Browning Database To Be Launched During Library's Jubilee

  • News Photo 61
    On display at the Armstrong Browning Library, this rosewood clock was owned by three generations of Brownings, beginning with Robert Browning?s father. Manufactured in 1814 in Huddersfield, England, it is wound daily and still keeps good time.
  • News Photo 62
    Baylor?s Armstrong Browning Library, built at a cost of approximately $1.75 million in 1950-51, attracts more than 25,000 visitors annually.
Oct. 8, 2001

by Alan Hunt

A legendary Baylor professor's dream of half a century ago will be linked this week with 21st century technology to revolutionize studies of Victorian poets Robert Browning and his wife, Elizabeth Barrett Browning.

Dr. A.J. Armstrong, chairman of the English department for 40 years, dedicated himself to the creation in 1951 of Baylor's famous Armstrong Browning Library, which houses the world's largest collection of Browning memorabilia. Armstrong, who died March 31, 1954, two days after his 81st birthday, visualized the library being "a kind of spiritual light" and the hub of a Browning network reaching out from Baylor to the rest of the world.

Now, his dream is about to be fulfilled during a major chapter in the library's history. At 3 p.m., Saturday, Oct. 13, as part of activities celebrating the library's Golden Jubilee, the first phase of a fully-annotated research database will be launched on the World Wide Web, enabling Internet users to study the works and lives of the Brownings and their circle of associates.

Library director Dr. Mairi Rennie said the database will eventually bring the library's resources within instant reach of Browning scholars all over the world. She said Dr. Armstrong's speech made during the cornerstone laying ceremony 51 years ago emphasized his vision of the library being "a kind of spiritual light radiating out from Baylor to the rest of the world." She said she is "incredibly fortunate" to be able to begin his dream "and, like Dr A, have faith that in the future--perhaps many years ahead--it will be accomplished."

The first phase of the database, funded by a major gift from the late Waco physician, Dr. Howard Dudgeon, Jr., and his wife, Jane Dudgeon, will list 70,000 known Browning-related items, held in Browning collections worldwide. Dr. Rennie described this fully-searchable resource as the start of a comprehensive database which, when fully funded and completed over a 15-year period, will rank as one of the world's premier online literary databases.

Baylor's Information Technology Center has designed and developed the website, and the editorial and publishing firm of Wedgestone Press compiled the database entries, in consultation with Armstrong Browning Library staff. Wedgestone Press is responsible for editing and publishing a number of major works relating to the Brownings and their circle, including The Brownings' Correspondence, a projected 40-volume work funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities which will contain, with annotations, every surviving letter written by the poets.

In keeping with Dr. Armstrong's dream of international recognition, the library's Golden Jubilee program, scheduled for Oct. 11-14, has attracted Browning scholars from all over the world. "Appropriately enough, Robert Browning, one of the closest descendants of the poet, will begin the celebrations with an illustrated lecture on his family history," said Dr. Rennie. Browning, the great, great grandson of the poet's half-uncle, William Shergold Browning, will present his talk at 7:30 p.m., Thursday, Oct. 11, following a buffet supper at the library.

Other activities will include a two-day international conference Friday and Saturday, Oct. 12-13, entitled "The Prize is in the Process," featuring a panel of Browning scholars from the United Kingdom, Canada and the United States. Dr. Rennie said Dr. Armstrong loved Robert Browning for his spirituality and robust hopefulness and he promoted him as a great Christian poet. To mark this point in the library's history, she said the conference will seek to redefine this view for the new century.

Keynote speakers during the conference will include Dr. Bland Crowder, Jr., who serves as the M.E. and Ima Graves Peace Professor of English, American Literature, and the Humanities at Hendrix College, Arkansas; Dr. Daniel Karlin, professor of English at University College London, England; Dr. Marjorie Stone, assistant dean of research, faculty of arts and social sciences, and associate professor of English at Dalhousie University, Canada; Michael Meredith, librarian at Eton College, England; and Dr. Herbert Tucker, a professor of English at the University of Virginia. Conference discussions will be held in the library's McLean Foyer of Meditation and the Hankamer Treasure Room, and are open to all.

Also planned is a banquet at the Barfield Drawing Room at 7 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 12. featuring a keynote speech by Dr. Scott Lewis, a 1983 Baylor graduate and former student worker at Armstrong Browning Library. Dr Lewis, who will speak on the topic "Dr. Armstrong's Legacy," is one of the editors of the The Brownings' Correspondence.

Saturday's database launch will be held in the McLean Foyer of Meditation, and this will be followed by a gala concert at 8 p.m. featuring American soprano Frederica von Stade in Jones Concert Hall at the Glennis McCrary Music Building. Miss von Stade will perform "Casa Guidi," a setting of words by Elizabeth Barrett Browning by the American composer, Dominick Argento. Casa Guidi was the home of the Brownings in Florence, Italy. Tickets for the concert are available, price $15 each, from the School of Music.

Activities for Sunday, Oct. 14, include a memorial wreath laying at the Armstrong family grave at Waco's Oakwood Cemetery at 1:15 p.m led by Dr. Todd Lake, dean of university ministries; a carillon recital at 1:45 p.m.; a 2 p.m. cornerstone ceremony on the front steps of the library; and a 3 p.m. rededication service in the McLean Foyer of Meditation.

Representing the Armstrong family during the cornerstone ceremony will be Mrs. Katherine Armstrong, Dr. Armstrong's daughter-in-law and Richard and A. Joseph Armstrong, his grandsons; for the Barrett family, Gordon Moulton-Barrett, the great grandson of Elizabeth Barrett Browning's brother, Henry Moulton-Barrett, and Anthony Vicars-Miles, great grandson of her brother, Octavius Moulton-Barrett; and for the Browning family, Robert Browning, and Norman Collings, president of The Browning Society and great grandson of Robert Browning's half-aunt, Jemima Browning. Nancy Peoples and Jacquelyn Emerson Barron, who were present at the library ceremonies 50 years ago, will share their memories of the occasion.

The 3 p.m. service of rededication will feature an address by the Rev. Dr. Tom Wright, canon of Westminster Abbey, London, where Robert Browning was buried following his death on Dec. 12, 1889, 28 years after the death of Elizabeth Barrett Browning. Baylor President Robert B. Sloan, Jr. also will participate in the rededication service, which will include the world premiere of words from Browning's poem "Abt Vogler" set for small choir by Dr Robert H. Young, Baylor emeritus professor of music. These same words were read at the library dedication ceremony 50 years ago. The Baylor Chamber Singers will give the performance.

The Jubilee program will conclude with tea on the lawn at 4 p.m., weather permitting, featuring English tea, Italian biscotti and Texas pastries and cookies--which Dr. Rennie described as "a combination of the three cultures" represented by Armstrong Browning Library.

Apart from the Friday evening banquet, and the concert, all events are free and open to the public. Seats for the rededication service should, however, be reserved in advance because of limited accommodation in the Foyer of Meditation.

For further information see, http://www.browninglibrary.com or call Armstrong Browning Library at (254) 710-3566.

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