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

The Armstrong Browning Library (ABL) at Baylor University boasts an archive of nineteenth-century poetry entitled “The Minor English Poets’ Collection.” Purchased in 1986 from Pickering and Chatto, it contains 249 works of verse and dramatic verse published in the Age of Queen Victoria (1837-1901). My examination of this little-explored collection reveals that the title appears to be a misnomer. The collection features the poetry of authors whose writings appeared in print only occasionally, such as the members of the Glasgow Ballad Club, John Stuart Blackie (1809-1895), John Christopher Fitzachary, James Rennell Rodd (1858-1941) and Charles Whitworth Wynne (1869-1917). But it also includes the works of poets who were well established in their day and who have received serious critical attention in ours, including George Meredith (1828-1909) and William Ernest Henley (1849-1903). Many of the poets also identify themselves as Scots and Irish in their prefaces, and several of the poems are composed in a regional dialect of Celtic or Gaelic origin.

This anomaly notwithstanding, the collection is a rich resource. My purpose in exploring the work of these mid- to late-Victorian “minor” poets was to discover their contribution to the aesthetic, political and social poetic practices to the literature and culture of the period. 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.

Reading upwards of twenty volumes of poetry, I investigated how these “minor English” poets might be a corrective to the viewpoint of the canonical poets. I charted the broad themes of daily life. Invariably, these are concerned with poverty, economic disparity between classes, death and loss, and the Christian faith. I also explored the poets’ engagement with local and contemporary politics, national histories and the representation of nature and the environment. It is the final two of these themes that I wish to focus on briefly, paying special attention to two works of ecocritical poetry.

National Memory

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)

Many of the poems in the archive focused on national history with a concentration on the themes of national memory, patriotism and nostalgia for bygone times. There are tributes to English and Scottish 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) and Lord Alfred Tennyson (1802-1892). Irish nationalism, on the other hand, is revived mainly through the poetic treatment of legends. In a patriotic homage to Sir Francis Drake in Ballads of the Fleet and Other Poems (1897), for example, Rodd represents the infamous pirate as a hero whose life on the seas is peerless, in “San Juan De Lua” written in two-line stanzas of heroic couplets. In another unapologetically patriotic poem Home Poems (1899), Walter Earle congratulates England for its successful wars, colonial history, and territorial expansion. His goal, it seems, is to bolster national pride and self-confidence. In one poem entitled “The New Century,” the speaker 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). Remarkably, Earle’s poems ignore the effects of colonization and England’s wars during the century.

Ecocritical Poetry

Robert, Earl of Lytton (1831-1891)

Robert, Earl of Lytton (1831-1891)

Poets whose work engages with nature and environment are far less nationalistic. Many of their poems evoke Romantic tropes of nature and the wilderness, but few could be considered ecocritical poetry, which The Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics (2012) defines as “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 that denounce the threat human activities posed to the non-human world are the poems After Paradise or Legends of Exile and Other Poems (1887) and Ad Astra (1900) by Robert, Earl of Lytton (1831-1891) and Whitworth Wynne, respectively. Both poets tackle man’s progress and degradation of the natural world, though they do not necessarily foreground the natural world or wilderness. Commenting on poetry of this kind, Karla Armbruster and Kathleen R. Wallace assert 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 (2001:2).

This hybrid poetry is represented by the work of both Lytton and Wynne. Writing under the pseudonym Owen Meredith, Lytton’s title poem “After Paradise” comprises several independent sections. The first, The Titlark’s Nest: A Parable, is a fifteen-stanza modified form of the ottava rima that 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 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. (Stanza 2)

The stanza juxtaposes the dead and desolate church building with the emerging life of plant (“buds and bunches born”) and animal (“A titlark”). The diction is one of degradation and the tone is resentful. This is conveyed through the alliterative “saucy scorn / Of desolation’s impotent disdain.” However, this tone gives way to another contrasting and conflicting one: 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). This is a poem of contrasts and repetition, and Lytton seems to emphasize the success of the non-human world over the intrusiveness of man-made structures and the degradation which follows their reckless desolation. In Whitworth Wynne’s Ad Astra, the speaker reflects on man’s torrid relationship with God and nature, and 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. The speaker is critical of the many advancements man has made in the last decade, especially in electricity in 1887, and ponders:

XXXI

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.

Initial Findings

Lytton’s and Whitworth Wynne’s ecocritical poetry aside, the majority of the volumes in the Collection, especially by the 1890s poets, that I read reveal a widespread engagement with patriotism and celebration of national history, foreshadowing Rudyard Kipling’s poetic response to empire in The Five Nations (1903). Several poets commemorate the life of Lord Alfred Tennyson (“mighty of heart or brain”), some employing the language of empire to represent the poet laureate as “Warders of Empire’s outposts.” These are but a few of the many themes to be explored in “The Minor Poets’ Collection.” Overall, my initial investigation shows that the “minor English poets,” writing in the final two decades of the nineteenth century, present no clear break with the poetry of the canonical poets of the period, with some original reviewers commenting that the work of Lord Lytton and Whitworth Wynne (pseudonym for Charles Cayzer) is imitative of Tennyson and Robert Browning.

Through the generosity of the Armstrong Browning Library at Baylor University, which awarded me a visiting research fellowship in 2019, I am grateful for the first privilege of sampling this impressive collection of writings by “minor English poets” as part of a second major project. I thank all who made my time at the ABL and Baylor a success, in particular Christi Klempnauer, who was always available to make sure my needs were well seen to, and Assistant to the Curators Melvin Schuetz and the Director Jennifer Borderud.

Works Consulted

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 CanonConstructing 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.

Hoppen, K. Theodore. (1998). The Mid-Victorian Generation, 1846-1886. (Oxford: UOP).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Reflections from a Visiting Scholar: Manuscripts and Marginalia at the Armstrong Browning Library

By Denae Dyck, PhD Candidate, University of Victoria, Canada

Denae Dyck, PhD Candidate, University of Victoria, Canada

Denae Dyck, PhD Candidate, University of Victoria, Canada

For two weeks in March, I spent time as a visiting scholar at the Armstrong Browning Library (ABL). I am grateful to have had the opportunity to do research at a library with unique and extensive collections related to the texts, writers, and intellectual traditions that I am examining in my PhD studies at the University of Victoria, Canada. My dissertation looks at the uses of biblical wisdom literature by Victorian writers responding to the higher criticism, criticism that broke new ground by approaching the Bible primarily as a composite, historical, and literary document. This focus means that I am interested not only in the particular place of this wisdom literature within changing ideas about authority and revelation in nineteenth-century thought but also in the broader field of hermeneutics. Working with manuscripts and marginalia at the ABL has helped me to think about the task of interpretation from some new angles.

Among the many intriguing materials at the ABL, the autograph manuscript of Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s (EBB’s) A Drama of Exile (her poetic engagement with the biblical narrative of humankind’s expulsion from Eden) held special interest for me because this poem is one of the primary texts that I am analyzing in my dissertation. Beginning where the third chapter of Genesis concludes—the fallout of the fall, if you will—EBB’s dramatic poem of 2272 lines takes up questions about the order of the cosmos and the meaning of suffering, the very questions raised by biblical wisdom literature, especially the book of Job. First published in 1844, A Drama of Exile incorporates elements of an earlier, unpublished piece entitled “Adam’s Farewell to Eden in His Age,” which is also held at the ABL and which has recently been published in the fifth volume of The Works of Elizabeth Barrett Browning (2010). Through studying the manuscript of A Drama of Exile at the ABL, I was able to further trace the development of EBB’s thought.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning. Manuscript of A Drama of Exile. Page 25. [D0216]

Elizabeth Barrett Browning. Manuscript of A Drama of Exile. Page 25. [D0216]

The experience of transcribing EBB’s small (and sometimes untidy) handwriting gave me the thrill of seeing familiar lines made strange: her manuscript differs from the published text in subtle yet interesting ways. As I found, seemingly small changes in word choice or sentence structure often reflect larger patterns and themes. For instance, whereas this manuscript compares the angelic songs heard by Adam and Eve in the wilderness to a “healing rain,” the published poem likens this music to a “watering dew,” a simile that brings Edenic imagery into the wilderness. Changes such as these intensify EBB’s overall emphasis on divine immanence within the mortal, material world. Although this manuscript does not include the entire poem, I was delighted to find that it contains two variants of EBB’s first scene with Adam and Eve. Comparing these versions against each other and against the published text of A Drama of Exile shows the non-linear elements of EBB’s writing process: even though one draft had more similarities to the final text than the other, the published poem includes distinctive elements from both fragments. One page from what I take to be the latter of these two versions offers an exciting glimpse into EBB’s thought. In the margins of a speech wherein Eve declares “since I was the first in the transgression, with my little foot / I will be the first to tread from this sword-glare / Into the outer darkness of the waste,” EBB has pencilled in an “x” and commented at the bottom of the page, “I do not like ‘little’ – it is almost coquettish—with my firm foot?” In the published version, the line reads “with a steady foot” (l. 547). This substitution reinforces EBB’s reinterpretation of Eve from the original sinner blamed in centuries of patriarchal exegesis to a figure of strength and insight.

While this annotation shows the dialogue of the poet’s mind with itself, I was able to further explore the exchange of ideas that shaped A Drama of Exile through perusing unpublished letters to EBB from her cousin John Kenyon. Reading these letters allowed me to fill in some of the missing pieces from the multi-volume collection of The Brownings’ Correspondence, which contains EBB’s letters to Kenyon but not all of his to her. Kenyon played an interesting role in the poem’s formation: when EBB fell into despair and felt inclined to burn her manuscript, her cousin intervened by offering to give her his honest opinion, as EBB explains to her scholarly mentor H.S. Boyd in a letter that is included in The Brownings’ Correspondence (volume 8, pp. 267-68). The letters from Kenyon at the ABL, which date from sometime after this incident, provide both encouragement and critique. He tells EBB, “The more I read of your poem the more I admire & love it”; nevertheless, he also questions some of her archaic diction choices (“Why do you – who taught me to say – between – say betwixt?”) and makes suggestions involving characterization. These letters reinforce that the process of composition does not take place in a vacuum.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning. Detail of Marginalia in Xenophon’s Memorabilia. Page 181. [ABLibrary Brownings’ Library XBL 888.3x55m]

Elizabeth Barrett Browning. Detail of Marginalia in Xenophon’s Memorabilia. Page 181. [ABLibrary Brownings’ Library XBL 888.3x55m]

In addition to manuscripts and unpublished letters, the ABL has a large collection of books from the library of EBB and Robert Browning that show the breadth and depth of these two poets’ intellectual engagement—all the more so because many of these volumes contain marginal notes. For instance, EBB’s markup in her four-volume set of Henry Hallam’s Introduction to the Literature of Europe of the Fifteenth, Sixteenth, and Seventeenth Centuries (1837) critiques Hallam’s arguments on subjects ranging from the Protestant Reformation to John Donne’s poetry. Such marginal commentary underscores the fact that creative writing is often a form of rewriting—A Drama of Exile, for instance, responds not only to biblical texts but also to John Milton’s Paradise Lost (1667), along with other literary precedents. Given my interests in hermeneutics and wisdom literature, I was curious about the Brownings’ volumes of Socratic dialogues and their notations therein. As I discovered, these notes highlight points of intersection between classical and biblical traditions. In her copy of Xenophon’s Memorabilia, EBB likens Socrates’ words about the duties of a general to the pastoral advice given in 1 Timothy chapter 3. The holdings from the Brownings’ library also include their copy of Introduction to the Dialogues of Plato (1836) by Friedrich Schleiermacher, the theologian whose work brought together religious and secular hermeneutics. The pencil markings in this book call attention to Schleiermacher’s view of dialogue not merely as a rhetorical trick but, more importantly, as a method for catalyzing the search for knowledge.

George MacDonald. Marginalia in Christmas-Eve and Easter-Day: A Poem, by Robert Browning. London: Chapman and Hall, 1850. Page 15. [ABLibrary Rare X821.83 P5 C466c c.13]

George MacDonald. Marginalia in Christmas-Eve and Easter-Day: A Poem, by Robert Browning. London: Chapman and Hall, 1850. Page 15. [ABLibrary Rare X821.83 P5 C466c c.13]

Of further interest to me were the marginal notations in George MacDonald’s first edition of Robert Browning’s Christmas-Eve and Easter-Day (1850), two dramatic monologues that wrestle with the topics raised by the higher criticism. In “Christmas-Eve,” the speaker moves from a satiric rejection of what he regards as a misguided sermon to a sympathetic recognition of all interpretation as imperfect, going on a supernatural night-time journey that takes him from a British dissenting chapel to a Roman catholic church to a German lecture hall—not unlike the journey of Ebenezer Scrooge in Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol (1843). Engaging with this comic yet thoughtful poem at the level of both sound and sense, MacDonald indicates stressed and unstressed syllables in select lines and writes “remark” or “remarks” in the margins of key passages. These notes lay the foundation for MacDonald’s review of this poem in The Monthly Christian Spectator (May 1853), as well as for the lectures he gave on Browning in subsequent decades.

Robert Browning. Marginalia in Sartor Resartus, by Thomas Carlyle. Boston: James Munroe and Company, 1837. Page 72. [ABLibrary Brownings’ Library X BL 824.8 C286s 1837]

Robert Browning. Marginalia in Sartor Resartus, by Thomas Carlyle. Boston: James Munroe and Company, 1837. Page 72. [ABLibrary Brownings’ Library X BL 824.8 C286s 1837]

Browning’s own influences can be seen in his copy of the 1837 edition of Thomas Carlyle’s experimental prose essay Sartor Resartus. This densely allusive text emphasizes the challenge of interpretation, as Carlyle adopts the metafictional guise of an English editor translating the work of a German professor. In addition to tracking some of Carlyle’s references to writers such as Jonathan Swift or William Shakespeare, Browning’s notes thicken the book’s intertextual dialogue. In a chapter where Carlyle discusses wonder with reference to Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s Wilhelm Meister’s Apprenticeship (1796), Browning writes, “In wonder all knowledge begins – in wonder it ends & admiration fills up the interspace. But the first wonder is the child of ignorance – the last is the parent of admiration – the first is the birth-throe of knowledge: the last its culmination & apotheosis.” These sentences paraphrase Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s words in a passage from Aids to Reflection (1829), a collection of aphorisms that quote from and comment on various theologians and philosophers in what amounts to a Victorian equivalent to the book of Proverbs. Here, Browning comments on Carlyle’s reflections on Goethe by evoking Coleridge (who, in turn, develops arguments from Aristotle’s Metaphysics) . . . and so on.

These examples are just few of the gems held at the ABL. Other items that I had the chance to look at included pages of EBB’s unpublished girlhood writings that show the growth of her literary ambitions, as well as a notebook of additional manuscript material from the 1840s containing drafts of poems that vary in interesting ways from her published pieces. The rare books collection at the ABL features two illustrated versions of MacDonald’s Phantastes (1858), his first fairy tale for an adult audience: one set of illustrations by John Bell (1894) and the other by Arthur Hughes (1905), each of which offer very different visual interpretations of this story. The library also holds MacDonald’s copy of Coleridge’s Aids to Reflection, which shows evidence of longstanding and affectionate use: the inside cover has the bookplate of MacDonald’s son, while other front matter bears the signature of MacDonald’s father, as well as what appears to be an unpublished sonnet from George MacDonald dated 5 November 1847 and addressed to Louisa Powell, whom he married on 8 March 1851. (My thanks go to manuscript specialist Melinda Creech for helping me to identify this handwriting).

As a result of my time at the ABL, I have not only uncovered additional content for my dissertation but also deepened the way that I understand this content. In addition to informing my current research, the materials here have provided me with ideas for further study that I hope to pursue at a later date. My experience was made all the more enriching by the hospitality of the ABL faculty and staff, who made me feel welcome and generously shared their expertise with me in the kind of conversations that are the very best part of intellectual inquiry.

Beyond the Brownings–Thomas Carlyle (1795-1881)

Carlyle ABL-1Courtesy of The Armstrong Browning Library

By Melinda Creech, Graduate Assistant, Armstrong Browning Library

Thomas Carlyle, a nineteenth-century Scottish philosopher, satirical writer, essayist, historian and teacher, is perhaps most well-known for Sartor Resartus (1836), an essay on social philosophy; The French Revolution (3 volumes, 1837); and History of Frederick the Great (6 volumes, 1858-65). Carlyle was a correspondent of the Brownings.

In November 2009 the Armstrong Browning Library purchased a collection of nearly 400 volumes by and about Carlyle. The collection comes from the personal library of Professor Rodger L. Tarr, an eminent Carlyle scholar who is University Distinguished Professor Emeritus at Illinois State University. Paired with ABL’s existing Carlyle holdings of approximately 140 titles, the total Collection provides for scholars a vast resource for the study of Carlyle. Two of the books belonged to Robert Browning. The library owns seventeen letters written by Carlyle and over 100 letters written to Carlyle. The ABL’s holdings also include one of Carlyle’s manuscripts.

Chinese-Carlyle-1webChinese-Carlyle-2webThomas Carlyle. Ying Xiong He Ying Xiong Chong Bai: Ka Lai Mi Jiang Yan Ji [On Heroes, Hero-Worship, & the Heroic in History: Six Lectures ; Reported, with Emendations and Additions]. Di 1 ban. Shang hai: San lian shu dian shang hai fen dian, 1988. Print. Shi Jie Xian Zhe Ming Zhu Xuan Yi.

In addition to the English collection of nineteenth century books, periodicals, manuscripts, letters, and modern critical works pertaining to the nineteenth century, the Armstrong Browning Library has a small foreign languages collection, which includes nineteenth century items and modern criticism in Chinese, French, German, and Persian.

Sartor-Resartus-title-webThomas Carlyle. Sartor Resartus: In Three Books. 2d ed. Boston : Philadelphia : Pittsburgh: James Munroe and Company ; James Kay, Jun. & Brother ; John I. Kay & Co., 1837.

This volume is Robert Browning’s own copy of Sartor Resartus, given to him by Harriet Martineau.

Sartor-Resartus-inscription-webThe volume contains marginalia, some of which can be ascribed to Robert Browning.

Sartor-Resartus-marginalia-greek-webSartor-Resartus-marginalia-2-2webParticularly interesting is the note responding to this passage:

So true is it, what I then said, that the fraction of life can be increased in value, not so much by increasing your numerator, as by lessening your denominator.

Sartor-Resartus2webThe marginalia reads:

3/9 – 3/6

December-16,-1857-1webDecember-16,-1857-2webLetter from Thomas Carlyle to [Unknown].16 December 1857.

Carlyle sends a sharp critique to an unknown correspondent.

It is unluckily not in my power to be of the best service to you. I would much advise that you altogether quitted “literature”, and sought out for yourself some more solid and rational employment for your talents than that can ever prove to be. I send you a small Post-office order; and many sincere wishes for a better career.

 

Simon-Brodie's-CowwebThomas Carlyle. “Simon Brodie’s Cow.” 12 December 1847.

This is a manuscript of a Scottish nursery rhyme Carlyle often quoted when giving autographs:

Simon Brodie had a cow;

He lost his cow, and he could na find her:

When he had done what man could do,

The cow cam hame and her tail behind her.

Beyond the Brownings: The Victorian Letter and Manuscript Collection

By Melinda Creech, Graduate Assistant, Armstrong Browning Library

Beyond-the-BrowningsScholars know the Armstrong Browning Library at Baylor University as a world-class research library devoted to the lives and works of Robert and Elizabeth Barrett Browning. In addition to housing the world’s largest collection of books, letters, manuscripts, and memorabilia related to the Brownings, the library houses a substantial collection of primary and secondary materials related to nineteenth-century literature and culture. The Victorian Letter and Manuscript Collection includes almost 2,500 items from literary, political, ecclesiastical, scientific, and cultural figures in the nineteenth century. Letters, manuscripts, and books from Prince Albert, Queen Victoria, Matthew Arnold, Charles Babbage, J. M. Barrie, William Cullen Bryant, Thomas Carlyle, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Charles Dickens, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Michael Faraday, W. E. Gladstone, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Victor Hugo, Thomas Henry Huxley, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, James Russell Lowell, George MacDonald, John-Henry Newman, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Christina Rossetti, William Michael Rossetti, John Ruskin, Alfred Lord Tennyson, William Makepeace Thackeray, John Greenleaf Whittier, and William Wordsworth will be featured in the exhibit. In future blogs about the exhibit you can find out how Elizabeth Barrett Browning was related to Charles Babbage, where Victor Hugo spent his summer vacation, who was b__k b__ll__ed, and what happened to Miss Brodie’s cow.

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?