Baylor Is Home to 'The Ultimate Valentine'

Feb. 9, 1998

by Alan Hunt

Baylor's world¡renowned Armstrong¡Browning Library is home to what many recognize as the "ultimate valentine" ¡¡ the handwritten manuscript of the famous love poem "How Do I Love Thee."

The manuscript is among many artifacts relating to English poets and lovers Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett Browning at Armstrong¡Browning Library, which houses the world's largest collection of memorabilia associated with the Brownings.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning, who died at the age of 55 in 1861, wrote the poem for her husband, Robert Browning, who was 77 when he died in 1889. "Their union was one of the greatest literary romances ever known," library director Dr. Mairi Rennie explains. "The two were married for only 15 years when Elizabeth died in Browning's arms in 1861 at their home in Florence, Italy."

Rennie says Baylor's manuscript of the poem "How Do I Love Thee," which is contained in "Sonnets from the Portuguese," is one of only three copies believed to exist today. "Elizabeth obviously wrote the sonnets out several times for herself, the printer, and for her family and friends," Rennie said.

Other Browning items in the library's collection include jewelry from their wedding and Robert's gift to Elizabeth on their first anniversary.

Over the years, the library has become a mecca for those interested in the Brownings and their poetry, attracting more than 20,000 visitors each year. "There is nowhere like this in the world," says Rennie, who formerly served as secretary of the Browning Society of Great Britain before taking over as library director in 1996.

Rennie often returns to her native England in search of Browning memorabilia for the collection. She recently purchased at a London auction some extremely rare Browning material, including handwritten manuscripts containing what are believed to be the last poems written by the two poets.

"It was quite a coup for Baylor," she says. "The bidding was fierce. Several internationally known Browning collectors would have liked these items."

The Robert Browning manuscript she purchased contains a meditation on the transience of life and presence of death. The previously unknown six¡line verse was found on a scrap of paper in an envelope inscribed "Found in Robert Browning's blotter after his death ¡¡ Dec. 1889."

Also included in the purchase was a manuscript of The North and the South, the last poem written by Elizabeth Barrett Browning before her death. The manuscript is signed and dated by her, "Elizabeth Barrett Browning. Rome. May 1861." The seven¡stanza poem was written in honor of Danish author Hans Christian Andersen.

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