We at Armstrong Browning thank Erin Rogers for featuring the Library & Museum in one of her Traveling Soldiers articles! In a recent publication, the ABL&M is called one of the 50 most beautiful university libraries in the world.
Pair of famous poets alive through collection
The English rosewood bracket clock, on display in the library’s Hankamer Treasure Room, was owned by three generations of Brownings – Robert’s grandfather, father and then finally by Robert Browning himself. Erin Rogers, Sentinel Leisure Editor
A view of the far wall of the Hankamer Treasure Room shows bookcases full of famous authors, treasures owned by Robert Browning and the library’s famous stained glass. Erin Rogers, Sentinel Leisure Editor
This stained-glass window on the main floor has a quote from Elizabeth Barrett Browning on the top, and a quote from Robert Browning on the bottom. It is part of a series of windows telling the story of their courtship. Erin Rogers, Sentinel Leisure Editor
A painting by Egisto Manzuoli, who painted during the time the Brownings wrote, called “Angel of Annunciation” hangs in the Hankamer Treasure Room. Erin Rogers, Sentinel Leisure Editor
A view of the Jones Research Hall on the library’s main floor. The windows in this room illustrate 10 of Brownings most famous poems. Erin Rogers, Sentinel Leisure Editor
The McLean Foyer of Meditation is at the back of the library’s main floor. This room is often used for concerts, lectures and ceremonies of Baylor’s organizations because of its beauty. Erin Rogers, Sentinel Leisure Editor
The alcove at the front of the McLean Foyer features a bronze sculpture of Robert and Elizabeth’s clasped hands. There are poems inscribed on the walls of the alcove by the Brownings written for one another. Erin Rogers, Sentinel Leisure Editor
A collection of original work by Robert Browning is on display in the Hankamer Treasure Room. Erin Rogers, Sentinel Leisure Editor
One of two 19th-century palace jars sits on display in the McLean Foyer of Meditation. Erin Rogers, Sentinel Leisure Editor
The Dotson Wedgewood Collection is on display in the library’s bottom floor, along with the library’s newest stained-glass windows. There are 333 pieces of Wedgewood in the collection. Erin Rogers, Sentinel Leisure Editor
Along with housing and protecting Robert’s famous words, the library also houses and protects the largest poetry collection of Robert’s equally-famous poet wife, Elizabeth Barrett.
I spent a good portion of my time in college studying different kinds of poetry and different poets, and while I might not consider myself a romantic person, I can’t help but smile a goofy, romantic smile while reading poetry from either of these poets (especially their poems to each other).
The Armstrong Browning Library is not only impressive, but the entire building could soften even the most stoic heart with how Barrett and Browning’s poems are on display.
Not to mention, this library houses the largest collection of secular stained glass in the world – 62 stained-glass windows in all. And even the stained glass oozes romantic lines from either the Bible, Browning or Barrett.
With hardly any light inside the museum that isn’t natural, even the ornate architecture is lit up beautifully.
Needless to say, I was walking around with my jaw on the floor in awe of how beautiful this place is.
Even the front doors – each weighing in at one full ton – are embossed with pictures and quotes of the love between a man and a woman, a father and his son, a mother and a daughter, and so on – all kinds of love are portrayed and appreciated at the library.
But Elizabeth and Robert’s love story is the most prominent thing in the library, telling how their romance was initiated after they were already well-published poets.
The Armstrong Browning Library has the original first letter Browning wrote to Barrett that states, “I love your verses with all my heart.”
That one line, written by Browning Jan. 10, 1845, initiated their romance, which resulted in their secret marriage and departure to Italy in 1846.
I was so lost in looking at original sketches and works by Barrett and Browning that it didn’t even occur to me to ask why the name “Armstrong” is part of the library’s name until it was almost time to leave.
Turns out, Dr. A.J. Armstrong, head of Baylor’s English Department from 1912-1952, started the Browning collection at the library from his own personal collection – a collection he had devoted his life to from studying the Victorian poet, Robert Browning.
Armstrong has said he most admired Browning’s “boundless optimism and commitment to spiritual values,” and that admiration for Browning gave Armstrong the vision and energy to obtain the world’s largest Browning collection and, ultimately, the elegant, Victorian-style building on Baylor’s campus where the collection resides.
So for the past 50 years, the collection has continued growing in the library, along with other rare 19th-century research materials and numerous pieces of fine art from all over the world.
Each piece of art has a story that the staff at the library can tell in detail. Everything from Wedgwood to an impressive replica of the original Portland Vase is housed at the library on the bottom floor.
The third floor has the Pen Browning Gallery with four of his paintings
hanging in the stairwell up to the third floor. I found a room at the end of the hall on the third floor dedicated to portraying the Brownings’ lifestyle and personal taste.
There are actual items in the room that belonged to the Brownings, such as a kneeling bench, a writing table where they both wrote poetry, a portrait of their son, Pen, when he was a child, and the stained glass windows in the room
that illustrate Elizabeth’s poetry about she and Robert’s courtship.
Along with the massive art collections and original pieces of poetry from
both Browning and Barrett, the library also hosts weddings and other events in the McLean Foyer of Meditation on the main floor. In the alcove, there is a bronze sculpture of the poets’ clasped hands, with Elizabeth’s famous “Sonnet 43” to Robert written on one side and Robert’s soaring tribute to Elizabeth on the other.
Group tours are given by reservation at the library, but admission is free to daily guests. Hours are 9 a.m.-5p.m. Monday-Friday and 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Saturday. Research hours are the same, but can only be done by appointment on Saturdays.
Don’t forget to check out their gift gallery for souvenirs and books from the library.