The three oldest stained glass windows in the ABL&M

The Guardian Angel window: One of the three windows placed in the Browning Room in 1924.

The Pied Piper window: Placed in the Browning Room (1924)
How they brought the good news from Ghent to Aix: One of the three oldest stained glass windows in the Library & Museum: Placed in the Browning Room in 1924.

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.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Robert Browning and the Dramatic Monologue

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.

 

Dr. A, Impresario and Tour Manager

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.

 

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“The Barretts of Wimpole Street” visits Baylor

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.”

The Round-Up 1926 Published by the Senior Class of Baylor University

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 

 

 

 

Work a little history into your travels on the Lone Star literary tour

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.”

Waco

“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 t1952], 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. A — Travelin’ Man

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.

The Largest Browning Collection in the World Housed in a Magnificent Building

The largest collection of Browningiana in the world is found at Baylor University in Waco, Texas. Why is it in a magnificent building on the rolling plains of Texas, rather than in London or Oxford? The answer is that Dr. Andrew Joseph Armstrong, an aficionado of the life and works of Robert Browning, was head of Baylor’s English Department from 1912 to 1952, and his wife, Mary Maxwell Armstrong, was his staunch supporter. Dr. A., as many of his students called him, was dedicated to the ideal of creating an outstanding collection of Browningiana at Baylor and, ultimately, a beautiful library and museum to serve as a monument to the lives and works of Robert and Elizabeth.

Armstrong became a dedicated fan (short for “fanatic,” remember) of the person and works of Robert Browning very early in the 20th century. Elizabeth, who had died in June of 1861, was somewhat out of fashion late in the 19th century and early in the 20th century. Robert lived twenty-eight years after Elizabeth’s death and composed many fine works during that period, including his acknowledged masterwork The Ring and the Book (1868-69).  By the time of his death on December 12, 1889, Robert had become one of the most eminent poets of the late Victorian era in Great Britain.

Dr. Armstrong was considered something of a renaissance man: Baylor’s English department head, a teacher adored by most of his students, and knowledgeable in all the arts.  To raise money to build the Browning collection (and, ultimately, the beautiful building) he became an impresario and entrepreneur (more on the second later). As impresario, he brought more than 300 luminaries of the first half of the twentieth century to the campus. In many cases, to persuade the famous to come to Baylor, he had to find and schedule other venues in Texas and the southwest for their readings, performances, etc. Thus, he also came to act as a tour agent.

Armstrong arranged the Baylor visits of approximately forty poets, some of whom remain well-known but most of whom have been largely forgotten. As an example, the 1920’s and ’30’s saw visits by such poets as Carl Sandburg, Amy Lowell, Robert Frost, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Vachel LIndsay, Edwin Markham, the English poet John Masefield and others.

Dr. Armstrong arranged Baylor visits by many celebrities in other arts, as well: for example, the Bengali Rabindranath Tagore who reshaped his region’s literature and music;  novelist Sinclair Lewis, whose gruff assessment of the Browning Collection was “A Browning library has no more business in Texas than the Grecian Marbles do in the British Museum”; colorful wanderer and travel writer Richard Halliburton; famous explorers Roald Amundsen, Prince William of Sweden and Admiral Richard E. Byrd; playwright Hugh Walpole; Texas’ own J. Frank Dobie; writer Sherwood Anderson, and, among other actors and companies, Broadway theater stars Helen Hayes, Katharine Cornell and Basil Rathbone (Cornell and Rathbone performed the play The Barretts of Wimpole Street at Baylor).

Eminent musicians and dancers came to the University at Dr. A.’s invitation, perhaps most notably the world-famous opera singers Luisa Tetrazzini and Amelita Galli-Curci. In addition, he arranged performances by the eminent violinist Mischa Elman, Frank Asper, organist at the Mormon Temple in Salt Lake City; contralto Marian Anderson; lyric tenor Roland Hayes (first African-American male singer to achieve worldwide acclaim); lyric soprano Helen Jepson; the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo; and Devi Dja and her Asian dance troupe.

Numerous lecturers were brought to Baylor, including critics, dramatic readers, humorists, publishers, diplomats, and writers. One lecturer, the prolific American writer, historian, and philosopher Will Durant, already well-respected for his The History of Philosophy (1926), later produced (with his wife Ariel) the monumental Story of Civilization (11 vols., 1935-1975). Unfortunately, the eleventh and last volume of the set is The Age of Napoleon. Due to age, and death within two weeks of each other in 1981, The Story of Civilization thus ends in the early nineteenth century.

2012: A YEAR OF ANNIVERSARIES

2012 is an exciting, busy year for the ABL&M. This year we celebrate two important anniversaries: the 200th anniversary of Robert Browning’s birth year (1812) and the 100th anniversary of Dr. Andrew Joseph Armstrong’s arrival at Baylor (1912). Dr. A served as chair of the English Department until his retirement in 1952. The ABL&M will sponsor a number of special events in honor of the anniversaries and join with other groups (e.g., the Browning Society of London (www.browningsociety.org), Poet in the City,etc.) in celebration. Below is a timeline of known events scheduled at the ABL&M and in London and Oxford.

March 28 – May 19 at ABL&M: Special display, “Texas Poets” (first floor), in connection with the House of Poetry events.

April: National Poetry Month

April 16, 7:00 p.m., King’s Place, London: A celebration of Robert Browning’s “The Pied Piper of Hamelin” in collaboration with Poet in the City. Speakers: Daniel Karlin, Margaret Reynolds, Pamela Neville-Sington and Anne Hardy.

April 21, in connection with the Baylor Alumni Association’s Fling: A special presentation by Director Rita Patteson and Cynthia Burgess, Curator of Books and Printed Materials, entitled “ABL&M 2012: Celebrating a Poet’s Life and a Professor’s Dream.” Tours of the Library & Museum will be offered.

May 7, 2:00 p.m., ABL&M: The Browning Day Lecture by Dr. Sandra Donaldson, U. of North Dakota, General Editor of The Works of Elizabeth Barrett Browning.

May 7, 6:30 p.m.: The Fano Club Dinner (following Dr. Donaldson’s lecture)

May 13, 4:00 p.m., London: Commemorative Evensong at St. Marylebone Church (site of the marriage of RB and EBB). Professor Margaret Reynolds, special guest speaker.

(Note: May 20 through June 3, ABL&M will be closed for annual maintenance.)

June 28 – 30, Royal Holloway, London: Conference sponsored by the London Browning Society in recognition of RB’s 200th birthday, entitled: “Reassessing the Dramatic Monologue in the 19th and 20th Centuries: Browning, Before, Beyond.”

July – December: Special exhibit in coordination with the launch of Dr. Scott Lewis’s new biography of Dr. A. J. Armstrong, the opening of the Garden of Contentment on the ABL&M lawn and the ABL&M’s International Conference in November.

September 14: dedication of the Garden of Contentment.

September 20: One-day symposium on Victorian faith and doubt in honor of Browning’s 200th birthday. Sponsored by the Institute for Studies of Religion and the ABL&M.

September 22, Balliol College, Oxford: “Browning and Oxford,” including a presentation by Seamus Perry, College Librarian and Vice-Master of Balliol.

Homecoming: Launch of the new biography of Dr. Andrew Joseph Armstrong by Dr. Scott Lewis; dedication of the “Garden of Contentment.”

November 1 -3, ABL&M: International conference, Robert Browning and Victorian Poetry at 200.” Keynote speaker: Dr. Herbert Tucker.

December 7, London: ABL&M leadership will participate with the London Browning Society and others in the laying of wreaths on the tomb of Robert Browning (Poets’ Corner, Westminster Abbey).

Other special events will be announced as they are finalized.