Why is an original marble bust of John Kenyon, Esq., displayed in Armstrong Browning’s Entrance Foyer with busts of Robert, Elizabeth and Robert Barrett Browning (“Pen”)?
John Kenyon (1784-1856), a distant cousin of Elizabeth’s and friend of both Elizabeth and Robert, was destined to play an important role in their lives both individually and as a couple. John Kenyon was born in Jamaica, son of a wealthy landowner, but came to England as a boy. His wealth and his noted generosity and kindliness made him an eminent patron of the literary establishment during the second quarter of the 19th century. Kenyon was, in fact, best known for his friendships with many eminent literary men and women. He was, as well, a poet who published some volumes of minor verses.
John Kenyon introduced Eilzabeth to the important literary figures of the time, among them William Wordsworth, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Alfred Lord Tennyson, Thomas Carlyle, and Mary Russell Mitford, who was to become a good friend.
In 1841, the Barrett family moved to 50 Wimpole Street in London. By this time, Elizabeth’s health had become fragile and she spent most of her time in her rooms upstairs, seeing only family, her dog, Flush–and John Kenyon. Although frail, she continued to write and publish her poetry. She became so popular that Robert Browning, six years her junior and much less well-known at the time, became enamored of her poetry. On her part,she was already well-acquainted with Browning’s few published works.
In 1844 Barrett’s collection “Poems” was published and became a tremendous popular success. Robert raved about the poems in the presence of John Kenyon and Kenyon urged him to write to her and tell her how he felt. Robert did, indeed, write and his praise was fulsome. In fact, his enthusiasm led him to startle Elizabeth somewhat–at that point they had never met: “I do, as I say, love these Books with all my heart–and I love you, too.” When Robert expressed a desire to meet her, through the agency of John Kenyon, she refused–several times. She could not believe the robust Browning really wanted to meet her. Finally, though, she relented and Kenyon arranged for Browning to meet Elizabeth on May 20, 1845.
Robert met Elizabeth in her rooms at Wimpole Street and so began one of the most famous courtships in literature. During the twenty months of the courtship, the two met regularly and exchanged 574 letters as well. During this period, too, Elizabeth secretly wrote the works that became her most famous: A cycle of 44 sonnets celebrating her growing love for Robert; later to be given the title “Sonnets from the Portuguese.” The courtship and their marriage at St. Marylebone parish church on September 12, 1846 were kept secret from her father, Edward Moulton-Barrett, who had forbidden his 11 children to marry. When he did learn of their elopement he disinherited Elizabeth.
John Kenyon remained quite close to Robert and Elizabeth’s for the remainder of his life. At the birth of their only child, Robert Wiedeman Barrett Browning (nicknamed, Pen), Kenyon supplemented the poets’ modest income with the gift of 100 pounds a year. At his death, in1856, Kenyon bequeathed 11,000 pounds to Robert and Elizabeth.
Elizabeth completed Aurora Leigh, her most ambitious work, while she and Robert were staying with John Kenyon. Elizabeth dedicated the verse-novel to Kenyon:
“The words ‘cousin’ and ‘friend’ are constantly recurring in this poem, the last pages of which have been finished under the hospitality of your roof, my own dearest cousin and friend…
Ending, therefore, and preparing once more to quit England, I leave in your hands this book, the most mature of my works, and the one into which my highest convictions upon Life and Art have entered; that as, through my various efforts in literature and steps in life, you have believed in me, borne with me, and been generous to me , far beyond the common uses of mere relationship or sympathy of mind, so you may kindly accept, in sight of the public, this poor sign of esteem, gratitude, and affection, from Your unforgetting EBB
The life-sized head and shoulders bust of Kenyon at 57 was done by Thomas Crawford in 1841. It eventually belonged to the Brownings. A generous donor gave it to the Browning Collection in 1944.
Robert Browning and Charles Dickens were both born in 1812: Dickens on the 7th of February and Browning on the 7th of May of that year. Browning and Dickens became good friends. The first paragraph of an article in Wikipedia says this about Browning: “…an English poet and playwright whose mastery of dramatic verse, especially dramatic monologues, made him one of the foremost Victorian poets.” The first paragraph of the Wikipedia article on Charles Dickens says: “…an English writer and social critic who is generally regarded as the greatest novelist of the Victorian period and the creator of some of the world’s most memorable fictional characters. During his lifetime Dickens’s works enjoyed unprecedented popularity and fame, and by the twentieth century his literary genius was fully recognized by critics and scholars. His novels and short stories continue to enjoy an enduring popularity among the general reading public.”
For more information on the worldwide celebration of Dickens’ life, novels, short stories, films of Dickens novels, and festivals and outdoor events dealing with Dickens and his works, go to the Dickens 2012 web site: www.dickens2012.org/
“God bless us, every one” (Tiny Tim, A Christmas Carol)
These three windows, placed in The Browning Room of the old Main Library, began the tradition of stained glass windows in the ABL&M. There are now 62 stained glass windows in the building, most of which show scenes suggested by Robert Browning’s poems..The Elizabeth Barrett Browning Salon has five windows representing five of her “Sonnets from the Portuguese.”
Celebratons honoring the bi-centennial of Robert Browning’s birth are taking place on each side of the Atlantic. In late June, a conference sponsored by the Browning Society of London focused on a particular aspect of Browning’s work–the dramatic monologue. For those who are unfamiliar with the term, the following definition is offered.
M. H. Abrams, one of the general editors of the Norton Anthology of English Literature and a respected American critic known especially for work on Romanticism, lists three features of the dramatic monologue as it applies to poetry:
1. A single person, who is clearly not the poet, utters the speech that makes up the whole of the poem, in a specific situation at a critical moment.
2. This person addresses and interacts with one or more people; but we know of the auditors’ presence, and what they say or do, only from clues in the discourse of the single speaker.
3. The main principle controlling the poet’s choice and formulation of what the lyric speaker says is to reveal to the reader, in a way that enhances its interest, the speaker’s temperament and chararcter
Robert Browning is considered to be the perfecter of the dramatic monologue, which had its heyday in the Victorian Period. Other Victorian poets to produce one or more dramatic monologues include Alfred Lord Tennyson, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Matthew Arnold, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Christina Rossetti, and Algernon Charles Swinburne. None, however, produced as many, or as striking, dramatic monologues as Robert Browning. A famous example is Browning’s “My Last Duchess.” Notice how the Duke’s character is revealed by what he says:
“MY LAST DUCHESS”
That’s my last Duchess painted on the wall,
Looking as if she were alive. I call
That piece a wonder, now: Fra Pandolf’s hands
Worked busily a day, and there she stands.
Will’t please you sit and look at her? I said
“Fra Pandolf” by design, for never read
Strangers like you that pictured countenance,
The depth and passion of its earnest glance,
But to myself they turned (since none puts by
The curtain I have drawn for you, but I)
And seemed as they would ask me, if they durst,
How such a glance came there; so, not the first
Are you to turn and ask thus. Sir, ’twas not
Her husband’s presence only, called that spot
Of joy into the Duchess’ cheek: perhaps
Fra Pandolf chanced to say “Her mantle laps
Over my lady’s wrist too much,” or “Paint
Must never hope to reproduce the faint
Half-flush that dies along her throat”: such stuff
Was courtesy, she thought, and cause enough
For calling up that spot of joy. She had
A heart—how shall I say?—too soon made glad,
Too easily impressed; she liked whate’er
She looked on, and her looks went everywhere.
Sir, ’twas all one! My favour at her breast,
The dropping of the daylight in the West,
The bough of cherries some officious fool
Broke in the orchard for her, the white mule
She rode with round the terrace—all and each
Would draw from her alike the approving speech,
Or blush, at least. She thanked men,—good! but thanked
Somehow—I know not how—as if she ranked
My gift of a nine-hundred-years-old name
With anybody’s gift. Who’d stoop to blame
This sort of trifling? Even had you skill
In speech—(which I have not)—to make your will
Quite clear to such an one, and say, “Just this
Or that in you disgusts me; here you miss,
Or there exceed the mark”—and if she let
Herself be lessoned so, nor plainly set
Her wits to yours, forsooth, and made excuse,
—E’en then would be some stooping; and I choose
Never to stoop. Oh sir, she smiled, no doubt,
Whene’er I passed her; but who passed without
Much the same smile? This grew; I gave commands;
Then all smiles stopped together. There she stands
As if alive. Will’t please you rise? We’ll meet
The company below, then. I repeat,
The Count your master’s known munificence
Is ample warrant that no just pretence
Of mine for dowry will be disallowed;
Though his fair daughter’s self, as I avowed
At starting, is my object. Nay, we’ll go
Together down, sir. Notice Neptune, though,
Taming a sea-horse, thought a rarity,
Other of Browning’s brief dramatic monologues include “Soliloquy of the Spanish Cloister,” “The Laboratory” and “Porphyria’s Lover.” Several important longer dramatic monologues, which appeared in the poet’s collection Men and Women are “Fra Lippo Lippi,” “Bishop Blougram’s Apology,” and “Andrea del Sarto.” His crowning achievement in the style are the dramatic monologues he wrote for his acknowledged masterwork The Ring and the Book, published in four installments in 1868-1869.
The Ring and the Book, an epic-length poem of 21,000 lines, is based on the documents from a Roman murder trial of 1698. From this material Browning created a verse-novel that includes twelve “Books,” ten of which are dramatic monologues offering the differing perspectives of narrators involved in the case. The one accused of murder, an impoverished nobleman named Count Guido Franceschini, speaks twice. The first and twelfth books are spoken by the poet himself. The Ring and the Book has been called a tour de force of dramatic poetry and was a great success both commercially and critically.
One of Dr. Armstrong’s money-raising endeavors was leading group tours to England, France and Italy, in the footsteps of Robert and Elizabeth Barrett Browning (see “Dr. A. Travelin’ Man”). He and Mrs. A. founded Armstrong Educational Tours in 1912, the year that Dr. A. became English department head at Baylor. Dr. A., who loved to travel, served as well-informed tour guide to Great Britain, France and Italy — and other places — during more than 30 summers, while Mrs. A. served as business manager of the tour company, with offices in Waco and France. Profit from the tours helped the couple continue to build the Browning Collections,which they gave to Baylor in 1918. In 1924, a Browning Room was created for the collections in the Carroll Library, the University’s main library for many years. Armstrong Educational Tours, however, was not the only fund-raising effort by the Armstrongs.
Dr. Armstrong, more or less out of necessity, also became an impresario and tour manager. He was determined to enrich the lives of Baylorites (and Wacoans) by arranging for then-famous practitioners of various arts and humanities to come to the campus to perform or speak. In the early years of the twentieth century this was not easy to do. Waco, Texas (nicknamed “Six-shooter Junction” in the 19th century) was then well off the beaten track for poets, theater companies, opera singers, dance companies, lecturers, writers of fiction and nonfiction,etc.
As Dr. A. began to contact individuals and companies and invite them to visit Baylor some said, in so many words, that they would be glad to do so IF he could arrange additional appearances across the south-central or southwestern area of the country. Not one to duck a challenge, Dr. A. did that for many of the individuals and companies. For instance, he brought approximately forty poets to the campus, including Carl Sandburg, Robert Frost, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Vachel LIndsay, Edwin Markham, Edgar Lee Masters, Amy Lowell, and the British poets John Masefield and Alfred Noyes. Poet/man-of-letters William Butler Yeats and his wife visited Baylor during the University’s Golden Jubilee celebration and Mr. Yeats gave a “modest, yet magnificent” address before an audience of eighteen hundred– some of whom had difficulty understanding his strong English accent. John Gould Fletcher was the thirty-seventh poet brought to Baylor. The imagist poet from Arkansas had won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 1939.
Naturally, Dr. Armstrong did not just invite poets. He was interested in people who were successful in all literary and artistic fields and brought them to the University whenever possible. In 1921, the Nobel prize-winning Indian philosopher and poet Rabindranath Tagore came to Baylor. Sinclair Lewis, American novelist, short-story writer and playwright came to Baylor in 1944. In 1930, Lewis had became the first writer from the United States to be awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature. When he arrived, Lewis was quite negative about a Browning collection being developed in the United States, rather than in England. Later, he said the Browning collection was justified due to the philosophy of its builder.
Many other literary celebrities came to Baylor at Dr. Armstrong’s invitation, for instance: Richard Halliburton, then-famous chronicler of his own travel adventures; world-famous explorers Prince William of Sweden, who spoke and showed slides of his African adventures, Roald Amundsen, at the time the only man who had traveled to both the North and South Poles; and Admiral Richard E. Byrd; British playwright Hugh Walpole whose lecture was entitled “How to Write a Play”; Texas’ own J. Frank Dobie; and novelist and short-story writer Sherwood Anderson.
Due to his love of music, Dr. A. brought world-famous vocalists and instrumentalists to the campus: opera singers Luisa Tetrazzini and Amelita Galli-Curci; contralto Marian Anderson; tenor Roland Hayes; violinist Mischa Elman; harpist Alberto Salvi, and others. He presented performances by many stage companies and stage personalities. The famous Broadway actress Helen Hayes visited the University twice: first to portray Mary of Scotland(1935) and, three years later, to appear in Victoria Regina (1938). In 1934,Waco Hall, then the largest venue in Waco, was filled to capacity for presentation of The Barretts of Wimpole Street, with Katharine Cornell as Elizabeth and Basil Rathbone as Robert. Ms. Cornell was to perform the role of Elizabeth more than a thousand times.
Dr. Armstrong personally underwrote every performance he sponsored. None of his presentations was done at cost to the University.
Katharine Cornell originated the role of Elizabeth Barrett for the Broadway play “The Barretts of Wimpole Street,” written by Rudolf Besier (ca. 1930). During the play’s 1933-34 national tour, Dr. Armstrong arranged for Cornell and company to perform the play on the Baylor campus. Basil Rathbone played Robert Browning in the touring company. Katharine Cornell became friends with the Armstrongs and returned with Brian Aherne (the origiinal Broadway RB) in 1951 to perform scenes from the play and to participate in the dedication of the Armstrong Browning Library & Museum. At that time Cornell gave to the Armstrongs a wax-figurine diorama of a scene from the play. The diorama is still on display in the Elizabeth Barrett Browning Salon on the third floor of the building. Later Miss Cornell presented the Armstrongs with a pair of miniatures with likenesses of Robert and Elizabeth by James Childe. The miniatures also remain on display in the Salon. Other mementos of the play in the Salon are a reproduction of EBB’s afghan, which is shown in miniature in the diorama; a piano stool used on the Broadway stage; and Alexander Clayton’s portrait of Katharine Cornell as she was dressed for the play. The painting was donated to the Library & Museum by Miss Cornell in 1956.
“The Barretts of Wimpole Street” was first filmed in 1934 and became one of the top box office hits of that year.The film featured three stars who had already earned best actor/actress Academy Awards: Norma Shearer portrayed Elizabeth; Frederic March played Robert; and Charles Laughton played Edward Moulton-Barrett.
The Brownings’ love story remained popular between 1949 and 1982 in live television performances (six productions 1949-1956; movie form (1957); and made-for-TV movies (1961, 1982). The 1982 PBS production is described as “a masterpiece gone missing.”
1926 was an important year in the history of the Browning Collection. It was only one year after the London Times described the collection of Browning materials at Baylor the largest Browning Collection in the world, a distinction it has retained. In 1926 the Senior Class produced the “Browning Edition” of the University’s yearbook, dedicated to Dr. Andrew J. Armstrong, English Department Head from 1912 to 1952, and founder of the Browning Collection, which he gave to the University in 1918.
Because he is a Browning Scholar of world-wide fame, being “made up of an intensest life,” and having devoted that life to the spirt of Baylor and of Browning, with the result that they are synonymous in the minds of men at home and abroad.
And because he has given Baylor the Browning collection, a priceless pearl of truth and beauty, which will inspire in future generations to plunge, to strive, and to attain–
We, the Senior Class of 1926 , dedicate the Browning Edition of the Round-Up.”
The second and third pages of the Round-Up feature four poems about Robert Browning, including “Browning in Texas” by the British poet Edwin Markham, one of about forty poets that Dr. Armstrong ultimately brought to the campus.
Browning in Texas
Browning, your soul ranged over land and seas
Seeking this import of the march of man:
You were at home with folk of all degrees,
From Paracelsus down to Caliban.
But did you ever in your circling sweep
Behold this young dominion of mankind
Which for all coming centuries will keep
Tokens and trophies of your Orphic mind?
Texas! Did that name whisper in your brain
When you were searching life with peering eyes?
Ah, she is spacious as your song’s domain;
And like it, she is archt with starry skies.
Being great herself–wing-thrilled from every pole–
She folds in her own the greatness of your soul.
Excerpts from Robert Browning’s poetry are scattered throughout the yearbook, beginning with the Epilogue to Asolando:
“One who never turned his back but marched breast forward,
Never doubted clouds would break,
Never dreamed, though right was worsted, wrong would triumph,
Held we fall to rise, are baffled to fight better, sleep to wake.”
The above quote is followed by a photograph of the last formal portrait of Robert Browning, completed by his and Elizabeth’s only offspring Pen (Robert Barrett Browning) in May/June 1889. Shown just below the portrait is the sculpture “The Clasped Hands,” cast by the American sculptor, and Browning friend, Harriet Hosmer in 1853. Excerpts from other Robert Browning poems in the Round-Up include: “The year’s at the spring” from Pippa Passes, “The Guardian Angel,” “Rabbi ben Ezra,” “Love Among the Ruins,” “The Pied Piper of Hamelin,” the Invocation to his masterwork “The Ring and the Book,” dedicating the work to Elizabeth’s memory, “How They Brought the Good News from Ghent to Aix,” and “Paracelsus.” Included are photographs of the original three stained glass windows placed in The Browning Room at its completion in 1924 and moved to the Armstrong Browning Library & Museum in late 1951. The Library & Museum now has 62 stained glass windows.
If you get simple beauty and nought else,
You get about the best thing God invents.
R. Browning, A Death in the Desert
Dallas Morning News, 5/11/12
“Texas and literature: It may not be a word combination that leaps into most minds — like Texas and cowboys or Texas and bluebonnets. But Texas has spawned writers of its own, nurtured non-native writers smart enough to have moved here, and played host to those just passing through.”
“Armstrong Browning Library & Museum: The ABL&M, on the Baylor University campus, is a place especially for romantics: a museum and library devoted to Victorian poets Robert and Elizabeth Barrett Browning. It houses what the university describes as the world’s largest collection of books, manuscripts and memorabilia pertaining to the Brownings. The late Dr. A. J. Armstrong, head of Baylor’s English department [from 1912 to 1952], collected many of the items himself. Opened in December 1951, the building itself is an architectural treasure. You’ll see many of the Brownings’ personal items, such as jewelry, furniture and art. The library is also a research center for scholars.” [Brownings and Victorian Period research]
“Corner of Speight and 8th Street on the Baylor campus; Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Saturday, 10 a.m. to 2:00 p.m.; closed Sunday. Free. 254-710-3566; www.browninglibrary.org ”
Other institutions and collections described include: Austin, O Henry House and Museum; General Land Office Building; Lorenzo de Zavala State Archive and Library Building; San Antonio, Menger Hotel; Kyle, Katherine Ann Porter Literary Center; San Marcos, Wittliff Collections of Texas State University (Southwestern Writers Collection; Gallery of Southwestern and Mexican Photography, etc.); Abilene, National Center for Children’s Illustrated Literature; Archer City, Booked Up, Larry McMurtry’s huge used book store; Cross Plains, Robert E. Howard House (creator of Conan the Barbarian) and Howard Collection in Cross Plains Library.
Dr. Armstrong was an inveterate traveler who went to Europe 30+ times. His first trip to Italy occurred in June 1909. During that first trip he met Robert Wiedeman Barrett (Pen) Browning, the poets’ only offspring and stayed three days with him in Asolo. Pen had purchased the property, a derelict house and tower, that his father had tried to buy toward the end of his life. Pen had the house and tower rebuilt and spent the last years of his own life living there.
Over the years, Dr. Armstrong, in addition to visiting Europe many times, visited South Africa, Greece, the Netherlands, India, Germany, Japan, China, Gibraltar, South America and other countries. His travels filled his life with rich memories — of the torch-bearers lighting their torch at Mt. Olympus and racing to the amphitheater in Berlin to begin the Olympic games; of the Wagnerian Festival; of opera in St. Mark’s Square; of Michelangelo’s David in Florence; of the Sistine Chapel in Rome; of the Taj Mahal at sunrise and Gibraltar at sunset; of a moving mass in St. Peter’s; of the unforgettable Oberammergau Passion Play; of Goethe’s home at Weimar; of the vault of Liszt at Bayreuth; of the colossal Christ of the Andes overlooking two countries; of the great Victoria Falls of Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe); of lions on the Serengeti and thousands of hippopotamuses on the White Nile.
Dr. and Mrs. Armstrong founded Armstrong Educational Tours in 1912, the year Dr. A. came to Baylor as English Department Head. Due to his dedication to Robert, his works, and his love of traveling, it was natural for him to begin taking groups in the summer to follow in the footsteps of Robert and Elizabeth Barrett Browning — in England, France and Italy, especially. Mrs. Armstrong managed the tour company from offices in France and Waco and issued the publication Armstrong Travel Courier. Approximately four thousand people took the carefully organized Armstrong Tours in a period of twenty years. Former President Brooks of Baylor once introduced his peripatetic English department head as ” the man who makes his living directing a travel bureau so that he can afford to be a college professor.”
In addition to meeting such famous people as Mahatma Gandhi, Dr. A. made it a point to visit missionary friends in Japan, China, India, Africa and South America, many of whom he corresponded with for many years. He also made an effort to contact his former students in those and other countries. One of his favorite memories was of the former student who rode a motorcycle one thousand miles each way from Curitiba to Sao Paulo to visit with his beloved professor.