Robert Browning Birthday Celebrations at Baylor

Music, a lecture and an Italian dinner in honor of Robert Browning's 203rd birthday were the order of events on Thursday at Baylor University's Armstrong Browning Library. An annual celebration, the birthday festivities are held in the grand three-story Italian Renaissance-style building built by the Browning collection founder, Dr. A.J. Armstrong. Filled with sixty-two stained glass windows, marble columns, black walnut marquetry paneling, and intricate ceiling designs, the Armstrong Library is routinely cited by various tastemakers as one of America's most beautiful libraries, and attracts over 25,000 visitors a year. 

Elizabeth and Robert Browning, public domain (Wikimedia)

Rita Patteson, director of the Armstrong Library, spoke with me ahead of the celebration.  "Browning Day is the biggest event of the year for us," she said. "It's our chance to share the beauty of Browning's poetry with the world, and to showcase our collection."  The library is the repository of the largest collection of correspondence and other material written by Robert and Elizabeth Barrett Browning, two of the 19th century's preeminent poets and prolific letter-writers.

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ABL McLean Foyer of Meditation, Ryan Duncan, Baylor Marketing and Communications

Events started at 3:30 p.m in the Hankamer Treasure Room with the premiere of "Mysterion," a composition created by the Armstrong Library's Artist-in-Residence Carlos Colón.  Baylor professor Joshua King followed up with a lecture entitled "Reforming Christ's Body in Aurora Leigh," discussing Elizabeth Barrett Browning's 1856 masterpiece, a nine-book novel composed in blank verse that assured her position as one of the foremost poets of the Victorian era.

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ABL Treasure Room, credit Matthew Minard, Baylor Marketing and Communications

After a light reception and time to visit the collection, members of the Fano Club convened their annual dinner, also held in the library. Browning scholar William Lyon Phelps founded the Fano Club in 1912, naming it for the Italian seaside town nestled on the Adriatic Sea where the painting "The Guardian Angel," by Giovanni Francesco Barbieri (1591 -1666) had inspired Robert Browning to compose "The Guardian Angel: A Picture at Fano" (1848). Initiation requirements include traveling to Fano, Italy and, once viewing the painting, mailing a postcard to the library stating that the aforementioned tasks were complete.  (Seeing "The Guardian Angel" is not as easy as it sounds; Fano is a three-hour drive from Florence, and, in typical Italian fashion, the Civic Museum (where the painting now hangs) is closed Mondays, for a few hours most afternoons, and all Italian holidays.) There are approximately 200 current Fano Club members, of whom nearly 40 traveled to Waco to enjoy the annual dinner. This year, the meal was served family-style and featured a traditional meal of antipasto, chicken saltimbocca and tiramisu for dessert.  Patteson, who is also a Fano Club member, was looking forward to the dinner. "We catch up, read some poetry, and enjoy a wonderful meal, all in the name of Robert Browning." La dolce vita, indeed.

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ABL Pied Piper of Hamelin Window, Haskins Studio, Rochester, New York, 1924, credit Matthew Minard, Baylor Marketing and Communications

Click here for more information about Armstrong Browning Library.