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.

…from America: The Brownings’ American Correspondents–Elizabeth Clementine Kinney (1810–1889)

Elizabeth_Clementine_KinneyElizabeth Clementine Kinney was an American writer, contributing frequently to periodicals such as Blackwood’s, The Daily Telegraph, and Knickerbockers. During a fourteen year stay in Europe she developed a close friendship with Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett Browning. The Armstrong Browning Library’s holdings related to Kinney include two books, five letters, and two manuscripts.

EBB-to-Kinney-1EBB-to-Kinney-2Letter from Elizabeth Barrett Browning to Elizabeth Clementine Kinney. [ca. September 1854].

In this very interesting letter, Elizabeth Barrett Browning discusses the plans of Harriet Hosmer, Elizabeth Kinney, and herself related to dressing up as men in order to gain access to a monastery not far from the Porta Roma of Florence in order to view some Donnatello paintings. Their elaborate plan, however, was never realized.

Kinney-Casa-Guidi-WindowsEllizabeth Clementine Kinney.
“Stay!—come not here with unannointed eyes.”
Autograph Manuscript. Undated.

This sonnet is addressed to Elizabeth Barrett Browning and signed with Elizabeth Clementine Kinney’s iinitials. The poem is written on the end-pages of Casa Guidi Windows, London: Chapman and Hall, 1851.

Giving Nineteenth Century Women Writers a Voice and a Face — Isabella Blagden (1816/17–1873)

Isabella Blagden
“To Georges Sand:
On Her Interview With Elizabeth Barrett Browning”
Poems (1873)

The poem above was inspired by the meeting of the nineteenth century poet, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, and nineteenth century novelist, George Sand, in Paris in 1852. Both Blagden and Barrett Browning admired George Sand for her unconventional private life and the frank sexuality of her novels. Barrett Browning also wrote poems honoring George Sand. The following poems appeared in her two volumes of Poems, published in 1844.

THOU large-brained woman and large-hearted man,
Self-called George Sand! whose soul, amid the lions
Of thy tumultuous senses, moans defiance
And answers roar for roar, as spirits can!
I would some mild miraculous thunder ran
Above the applauded circus, in appliance
Of thine own nobler nature’s strength and science,
Drawing two pinions, white as wings of swan,
From thy strong shoulders, to amaze the place
With holier light! that thou to woman’s claim
And man’s, mightst join beside the angel’s grace
Of a pure genius sanctified from blame , —
Till child and maiden pressed to thine embrace,
To kiss upon thy lips a stainless fame.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning
“George Sand: A Desire”
Poems (1844)

TRUE genius, but true woman! dost deny
Thy woman’s nature with a manly scorn,
And break away the gauds and armlets worn
By weaker women in captivity?
Ah, vain denial! that revolted cry
Is sobbed in by a woman’s voice forlorn!—
Thy woman’s hair, my sister, all unshorn,
Floats back dishevelled strength in agony,
Disproving thy man’s name! and while before
The world thou burnest in a poet-fire,
We see thy woman-heart beat evermore
Through the large flame. Beat purer, heart, and higher,
Till God unsex thee on the spirit-shore;
To which alone unsexing, purely aspire.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning
“George Sand: A Recognition
Poems (1844)

Isabella Blagden was a dear friend of the Brownings and a central figure in the Anglo-Florentine community. Although originally little was known about Isa’s birthplace, parents, relatives, and early life, recent research by Philip Kelley, Scott Lewis, and Edward Hagan, published in The Brownings’ Correspondence, Vol. 16,  has provided many details about her early life. The uncertainty over the year of her birth arises from different information given on her grave marker and death certificate. With Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s encouragement, Isa wrote five novels, Agnes Tremorne, being the most well known. The Armstrong Browning Library has an extensive archive of Isa Blagden’s writing, including three books, twelve manuscripts, and 124 letters written to or by her. Robert Browning’s letters to Isa Blagden were first collected in a volume edited by E. C. McAleer entitled Dearest Isa (1951). Most recently the letters were published in Florentine Friends: The Letters of Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Robert Browning to Isa Blagden, 1859-1861, edited by Philip Kelley and Sandra Donaldson (2009).

Isa almost always published under a pseudonym. Although she requested that her novel, Agnes Tremorne (1861), be published under the pseudonym Ivory Beryl, the publisher substituted her real name. The poem “Voices: Youth, Love and Death” in the Victoria Regia (1861) is the only one of her publications signed “Isa Blagden.” The manuscripts of  “A Roman Picture” below illustrate Isabella Blagden’s pseudonyms, “I.B.”  and “Ivory Beryl.”

Isabella Blagden
“A Roman Picture” (undated)

Isa Blagden died in the Villa Castellani, Piazza di Bellosguardo, Florence, on 20 January 1873 and was buried on 28 January near her friend, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, in the Protestant Cemetery.

Melinda Creech