The Browning Collections - About
In London, on 1 May 1913, Sotheby’s auction house commenced a six-day sale of the Browning collections: pictures, drawings and engravings; autograph letters and manuscripts; books; and works of art. Robert Barrett Browning (known as Pen), the only child of Robert and Elizabeth Barrett Browning, had died intestate the previous summer and the administrators of the estate ordered his effects sold. Included were the items belonging to his parents that he had carefully preserved since his father’s death in 1889. In a richly-illustrated, 161-page catalogue entitled The Browning Collections, Sotheby’s listed 1417 lots that described over 4,000 items directly related to the poets.
To facilitate Browning studies, this section of The Brownings: A Research Guide provides an itemized description of 1323 of the 1417 lots sold; the remaining 94 lots, devoted exclusively to autograph letters, are accounted for in The Brownings’ Correspondence section of this database.
In addition to the Browningiana that sold in the 1913 Browning sale, this section includes a description of any known item, with a different provenance, which might have influenced the Brownings; any work which they created, possessed or presented; and items which indicate the breadth of their influence on others. Following these criteria has roughly doubled the number of entries.
Each entry has been assigned to one of 12 sections, and each section has been given an alphabetical prefix: A. The Brownings’ Library; B. First Works; C. Presentation Copies; D. Manuscripts of EBB; E. Manuscripts of RB; F. Likenesses of EBB; G. Likenesses of RB; H. Works of Art, Household and Personal Effects; J. Works of RB, Sr.; K. Works of Pen Browning; L. Other Association Manuscripts; and M. Other Association Volumes. The unique characteristics of each section are explained below.
Each entry follows a fairly standard format: a main entry that is followed by a description, its parts separated by a device (§):
- Inscriptions: This feature identifies the association with the Brownings and is given exactly as it appears. In the case of located items, it has been proofed against the original or a photocopy. Readers should be aware that when the item has not been found, the transcription has come from published sources, and these rarely follow the original exactly.
- Editorial comments/publication details: Editorial comments are made in few cases, and only after careful study. In most cases these are presented so as not to perpetuate incorrect attributions. Most of the information appearing here is culled from printed catalogues. In some cases several descriptions from various sources have been combined, but all pertinent information has been included.
- Provenance: In all cases, if an item passed through the 1913 Browning sale, this is indicated by the cue title Browning Collections, followed by the lot number and purchaser. If an item has an auction provenance earlier than 1913, a rare situation, the date of the sale and lot number are given. If the item has appeared for sale more than once after 1913 but is now unlocated, the latest known occurrence is provided. If the item has been located, provenance subsequent to the 1913 sale is not given.
- The entry concludes with the location of the item, given as a cue title, in square brackets. Square brackets containing no cue title indicate that the present location of the item is unknown.
A. The Brownings’ Library
In addition to all volumes traced to the 1913 Browning sale, Section A contains any book belonging to the poets or to RB’s sister Sarianna Browning, his son Robert Barrett Browning, or the latter’s wife Fannie Browning, which has been traced with a different provenance. Including Fannie’s books has resulted in a description of a copy of the 1913 sale catalogue (A0499). This case is cited to illustrate to the users of this list that the primary aim here is to give all information concerning possible source materials for Browning study—not just a list of books found at a particular spot on a certain date.
Titles of books to which the poets had ready access are also included. This explains the inclusion of numerous books from the libraries of RB’s father and grandfather, as well as those belonging to EBB’s progenitors, which did not appear in the 1913 sale.
Occasionally, over the years, books have been erroneously described as being from the Brownings’ library. In every case, if a book does not have a provenance to the 1913 sale, it has been studied closely to see if its history can support such a claim. There are contemporary books with the signatures of “Elizabeth Browning,” or “Robert Browning”—but these names were not exclusive to the poets. Four books bearing the bookplate of Anthony Trollope, three now in the Berg Collection and one at Dartmouth College, were sold by a bookseller as belonging to Browning. The claim was based on the initials “R.B.” which appear in the upper left-hand corner of the bookplate. But the initials stand for Robert Bell, and these books do not appear on the present list.
In compiling descriptions, original items were consulted as often as possible. In such cases the descriptions can be taken as accurate. On the other hand, in the case of sale and dealer records, many of the descriptions have gone unverified. Both American Book Prices Current and Book Prices Current were used to trace sale records; however, data was compiled from the original auction catalogues. In doing so, a number of spurious and ghost entries were discarded. Also, catalogues of principal dealers from 1900 to the present have been searched for entries.
B. First Works
The Battle of Marathon
In a letter to R.H. Horne, 5 October 1843, EBB spoke of her early life and first work: “The Greeks were my demi-gods, & haunted me out of Pope’s Homer until I dreamt oftener of Agamemnon than of Moses the black poney. And thus my ‘great epic’ of eleven or twelve years old, in four books & called the ‘Battle of Marathon,’ & of which fifty copies were printed because Papa was bent upon spoiling me,—is a Pope’s Homer done over again—or rather undone; for although a curious production for a child, it gives evidence only of an imitative faculty & an ear, & a good deal of reading in a peculiar direction.”
EBB writes in her “Glimpses into My Own Life and Literary Character” (D1297) that she commenced her poem at the age of eleven while at Ramsgate. She and her family spent the summer of 1817 at this seaside resort, where they had gone for the health of her sister Arabella. She worked intermittently for the next two years. In August 1819 from Hope End she wrote to her mother that she hoped to have a good deal of the Preface done by the time her parents returned from a journey. Two manuscripts (D0069 and D0070) are extant, both at Texas, of which only one is dated, Hope End 1819. Early in 1820 Mary Trepsack wrote to EBB’s sister: “My best love to dear Ba & say … she must send me one of her first [copies of the] poem Battle of Marathon.” On the young poet’s birthday, 6 March 1820, EBB and her family were visiting at 63 Baker Street, the London residence of her uncle, grandmother, and Miss Trepsack. That day she complied with Treppy’s request and inscribed a copy for her (B0007). Elizabeth Moulton’s copy (B0003) was presented at the same time, and perhaps also the one that went to EBB’s uncle (B0005). The work was printed for W. Lindsell, 87 Wimpole Street, a short distance from the Baker Street address where the family was residing.
After the 1877 publication of the above-mentioned letter to Horne, this scarcest of nineteenth-century poetry became the object of interest and search. Even Browning did not own a copy of the work, and he questioned its existence. In 1884 or 1885 the first recorded copy (B0001) surfaced and was secured by Frederick Locker-Lampson. A second copy (B0006) was reported to T.J. Wise by Rimell & Son of Oxford Street in February 1886. Wise drove to Browning’s home with this news and the poet accompanied him to Oxford Street to inspect the copy. It had already been offered to Bernard MacGeorge of Scotland, and Wise had to wait until 1891 to secure a “dismal and tired-looking specimen, much cut down,” from Messrs. John Pearson & Son. From this copy (not identified) he prepared a type-facsimile reprint before disposing of it in favor of a copy in its original state (B0008). By 1921 nine copies had been located as reported by Seymour De Ricci in The Book Collector’s Guide. Currently only 15 copies are known to exist.
In his twenty-first year, Browning completed Pauline. His first biographer, Mrs. Sutherland Orr, writes: “His sister was in the secret, but this time his parents were not. This is why his aunt, hearing that ‘Robert’ had ‘written a poem.’ volunteered the sum requisite for its publication.” Christiana Silverthorne, RB’s maternal aunt, gave him £30 for the publication (£26 5s was spent for production costs, and the remainder went for advertising).
Pauline was published in March 1833, but the exact number of copies manufactured is not known. Undocumented reports vary in number from 80 to 500. According to Browning “no single copy of the original edition of Pauline found a buyer.” The volume was withdrawn, the unbound sheets being returned to him and subsequently destroyed.
After Browning’s reputation grew, Pauline was an object of attention, and copies of the first edition became one of the most sought-after rarities by book collectors. In 1886 only three copies were generally known to exist (B0021, 0028 and 0029). In the spring of 1886 Browning found two copies preserved amongst his father’s papers. One he gave to J. Dykes Campbell (B0018); the other he saved for his son (B0017). In July 1887, T.J. Wise obtained a copy (B0024) for his library for the then staggering sum of £22. He promptly reported his success to the poet, who was shocked at the price. Even Sarianna Browning mentioned the figure in a letter to her nephew. Wise showed Browning this copy the following year, and the latter’s comment has been preserved.
In time the number of recorded copies increased. By 1904, ten copies were reported in a New York newspaper. Seymour De Ricci published his findings of 18 copies in The Book Collector’s Guide, 1921. The next census to appear was Mary Dean Reneau’s “First Editions of Browning’s Pauline,” Baylor Browning Interests, Series Two, 1931, pp. 41–50, which listed 21 copies, 3 without verification. The present list of 23 copies differs little from Miss Reneau’s. Provenances have been untangled when necessary and locations reassigned. Four copies have been added to her list, but two copies which Miss Reneau mentioned are omitted: a copy believed to be owned by Hershel V. Jones was based on secondary evidence and remains a mystery; a copy that was listed as belonging to the State Library of New Zealand is believed to be the same as the Turnbull volume (B0023), which she also included.
C. Presentation Volumes
A large portion of the Brownings’ library consisted of inscribed volumes received from friends and fellow authors. The Brownings repaid in similar coin. They distributed not only the free copies that their publishers allowed for this purpose, but also additional ones which they bought. These gift books did not appear in the 1913 Browning sale, but they are listed here to reflect the poetic pair’s largesse and provide useful biographical information.
D. Manuscripts of Elizabeth Barrett Browning
In this section all manuscripts of Elizabeth Barrett Browning believed to be extant have been listed. In addition to those items sold in the 1913 Browning sale, manuscripts with independent provenances have been included. Also, a number of items based on catalogue entries are presented in the belief that, although current locations remain unknown, it is reasonable to assume they have not been intentionally destroyed and will surface in time.
All manuscripts may be assumed to be in EBB’s autograph unless otherwise noted. Contemporary copies not in her hand have been included, as they may reflect variants that preceded publication. In some cases these copies are the only records of the compositions.
The titles of works and first lines have been taken from Porter and Clarke (1900), supplemented by New Poems (1914) and Hitherto Unpublished Poems and Stories (1914). For unpublished poems, titles and first lines are transcribed from the manuscripts.
Selected publication history of a work is given as part of the first listing of a manuscript. But variants may be listed, and actual publication may have been from one of these or an unrecorded document. Publication history appearing with the first listing should therefore not be construed as necessarily applying to that specific manuscript. References have also been provided to Oxford Edition (1904).
E. Manuscripts of Robert Browning
In this section all Robert Browning manuscripts believed to be extant have been listed. Besides items sold in the 1913 Browning sale, manuscripts with independent provenances have been included. Items based on catalogue entries alone are included, because—though present locations remain unknown—it is reasonable to believe that the documents have not been intentionally destroyed and eventually will surface.
It can be assumed that all listed manuscripts are in RB’s autograph unless otherwise stated. Contemporary copies in other hands have been included, as they may reflect variants that preceded publication.
Titles of works and first lines are from the Centenary Edition (1912), supplemented by New Poems (1914). Titles and first lines of unpublished items are transcribed from the manuscripts.
Selected publication history of a work is given as part of the first listing of a manuscript. But variants may be listed, and actual publication may have been from one of these or an unrecorded manuscript. Publication history appearing with the first listing should therefore not be construed as necessarily applying to that specific manuscript. References are also provided throughout to DeVane’s Handbook.
F. Likenesses of Elizabeth Barrett Browning
Entries in this section, for the most part, have been limited to likenesses of Elizabeth Barrett Browning taken from life. Also included are photographs of these likenesses which bear unique inscriptions or provenances, as well as posthumous busts, most notably those by William Wetmore Story.
Entries appear in chronological order. If more than one likeness was made in a given year, the items are alphabetized by artist.
G. Likenesses of Robert Browning
Entries in this section, for the most part, have been limited to likenesses of Robert Browning taken from life. Also included are photographs of these likenesses which bear unique inscriptions or provenances, as well as a posthumous bust, several caricatures and one drawing. This has been done primarily because the originals have surfaced in known locations. Engravings have been excluded. Also excluded are the likenesses made by Pen Browning. These are listed in Section K.
Entries are presented in chronological order. Within each year they appear alphabetically by artist.
H. Works of Art, Household and Personal Effects
With the exception of the poets’ likenesses and of works by Pen Browning, this section reflects those items which sold on the first and last days of the 1913 Browning sale and similar items with independent provenances.
J. Works of Robert Browning, Sr.
The copious drawings and manuscripts of Robert Browning, Sr. have been the subject of numerous comments and universal fascination. Descriptions of all such items, believed to be extant, have been included. The discovery of lots 523 and 524 from the 1913 Browning Sale, still intact in the Bloomfield Collection, Brighton Area Library, adds immeasurably to the completeness of this checklist.
K. Works of Robert Barrett Browning
The first day of the sale of Pen’s estate was devoted to oil paintings, drawings and prints. Many of the paintings were his own, never sold during his lifetime and removed from his homes in Italy for sale in London. To these have been added all the items which Pen logged in a notebook (L0052) that he maintained from 1875 through 1881, information gleaned from many printed and unpublished sources (most notably from RB’s correspondence), and references found at the Armstrong Browning Library and Wellesley College Library.
Pen’s works received very little demand at the 1913 sale. For two large pictures, there was not a single bid. The chief purchaser of the paintings was Fannie Browning.
Subsequent fates of the canvases have not been kind. Some of the large ones are known to have been deliberately destroyed. Fannie distributed most of her holdings to friends and well-wishers. Several items given to the Robert Browning Settlement were destroyed by enemy action in World War II. Fortunately, Fannie ordered many of the paintings photographed before they appeared in the London sale rooms. Thus, there remains a visual record of many items subsequently lost or destroyed.
To see Pen’s work one must be persistent. Only the items hanging in the Armstrong Browning Library are readily available for public viewing—the balance being in private collections or institutions with limited access.
L. Other Association Manuscripts and Documents
This division lists manuscripts not found in Sections D and E. Most are contemporary and have some direct reference to one or both poets. Several appeared in the 1913 Browning sale but most are from other sources.
M. Other Association Volumes
This section contains no entries with provenances to the 1913 Browning sale. However, the items listed here either have reference to the Brownings’ extended circle of family and friends or indicate the breadth of their influence on others.