The Cult of Robert Browning

During his later career, particularly after the death of Elizabeth, Robert Browning gained a large group of devoted followers. Beginning in the 1880s, these followers organized hundred of societies throughout North America and Britain. They created a seemingly religious atmosphere. One chapter even wrote “The Ten Commandments for Literary Study.” The devoted attitude of these members was reflected in the gifts given to Robert on his birthday or other special occasions. One such gift was a collection of notes from members, some of which express the worshipful attitudes of his followers. This was presented to Robert by the president of the most prominent Browning Society, Frederick James Furnivall. Furnivall and Robert were close correspondents and most of their discussion centered around Shakespearean poetry. This shows that Robert was approachable and acted as a peer, while also being honored and respected as a leader. Even though the first Browning societies were established one hundred and fifty years ago, many are still active today. As seen throughout this exhibit, Robert’s works address issues that transcend time including politics, environmental issues, and faith. Because of his, and Elizabeth’s, works’ applicability to modern issues, membership in the Browning society is still available. Whether a literary scholar or a lover of poetry, membership is still available! Simply fill out the membership form, mail the membership dues to the society in London, and wait with great anticipation to receive a copy of the Browning Society’s newsletter. Through membership in the Browning Society, modern members are given the opportunity to participate in honoring important anniversaries in the lives of the Brownings, discuss literary works with fellow members from around the world, and aid in the efforts to preserve the Brownings’ home in Italy. This is a remarkable experience and, if you should choose to participate, will allow you to gain a more focused understanding of the life and works of Robert Browning.

Exhibit created by Emma Wilson

Fredrick James Furnivall’s Bound Volume of Inscriptions. 6 May 1882. Browning Guide L0087.5. Manuscript.

This volume includes roughly a hundred signatures and notes from followers of Browning. The authors of these signatures include Americans and Europeans. They were collected and sent to Robert in honor of his 70th birthday.

The Chicago Browning Society’s “The Ten Commandments for Literary Study.” 14 April 1886. ABL Browning Societies. Manuscript.

This is a close up of the main image, posted above. By giving the chapter “commandments,” we are able to see their religious-like devotion to Robert and his works. Their devotion to Robert was exceptional and may leave us wondering: “what caused people to be so entranced by Robert’s works that they would create a list of “ten commandments” to use when following him?”

A Signature Within Furnivall's Bound Volume of Inscriptions. 7 May 1882. Browning Guide L0087.5. Manuscript.

This inscription, located in the volume of inscriptions given to Browning by Fredrick James Furnivall, shows the globalization of the Browning Society. This signature is from a member who was located in the U.S.A., and sent to Furnivall in London to be included in this volume.