Browning cabinet of curiosities; (2) Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett’s love story; (3) the works of Robert Browning, in particular ‘The Pied Piper of Hamlin’ and ‘The Ring and the Book’; and (4) the influence of Dr. Armstrong. Following is a very small sample of their work.

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Reflections from a Visiting Scholar

By Fabienne Moine, Senior Lecturer at Paris Ouest Nanterre la Défense, France

Dr. Fabienne Moine in the Belew Scholars Room of the Armstrong Browning Library

Dr. Fabienne Moine in the Belew Scholars Room of the Armstrong Browning Library

I have been very lucky to be a Visiting Scholar to the Armstrong Browning Library for the third time. During my first visit in 2007, just after completing my PhD on Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s poetical works, my project was to study the poet’s literary and cultural connexions with other female poets of her time. I had the good fortune to share my interest for female poets with Cynthia Burgess, Curator of Books and Printed Materials, who helped me discover and explore what has become my main field of research since then: Victorian women’s poetry, and in particular poems by non-professional and working-class women. In 2007, ABL had already collected more than 200 books of poetry written by women in English and published from 1800 to 1900. Being immediately bitten by the poetry bug, I developed an insatiable curiosity for poems by Victorian women. While reading most of the poetry books from this collection and growing familiar with all sorts of poets from very different social and geographical backgrounds, I became aware that a noticeable number of them were addressing gender-related issues on a recurring basis, either to support the preservation of heteronormative gender roles or to debunk patriarchal hegemony. Most of the time the poems presented an ambivalent position between renunciation and denunciation. Indeed it remains a conundrum for today’s readers to decipher the real message of Adelaide Procter (1825-1864) in her poetical trilogy “A Woman’s Question” (1858), “A Woman’s Answer” (1861) and “A Woman’s Last Word” (1861).

“A Woman’s Question”

Before I trust my fate to thee,
Or place my hand in thine,
Before I let thy future give
Color and form to mine,
Before I peril all for thee, question thy soul to-night for me.

I break all slighter bonds, nor feel
A shadow of regret:
Is there one link within the Past
That holds thy spirit yet?
Or is thy faith as clear and free as that which I can pledge to thee?

Does there within thy dimmest dreams
A possible future shine,
Wherein thy life could henceforth breathe,
Untouched, unshared by mine?
If so, at any pain or cost, O, tell me before all is lost.

Look deeper still. If thou canst feel,
Within thy inmost soul,
That thou hast kept a portion back,
While I have staked the whole;
Let no false pity spare the blow, but in true mercy tell me so. (Lines 1-20)

Are these poems invitations for women to fly with their own wings or to reintegrate into the domestic sphere after a magical interlude? Similarly, is “Japanese Fan” (1888) by Margaret Veley (1843-1887) preserving female sociability or hiding women’s real secrets?

‘While she spoke and while her slender
Hands would toy
With her fan, which as she swayed it
Might have been
Fairy wand, or fitting scepter
For a queen.
When she smiled at me, half pausing
In her play,
All the gloom of gathering twilight
Turned to day!

Though to talk too much of heaven
Is not well—
Though agreeable people never
Mention hell—
Yet the woman who betrayed me—
Whom I kissed—
In that bygone summer taught me
Both exist.
I was ardent, she was always
Wisely cool,
So my lady played the traitor,
I—the fool’——
Oh, your pardon! But remember
If you please,
I’m translating—this is only
Japanese.

‘Japanese?’ you say, and eye me
Half in doubt;
Let us have the lurking question
Spoken out.
Is all this about the lady
Really said
In that little square of writing
Near her head?
I will answer, on my honour,
As I can,
Every syllable is written
On the fan.
Yes, and you could learn the language
Very soon—
Shall I teach you some August
Afternoon? (Lines 139-180)

Encountering dozens of comparable cases, I realized that I could show how women devised regular poetical strategies while they renegotiated woman’s position and the social codes of gentility and gender. This widened perspective on women poets led me to complete my first study (in French) of the cross-fertilisation of genre and gender in Victorian women’s poetry, Le genre en jeu: Poésie et identité féminines en Angleterre 1830-1900 (Paris: L’Harmattan 2010).

In 2011, I returned to ABL to further my research on women poets of the nineteenth century, choosing this time to concentrate on nature and science-related poems. With the nineteenth-century women poets collection growing fast, more than 300 poetry books were made accessible. I rapidly came across unexpected poets, such as Isabella Southern (dates unknown), whose devotional poems skilfully integrate the scientific knowledge of her time; working-class Mrs. D.H. Gordon (aka “Violet”, dates unknown) who makes use of the fairy in the garden to suit her democratic ideal in “A Fairy Palace”, a poem about a city garden, probably Pittencrieff Park in Dunfermline:

“A Fairy Palace”

I know a fairy palace
(‘Tis a greenhouse through the day),
There’s no moat, and no portcullis,
No seneschal, old and grey;
But there, at night, Queen Mab
Of late has taken her stay.

‘Tis in middle of a garden,
In a pleasant neighbourhood;
It has a gate and warden,
As a fairy palace should;
To see it and its surroundings
Would do any cynic good.

Round the round table, holly green,
At midnight on the clock,
You may behold the fairy queen
And all her elfin folk;
But I forgot, they are unseen
To all who go to mock. (Lines 1-18)

I also encountered “Sims” and “Prima Donna”, two cats whose operatic talents, wittily described by Alice E. Argent (dates unknown), tell much about the poet’s view of the flaws of the class system of her day:

“Prima Donna”

Let others boast their singers fine—
Sims Reeves and Mary Davies,—
I know a greater far than these
A little ‘rara avis!’

She equals Santley’s purest notes,
Albani’s tuneful measure,
E’en Titiens cannot vie with her
Or give me half such pleasure.

For me she sits and sings all day,
A song that none can capture,
It is so fairy-like and low,
Yet, full of careless rapture.

Then can you wonder that my heart
Should fondly dote upon her,
And that within my world she stands
The only Prima Donna!

But you would like to know her name,
If she be young and pretty?
I think her both, but you don’t know
My dainty Persian Kitty!

Such eyes she has of golden brown,
As if the sun had caught them,
Like shining lamps—as if some sprite
With fire had made and wrought them.

And then what singer on the stage,
Dressed finely in the fashion,
Can rival her soft velvet fur
And gaze of wayward passion?

Or own a football half as light
With cushioned feet so tender,
And little ears so quaintly set
Upon a headpiece slender.

For me she sings with ne’er a thought
For money or for praises:
Oh! may her grave when she doth die
Be crowned with simple daisies.

Of cats she is the cat of cats,
The “Empress” is her title,
But hark! will any one take seats,
She’s giving a recital!!

And what about Mrs Louisa Campbell (dates unknown) who is guiding her young readers into deciphering the mysteries of nature, therefore improving both their knowledge of the natural world and their capacity to do good?

“Introduction”

There are voices in the earth and air,
In the river and the sky,
In all things that are bright and fair,
In all that live or die.
There are voices in the garden flowers,
And in the wilding tribe,
In mosses that carpet winter hours,
And pleasant thoughts inscribe
Upon the path we chill-ly tread,
In our dreariest time of year,
When gayer beauties all have fled,
Or died of cold and fear.
Each has some story to relate,
Each has some tale to tell,
And children, it has been my fate
To know, love stories well.
Things speak not audibly ‘tis true,
But all have sculptured thought,
Or characters as plain to view,
If only they are sought.
Then let us wander through the wood,
Stroll onward far and nigh,
For unto him who learns to read,
Their pages open lie.
And we will ask things what they say.
Wherever we may go;
Thus doubtless, we shall every day,
Some little story know.

No doubt the Chartist poet Eliza Cook (1818–1889) is a case in point when one looks for the combination of social commitment and natural discovery. “The Song of the Seaweed” or “The Song of the Worm” are humorous poems, not without a certain healthy dose of cynicism, denouncing human cupidity and selfishness:

“Song of the Seaweed”

I am born in crystal bower,
Where the despot hath no power
To trail and turn the oozy fern,
Or trample down the fair sea-flower.
I am born where human skill
Cannot bend me to its will;
None can delve about my root,
And nurse me for my bloom and fruit;
I am left to spread and grow
In my rifted bed below,
Till I break my slender hold,
As the porpoise tumbleth o’er me,
And on I go—now high—now low—
With the ocean world before me. (Lines 1-14)

While exploring animal poetry, I found genuine poetical treasures such as Violet Fane (1843-1905)’s ” ‘Somebody’s Darling’ ” (1900), certainly alluding to Marie La Coste’s extremely popular memorial to the soldiers who fell during the American Civil War, but the “Darling” in Fane’s poem is a dusty stuffed dog kept in a Wardian case and waiting for some spendthrift client to have a crush on it:

“Here’s the very thing! I had nigh forgot!…
Just as good as new, in a splendid frame,
And so like real that I call him ‘Spot,’
As one never can know his proper name.”
And he took from a shelf in a secret place
A little stuff’d dog in a cracked glass case.

“You’re so fond of dogs, and I make no doubt
That this one has been a regular pet,—
There’s a stain on his collar that won’t come out,
But the bell’s real silver, and tinkles yet.
And then look at the sense in his head and his face;
Why, he’s just like Shakespeare in Hamilton Place!

“And observe the fire that he’s got in his eyes!
And they’re both of a most expensive make—
At the Crystal Palace he’d win a prize
For his eyes alone, and he’d ‘take the cake’
From all the rest! You may mark my word
He’s an animal fit to belong to a lord!

“…His hair comes off?…Why, of course it do!…
And so would yours in a place like this!
But just you take him and comb him through,
And pat him, and pet him, and give him a kiss;
And he’ll grow in beauty ever so much,
And get quite life-like under your touch!”

So he rattled on: “See his tail,—that pert!…
He’s the prettiest creature you ever saw,
Worth his weight in gold, and as cheap as dirt;
And look at the turn of that right-hand paw,
Held out so natural,—ready to shake,—
He’s been somebody’s darling and no mistake! (Lines 55-84)

My second visit to the ABL helped me deepen my knowledge in nature poetry, as I read hundreds of animal poems, flower poems, science poems, garden poems… With this almost limitless reserve of poems in my pocket, I completed my second book, this time in English, under the title Women Poets in the Victorian Era: Cultural Practices and Nature Poetry (Ashgate, due November 2015).

Returning to ABL in 2015, I have pursued a new research project that aims to explore more animal poems and to see how they address contemporary social issues such as vivisection, isolation, domestic violence, and the fear of the Other. I also examine how women use animal poetry to engage in religious questions such as the possible existence of an animal soul; and also how they contribute to the scientific debate following Darwin’s theory of evolution. While examining whether some animal poems challenge the normative cultural practices of the middle-class family, I look at how petkeeping is illustrated in poems, for example in animal biographies and autobiographies in verse – such as those of Ann Dorset (1753-1816) or Eliza Cook. I focus my attention on dogs in particular as I am concentrating on poems about pedigree and breeding – even if curs remain Victorian women poets’ favourites. I have come across some unusual but very funny pieces of poetry, though they deal with the very serious issue of battered women. “Monsieur Henry and His Dog” (1894) by Mrs Murray (Joanna Gregory Laing, 1823-1883?) is about a gentleman who is warned against treating his wife as he does his dog:

How d’ you do, Monsieur Henry? I hope you are well;
And how is Don Carlo, that wonderful swell?
I see in the park he is not to be seen,
And fear that at home he is ill with the spleen.

I hope that your treatment of him is judicious:
Is over-indulgence not making him vicious?
You cherish for him, sir, the highest opinion,
Although ’tis a truth he’s your foundling and minion.

When I saw Monsieur Carlo, your joy and your pride,
Just wander a moment in sport from your side,
I thought when your blows to your friend were so rife,
It is thus you would manage a beautiful wife.

Let me put you in mind how the mother of Byron,
By coaxing and beating did ruin her son,
This hour was a virtue which next was a sin;
Thus she made him unfit for the world he was in. (Lines 1-16)

“The Nightingale and the Pig” (1841), a fable by Elizabeth Sherwin (dates unknown) describes a very improbable and unsuccessful interspecies union, the pig treating the nightingale violently:

The fated nightingale grew sad,
And pined, though all around was glad;
She sighed, with aching heart, to be
As erst, unshackled, wild and free.
How ardently she longed to fly,
And skim again the clear blue sky,—
To gain once more her native bower,
And taste the sweets of mead and flower;
But firm was tied old Hymen’s knot,
Fluttering and struggling mattered not,—
It never made her woes the lighter,
And only pulled the noose still tighter.
No soft companion of her kind,
Was ever near to sooth her mind;
All—all had flown—affrighted by
The growling hog’s brutality,
At each complaint the songster uttered,
Pig only grunted, kicked and sputtered.
Quickly the gentle creature’s song
Was hushed, and as time rolled along,
She grieved alone, unseen, unheard,
A drooping solitary bird.
But soon the welcome hand of death
Received her last faint parting breath;
Like shadows at the close of day,
She sickened, faded, pass’d away.

Moral

Ye gentle maids, who now regard
A single state as very hard,
And with a husband hope to find
More bliss of heart, more peace of mind,
Be cautious how you choose a mate—
Scan well to whom you link your fate:
Avoid the strutting, whiskered elf,
Who blusters and extols himself,
Who visits inns each night, and swears;
Love’s eating, drinking, and cigars;
Or to repent you’ll never fail,—
Be wise,—think of the nightingale. (Lines 107-144)

The two poets’ feminist views are exposed in a very efficient way as animal poetry gives strength to their denunciation of domestic oppression and violence.

Digital humanities have considerably contributed to facilitate access to precious information previously reserved for a chosen few. Since my first visit in 2007, most women’s poetry books have been indexed and fully digitized, offering access to 467 works so far. Access from afar to these wonderful pieces of poetry is extremely valuable: now poems about dogs, peacocks, birds of passage or dormice are served on a silver platter to distant scholars. This being said, there is nothing like holding an old poetry book, gently turning its pages, feeling the quality of the paper and even indulging in the smell of rare books. And, far more important, is the kindness of the ABL staff, always making sure you conduct your research in the best possible way and consistently making themselves available to help you find the perfect gem.

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

 

Reflections from a Visiting Scholar

By Rieko Suzuki, Ph.D., Waseda University, Japan

Rieko Suzuki, Ph.D.

Dr. Rieko Suzuki in the Belew Scholars’ Room, Armstrong Browning Library

It has been a privilege for me to be able to return to the Armstrong Browning Library for the third time—my first occasion being as a participant of the Golden Jubilee Conference, second as a Visiting Scholar in 2007. As I reflect back on the first trip to the ABL, I was heavily jetlagged, worn out by the heat, and overwhelmed by the scale of Texas. Not much had changed regarding the first, but as for the weather, I was surprised to find Texas positively cold in March (only in the first week); as for the last factor, I was well acclimatized to say that it even felt like a homecoming.

My encounter with Texas has been brought about by no other than Robert Browning whose works I have been examining since my doctoral years at the University of Manchester, England, under the supervision of Professor John Woolford. I did not begin my academic career as a Browning scholar, however, but rather as a Shelleyan: I was readily able to see what Browning saw in Shelley and had much to sympathize with; but as years went by, I became captivated by Browning’s works, by his most memorable poems. So it has been a delight for me to spend a full month examining Browning’s works in relation to Shelley.

My goal of this research trip was twofold: to examine Browning’s argument on art and to look at Fifine at the Fair in relation to Shelley. Not only was I able to consult all secondary materials pertaining to the above topics, I was also able to consult the Brownings’ correspondence database that covers their unpublished letters. To be able to do a search for any reference to “Shelley,” for example, and come up with the results in a matter of seconds was truly remarkable. Sure enough, it came up with many, which I need to process in the coming months back home. I am unable, therefore, to disclose any “discoveries” that may shed light on a new influence of Shelley on Browning at this point in time, but hope to do so in due course.

What did I accomplish then during my month at the ABL? I was able to get a good grasp of the art criticism scene in England at the time of Browning’s composition of the painter poems, and I was able to read deeper into Fifine due to secondary materials available at the ABL. It is often the case back in Japan that I need to go look for articles or books not only in my own library but also in other libraries through inter-library loan, which can take weeks to come through. By the time I get all the materials in hand, I may have lost the thread of my argument. Such inconvenience was not once felt here at the ABL, and I am truly grateful for the environment that enabled me to explore further into the topics without being held back.

The holdings of art and artifacts of the ABL were of immense interest and inspiration too: the paintings and sculpture by Pen Browning revealed a taste that he had cultivated; of course, this does not necessarily mean that it was that of Robert Browning, but it did shed light on the kind of artistic environment where Pen developed his taste.

Lastly, I would like to express my gratitude to all the staff at the ABL for the hospitality and professional assistance I received during my stay there: not only in researching on subjects and gaining assistance to go forward, but also in doing my weekly grocery shopping, in enabling me to satiate my taste buds through Texan cuisine, and in getting cultural insight into the south by being invited to see a play. All this amounted to a memorable stay in Waco. Thank you!

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