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.

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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.

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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.

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Percy Florence Shelley, the only 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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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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

 

 

They Asked For A Paper–Chinese Manuscripts at the ABL, Part 2

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

Two months ago I published a blog about some Chinese manuscripts I had come across while preparing manuscripts at the Armstrong Browning Library for a digital collection. I had determined that the manuscripts were given to the Armstrong Browning Library by Dryden Phelps, nephew of William Lyon Phelps, American author, critic, professor, and Browning scholar. Recently I uncovered a folder containing over 200 letters between Dryden Phelps and the directors of the ABL, Dr. A. J. Armstrong and Dr. Jack Herring. The letters reveal a little more of the story.

After taking degrees from Yale College, Yale School of Religion, and studying at Queens College Oxford, Dryden Phelps became a missionary of the American Baptist Foreign Mission Society, teaching for thirty years at the West China Union University in Chengu Szechuan. The mission of the school was “the advancement of the Kingdom of God by means of higher education in West China under Christian auspices.” Dryden taught English literature at WCUU, taught psychology, homiletics, and New Testament at Union Theological College, WCUU, and organized and built the University Cathedral Church on the campus of WCUU.

The Baptist College West China Union University Chengtu, West China 1935

Although his uncle, William Lyon Phelps, actually knew Robert Barrett Browning and Dr. Armstrong, Dryden’s connection with Dr. Armstrong began, as the letter below illustrates, when he answered an ad in the Baylor Bulletin, 28 April 1928: “Wanted: Browning in Chinese.”

Letter from Dryden Phelps to Dr. A. J. Armstrong, 3 May 1928. Page 1.

Letter from Dryden Phelps to Dr. A. J. Armstrong, 3 May 1928. Page 2.

Dryden, who had been teaching for two years at WCUU, was charged with teaching a class on Tennyson and Browning. He records that members of his class translated a number of the shorter poems into Chinese. Although at that time he was on furlough in California, Dryden promised to send the translations to Dr. Armstrong upon his return to China. These are the poems displayed in the earlier blog. And the correspondence began. Dr. Armstrong sent bits of Browning literature to China, and Dryden sent bits of Chinese culture back to Dr. Armstrong.

Letter from Dryden Phelps to Dr. A. J. Armstrong. 2 October 1928. Page 1.

Letter from Dryden Phelps to Dr. A. J. Armstrong. 2 October 1928. Page 2.

In the  letter above Dryden reports that “several years ago Browning was voted the most popular English poet by the Chinese students in America. The reason? Because he is terse, succinct, witty, epigramatic, unique in a brilliant use of words, profound, a lover of nature, and of human nature, a lover of life. Last year, perhaps I wrote you, I spent several hours a week with one of the most accomplished scholars in West China (in the city of Chengtu, the old home of Chinese poets and statesmen). Half of the time I studied Chinese lyric poetry with Mr Song; half of the time we read Browning together. When we finished, he exclaimed, ‘This is an amazement to me; I never realized that you in the West had any poets who could think, and write, as Browning does. Why, he is like one of our own poets!’ One of the highest services we can render China at this moment is to open her eyes to such men as Browning.”

Letter from Dryden Phelps to Dr. A. J. Armstrong. 10 December 1928. Page 2.

Again in a letter of 10 December 1928, Dryden affirms that “there is not the slightest question in my mind but what Browning will become the favorite foreign poet of the Chinese instantly he becomes known for there is a striking similarity between his thought imagery and style and that of the old T’ang and Song poets.” In a letter of 31 July 1934, he asserts “that Browning’s penetrating understanding of life and his absolute devotion to God and understanding of his love will be like a great stream of clear water running through the new life in the Far East.”

Letter from Dryden Phelps to Dr. A. J. Armstrong. 7 January 1934.

In the letter above, Dryden sends the “Yenching Hymnal containing a translation of Browning’s poem, probably by the editor  & poet Prof. T. C. Chao of Yenching.”

Letter from Dryden Phelps to Dr. A. J. Armstrong. 29 March 1935. Page 1.

Letter from Dryden Phelps to Dr. A. J. Armstrong. 29 March 1935. Page 2.

With this letter Dryden sends the copy of Browning’s poem made into a hymn, displayed in the earlier blog and recounts a Chinese poet’s rendition of “The Grammarian’s Funeral.”

Dryden continued to correspond with Dr. Armstrong, who furnished the WCUU library with Browning materials. Shortly before the Armstrong Browning Library opened, Dryden and his wife Margaret visited Dr. Armstrong in Waco.

Letter from Dryden Phelps to Dr. A. J. Armstrong, [1952]. Page 1.

Letter from Dryden Phelps to Dr. A. J. Armstrong. [1952]. Page 2.

Dryden thanks Dr. Armstrong for his hospitality.

Margaret and I leave Waco with your loving hospitality warm within our hearts. To see and come to know you, to see the glorious library, the work of your hearts and minds, is an American experience that will be remembered and remembered. You two precious people belong to the givers of the world.

You [have impressed] Margaret & we feel that we may join that inside circle of those who love you. And that library set in the midst of these generations of young people, placing steadily before their faces the primacy of truth and beauty & love —

We can never forget this day.

Dryden never had the chance to visit the Armstrong Browning Library, but he reciprocated Armstrong’s generosity by passing on some items that he inherited from his uncle’s estate to the Armstrong Browning Library, probably most notably the copy of The Guardian Angel painting which hangs in the John Leddy-Jones Research Hall.