Introducing…The Victorian Collection at the Armstrong Browning Library: a Baylor Libraries Digital Collection—Theater, Art, and Music

By Melinda Creech, PhD, Graduate Assistant 

Marie Ada Molineux (1856-1936), Author, Bacteriologist, Psychologist, Charter Member of the Boston Browning Society. Nell Pomeroy O'Brien, painter. 1936. Courtesy of the Armstrong Browning LibraryThe Armstrong Browning Library is pleased to announce the release of The Victorian Collection online. This new digital collection contains over 3,000 letters and manuscripts connected to prominent and lesser known British and American figures and complements the Armstrong Browning Library’s unparalleled collection of materials relating to the Victorian poets Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett Browning. The letters and manuscripts in this growing collection can be browsed and searched by date, author, keyword, or first line of text. Letters from the collection are currently on display in Hankamer Treasure Room.


Theater, Art, and Music

In addition to letters from literary figures, letters about science, exploration, religion, and politics, many letters related to the arts — theater, visual arts, and music — are also a part of the Victorian Collection.

The ABL owns an album once belonging to Fanny Kemble, (1809-1893), a notable British Actress. The album contains letters to Mrs. Kemble from such notables as Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Charlotte Cushman, Owen Wister, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and James Ballantyne. Mrs. Kemble’s note below comments on Mr. Ballantyne’s review of her work and points to a favorable opinion by Sir Walter Scott.

Note from Fanny Kemble. 25 June [1830].

Note from Fanny Kemble. 25 June [1830]. Envelope address.

Note from Fanny Kemble. 25 June [1830]. Envelope verso.


The ABL also owns twenty-two letters from Kate Field, an American journalist, correspondent, editor, lecturer, and actress. Her letters are always rather flamboyant, often written in purple ink. In this letter she is very nervous about Mr. Phillips opinion of her performance. She writes to Mrs. Sargent—

I am dying to know what Mr. Phillips thinks of my performance on Monday last. The sight of him, the dread silence of the audience, the noise of pianos, and the pounding in the entry, completely upset me, and I had hard work to pull through – I know that I was artificial in my delivery I was self-conscious. Everybody has criticized me but Mr. Phillips, and he of all others is the one I want to hear from. I don’t want to badger him into criticism, however, and I ask you to be my messenger.

Kate Field performed “Woman at the Lyceum” on Monday, 12 April 1869 in New York.

Letter from Kate Field to Mrs. Sargent. 14 April 1869. Page 1.

Letter from Kate Field to Mrs. Sargent. 14 April 1869. Pages 2 and 3.


Percy Florence Shelley, the only surviving son of Romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley and novelist Mary Shelley, inherited the baronetcy from his grandfather and spent most of his life involved in the theater, building a theater in his home, Boscombe Manor. Many of his friends acted in and attended the productions, including Henry Irving and Robert Louis Stevenson. This letter to Tom Taylor, English dramatist, critic, biographer, public servant, and editor of Punch magazine, relates some details of the Shelley’s family life and describes the plays that were being planned for the theater.

Letter from Percy Florence Shelley to Tom Taylor. 11 January 1871. Page 1.

Letter from Percy Florence Shelley to Tom Taylor. 11 January 1871. Pages 2 and 3.

Letter from Percy Florence Shelley to Tom Taylor. 11 January 1871. Page 4.

Letter from Percy Florence Shelley to Tom Taylor. 11 January 1871. Page 5.


The ABL also has a collection of letters written to Tom Taylor. Most of the letters are letters of condolence to his wife upon his death. One of the letters is from Richard Doyle, a noted illustrator during the Victorian era, particularly in Punch magazine. The letter informs Taylor that Doyle has found the misplaced sketch of a view from Tennyson’s window. In March 1856, during a visit that Doyle and Tom Taylor had made to Farringford House, Doyle had done a drawing of the view from Tennyson’s window (“View from the Drawing Room painted in 1856 by Richard Doyle”). The letter contains a wonderful drawing of Tennyson and his family.

Letter from Richard Doyle to Tom Taylor. 10 July [1856]. Page 1.

Letter from Richard Doyle to Tom Taylor. 10 July [1856]. Page 2.


The Nevill Album contains letters pertaining to the visual and performing arts. Lina Nevill, novelist and Secretary of the Women’s University Extension, arranged for several public exhibitions of art, including the Southwark Exhibition in 1891. The Earl of Carlisle sent a painting by Walter McClaren, “A Capri Mother and Girl” for the Exhibition.

Letter from George James Howard, Earl of Carlisle to Lina Nevill. 28 April 1892. Page 1.

Letter from George James Howard, Earl of Carlisle to Lina Nevill. 28 April 1892. Page 2


The Norris Album contains several letters focused on music. This letter, from Hungarian violinist Ludwig Straus, is written in musical annotation and German.

Letter from Ludwig Straus to an Unidentified Correspondent. 06 October 1872.


In this letter N. J. Heineken, a musician and contributor to the journal, The Musical Standard, bemoans the fact that Miss Hodge has asked him a question about the guitar. He says:

It will never repay you for the learning its twinkle, twinkle, tunes may serve the purpose of the love sick swain as a serenading instrument but is most beneath the attention of he who can appreciate the old Cantors [glorious] [fuges]…

Letter from [N. J. Heineken] to Miss Hodge. 15 May 1893. Page 1.

Letter from [N. J. Heineken] to Miss Hodge. 15 May 1893. Pages 2 and 3.

Letter from [N. J. Heineken] to Miss Hodge. 15 May 1893. Page 4

In another letter to Miss Hodge, Heineken praises and critiques Miss Hodge’s composition, affirming that “I have been much pleased with your truthful and ingenious song.”

Letter from N. J. Heineken to Miss Hodge. Undated. Page 1.

Letter from N. J. Heineken to Miss Hodge. Undated. Pages 2 and 3.


For the complete series of blog posts on the Victorian Collection:

Literary figures represented in the Victorian Collection are covered in the blog series: Beyond the Brownings



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.