Beyond the Brownings–William Michael Rossetti (1829-1919)

NPG P56; The Rossetti Family by Lewis Carroll (Charles Lutwidge Dodgson)© National Portrait Gallery, London

Written by Melinda Creech, Graduate Assistant, Armstrong Browning Library

William Michael Rossetti, along with his brother Dante Gabriel Rossetti, was one of the founders of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, a group of English painters, poets, and critics who intended to reform art by rejecting a mechanistic approach and embracing a return to abundant detail, intense colors and complex compositions. Although employed full-time as a civil servant, William Michael managed to produce criticism, biographies, editions, and articles for the Encyclopædia Britannica.

The Armstrong Browning Library holds seven letters written by William Michael Rossetti and over thirty books, some of them rare.


Letter from William Michael Rossetti to A. H. Dooley. 12 May 1876.

 In this letter William Michael Rossetti outlines his published works.

Colles-1Colles-2Letter from William Michael Rossetti to Mr. Colles. 28 August 1898.

In this letter, William Michael Rossetti discusses  a photograph of his brother taken by Downey.

PreRaph1PreRaph2PreRaph3PreRaph4PreRaph5PreRaph6William Michael Rossetti. Ruskin: Rossetti: Preraphaelitism; Papers 1854 to 1862. London: George Allen, 1899.

This volume bears the inscription: “Two hundred and fifty copies of this edition have been printed on hand-made paper for England and America, of which this is no. 176.”

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) Augusta Webster [née Davies], [pseud. Cecil Home] (1837–1894)

We ought to make out what we mean, and to teach definitely one system or the other; goodness for its own sake, or goodness for its extraneous rewards.

 Augusta Webster, “Virtue is its own Reward,”
The Examiner, 23 Feb 1878, p. 238.

Webster’s series of essays first appeared in the Examiner and were later published as a book,  A Housewife’s Opinions (1879). Dr. Patricia Rigg, author of Julia Augusta Webster: Victorian Aestheticism and the Woman Writer, and Professor, Department of English and Theatre, Acadia University, Canada, suggested the above quotation. In the essay, Webster takes a very practical approach to morality. She discusses the phrase “virtue is its own reward,” arguing that virtue, in fact, generally causes loss to the practitioner. She warns that systems of extrinsic and intrinsic motivation are mutually exclusive and that choosing one course or the other is a better plan for educating our children. A similar concern was more recently expressed by Alfie Kohn, the author of Punished by Rewards (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1993 / 1999).

Augusta Webster was an accomplished scholar, learning Italian, Spanish, French, Greek, and Latin. She pursued her passion for painting but was expelled from the South Kensington Art School in London for whistling. She published translations of Aeschylus and Euripides. Her first book of poetry, Blanche Lisle: and other poems (1860), was published under a pseudonym, Cecil Home, but later publications were done under her own name. She gained her greatest popularity with her dramatic monologues, in part inspired by Robert Browning. These monologues gave a voice to women and reflected her feminist interests.

There has been a renewal of interest in Webster in the last few years focusing on her roles as writer, professional critic, activist, and political figure. Her sonnet sequence, Mothers and Daughter (London: Macmillan and Co., 1895), published posthumously, has also gained attention recently among scholars. In the sonnets, Webster presents an unreserved tribute to motherhood, rescuing the experience of birth and motherhood from their typical use in the nineteenth century as metaphors for male creativity. William Michael Rossetti, English writer and critic, wrote the introduction, in which he comments:

Nothing certainly could be more genuine than these Sonnets. A Mother is expressing her love for a Daughter – her reminiscences, anxieties, and hopeful anticipations. The theme is as beautiful and natural one as any poetess could select…. It seems a little surprising that Mrs. Webster had not been forestalled – and to the best of my knowledge she never was forestalled – in such a treatment. But some of the poetesses have not been Mothers.

London: Macmillan And Co. and New York, 1895.

The Armstrong Browning Library owns two volumes of Webster’s poetry, A Woman Sold and Other Poems (London: Macmillan and Co., 1867) and A Book of Rhyme (London : Macmillan, 1881).

An advertisement in the back of A Woman Sold and Other Poems for Dramatic Studies, another volume of poetry by Webster, includes this quote from Contemporary Review: “Mrs. Webster’s dramatic and poetic poems are of no common order. Her special line is the subjective analysis of thought and feeling.” Another note of interest is that the Hathi Trust online edition of the book was a “Gift of Prof. J. R. Lowell of Cambridge,” to Harvard  University.

At least one volume of Augusta Webster’s work was owned by Robert Browning. A Book of Rhyme (1881), in the Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand bears the following inscription: “To Robert Browning from the Author A.W. July 1881.” The ABL owns a copy of the same edition that Robert Browning owned.

Melinda Creech

Notes and Queries: Does anyone know where to find the photograph alluded to on the engraving of Augusta Webster: “Photographed by Ferrando, Roma”?

I have not found a copy of the original photo, however, I have found a variant image of her — also credited to Ferrando.
It is in the article: “Le odierne poetesse inglesi.” That is, “Today’s English poets.” Pages 104-113.
The Webster image is on page 108.