Reflections from a Visiting Scholar: The “Minor English Poets Collection”: National Memory and Ecocritical Poetry

By Jerome Wynter, PhD, Adjunct Assistant Professor, BMCC, City University of New York

Jerome Wynter, PhD, Adjunct Assistant Professor, BMCC, City University of New York

Jerome Wynter, PhD, Adjunct Assistant Professor, BMCC, City University of New York

Among the vast collection of manuscripts, rare books, letters, periodicals, tracts and pamphlets at the Armstrong Browning Library (ABL) is a little-explored collection of primary works of verse and dramatic verse, 249 to be exact, entitled the Minor English Poets Collection. Baylor University purchased it in 1986 from Pickering and Chatto for its nineteenth-century archive. A printed inventory in the files at the ABL bears a fuller caption: “A Collection of Minor English Verse from the Age of Queen Victoria (1837-1901).” This collection, which contains work published from 1840 to 1900, is intriguing for several reasons: The title suggests that the authors are all “minor,” the verse are all written in English or that the writers are all English. In fact, the composition of this trove of nineteenth-century books belies the simplicity of the title, not to mention the problematics of the term “minor poets” to designate the status of Victorian poets.

Does the term “minor poets” mean non-established authors? Is it the obverse of canonical poets? Are minor poets occasional writers? Do minor poets have other full-time occupation? Are minor poets those writers who define themselves as such? Or are they working-class poets? Answers to these questions are pertinent to the researcher and critic if they are to avoid drawing false conclusions about the works in the Collection. Later, I will gesture toward an answer to some of these questions.

“Minor English Poets?”

Before looking at the anomaly in the title of the Collection, dear reader, let me first give you a sketch of its character. Of the 249 volumes:

  1. 9 are of unknown publication dates;
  2. 172 (two-thirds of the volumes) were published between 1879 and 1901;
  3. 9 are by women;
  4. 3 of the 9 female poets were well known in their day and are the subjects of recent scholarship – Janet Hamilton (1795-1873), Caroline Sheridan Norton (1808-1877) and Jean Ingelow (1820-1897);
  5. 10 or more of the male poets are well established including Alfred Austin (1835-1913), Austin Dobson (1840-1921), Andrew Lang (1844-1912), Richard Le Gallienne (1866-1947), George Meredith (1828-1909) and William Ernest Henley (1849-1903).

What can the title of the Collection tell us about its contents? Taken literally, this nomenclature may appear somewhat of a misnomer as the poets and poetry represented in it, as I have just shown, are not all by minor authors. The poems are also not all written in English, nor were all the authors English. The Scottish poets David Wingate’s “Sir Ivy’s Tower: A Legend of Tweedside” and Henry Johnson’s “Posie Prize” are composed in a regional dialect of Celtic or Gaelic origin. Wingate and Johnson contributed poems to the collection Ballads and Poems published by the Glasgow Ballad Club in 1885. Listen to stanza 24 of “Sir Ivy’s Tower”:

Oh sair they wrecked that fair castel,

Frae keep to tower abune,

And sair they burnt the chambers fine,

That nane micht dwell therein.

Humorously rendered, the speaker laments the catastrophic razing of the castle to his master.

If to some “minor poets” suggests working class, several of the minor writers in the Collection were of the middle and upper-middle classes. Included among the latter were the Scottish university professor and classical scholar John Stuart Blackie (1809-1895), author of A Song for Heroes (1890) in this Collection; two Irish scholars John K. Ingram (1823-1907), author of Sonnets and Other Poems (1900) and the lesser-known John Christopher Fitzachary, author of The Bridal of Drimna and Other Poems: Legendary, Patriotic, Sentimental, and Humorous (1883). Among the English middle-class poets in the Collection are the classical scholar and diplomatist James Rennell Rodd (1858-1941), author of Ballad of the Fleet and Other Poem (1897) and Charles Whitworth Wynne (1869-1917), whose volume Ad Astra, published in 1900, I discuss below. Wynne, a pseudonym for Charles Cayzer belonged to the famous Cayzer family of shipping merchants of Liverpool, Glasgow and London. Writing under the pseudonyms Owen Meredith and Neville Temple, Robert, Earl of Lytton (1831-1891) was another minor English poet of the upper middle class. He was a career diplomat, a viceroy in India from 1876 until 1880, and a correspondent and friend of Robert and Elizabeth Barrett Browning.

Robert, Earl of Lytton (1831-1891)

Robert, Earl of Lytton (1831-1891)

Lord Lytton’s literary career was overshadowed by the eminence of his father Edward Bulwer-Lytton, First Lord Lytton (1803-1873), according to the son’s biographer Aurelia Brooks Harlan. I will discuss the title poem in Lytton’s After Paradise or Legends of Exile and Other Poems, published in 1887, below.

In my investigation of the Collection, my purpose was to discover the contribution these mid- and late-Victorian “minor” poets made to the aesthetic, political and social poetic practices of the period and to Victorian literature and culture more broadly. I wanted to investigate how these authors might be a corrective to the viewpoint of the canonical poets. Kirstie Blair reminds us that with the recovery of so many minor poets “much remains to be said about them and their importance in the literary cultures of their time, not to mention the political, social and religious contexts” (2013: 3). Blair is referring to laboring- and working-class poets, but her remark points to the need for a greater renewal of interest in the study of the work of Victorian minor poets of all social classes.

In the rest of this blog, I will briefly give a general sense of the themes and concerns of the works as they relate to my investigation. Following this, I will focus on a close reading of two volumes of what might be rightly called eco-critical poetry before concluding with a few remarks on my initial findings.

Reading upwards of twenty volumes of poetry, I charted the broad themes of daily life, the engagement with local and contemporary politics and national histories, and the representation of nature and the environment in these poets’ work. I find that the themes of daily life are concerned mainly with poverty, economic disparity between classes, celebration of life, death, loss, and the Christian faith. In the 1875 volume of The Book of the Nettercaps, Being Poutery, Poetry and Prose by the Scottish writer Alexander Burgess, for example, he composes several elegies and commemorative verses. In one poem, “In Memoriam,” the speaker reminds us that death awaits us all, “The day is fixed […] / But known to none but God– that day when he shall die” (Stanza 3). At the end of the poem he warns against being sorrowful or sentimental: “But all is o’er– ’tis vain to sigh and weep, / Or lavish praises on the silent dead” (Stanza 7).

National Memory

On the theme of local and national histories, the poetry of the period focused primarily on national memory, patriotism and the nostalgia for bygone times. There are tributes to English, Scottish and Irish heroes, both historical and literary: Sir Francis Drake (1540-1596), Horatio Nelson (1758-1805), the Duke of Wellington (Arthur Wellesley, 1769-1852), Robert Burns (1759-1796), Lord Alfred Tennyson (1802-1892), T. S. Coleridge (1772-1834), Thomas Carlyle (1795-1881) and Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1894). English and Scottish poets celebrate the greatness of England and the English through direct poetic representation of historical personages, while Irish nationalism is revived mainly through the poetic treatment of legends. In a patriotic poem and homage to Sir Francis Drake in Ballads of the Fleet and Other Poems (1897), James Rennell Rodd represents the infamous pirate and sea captain as a hero whose life on the seas is peerless. In his “San Juan De Lua,” written in two-line stanzas of heroic couplets, the persona (probably Rodd himself) recalls Drake’s success against the Spaniards in the Caribbean despite great odds: “And Drake in the little Judith had sailed in his kinsman’s train,” the speaker tells us, “With his all on earth in the venture to trade in the Spanish Main” (Stanza 3). Drake’s oath to capture the Spanish Armada is amplified when the Spaniards, under the command of Don Alvarez de Bazan, broke their word and destroyed several of the English ships. Towards the close of the poem, with the defeat of the Spaniards, the speaker tells us: “And wherever the wide seas open he will brook no bar or stay, / And there’s never a wave but English sails shall claim for their free highway.” (Stanza 127).

This photo from Earle’s Home Poems accompanies the poem “At the Grave of the Nation” (1900)

This photo from Earle’s Home Poems accompanies the poem “At the Grave of the Nation” (1900)

Still even more unapologetically patriotic is Walter Earle’s Home Poems. Written at the end of the century, Earle’s volume congratulates England for its successful wars, colonial history, and territorial expansion. Its goal, it seems, is to bolster national pride and self-confidence. In one poem entitled “The New Century,” the poetic voice announces, “Well-done, good Land! thou hast another hundred years to go” (Stanza 4), concluding that “So shall our Empire be the Champion of the Right, – / Our Flag unstained, our Name upheld; – then come what may” (Stanza 6). Earle’s poems gloss over the effects of colonization and England’s wars during the century, ignoring the ravages of the Crimean War of 1854 to 1856, the Indian Mutiny of 1857, or the Boer War which began in 1899. In the opening of the poem “Nelson and Wellington” in Blackie’s A Song for Heroes, he offers a stirring tribute to the eponymous figures: “I will sing of England’s glory, / Daring dash, and cool command, / when he brave high-hearted captains / Rode the sea and ruled the land.” John Walker, who also commemorates Wellington in an elegy entitled “On the Death of Wellington” in his 1879 collection Miscellaneous Poems, calls the admiral “noble, brave and true-hearted,” and Nelson “the just.”

Ecocritical Poetry

Concerning the representation of nature and the environment, many poets write of flowers, plants, animals, the sunset, dawn and streams. However, these tend to be more an evocation of Romantic tropes rather than instances of ecocritical poetry. As defined by the The Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics (2012), “ecopoetry” is “related to the broader genre of nature poetry but can be distinguished from it by its portrayal of nature as threatened by human activities.” Two notable examples of ecocritical writing denouncing the threat human activities posed to the non-human world are Lord Lytton’s After Paradise and Wynne’s Ad Astra.

As I have already noted After Paradise was published in June 1887, a year of tremendous scientific progress in England. The submarine boat was for the first time eclectically propelled and could provide a three-day supply of air for six men; a circular saw powered by an electric motor that could cut through bone in seconds during a surgical operation was invented; Edison invented a telephone which could send signals for three miles under water. There were also other firsts in photography, the Antarctic, and a vaccine for rabies (Gloucester Citizen, Dec. 31, 1887). Lord Lytton does not address these advancements directly, but Wynne likely had some of them in mind when he crafted Ad Astra, which means “to the stars” and is probably a gesture to Virgil’s Aeneid, published at the turn of the century in April 1900.

Both works address man’s progress and degradation of the non-human world even when their doing so is not always obvious. In their Introduction to Beyond Nature Writing: Expanding the Boundaries of Ecocriticism (2001), Karla Armbruster and Kathleen R. Wallace assert that the field of ecocriticism is dominated by “critical analyses of nature writing and literature of wilderness” (2); they argue that one of the ecocritic’s most important tasks today is to consistently address a wider spectrum of texts that are less obviously about “natural” landscapes – that is, works that do not necessarily foreground the natural world or wilderness.

Comprised of several independent sections, the first part of the title poem “After Paradise or Legends of Exile” in Lord Lytton’s volume is a fifteen-stanza modified form of the ottava rima. Each line consists of ten syllables rather than the traditional Italian eleven, rhyming abababcc. It is entitled The Titlark’s Nest: A Parable. It obliquely celebrates nature’s reclamation of the space occupied by a now abandoned temple. Colossally and splendidly built on a Greek island, it had displaced the whistling meadow pipit or titlark, the Tmetothylacus tenellus. The first stanza describes the church “high on the white peak of a glittering isle” (Stanza 1). However, it now stands “a ruin’d fane within a wild vine’s bowers,” a vine that muffles “its marble-pillar’d peristyle” (Stanza 1). Beautifully rendered, these lines capture the irony of a once opulent place of worship, “girt by priests and devotees” where “[a] god once gazed upon the suppliant throng” (Stanza 3), that has been left to rot.

The second stanza, which documents the presence of a titlark’s nest the bird has built in the temple, is even more poignantly rendered:

The place was solitary, and the fane

Deserted save that where, in saucy scorn

Of desolation’s impotent disdain,

The reveling leaves and buds and bunches born

From the wild vine along a roofless lane

Of mouldering marble columns roam’d, one morn

A titlark, by past grandeur unopprest,

Had boldly built her inconspicuous nest.

The stanza juxtaposes the dead and desolate church building with the emerging life of plant (“buds and bunches born”) and animal (“A titlark” “built her inconspicuous nest”). The diction is one of degradation (“desolation,” “mouldering” – which the OED defines as decaying, “deserted” and “roofless”) and the tone is resentful. This is conveyed through the alliterative “saucy scorn / Of desolation’s impotent disdain.” This gives way, however, to another contrasting and conflicting tone. It is an expression of triumph enacted by the “revelling” of the leaves amid the “buds and bunches born / From that wild vine.” The poet reconciles the former oppressive “grandeur” of the temple with the victory of “one small bird” (Stanza 3). Spiritually impoverished, the temple, “the sanctuaried space / Is vacant, voiceless, priestless, unpossest, / Save for the bird that in it builds her nest” (Stanza 14). This is a poem of contrasts and repetition. Lytton seems to be emphasizing the success of the non-human world over the intrusiveness of man-made structures and the degradation which follows their reckless desolation.

In Ad Astra, Wynne, who was trained as a barrister but preferred to compose poetry in the manner of Tennyson (ODNB), reflects on man’s torrid relationship with nature and with God as well as the disastrous effects of his achievements and progress in the last few decades of the expiring century. Written in iambic pentameter, the poem consists of 227 seven-line stanzas, rhyming ababbcc. Its Romantic opening (“The leaves are falling fast, and Winter drear / Steals on apace with fingers numb and cold”) develops the theme of man’s degradation of nature. In an extended metaphor, “Nature” is a lover, bride and wife.  Ad Astra also addresses various other themes including man’s independence of God, his immortality, the supplanting of the Jews as God’s elect (Wynne believes that God has chosen the English instead), the place of America and nations of the British empire in the world, and man’s achievement and progress. It is the last of these themes that I wish to highlight. Ad Astra is overtly critical of man’s progress. Consider stanza thirty-one:


And Man, to what achievements doth he move!

Who shall foretell his boundless destiny!

Out of the earth what untold treasure-trove!

What realms await him in the trackless sky!

The stored lightnings at his bidding fly,

The circuits of the World their bounds decrease

Before the smile of universal Peace.

The recurrence of exclamation points underscores the exasperation with and concern about man’s continued progress. “Boundless destiny” suggests man’s unstoppable advancement; yet with each achievement or modernization, he makes the globe smaller. “The circuits,” a reference to electrical circuits used in communication, connect the world, bringing it closer together: “The circuits of the World their bounds decrease.” The advancements in electricity in 1887 are clearly targeted here.  In stanza 153, we are sked to “Consider the progress man hath made”; “The mighty strides within the last decade”; “And to what end are all his conquests moving?” His criticism rests on another theme mentioned earlier that of man’s solipsism which leads him to deny God’s help and His will.

What is striking about the work of these non-established authors that I have read in the Collection is the range of poetic forms which they employ, from heroic couplets to ballads to sonnets and ottava rima. Unlike Lytton’s and Wynne’s work, the volumes of most of the other male poets in the Collection (works published mainly in the final two decades of the century) reveal a widespread engagement with the themes of patriotism and national memory. The work of John Walker, James Rennell Rodd, Walter Earle, John Stuart Blackie and John Christopher Fitzarchary resembles that of seasoned poets such as William Ernest Henley, whose pamphlet For England’s Sake: Verses and Songs in Time of War (1900) foreshadows Rudyard Kipling’s poetic response to empire in his 1903 the Four Nations. Of particular interest, too, are the poems celebrating or commemorating Lord Alfred Tennyson. Thomas Watson’s poem “The Poet of the Age” in his Homely Pearls at Random Strung: Poems, Songs and Sketches (1873), praises and predicts Tennyson’s place as poet laureate; James Rennell Rodd’s “Tennyson” is a commemorative verse written in the language of empire; his Tennyson is “mighty of heart or brain, / Warders of Empire’s outposts, home with their own again” (Stanza 3). A number of Tennysonian poetry were also produced before and after the laureate’s death. According to original reviewers, the poetry of both Lord Lytton and Charles Whitworth Wynne are imitative of Tennyson.

Finally, to return to the title of the Collection, one of the characteristics of most of these works that I have read is the inclusion of an apology in their prefaces. Whether it was the humble writer such as the 1890s poet Elisha Walton who, in the preface to his Ballads and Miscellaneous Verses (1898), writes:

I’m not one of Poesy’s great high priests,

Who sing by its altar of fire;

But only, at one of the lesser feasts,

An acolyte in the choir.


The Master hath deeper and holier things,

But they’ve hidden from me away;

My lyre has only a few weak strings–

My song is a simple lay;


But if only a few of the strains have power

To float for awhile along,

And brighten a wearisome leisure hour,

’Tis well I have sung the song.

or the more sophisticated middle-class university professor such as Blackie, who declares in his preface that should his poetical treatment “unhappily fail under the censure of the judicious critic,” he would, for his students’ sake, “be happy to have pleased less, that I may instruct more,” all these poets share a similar appeal to the reader’s leniency of judgement.

Kirstie Blair has observed that this self-consciousness in presenting one’s work for public scrutiny is typical of the working-class poet. In the Introduction to Class and the Canon: Constructing Labouring-Class Poetry and Poetics, 1750-1900, a collection of essays she co-edited with Mina Gorji, Blair notes that there was a self-consciousness with which working-class writers engaged with poetic tradition, excusing “his or her lack in achieving the education and the leisure time necessary to produce poetry” (2013:1). She adds that these were expectations and standard practice “which governed the publishing of laboring-class poetry from the 1700s well into the Victorian period” (Ibid.).  To have their work published, which was marketed to a middle-class audience (Boos 2002: 224), these writers were constrained to include the obligatory apology, disavowal, and sometimes self-deprecation in their prefaces (See Rundle 1999: 247-48). However, unlike Walton, Blackie was not working class. Yet his Preface expresses the same characteristic appeal as the manual laborer, autodidact, and other poets from the lower-middle classes (Boos 2002: 204).

Much work remains to be done in the Minor English Poets Collection. Through the generosity of the Armstrong Browning Library at Baylor University, which awarded me a visiting scholar’s fellowship this summer, I had the first privilege of sampling this impressive collection of writings by minor British poets (Scottish, Irish and English) as part of a second major project post the PhD. My time at the ABL and Baylor could not have been the success it was had it not been for the help of Christi Klempnauer, who was always available to make sure my needs were well seen to, and Melvin Schuetz and the Director Jennifer Borderud.

Works Cited

Armbruster, Karla, and Kathleen R. Wallace, eds. (2001). Beyond Nature Writing: Expanding the Boundaries of Ecocriticism (Charlottesville, NC and London: University Press of Virginia).

Blair, Kirstie, and Mina Gorji, eds, (2013). Class and the Canon: Constructing Labouring-Class Poetry and Poetics, 1750-1900. (London: Palgrave Macmillan. Introduction, 1-15.

Boos, Florence (2002). “Working-Class Poetry,” in Richard Cronin, Alison Chapman and Antony H. Harrison, eds., A Companion to Victorian Poetry. Malden, Mass. and Oxford: Blackwell Publishers Ltd., pp. 204-228.

Harlan Brooks, Aurelia (1946). Owen Meredith: A Critical Biography of Robert, First Earl of Lytton. New York: Columbia University Press.

They Asked For a Paper–Chinese Manuscripts at the ABL

Borrowing its title from a collection of essays by C. S. Lewis, this series, They Asked For A Paper,”  highlights interesting items from the Armstrong Browning Library’s collection and suggests topics for further research.

By Melinda Creech
Manuscripts Specialist, Armstrong Browning Library

In preparing the Victorian Letters and Manuscripts of the Armstrong Browning Library for digitization, I came across these five Chinese manuscripts, which according to the note on the items, were donated by Dryden Linsley Phelps, nephew of William Lyon Phelps. William Lyon Phelps was Emeritus Professor of English Literature at Harvard University and a distinguished Browning scholar. The Fano Club was begun by Phelps. The club is a group of people who have traveled to Fano, Italy, viewed the guardian angel painting, L’Angelo Custode, (1640) by Giovanni Francesco Barbieri, in the Civic Museum, and sent back to the Armstrong Browning Library a postcard from Fano. The club meets for dinner on Robert Browning’s birthday, May 7, and for a reading of Browning’s poem, “The Guardian Angel,” performed by the youngest member of the club. Phelps commissioned and donated a copy of the painting of “The Guardian Angel” to the ABL. Robert Browning’s desk chair, a gift to Phelps from his students, has also been on loan to the ABL since 1989.

William Lyon Phelps’s nephew, Dryden Linsley Phelps, was a Baptist missionary to China at the West China University, Chen-tse, Szechuan, China, a translator, and a mountain climber. Dryden Linsley Phelps’s son was also named William Lyons Phelps II, in honor of his distinguished uncle.

Letter from Dryden Linsley Phelps to Dr. A. J. Armstrong. 1 August 1946.

In this letter to Dr. A. J. Armstrong, Dryden Phelps thanks Armstrong for a Browning Christmas card and shares that he intends to pass the card along to the Chinese bishop who had “done considerable study of Browning.”

Thank you most heartily for the Browning Christmas Cards. I am tremendously happy to have these. I am taking them to China, and shall use them out there. One of them next Christmas will surely go to Bishop Dong Ch’eng-chih, in my first Chinese Browning Class, who has done considerable study of  Browning.

These Chinese manuscripts were a gift to the ABL from Dryden Phelps, the Baptist missionary to China.

Chinese Hymn based on Isaiah 43: 5-7

This hymn is based on the text from Isaiah 43: 5-7.

Fear not: for I am with thee: I will bring thy seed from the east, and gather thee from the west;

I will say to the north, Give up; and to the south, Keep not back: bring my sons from far, and my daughters from the ends of the earth;

 Even every one that is called by my name: for I have created him for my glory, I have formed him; yea, I have made him.  (KJV)

Chinese Hymn, “Then Welcome Each Rebuff.”

Translation of Chinese Hymn, “Then Welcome Each Rebuff.”

This handwritten hymn is based on Robert Browning’s poem, “Rabbi Ben Ezra.”

Then, welcome each rebuff
That turns earth’s smoothness rough,
Each sting that bids nor sit nor stand but go!
Be our joys three-parts pain!
Strive, and hold cheap the strain;
Learn, nor account the pang; dare, never grudge the throe! (31-36)

The next three manuscripts are translations of Alfred Tennyson’s poem, “Flower in a Crannied Wall.”

Flower in the crannied wall,
I pluck you out of the crannies,
I hold you here, root and all, in my hand,
Little flower—but if I could understand
What you are, root and all, and all in all,
I should know what God and man is.

Alfred Tennyson, “Flower in a Crannied Wall.” Translated into Chinese.

Alfred Tennyson, “Flower in a Crannied Wall.” Translated into Chinese. Verso.

Alfred Tennyson, “Flower in a Crannied Wall.” Translated into Chinese.

Alfred Tennyson, “Flower in a Crannied Wall.” Translated into Chinese.

The Armstrong Browning Library would be grateful for translations of any of these manuscripts? Does anyone recognize the signatures on the two translations of “Flower in a Crannied Wall?” Are there other Chinese Hymns that are based on texts of Robert Browning’s poems? Does anyone know when these manuscripts came to be gifted to the Armstrong Browning Library? Could anyone suggest a date for any of these manuscripts?

Making Connections: Literary Networks in the 19th and Early 20th Centuries

In fall 2016, students in Dr. Kristen Pond’s upper-level English course, “Literary Networks in the Nineteenth and Early Twentieth Centuries,” explored the relationships between writers of the Romantic, Victorian, and Modernist Periods and the influences they had on each other’s works. “Authors did not, in fact, work alone,” Dr. Pond argued, “but often collaborated, either directly by each person contributing something to the final piece or indirectly through the influence of conversations, interactions, or from reading one another’s works.” Utilizing the letters, manuscripts, rare books, and other collection materials at the Armstrong Browning Library, the students ended their semester by curating an exhibition that uncovered connections between one particular literary figure and Robert and Elizabeth Barrett Browning—the centers of the literary network for the course—or another significant literary figure.

The exhibition Making Connections: Literary Networks in the 19th and Early 20th Centuries is on display in the Hankamer Treasure Room, Armstrong Browning Library, until April 21, 2017.

The Armstrong Browning Library would like to thank Dr. Kristen Pond and the students who made this exhibition possible:

Marcus Appleyard, Rebecca Causey, Victoria Corley, Annie Dang, Taylor Ferguson, Casey Froehlich, Madelynn Lee, Mollie Mallory, Anne McCausland, Emily Ober, Shannon Ristedt, Chris Solis, Alexander Stough, Alex Ueckert, Baylee Versteeg, and Jonathan White.

Julia Margaret Cameron Photograph Collection Now Available Online

Robert Browning by Julia Margaret Cameron. 1865.

Robert Browning by Julia Margaret Cameron. 1865.

By Jennifer Borderud, Access and Outreach Librarian

Julia Margaret Cameron (1815-1879) was a 19th-century photographer known for her portraits of Victorian celebrities and for her photographs depicting scenes from religious and literary works.

The Armstrong Browning Library has ten original photographs by Cameron. Five of these photographs are of Robert Browning who sat for Cameron in 1865 at the home of her neighbor Alfred Tennyson on the Isle of Wight.

Four additional photographs in the collection were gifts from Cameron to Browning and are inscribed by the photographer. These include a photograph of Julia Prinsep Stephen (née Jackson, formerly Duckworth, 1846-1895), Cameron’s niece and the mother of painter Vanessa Bell and writer Virginia Woolf; a photograph of English dramatist and poet Sir Henry Taylor (1800-1886) and Cameron’s maid Mary Ann Hillier (1847-1936) as Friar Lawrence and Juliet from Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet; a photograph titled La Madonna Aspettante, again featuring Mary Ann Hillier and William Frederick Gould (born 1861), a boy who lived near Cameron’s home; and a photograph of Anne Thackeray Ritchie (1837-1919), English writer and the daughter of novelist William Makepeace Thackeray.

Friar Lawrence and Juliet by Julia Margaret Cameron. 1865.

Friar Lawrence and Juliet by Julia Margaret Cameron. 1865.

The final photograph in the collection is of Hallam Tennyson (1852-1928), the eldest son of Alfred Tennyson.

The photographs have been digitized by Baylor’s Digital Projects Group and can be viewed here. Browning’s personal copy of his portrait by Cameron is on permanent display in the Research Hall of the Armstrong Browning Library.


Barlow, Helen. “Cameron, Julia Margaret (1815–1879).” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford University Press, 2004. Online edition, Oct. 2008. Web. 9 June 2015

Cox, Julian, and Colin Ford. Julia Margaret Cameron: The Complete Photographs. Los Angeles: The J. Paul Getty Museum, c2003. Print.


Beyond the Brownings–Alfred, Lord Tennyson (1809-1892)

Tennyson ABL-1exhibitCourtesy of the Armstrong Browning Library

Written by Melinda Creech, Graduate Assistant, Armstrong Browning Library

Alfred, Lord Tennyson (1809-1892), poet laureate during most of Queen Victoria’s reign, has continued to be one of the most popular British poets. He is well known for his short lyrics such as “Break, Break, Break,” ”The Charge of the Light Brigade,” ”Tears, Idle Tears,” and ”Crossing the Bar.” In Memoriam A. H. H. was written to commemorate the death of his close friend Arthur Henry Hallam, who was engaged to Tennyson’s sister, Emily. Idylls of the King, a cycle of twelve narrative blank verse poems, retells the Arthurian legend.

Tennyson corresponded with Robert Browning, and the Armstrong Browning Library owns four letters written by Tennyson to Browning. The Library also owns thirty-six letters written by Tennyson to various other Victorian correspondents, and three manuscripts. Over 160 books related to Tennyson are owned by the ABL, many of them rare editions. Two of the books were owned by members of the Brownings’ family. The collection also contains a voice recording of Tennyson.

Tennyson-to-UnkownwebLetter from Alfred, Lord Tennyson to an Unidentified Correspondent. Undated.

In this previously unpublished letter, Tennyson thanks this unidentified correspondent for their “able & conscientious translation” of his poems. By the end of Tennyson’s life, his poems had been translated into Italian, German, French, Dutch, Danish, Latin, Spanish, Hungarian, Swedish, Czech, Ancient and Modern Greek, Norwegian, Polish, and Serbian.

Tennyson-to-Patmore-1webLetter from Alfred, Lord Tennyson to Mrs. [Coventry] Patmore. [12 August 1852].

Tennyson says that he knows Mrs. Patmore’s…

kind womanly heart will rejoice in hearing that it is all safely over. She had a very easy confinement & was delivered of what the nurse calls a fine boy yesterday.

This passage refers to the birth of Hallam Tennyson on 11 August 1852, Tennyson’s eldest son.

Coventry and Emily Augusta Patmore named their second son Tennyson and asked the Tennysons to be his godparents. In the letter, Tennyson writes that Emily, his  wife, is anxious that young Tennyson Patmore have his engraved cup for his birthday.

Tennyson-to-M-1webLetter from Alfred, Lord Tennyson  to Edward Moxon. 7 November [1852].

In this previously unpublished letter to his publisher, Tennyson accepts Moxon’s offer to publish his ode and requests that it “not be published until very close to the funeral.” Tennyson is likely referring to his “Ode on the Death of the Duke of Wellington,” which was published on November 16, two days before Wellington’s funeral.

Tennyson-To-the-Queen-1webTennyson-To-the-Queen-2webTennyson-To-the-Queen-3webAlfred, Lord Tennyson. [“To the Queen”]. Autograph  Manuscript. Undated.

This is an early autograph draft, substantially longer than the version published in Poems (1851). “To the Queen” was Tennyson’s first publication as Poet Laureate. The poem was published in 1873 as the epilogue to The Idylls of the King.

Tennyson-Idylls-of-the-King-1webTennyson-Idylls-of-the-King-2webAlfred, Lord Tennyson. Idylls of the King. London: Edward Moxon & Co., 1859.

This copy is signed by Julia Margaret Cameron, famous photographer and friend of Tennyson. Cameron and Tennyson were neighbors on the Isle of Wight. Cameron produced her own copy of Idylls of the King, which included photographs of staged scenes from the poems and a photograph of Tennyson.

Tennyson-Selections-from-the-Worksweb-1Tennyson-Selections-from-the-Worksweb-2Tennyson-Selections-from-the-Works-3webAlfred, Lord Tennyson. A Selection from the Works of Alfred Tennyson. London: Edward Moxon, 1865.

This volume is a first edition inscribed by Tennyson on the half-title to his favorite sister: “Emily Jesse from her affectionate brother A.T.” The book is also inscribed with the ownership signature of Emily’s son Eustace Tennyson D’Eyncourt Jesse. On his bookplate inside the front cover he has written: “This book was given to my dear Mother Emily née Tennyson by her Brother, Alfred Tennyson, Poet Laureate.”

Tennyson-Ballads-1webTennyson-Ballads-2webAlfred, Lord Tennyson. Ballads and Other Poems. London: C. Kegan Paul & Co., 1880.

This volume from the Brownings’ library is inscribed by Robert Browning on the front free endpaper: “Robert Browning/ from Alfred Tennyson./Dec. ’80.”

Tennyson-The-Death-of-Oenone-1webTennyson-The-Death-of-Oenone-2webAlfred, Lord Tennyson. The Death of Oenone, Akbar’s Dream, and Other Poems. London and New York: Macmillan and Co., 1892.

The book is inscribed by Hallam Tennyson, Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s oldest son: “Oct. 1892 to S.A.E. FitzGerald.”

Tennyson-Prolusions-1webTennyson-Prolusions-2webTennyson-Prolusions-3webTennyson-Prolusions-pages-89webTennyson-Prolusions-4webTennyson-Prolusions-5webUniversity of Cambridge. Prolusiones Academicae Praemiis Annuis Dignatae et in Curia Cantabrigiensi Recitatae Comitiis Maximis, A.D. MDCCCXXIX.  Cantabrigiae: typis academicis excudit J. Smith, [1829].

This volume contains Tennyson’s first publication, “Timbuctoo,” a poem which received the Chancellor’s medal at the Cambridge commencement, 1829. The poem is a reworking of one Tennyson wrote at age fifteen called “Armageddon.”

Giving Nineteenth Century Women Writers a Voice and a Face — Julia Margaret Cameron (1815-1879)

Julia Margaret Cameron
and Her Children Charles and Henry (1859)
Photograph taken by Lewis Carroll

Therefore it is with effort I restrain the overflow of my heart and simply state that my first [camera and] lens was given to me by my cherished departed daughter and her husband, with the word, “It may amuse you, Mother, to try to photograph during your solitude at Freshwater.”

The gift from those I loved so tenderly added more and more impulse to my deeply seated love of the beautiful and from the first moment I handled my lens with a tender ardour, and it has become to me as a living thing, with voice and memory and creative vigour…. I longed to arrest all beauty that came before me….

I turned my coal-house into my dark room, and a glazed fowl house I had given to my children became my glass house! The hens were liberated, I hope and believe not eaten. The profit of my boys upon new laid eggs was stopped, and all hands and hearts sympathised in my new labour, since the society of hens and chickens was soon changed for that of poets, prophets, painters and lovely maidens, who all in turn have immortalized the humble little farm erection.

When I have had such men before my camera my whole soul has endeavored to do its duty towards them in recording faithfully the greatness of the inner as well as the features of the outer man. The photograph thus taken has been almost the embodiment of a prayer.

Julia Margaret Cameron
Annals of my Glass House (1874)

Julia Margaret Cameron was born in Calcutta, India. She met her husband, Charles Cameron, on a trip to southern Africa. After her husband’s retirement in 1848, the family moved from India back to England. She took up photography in 1863, at the age of 48, when she was living next door to Alfred Tennyson on the Isle of Wight. She produced photographs for only ten years, but her photographic subjects included Robert Browning, Tennyson, William Makepeace Thackeray, John Ruskin, Thomas Carlyle, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, James Abbott McNeil Whistler, and G. F. Watts. Most of her photographs have a soft, ethereal quality to them.

For the exhibition poster for Giving Nineteenth Century Women Writers a Voice and a Face, I chose a quotation from an untitled, unfinished poem found in Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s pocket notebook, dated 1842-1844,  and a photograph taken by Julia Margaret Cameron in 1864. The contemporaneity of the poem and the photo echo the timelessness of the nineteenth century women’s voices featured in the exhibit.

The subject of the photograph was sixteen-year-old Ellen Terry, a young Shakespearean actress and close friend of Cameron. Ellen had become acquainted with George Frederick Watts, a famous Victorian painter, forty years her senior, when she sat for him for a painting. At the urging of friends, they were married in February 1864. The photo was probably taken during their honeymoon on the Isle of Wight. The couple separated within a year and were formally divorced in 1877.  At some later date Cameron titled the photo “Sadness.”

The ABL owns eight original photographs by Julia Margaret Cameron, many with inscriptions. A letter from Robert Browning to Julia Margaret Cameron (24 July 1866) thanking her for her generous gift of photographs is also a part of the collection. Sarianna Browning, sister of Robert Browning in a letter to Joseph Milsand (27 December 1866), records another generous Christmas gift of twelve photographs from Mrs. Cameron.

Although Mrs. Cameron turned, quite successfully, to photography later in life, her first love was literature. She wrote an autobiography, translated German, and published poems and fiction. This poem was written shortly before she and her husband left England for Ceylon.

Julia Margaret Cameron
“On a Portrait”
Macmillan Magazine  (February 1876)

Melinda Creech


Notes and Queries: There is an engraving of Joseph Milsand by F. Johnson in Records of Tennyson, Ruskin, and Browning by Anne Thackeray Ritchie. The caption under the engraving reads: “Mr. Milsand / from a copyrighted photograph by Julia Margaret Cameron.” The Armstrong Browning Library has a large Joseph Milsand Collection. A letter from Joseph Milsand to Philbert Milsand (23 May [1874]) indicates that Joseph Milsand was to spend a day on Isle of Wight where Miss Thackeray would introduce him to Tennyson. Another letter from Joseph Milsand to Claire Milsand (11 Feb 1884) talks about Cameron’s beautiful photo of the tall, angel-like white lady which is displayed in his house. Does anyone know the whereabouts of either of the photographs, Milsand’s photographic portrait or the “angel-like white lady” photograph that he owned?