White Star Lines–Titanic Connections at the ABL–Charles Sumner and the RMS Baltic

by Melinda Creech
Graduate Assistant, Armstrong Browning Library

The Oceanic Steam Navigation Company, more commonly known as the White Star Line, was a prominent British shipping company.  Founded in 1845, The White Star Line, operated a fleet of clipper ships that sailed between Britain, Australia, and America. The ill-fated Titanic was perhaps their most famous ship. The Armstrong Browning Library has a few connections to the Titanic. One connection relates to a set of postcards that disappeared with the Titanic and another relates to the author of the hymn, “Nearer, My God, to Thee,” the song that was purportedly playing as the Titanic sank. The Armstrong Browning Library’s collection includes a letter with the White Star logo in its heading and several letters written on board ships or while individuals were preparing to board ships. The letters, written between 1841 and 1912, are lines from people who were passengers on S S (Steamer Ships), RMS (Royal Mail Steamers), or HMS (Her Majesty’s Ship). It is interesting to note that one of the first purposes of steamers crossing the Atlantic was to deliver the mail. These lines, written from steamer ships, may shed some light on the adventure and danger presented by steamer travel in the late nineteenth century.

Charles Sumner

Charles Sumner (1811-1874) was an American politician, a senator from Massachusetts, and leader of the anti-slavery forces in the state. He traveled to Europe in 1872 for the last time and returned on SS Baltic.

RMS Baltic

The following letter was written while he was aboard the SS Baltic. It is addressed to Lily Benzon.

Charles Sumner to Lily Benson, 17 November 1872.

In the letter Sumner mentions the Smalleys, John Bright, and the Storys. The Benzons, Smalleys, and Storys were correspondents of Robert and Elizabeth Browning, and Sumner himself had been acquainted with Brownings in Florence in 1859[1].

Sumner described the beginning of his trip thus:

The steamer is moving with dignified calm, like a [Lord] [Morgan’s] [panama], & we have the promise of a pleasant voyage. I breakfasted this morning at the table. In no former voyage from Liverpool have I seen the table from the leaving of the Mersey to the sight of Boston Light.

However, the trip did not continue so peacefully. According to the records of the White Star Line (http://www.norwayheritage.com/p_ship.asp?sh=balt1) he arrived in New York on the morning of November 27 with severe storms having been reported.

The SS Baltic was an ocean liner owned and operated by the White Star Line, one of the first four ships ordered by the White Star Line from shipbuilders Harland and Wolff after Thomas Ismay bought the company. The Baltic was originally to be the Pacific, but her name was changed at the time of her launching due to another vessel, owned by a different shipping line, named the Pacific that had recently struck an iceberg and sank resulting in multiple deaths. White Star quickly changed the name to the Baltic, or most likely no one would have booked passage on her, because people were quite superstitious in those days. The Baltic was a state-of-the-art ship for her day, carrying 1,000 passengers and accommodating 1st, 2nd and 3rd class passengers. In 1888, this vessel came under the command of Edward J. Smith, later the Captain of the Titanic. It was his first command in the White Star Line. In 1889, after the SS Teutonic entered service, the Baltic was sold to the Holland America Line and renamed the Veendam after the Dutch city of that name. On 6 February 1898, the Veendam hit a derelict ship and sank, with all on board saved.

In 1903 another ship was built by the White Star Line and named the Baltic.

RMS Baltic (1903)

That ship sailed from 1904 until 1933. At 1.40 p.m. on 14 April 1912 the SS Baltic sent this message to RMS Titanic:

Captain Smith, Titanic. Have had moderate variable winds and clear fine weather since leaving. Greek steamer Athinai reports passing icebergs and large quantity of field ice today in latitude 41.51 N, longitude 49.52 W.

At 1:15am on 15 April the SS Baltic responded to the distress call, turned around and made its way to help with the recovery effort after the sinking of the RMS Titanic. After the ship had traveled 134 miles, it was advised to turn around and return to Liverpool. The Carpathia had picked up the 20 boatloads of survivors from the Titanic and was returning to land.

[1] Browning, Robert. Selections from the Poems and Plays of Robert Browning. Scott. Foresman, 1919, 23.

In the Footsteps of the Brownings in Italy

By Jennifer Borderud, Associate Director and Access and Outreach Librarian

Josh and Jennifer Borderud in front of the Pantheon, Rome

Josh and Jennifer Borderud in front of the Pantheon, Rome

On this day—June 29—in 1861, poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning died in Florence, Italy, and was buried two days later in the English Cemetery there. In March of this year—2016—my husband Josh and I had the opportunity to travel to Italy, the place Robert and Elizabeth Barrett Browning called home during their 15 years of marriage, with faculty, students, and friends of Baylor’s George W. Truett Theological Seminary. The nine-day trip, which included stops in Rome, Pompeii, Herculaneum, and Florence, was part of a course on early Roman Christianity taught by our good friend Dr. Joel Weaver.

The itinerary was full with guided tours of the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls, the Colosseum and the Roman Forum, the Basilica of St. John Lateran, and the Catacombs of St. Sebastian in Rome; St. Peter’s Basilica and the Sistine Chapel in Vatican City; the ruins of Pompeii and Herculaneum at the foot of Mount Vesuvius; and the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore, the Piazza della Signoria, and the Accademia Gallery in Florence. Despite the ambitious agenda, my husband and I (and at times an interested seminarian or two) used the free time we were given in Rome and Florence to seek out sites related to the Brownings and their circle.

Letter from Elizabeth Barrett Browning to Richard Horne on display at the Keats-Shelley House

Letter from Elizabeth Barrett Browning to Richard Horne on display at the Keats-Shelley House

In Rome, we visited the Keats-Shelley House, a museum dedicated to the English Romantic poets who were enamored with and influenced by Rome. John Keats died in this house in 1821 in a room on the second floor overlooking the Spanish Steps. On display throughout the house were books, manuscripts, and other items relating to the lives and works of Byron, Shelley, and Keats. There were items relating to the Brownings as well.

After our visit to the museum, a short walk took us to the doorstep of Bocca di Leone 43, where the Brownings lived during extended winter stays in Rome. A plaque at the corner of the street commemorates the Brownings’ residency.

Via Bocca di Leone, Rome

Via Bocca di Leone, Rome

Angel of Grief by William Wetmore Story, Non-Catholic Cemetery, Rome

Angel of Grief by William Wetmore Story, Non-Catholic Cemetery, Rome

Heading quickly back toward the Spanish Steps, we had just enough time to take a taxi to Rome’s Non-Catholic Cemetery (Il Cimitero Acattolico di Roma). Located adjacent to the Pyramid of Caius Cestius, the Non-Catholic Cemetery is the burial place of both John Keats and Percy Shelley. American sculptor and Browning friend William Wetmore Story and his wife Emelyn are also buried there. I had seen photographs of the grave stone Story designed for his wife, called the Angel of Grief, and was particularly interested in seeing it in person. It was stunningly beautiful. Not long after we returned to Waco from Italy, I learned that a replica of Story’s Angel of Grief could be found in Waco’s Oakwood Cemetery, practically in my own backyard.

We only spent a day and a half in Florence, but we had just enough free time to make two important stops. After walking across the Ponte Vecchio, we found our way to Casa Guidi, the Brownings’ primary home in Italy, which has been restored to look as it did when the Brownings lived there. We stood in the salon where Elizabeth spent time writing Casa Guidi Windows and Aurora Leigh, and we walked along the balcony where Robert and Elizabeth would take walks and where Elizabeth watched processions celebrating political victories.

Casa Guidi, Piazza San Felice 8, Florence

Entrance to Casa Guidi at Piazza San Felice 8, Florence

Jennifer Borderud with Julia Bolton Holloway (left) and a Roma woman who takes care of the cemetery (center)

Jennifer Borderud with Julia Bolton Holloway (left) and a Roma woman who takes care of the cemetery (center)

We did not have time to visit the nearby Pitti Palace and Boboli Gardens, which were frequented by the Brownings. However, we did visit the Protestant Cemetery (Cimitero degli Inglesi), where we met Julia Bolton Holloway, the custodian of the cemetery, who works with the Roma people to maintain the cemetery and grounds. We also laid flowers on Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s grave to honor her life and work.

Laying flowers on Elizabeth Barrett Browning's Grave

Laying flowers on Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s Grave

We had a wonderful week, and while there are more Browning sites to see, we understand why they loved Italy. We also made sure to rub the bronze boar’s snout in the Mercato Nuovo to ensure our return to Florence and another opportunity to follow in the footsteps of the Brownings.

Thank you to Dr. Joel Weaver and Dr. Steve Reid and to the students and friends of the George W. Truett Theological Seminary for letting us explore Italy with you.

Faculty, students, and friends of the George W. Truett Theological Seminary, Vatican City, 8 March 2016

Faculty, students, and friends of the George W. Truett Theological Seminary, Vatican City, 8 March 2016

 

 

…from America: The Brownings’ American Correspondents–William Wetmore Story (1819-1895)

William_Wetmore_Story_-_Brady-HandyWilliam Wetmore Story (1819-1895) was an American sculptor, art critic, poet, and editor.  He was the son of Joseph Story (1779-1845), who served on the Supreme Court of the United States from 1811-1845.  Story initially practiced law but abandoned his legal career in 1847 to pursue training in Europe as a sculptor.  Story, along with his wife Emelyn (née Eldredge, 1820-1894), daughter Edith “Edie” (1844-1917), and son Joseph “Joe” (1847-1853), met Robert and Elizabeth Barrett Browning in Florence, Italy, in late 1848 or early 1849.  The two families became close friends and spent a great deal of time together whenever the Storys were in Italy.  Browning and his son Robert Weideman Barrett Browning, called Pen, remained intimate friends of the Storys following Elizabeth’s death in 1861.  Story sculpted busts of Robert and Elizabeth, reproductions of which can be viewed in the Martin Entrance Foyer of the Armstrong Browning Library.

Story-to-Pen-1Story-to-Pen-2Story-to-Pen-3Letter from William Wetmore Story to Robert Weideman Barrett Browning. 13 December 1889.

In this letter to Robert Browning’s son, Story reflects on his long friendship with Robert Browning following the poet’s death on 12 December 1889:

He was one of my oldest & dearest & most valued friends—& the world seems poor now that he has gone. … The last words he said to us when we said Goodbye to him at Asolo were ‘We have been friends for forty years—ay—more than forty years—& with never a break’– How true it was—there was never a break—never a cloud on our friendship for a moment—& the more I knew him the more I loved him. … He was one of the best & noblest of men. … I do not think that a small or mean thought ever knocked at the door of his spirit—much less ever was allowed to enter– Ever large hearted as large minded, grand in all his impulses—generous in all his feelings—vivid in his enthusiasms and the most loving man I ever knew.

Story-Ms1Story-Ms2William Wetmore Story.  “Robert Browning.” Autograph manuscript.  Undated.

This poem of thirty-eight lines was signed by Story and presented to Browning’s son and daughter-in-law Fannie Coddington Browning.  The inscription reads:

To my dear friends—Pen & Fanny—with the warmest love of their, & their Father’s & Mother’s old friend.

Story’s poem about RB begins:

It scarcely seems, dear Friend you can be gone—

Your voice still lingers in my ear—that tone

So clear & quiet it scarce could wait to say

Your eager thought in our prosaic way,

But leaped our critic rules, assured that we

Could follow where you leaped so easily

Still pressing on in thought, stopped by no gaps

Of broken phrasing—careless of all lapse—

FiammettaWilliam Wetmore Story.  Fiammetta: A Summer Idyl.  Edinburgh; London:  William Blackwood and Sons, 1886.

A member of the Browning family owned a copy of this edition of Story’s novel.

Grafitti-d'ItaliaWilliam Wetmore Story.  Graffiti d’Italia.  Edinburgh; London:  William Blackwood and Sons, 1868.

The poem “Praxiteles and Phryne” is dedicated to Robert Browning.

The Armstrong Browning Library owns one manuscript, eight letters, and eight books by Mr. Story.

 

…from America: The Brownings’ American Correspondents–Katharine DeKay Bronson

KatharineKatharine de Kay Bronson was a wealthy American who frequently traveled with her husband Arthur Bronson around Europe.  In 1875, the couple and their daughter Edith (born 1861) decided to make Venice, Italy, their permanent home.  Katharine Bronson entertained guests in her house, called Ca Alvisi, on the Grand Canal and became acquainted with a group of English-speaking artists and writers, among them Henry James and Robert Browning.  Bronson was first introduced to Browning in 1880 probably by their mutual friend the American sculptor William Wetmore Story.  Bronson and Browning developed a close friendship, and he and his sister Sarianna spent many holidays with Bronson in Venice and in Asolo.  Browning’s Ferishtah’s Fancies, completed in 1884, is thought to be influenced in part by Bronson and Venice, and in 1889, Browning dedicated Asolando to Bronson.  The dedication reads:

To whom but you, dear Friend, should I dedicate verses—some few written, all of them supervised, in the comfort of your presence, and with yet another experience of the gracious hospitality now bestowed on me since so many a year,—adding a charm even to my residences at Venice, and leaving me little regret for the surprise and delight at my visits to Asolo in bygone days?

 

Bronson-Album-1

Bronson-Album-2Personal Letters from Robert Browning in the Collection of Katharine de Kay Bronson and Edith Rucelai Bronson.

This scrapbook was created by Katharine Bronson after Robert Browning’s death and contains photographs of Robert Browning as well as his letters to her.

Bronson-Album-3Letter from Robert Browning to Katharine DeKay Bronson, 16 September 884

In a letter from Robert Browning to Mrs. Bronson, dated 16 September 1884, Robert Browning reminisces about the warm greeting he and his sister Sarianna received from Mrs. Bronson when they arrived in Italy for a holiday in 1883:

So it was last year, and the end of the journey was at the Venice Station when the first blessing was that of Luigi’s fat face—lighting the way a few footsteps farther to the more than Friend who had come in the rain to take us and keep us.

The Armstrong Browning Library’s holdings related to Katharine DeKay Bronson include one manuscript and eighty-seven letters.