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One of the most exciting experiences at ABL is to gain access to the rare materials, such as manuscripts and unpublished items.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.

Reflections from a Visiting Scholar: Designing Dr. Armstrong’s Cabinet of Curiosities

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

Dr. Derham Groves at the ABL

Dr. Derham Groves at the ABL

While browsing through a copy of the Times Literary Supplement in the staff club at Melbourne University, where I teach architecture, I came across a call for applications for visiting scholars to the Armstrong Browning Library (ABL) at Baylor University in Waco, Texas.

The ABL houses the world’s largest collection of materials relating to the lives and work of the married Victorian-era poets, Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett Browning. This collection was assembled over many years by Dr. Andrew Joseph Armstrong, the much-admired and respected Head of the English Department at Baylor between 1912 and 1952. It includes a number of intriguing so-called ‘relics,’ such as a plaster of Paris rosette from the ceiling of the church where Robert Browning was christened, a window latch from Browning’s study, and a dried rose from Browning’s mother’s garden that he sent to Elizabeth Barrett during their courtship. A number of these relics have a tenuous—if not even a dubious—connection to the Brownings, nevertheless, they have a mysterious fascination that is difficult to explain.

Fig. 1: A window latch from Robert Browning’s study, on display in the Hankamer Treasure Room at the ABL.

Fig. 1: A window latch from Robert Browning’s study, on display in the Hankamer Treasure Room at the ABL.

Dr. Armstrong’s Browning collection was first housed in an alcove in the Carroll Library at Baylor. When it outgrew that, it was housed in a room in the same building. When it outgrew that, it was housed in the Armstrong Browning Library. Dr. Armstrong was also the driving force behind the design and construction of this very handsome building. His lofty ambition was to create one of the most beautiful buildings in America—if not the world—especially for his Browning collection.

Libraries and museums specially designed for particular collections have interested me ever since 1981, when—for my final-year undergraduate architectural design project at Deakin University in Geelong, Victoria, Australia—I designed a building to house the world’s largest Sherlock Holmes collection at the University of Minnesota. This project first alerted me to the fascinating process of matching a ‘container’ to its ‘contents,’ as it were, not only in a pragmatic sense, but also in a symbolic sense.

Fig. 2: The Sherlock Holmes Centre (1981) designed by Derham Groves.

Fig. 2: The Sherlock Holmes Centre (1981) designed by Derham Groves.

I am also very interested in cabinets of curiosities. Traditionally, they consisted of an eclectic assemblage of things, which often included sham objects that were presented as genuine. They were collected for their entertainment value by one person, who would proudly display them in an elaborate cabinet. Larger collections were housed in entire rooms or whole buildings, but the name, “cabinet of curiosities,” stuck. Significantly, the origins of today’s museums date back to the cabinets of curiosities of the 1600s.

In recent years there has been a lot of interest in the narrative possibilities of cabinets of curiosities, especially from architects, artists, curators, and writers. The reconstruction of Strecker’s Cabinet of Curiosities in the Mayborn Museum, which is also at Baylor University, the Museum of Jurassic Technology in Culver City, California, and the Museum of Innocence in Istanbul, Turkey, are examples of the current interest in cabinets of curiosities.

Fig. 3: The Museum of Jurassic Technology in Culver City, California.

Fig. 3: The Museum of Jurassic Technology in Culver City, California.

Fig. 4: Stecker’s Cabinet of Curiosities in the Mayborn Museum at Baylor University.

Fig. 4: Stecker’s Cabinet of Curiosities in the Mayborn Museum at Baylor University.

Clearly, buildings specially designed for particular collections and cabinets of curiosities have plenty in common. Indeed, in my view, the Armstrong Browning Library has enough similarities to a cabinet of curiosities to be regarded as almost one. Like a number of cabinets of curiosities, the ABL:

1) Began as one person’s hobby/plaything/obsession.

2) Contains a number of real curiosities.

3) Developed into a major library-museum.

4) Occupies an elaborate, purpose-designed building/container.

In my visiting scholar application, I proposed researching the design of the Armstrong Browning Library from the point of view of a contemporary cabinet of curiosities. I also wanted to reflect on the best strategy for designing a contemporary cabinet of curiosities: the German modernist architect, Mies van der Rohe’s “less is more” or the American postmodernist architect, Robert Venturi’s “less is a bore”?

While boning up on the poets, I was intrigued to learn that Robert Browning had penned the phrase, “less is more,” decades before van der Rohe had used it to encapsulate his architectural design philosophy.

Fig. 5: A Browning cabinet of curiosities by Derham Groves.

Fig. 5: A Browning cabinet of curiosities by Derham Groves.

Fortune smiled on me and I spent December 2014 and the first part of January 2015 at the ABL. In preparation for my visit, I asked the architecture students who took my Popular Architecture and Design course in 2014 at the University of Melbourne to each design a reliquary for one of the Browning relics on the Armstrong Browning Library website. Traditionally, a reliquary was an ornate, purpose-designed container/display cabinet for a bone or other sacred relic that had belonged to a saint. In other words, it was a cabinet for only one curiosity.

Following is a small sample of the reliquaries designed by the architecture students. In my opinion, the best ones managed to put the relics they were designed for into context. For example, Sophie Barodel designed a reliquary shaped like a train carriage to contain Jean Sherwood’s travelling tea set, which Robert Browning used once while travelling by train from Venice to Florence; Brendan Chen designed a reliquary in the form of a model of the Palazzo Dorio, the house of the Brownings’ son, Pen, to contain its front door knocker; and Eric Nakajima designed a reliquary made from fountain pens to contain Robert Browning’s inkwell. Interestingly, most of the students’ reliquaries followed the postmodernist idiom, “less is a bore.”

Fig. 6: A reliquary for a rose sent by Robert to Elizabeth, designed by Adrian Bonaventura.

Fig. 7: A reliquary for Jean Sherwood’s travelling tea set, designed by Sophie Barodel.

Fig. 7: A reliquary for Jean Sherwood’s travelling tea set, designed by Sophie Barodel.

Fig. 8: A reliquary for some Laurel leaves from Robert Browning’s coffin, designed by Samuel Brak.

Fig. 8: A reliquary for some Laurel leaves from Robert Browning’s coffin, designed by Samuel Brak.

Fig. 9: A reliquary for the front door knocker of Palazzo Dorio, designed by Brendan Chen.

Fig. 9: A reliquary for the front door knocker of Palazzo Dorio, designed by Brendan Chen.

Fig. 10: A reliquary for Robert Browning’s snuffbox, designed by Diana Yong.

Fig. 10: A reliquary for Robert Browning’s snuffbox, designed by Diana Yong.

Fig. 11: A reliquary for Robert Browning’s inkwell, designed by Eric Nakajima.

Fig. 11: A reliquary for Robert Browning’s inkwell, designed by Eric Nakajima.

Most of my time at the Armstrong Browning Library was spent reading the fascinating correspondence between Dr. Armstrong and the two architects who together, but working independently, designed the building: Hedrick C. Wyatt of Fort Worth, Texas, and Otto R. Eggers of New York, who had previously designed the Pantheon-inspired, Thomas Jefferson Memorial (1939) in Washington, DC.

I am currently writing all of this up. I plan to finish my essay, entitled “Designing Dr. Armstrong’s cabinet of curiosities,” by the end of the year. (I have another ABL-related student project in mind for semester two, which I’d like to include as part of this.) I will discuss how Dr. Armstrong briefed Wyatt and Eggers about the design of the Armstrong Browning Library, and how they in turn responded to his instructions. Suffice it to say for now that, from an architect’s point of view, Dr. Armstrong was the client from Hell!

My sincere thanks go to the staff of the Armstrong Browning Library who looked after me so well while I was there, especially Rita Patteson, Cyndie Burgess, Christi Klempnauer, and Melvin Schuetz.

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

Reflections from a Visiting Scholar

By Ana Gonzalez-Rivas Fernandez, Ph.D., Autonomous University of Madrid, Spain

My research fellowship at the Armstrong Browning Library during the month of August 2014 was not only a thoroughly enriching academic experience that gave me the opportunity to discover the legacy of Elizabeth Barrett Browning first-hand, but also a personal one which was both inspiring and unforgettable, and which revealed to me the immense charm of Texas and its people.

Ana Gonzalez-Rivas Fernandez

Ana Gonzalez-Rivas Fernandez, Ph.D.

The aim of my research was to analyze different aspects of Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s take on the classical literature of Greece and Rome, making use of her personal reading as well as her formal and non-formal education. With this in mind, the Armstrong Browning Library was an excellent source of books, textbooks, letters and diaries, material that provided me with much invaluable input for my study. There can be little doubt that writers’ personal collections provide the best possible snapshot of their personal tastes as readers, revealing both their choices and their reading habits. At times, too, the dedicatory or the marginalia also give us some clues about the way they are or the way they think. These texts, free from academic restrictions, show the real-life reader hiding behind the public image of the author, and provide us with an exceptional point of view for the analysis of their literary work. In the case of Elizabeth Barrett Browning, her love-hate relationship with the classics soon becomes evident, reflecting both the enthusiasm she felt in her youth (when the classics helped her form an important bond with “Bro,” her favourite brother) and the total indifference she showed in her later years. This voluble relationship with the classics was of course reflected in her literary output, from her first poem “The Battle of Marathon” up to “The Dead Pan,” which represents the death of the classical gods and, most probably, also the end of their influence on Elizabeth’s life.

During my research at the ABL, I was able to make use of a number of databases that were to prove indispensable, such as The Brownings: A Research Guide, The Brownings’ Correspondence: An Online Edition, and the in-house database ABL Research Tools. It was both an honour and a privilege to have access to the very same works used by Elizabeth Barrett Browning in the 19th century, and to make my own record of the different editions she read. The vast collections of the Armstrong Browning Library and of Baylor University also allowed me to consult a large number of secondary sources, which helped me to ground and finally complete my research.

Workshop-Bibliophilia and Classical Studies

Workshop: “Bibliophilia and Classical Studies: The Humanists and Their Bibliographical Legacy”

Some of the results of my study were presented at the academic workshop “Bibliofilia y estudios clásicos: los humanistas y sus legados bibliográficos” (“Bibliophilia and Classical Studies: The Humanists and Their Bibliographical Legacy”) held at the “Marqués de Valdecilla” History Library at the Complutense University in Madrid on the 3rd and 4th of December 2014, and organized by the “Historiografía de la Literatura Grecolatina en España” (“Historiography of Greco-Roman Literature in Spain”) research group, of which I am a member. Examination of the Latin volumes and grammar books of Barrett Browning afforded me a clear view of what a bibliophile the poet was, the owner of not only many of the key works of the 19th century canon, but also of other rarer editions.

Library of Humanities, Autonomous University of Madrid

Humanities Library,
Autonomous University of Madrid

I am currently leading a teaching project at the Autonomous University of Madrid, acting as coordinator for a group of students researching the life and work of Barrett Browning and translating articles and studies relating to her. This project provides a number of students (both graduate and postgraduate) with the opportunity to take a closer look at the author and to explore aspects of her work that do not form part of the degree syllabus. As the coordinator of the project, my own research at the Armstrong Browning Library has served as a very important starting point, making available a wealth of resources that the students can now also make use of.

If my work at the Armstrong Browning Library was so productive, though, it was above all thanks to the kindness and helpfulness of all members of the Library’s staff, who provided invaluable assistance with my research, supplying me with all the material I needed. Their support made my work a great deal easier and more fruitful.

Given that Elizabeth Barrett Browning was such an inveterate reader, the analysis of her reading is proving to be an extensive task in which I am still immersed. I expect to be in a position to present new findings soon, and will use this blog to keep you informed of them. I hope that my work will encourage more researchers to continue to study the fascinating figure of Elizabeth Barrett Browning.

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