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MS 682

Reference code

MS 682

Title

Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett-Browning collection

Level

Sub-fonds

Administrative / Biographical history

Robert Browning (1812-1889), poet, was born on 7 May 1812 in Camberwell, London, the first of the two children of Robert Browning (1782–1866) and his wife, Sarah Anna, née Wiedemann (1772–1849). He remained close to his sister Sarianna (1814-1903) throughout his life. He was an intelligent child who was fluent in five languages by the age of fourteen. He was also passionate about poetry and was a talented musician, composing arrangements of several songs as well as writing poetry. At eighteen Browning made up his mind to become a poet and 'nothing else’. His first works 'Pauline' (1832) and 'Paracelsus' were published a few years later and not well received. Indeed they were mocked. Undaunted, he continued to write and in 1840 he published 'Sordello'. It was savaged by the critics. His next poetry was printed in inexpensive pamphlets under the general title 'Bells and Pomegranates' (1841-1846) starting with 'Pippa Passes'. Pamphlet three, 'Dramatic Lyrics' (1842), includes many of his greatest dramatic monologues - and indeed many of the greatest poems in the language - but it went largely unnoticed. In 1845 he met the far more established poet Elizabeth Barrett (1806-1861). They married secretly a year later and moved to Italy, during which time they both wrote extensively. They spent the winter of 1846-7 in Pisa, where Elizabeth suffered a miscarriage. They moved to Casa Guidi, Florence, in April 1847 and this was their home for the next thirteen years. Elizabeth gave birth to a son, Robert Wiedeman Barrett Browning, called Pen, (1849-1912) on 9 March 1849. Browning's publications from that period include 'Christmas-Eve and Easter-Day' (1850), his 'Essay on Shelley' and 'Men and Women' (1855). During this time the Brownings spent time in London and Paris, meeting old friends including the Tennysons, Joseph Milsand, the Story family and Dante Gabriel Rosetti. Even though 'Men and Women' contains some of Browning's best known poems, including 'Fra Lippo Lippi', 'Andrea del Sarto' and 'Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came', it was not well received. Hs poems made little impact until 1861 when, after Elizabeth’s death, he returned to England. His subsequent publication 'The Ring and the Book', a 21,000 line dramatic poem in 12 parts based on an actual 17th century murder, was published in four volumes and was a huge success, cementing his reputation as one of the foremost Victorian poets alongside his wife. He died at their son's home in Venice, Italy in 1889.

Date

1812-1889

Extent & medium

6 shelves and 1 drawer

Content description

The collection consists of material by and about Robert Browning, Elizabeth Barrett-Browning and their wider circle. Much of this is autograph manuscript material although there are also strong holdings of visual material, including original photographs and portraits, and artefacts that belonged to the Browning family. The collection has autograph letters from and to Robert Browning, Elizabeth Barrett-Browning, Pen Barrett-Browning (their son) and other members of the Browning circle. As well as individual autograph letters to a number of recipients, the collection also has series of letters. For example, there is a large series of letters from Browning to George Smith, his publisher and from Elizabeth Barrett-Browning to Mrs Ogilvy. There are also letters about Browning, including correspondence relating to the posthumous publication of his works between Pen Barrett-Browning, George Smith et al. The next series contains autograph manuscripts, including manuscripts by Robert Browning, Elizabeth Barrett-Browning and others in their circle such as Tennyson and Mary Russell Mitford. Some of these are facsimile or microfiche copies of manuscripts held in other institutions. Following that, there is a large collection of images of Robert Browning, Elizabeth Barrett-Browning and Pen Barrett-Browning. These include photographic portraits, cartes-de-visite, cabinet cards and prints. There is a smaller number of images of people, places and works of art that relate to the Brownings. The collection also exemplifies the artistic talent within the Browning family. It contains a collection of watercolours by Pen and caricatures by Robert Browning Snr. (1782-1866), Robert Browning's father. Some of these caricatures are loose and others are in a bound volume. The collection has ephemeral material relating to Browning's funeral, Browning centenaries, Mary Russell Mitford and Browning societies. The artefacts in this collection belonged to Robert Browning and his family. They include Elizabeth Barrett-Browning's engagement ring, seals, locks of hair and an Indian dagger and scabbard. Frederick James Furnivall (1825-1910), an English philologist who co-created the Oxford English Dictionary, formed the Browning Society in 1881. As such, this collection includes a small number of papers and printed material relating to him. There are personal papers and a collection of books and society papers by or owned by Furnivall. Lastly there are papers about the archive, including the Vincent Baddeley papers, booksellers' notes, invoices and photocopied material.

Provenance

A large proportion of material in this archive was previously held in Michael Meredith's (MCM's) private collection that he then gave to Eton College Library. Some material, mostly images and objects, came directly to College Library via other bequests. Individual provenance information is given at series or file level when available.

Associated material

The Moulton-Barrett archive (MS 681) is also at Eton College Library. It consists of the papers of Elizabeth Barrett-Browning's family and has much related material. More biographical information is given there about Elizabeth Barrett-Browning and her family.

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