Harry Ransom CenterThe University of Texas at Austin

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Browning Family:

An Inventory of Their Collection at the Harry Ransom Center

Creator: Browning family
Title Browning Family Collection
Dates: 1816-1935
Extent 8 document boxes (3.33 linear feet), 1 oversize folder, 1 galley folder, 2 oversize bound volumes
Abstract English poets Elizabeth Barrett, 1806-1861, and Robert Browning, 1812-1889, eloped to Italy in 1846, after Barrett's father refused them permission to marry, and remained there for the rest of Elizabeth's life. The Browning Family Collection contains a quantity of correspondence between various members of the Browning family as well as works by Elizabeth, Robert, Robert's father and sister, and Robert Barrett Browning.
Language English.
Access

Open for research




Acquisition

Purchases and gifts (1952-1986)

Processed by

Chelsea S. Jones, 1999

Repository:

Harry Ransom Center, University of Texas at Austin


Elizabeth Barrett Browning, 1806-1861

The eldest of twelve children, Elizabeth Barrett Moulton-Barrett was born in 1806 to Edward Moulton-Barrett and his wife in Durham, England. The family's considerable wealth came largely from a Jamaican sugar plantation and in 1809 the family acquired a 500-acre estate near the Malvern Hills. Elizabeth received an excellent education at home, studying Greek and Latin as well as modern languages, read widely, and participated in family theatrical productions. Though she lead a generally healthy childhood, the family doctor began prescribing opium for a nervous complaint around 1821; the death of her mother in 1828 seemed to aggravate that condition.

Forced to sell the estate due to severe financial losses in the early 1830s, Barrett's father resettled his family in London and in 1838 Elizabeth's first volume of poetry, The Seraphim and Other Poems appeared, published under her real name. The same year, Barrett's declining health led her to move to Torquay, along with her younger brother Edward. The coastal town, rather than providing relief for her nerves, left her devastated when Edward drowned there later the same year. She returned home to her family and remained in near seclusion for the next five years.

Despite her social reclusiveness, Barrett continued to write, though against the advice of her doctors, and in 1844 she produced the volume Poems. Received with critical acclaim, Poems made her one of the most popular poets of the time and brought her to the attention of Robert Browning, a fellow writer. They first met in 1845 and over the next two years they corresponded, Browning declaring his love and Barrett expressing her doubts in the form of sonnets. These sonnets were later published under the title Sonnets from the Portuguese, Browning's pet name for her. In August, 1846, Robert and Elizabeth eloped to Italy, though being proper Victorians, they had been privately married the previous week. Barrett's father disinherited her, but since she had inherited money from a relative, this did not prove to be a hardship and the couple remained in Italy for the next 15 years. Their son Robert Wiedeman Barrett Browning was born in 1849.

Barrett took an active interest in social injustice during her fifteen years in Italy. She wrote poems in protest over slavery, child labor, oppression of the Italians by the Austrians, and restrictions placed on women. Works created during this time include Casa Guidi Windows (1851), Poems before Congress (1860), and Aurora Leigh (1857).

It is unclear what illness Barrett suffered from, but she became increasingly addicted to the opium which doctors continued to prescribe for her. Though the Italian climate agreed with her, by 1861 she had deteriorated too far for medical help. She died in her husband's arms on June 29, 1861.

Robert Browning, 1812-1889

Robert Browning was born on May 7, 1812, in Camberwell, London, the first child of Robert and Sarah Anna Browning. His mother was a fervent Evangelical and an accomplished pianist. Mr. Browning had angered his own father and forgone a fortune: the poet's grandfather had sent his son to oversee a West Indies sugar plantation, but the young man had found the institution of slavery so abhorrent that he gave up his prospects and returned home, to become a clerk in the Bank of England. He was an exceedingly well-read man who could recreate the siege of Troy with the household chairs and tables for the benefit of his inquisitive son.

Most of Browning's education came at home. He was an extremely bright child and a voracious reader, and learned Latin, Greek, French, and Italian by the time he was fourteen. He attended the University of London in 1828, but left in discontent to pursue his own reading at his own pace. This somewhat idiosyncratic but extensive education has led to difficulties for his readers: he did not always realize how obscure his references and allusions were.

In the 1830s he met the actor William Macready and tried several times to write verse drama for the stage. At about the same time he began to discover that his real talents lay in the dramatic monologue. The reviews of Paracelsus (1835) had been mostly encouraging, but the difficulty and obscurity of his long poem Sordello (1840) turned the critics against him, and for many years they continued to complain of obscureness even in his shorter, more accessible lyrics.

In 1845 he read Elizabeth Barrett's Poems and arranged to meet her. Although she was an invalid and six years his elder, the two married in September 1846 and a few days later eloped to Italy, where they lived until her death in 1861. The years in Florence were among the happiest for both of them. Her love for him was demonstrated in the Sonnets from the Portuguese, and to her he dedicated Men and Women, which contains his best poetry. Public sympathy for him after her death surely helped the critical reception of his Collected Poems (1862) and Dramatis Personae (1863). The Ring and the Book (1868-9), based on an "old yellow book" which told of a Roman murder and trial, finally won him considerable popularity. From then on Browning and Tennyson were mentioned together as the foremost poets of the age. He lived and wrote actively for another twenty years, and his influence continued to grow, finally leading to the founding of the Browning Society in 1881. He died in 1889, on the same day that his final volume of verse, Asolando, was published. He is buried in Poet's Corner of Westminster Abbey.


The Browning Family Collection, 1816-1935, is composed largely of correspondence to various members of the Browning family as well as holograph works by Elizabeth Barrett and Robert Browning. The collection also includes correspondence and works by Browning's father, Robert Browning the Elder, and sister, Sarianna Browning, as well as his son, Robert Wiedemann Barrett Browning, and Wiedemann's wife, Fannie Barrett Browning. The materials are organized into eight series: Series I. Elizabeth Barrett Browning, 1816-1886 (2 boxes); Series II. Robert Browning, 1836-1889 (1.5 boxes); Series III. Fannie Barrett Browning, 1889-1935 (2.5 boxes); Series IV. Robert Browning the Elder, nd (.5 box); Series V. Robert Wiedemann Barrett Browning (.5 box); Series VI. Sarianna Browning, 1890-1902 (.5 box); Series VII. Browning Society Correspondence; 1887-1893 (.5 box); and Series VIII. Third Party Works and Correspondence, 1875-1933 (1 box). This collection was previously cataloged as five separate collections: Elizabeth Barrett Browning; Robert Browning; Robert Browning the Elder; Robert Wiedemann Browning; and Browning Society, and each was accessible through a card catalog. Because of the interconnectedness of much of the material, the collections have been integrated and re-cataloged as part of a retrospective conversion project.

The Elizabeth Barrett Browning Series is divided between works and correspondence. The Works subseries contains primarily holograph manuscripts for several of Barrett's well known poems including The Battle of Marathon, "A Child's Grave in Florence," "The Cry of Children," Poems Before Congress, and Prometheus Bound, in addition to the prose pieces An Essay on Mind and "Criticism of 'Pretence' and other poems by John Kenyon." Also present in this section is a calligraphic special edition of Sonnets from the Portuguese made after the poet's death. Correspondence from Barrett includes holograph letters to Mary Isabella Brotherton and Fanny Dowglass and a letter to Barrett from Harriet Beecher Stowe is also present. All correspondence in this series is listed in the Index of Correspondence at the end of this guide.

The Robert Browning Series is also made up of works and correspondence. Four holograph prose pieces, previously bound together: Pan & Phaedippides; The Witch of Atlas; Augustus Casear; and Ion; are present, as are typescript page proofs of Red Cotton Night-Cap Country and A Selection from the Works of Robert Browning. Works by Browning are listed in the Index of Works at the end of this guide. Correspondence in this series is made up primarily of personal letters from Browning to various friends, including Frederick and Nina Lehmann, Gustav Natorp, and Emelyn and William Story. Recipients are listed individually in the Index of Correspondents at the end of this guide.

The Fannie Barrett Browning Series is composed of a few personal papers and correspondence. The personal papers include notes and records, including documentation regarding Robert Browning's entombment and galley proofs of Fannie's essay Some Memories of Robert Browning. The correspondence in this series includes a few letters from Fannie and a great deal of correspondence to her, much of it regarding Robert Browning. Some of the main correspondents include Constance Alexander, Helen Fuller, Thurman Hood, Margaret Ivatt, Levinia Talbot. All correspondents in this series are listed in the Index of Correspondence at the end of this guide, with the exception of those in the folder of Browning Society fan mail.

The Robert Browning the Elder Series includes an album with pen and ink wash drawings, most of caricatured human heads, and a notebook of reading notes. Also present is an oversize scrapbook which contains the typescript of an article by Alice Corkran and a large number of sketches and drawings by Robert Browning, the Elder. Robert Wiedemann Barrett Browning's Series contains a few items of correspondence between the poet's son and his friends and acquaintances while the Sarianna Browning Series holds almost 100 letters from Sarianna to Mrs. Jean Morison Campbell. The Browning Society Correspondence Series is made up of letters between members of Society. These correspondents are included in the Index of Correspondence at the end of this guide.

The Third-Party Works and Correspondence Series contains items written by people associated with members of the Browning family. Among the works included are Frederick Furnivall's A Bibliography of Robert Browning and Richard Stoddard's essay "The Poetry of Robert Browning." Also present are a number of letters, mostly personal, written to friends and associates of members of the Browning family. All works and correspondence in this series are included in the Index of Works and Index of Correspondence at the end of this guide.


Other materials associated with the Browning Family may be found in the following collections at the Ransom Center:

  • Aitken, George Atherton
  • Arnold, Edwin, Sir/TA
  • Barrett, W./TA
  • Browning, P. T.
  • Coleridge, E. H.
  • Coleridge, Sara
  • Dickens, Charles
  • Downing, R.
  • Forman, H. B.
  • Leighton, F. L.
  • Mackenzie, Compton
  • Millais, J. E.
  • Ritchie, Anne Isabella Thackeray
  • Rossetti, D. G.
  • Rossetti, W. M.
  • Ruskin, John
  • Story, M. B.
  • Swinburne, A. C.
  • Times
  • Ward, T.H.
  • Watts, G.F.
  • Wise, Thomas James


Elsewhere in the Ransom Center are about 80 photographs of Elizabeth Barrett and Robert Browning, members of their family, tombstones, and other landscape images, located in the Literary Files of the Photography Collection. Also available are three Vertical Files, one for Elizabeth and two for Robert containing newspaper clippings with biographical information and literary criticism about both authors. A number of personal items belonging to Sarianna Browning are located in the personal effects collection including a seal, a lock of hair, and a silk handkerchief as well as a leather stationery case which belonged to Robert Browning. There are also four portraits of Robert Browning and three of Elizabeth Barrett Browning housed in the Art Collection.


Correspondents

Alexander, Constance Grosvenor.

Browning, Elizabeth Barrett, 1806-1861.

Browning, Robert, 1812-1889.

Browning, Serianna.

Fuller, Helen Thackeray Ritchie.

Furnivall, Frederick James, 1825-1910.

Hood, Thurman L. (Thurman Losson).

Ivatt, Margaret.

Knight, William G.

Stowe, Harriet Beecher, 1812-1896.

Talbot, Lavinia.

Browning Society.

Robert Browning Settlement (London, England).

Subjects

Authors, British--19th century.

Poets, British--19th century.

Document Types

Albums.

Caricatures.

Galley proofs.