They Asked For A Paper–An Incendiary Jacket

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

I have been transcribing a set of letters collected by Mr. and Mrs. Higford Burr. Daniel Higford Davall Burr (1811-1885) was a Member of Parliament, Justice of the Peace, and High Sheriff of Berkshire. He and Anna-Margaretta, like the Brownings, were married at St. Marylebone Parish Church. Anna-Margaretta Higford Burr (1817-1892) was an English water-colorist. She traveled extensively and entertained often at the family’s estate, Aldermaston. When her husband died, she moved to Venice where she died in 1892. Many of the letters from this album are correspondence with artists and musicians from the nineteenth century. Although the Burrs had much in common with the Brownings (art, acquaintances, Venice), only two letters of their correspondence are noted, both from the summer of 1864, and both unlocated. Robert does record going to Mrs. Higford Burr’s house to meet the Layards in a letter to  Pen on 23 March 1889, the year of his death. He reports another engagement with Mrs. Burr and the Layards on 4 July 1889.

Although she does not appear in the Brownings’ correspondence, Lady Lucie Duff-Gordon (1821-1869) seems like someone they might have liked to have known.

Lucie Austin, by a school friend, aged 15.

Having become fluent in German while on a trip to Germany with her parents, John and Sarah Austin, she became a proficient translator.

Lucie Duff-Gordon, sketch by Frederick Watts, ca. 1848.

She married Lord Duff-Gordon in 1840 and their home attracted a remarkable circle of friends and acquaintances. Lady Lucie was known for her progressive and tolerant views. In 1861 she contracted tuberculosis, and moved to South Africa and later Egypt in search of a better climate.

Lucie Duff-Gordon, by Henry W. Phillips, ca. 1851.

She is most well known for  her Letters from Egypt, 1863–1865 (1865) and Last Letters from Egypt (1875), written to her family while she was living in Egypt. She returned to England for visits in 1863 and 1865.

This undated letter  from Lady Lucie Duff-Gordon to Mr. Burr, written from The Gordon House, Esher, in Surrey, thanks him for his gift of an “incendiary jacket.” She says that she had just received the gift that morning and had already made use of the jacket and “put a bit into my pipe and smoked it.” Oddly, she was reported to have smoked cigars when she went riding, because “they suppressed the racking coughs caused by consumption,” not a treatment that would have been recommended today.

Letter from Lady Lucie Duff-Gordon to Mr. Higford Burr. Undated. Page 1.

Letter from Lady Lucie Duff-Gordon to Mr. Higford Burr. Undated. Pages 2 and 3.

Beyond the Brownings–William Cullen Bryant (1794-1878)

William Cullen Bryant ABL 2

Courtesy of The Armstrong Browning Library

By Melinda Creech, Graduate Assistant, Armstrong Browning Library

William Cullen Bryant, who was an American poet, journalist, and editor of the New York Evening Post, is best known for his poems “Thanatopsis” and “To a Waterfowl.”

Although he is mentioned in several of the Brownings’ letters, we have no record that he was a correspondent of the Brownings. The Brownings entertained Bryant at Casa Guidi in June 1858 and Bryant stayed in a hotel next door to the Brownings on a trip to Paris in July 1858.

The Armstrong Browning Library owns one letter from Bryant to Fanny Kemble and an autograph note in the Whittier Autograph Album. The ABL collection includes ten books, one of which, The Complete Poetical Works of William Cullen Bryant (1854), is a copy of the book that was given to Elizabeth Barrett Browning by Anna Ticknor.

Bryant,-Complete-Poetical-Works-1William Cullen Bryant. The Complete Poetical Works of William Cullen Bryant. London: Knight and Son, 1854.

Anna Ticknor was an American author and educator who founded the Society to Encourage Studies at Home, which was the first correspondence school in the United States.


RB-to-Perkins-3In a letter from July of 1858, Browning thanks his friend, Charles Perkins, art critic, author, organizer of cultural activities, for the music they enjoyed in Florence. He also describes their trip by boat from Florence to France.

… the ship was overcrowded from Leghorn to Genoa and my wife passed the night on the bare deck and a shawl or two rather than try the stifling berths below—thence to Marseilles  was a rougher business—but we rested a night got to Lyons next evening, Dijon the following midday and Paris on Tuesday night.

 He continues the letter, noting that in Paris William Cullen Bryant is his next door neighbor.

Mr Bryant happens to lodge in the Hôtel next door—which is pleasant to know–

RB-to-Perkins-4composite Browning also discusses future plans which include a proposed trip to Egypt, which never occurred.

… we shall certainly set our faces Southward in less than three months, and, I suppose, find you at Florence,—at least provisionally. For us, if we don’t go to Egypt, we shall winter at Rome—or so we say at present.

RB-to-Perkins-5Letter from Robert Browning to Charles Perkins.
11 July 1858.


Letter from William Cullen Bryant to Miss Fanny Kemble [Mrs. Pierce Mease Butler]. 28 February 1857.

Bryant makes arrangements for Miss Kemble to give her readings in New York in April. He looks forward to her coming, commenting that

 …there have been few entertainments of the kind this winter—none certainly that could take off its edge.