William Allingham

William Allingham (1824–89)

As published in The Brownings’ Correspondence, 30, 329–339.

William Allingham, a faithful correspondent of RB over the final 37 years of his life, and of EBB over the final nine years of hers, is a curious figure in the firmament of nineteenth-century literary personalities. A determined poet, essayist, and editor, Allingham earned modest praise from a number of prominent contemporaries for his published verse, Alfred Tennyson and Dante Gabriel Rossetti notably among them. Yet he is remembered mostly today not for his poetic expression, or the “rambler” travel pieces he wrote for Fraser’s Magazine under the name of Patricius Walker, but for the massive body of correspondence he doggedly sought out with the leading writers and cultural figures of the Victorian period, and for the private diary he kept over more than four decades that offers nuanced glimpses of these individuals with a breadth and character to be found nowhere else.

Indeed, the most consequential move Allingham may have taken to secure his long-term legacy was not the publication of his verse, but to marry, on 22 August 1874, at the Unitarian Chapel, Little Portland Place, in London, Helen Mary Elizabeth Paterson (1848–1926), an accomplished watercolorist and book illustrator who survived her husband by thirty-eight years, and committed herself during that period to editing and seeing through the press the diary and collected letters upon which his reputation now stands, a reputation he never enjoyed during his lifetime.

When Allingham died in 1889 after a prolonged illness, the Collected Poems of William Allingham (1887–91), were midway into a six-volume publication cycle that was completed two years later. In the 12 December 1891 issue of United Ireland, Irish poet William Butler Yeats (1865–1939) marked the occasion with a review printed under a headline that read, “A Poet We Have Neglected.”

This was not the first time that Yeats had implored critics and readers alike to give Allingham what he felt was his fair due. Like Yeats himself, Allingham was a Protestant of Anglo-Irish descent, and like Yeats he celebrated Irish traditions, folklore, and culture in his writing, sharing in particular a fascination for fairies, a distinctive theme in Irish folklore that occasioned his best remembered and most anthologized lines, from, aptly, a poem titled “The Fairies” (Poems, 1850), that begins:

Up the airy mountain,

Down the rushy glen,

We daren’t go a-hunting

For fear of little men.


Three years earlier, Yeats had expressed similar sentiments of Allingham’s oeuvre in a review of “Irish Songs and Other Poems” in the 2 September 1888 issue of the Providence Sunday Journal, the first prose piece Yeats wrote for an American publication. The essay would be reprinted years later in Yeats’s collected prose under the title, “The Poet of Ballyshannon,” a reference to the town in County Donegal where Allingham was born and spent much of his life. “In this age of ambitious thoughts, this cosmopolitan age, when poets have ransacked the world for their themes, the author of this little volume has sung for the most part his own countryside and his seaboard towns,” Yeats wrote, adding that Allingham’s apparent provincialism had denied him a wider readership: “The spirit of the age has never been heard of down there. In their old crannie they still believe in spirits and fairies and ghosts. Hence has it come about, this poet of Ballyshannon has found few readers” (W.B. Yeats, “The Poet of Ballyshannon,” Letters to the New Island, ed. George Bornstein and Hugh Witemeyer, 1989, p. 71).

Yeats would continue to lament Allingham’s further descent into obscurity, the marginalization, even, of the 11,000-line verse novel he wrote in eighteenth-century heroic couplets that addressed continuing agrarian and landlordism problems in his native land, Laurence Bloomfield in Ireland (1864), which had earned favorable mention in Parliament from William Gladstone, and doubtless contributed to his being awarded in June 1864 a £60-a-year civil list pension, the petition for which was signed by RB, Tennyson, and J.A. Froude, among several other literary men of the time. The pension increased to £100 in 1870, aided, in part, by an endorsement from RB in support of the petition. “I have found Mr Allingham admirably conscientious, full of industry, energetic yet self-controlling, and only ambitious in the noble way,” RB wrote to Gladstone on 16 December 1865 (ms at BL). A letter from Allingham to RB, dated just two days earlier, had sought RB’s support, explaining that an increased stipend would allow him to spend more time on producing a “deliberate study of Ireland—historical, topographical, & social; hoping to do, if not a History, some useful work to that end” (ms at BL).

In his introduction to the 1985 Penguin edition of Allingham’s diary, the historian John Julius Norwich ranked him “about halfway up the second league of poets” (William Allingham: A Diary, ed. H. Allingham and D. Radford, 1985, p. vi). Even Mark Samuels Lasner, the compiler of a selective bibliography of Allingham’s literary output and a collector of his oeuvre, has conceded that, as a poet, he is “admittedly a minor talent” (William Allingham: A Bibliographical Study, Philadelphia, 1993, p. 9).

Among academics, Allingham has been the subject of a handful of critical monographs, and several doctoral dissertations, one of the latter, completed in 1958, offers a particularly cogent explanation for his continued neglect. “One cannot be a Johnson and a Boswell at the same time. Neither can one be a great poet and an almost professional collector of friendships. Without his ardently cultivated friendships he would have been a less interesting man, with them he was a lesser poet because he let them take up too much of his time” (Alison Mary Patricia O’Reilly, “A Critical Study of William Allingham with Special Reference to Laurence Bloomfield in Ireland,” Ph.D. thesis, Bedford College, 1958, p. 76). It is this latter detail—and the epistolary relationship Allingham pursued and maintained with the Brownings in particular—that makes him of especial interest in this context.

The primary source of information on Allingham’s early years is Allingham himself, recalled intermittently during the final ten years of his life with hopes of producing a full autobiography, according to Helen Allingham in her preface to William Allingham: A Diary, but resulting only in a “detailed narrative … of the period dealing with his childhood, and some later portions—such as the accounts of his intercourse with Carlyle and Tennyson: nothing was left ready for publication” (p. v).

William Allingham was born on 19 March 1824 in Ballyshannon, in his words “an odd, out-of-the-way little Town,” in County Donegal on the northwest coast of Ireland, the first-born child of William Allingham (1789–1866) and Elizabeth Crawford Allingham (d. 1833) (Diary, p. 1). The Allingham family was native to Hampshire in England, having settled in Ireland during the reign of Elizabeth I. The elder William Allingham was a commodities merchant who “owned at various times five or six ships,” according to his son, importing timber, slates, coal, and iron, trading chiefly in Canada and the Baltic, his only exports being immigrants bound for North America (Diary, p. 7). William Jr. (he occasionally used the suffix in his letters while his father was still alive) had four younger siblings: Catherine, John, Jane, and Edward, the latter living only a few months.

Allingham’s recollections of his parents are generally muted, his mother’s “constant invalidism” precluding the development of a deep relationship with her. “I dimly recollect my mother as thin, pale, delicate, gentle in voice and movement, with soft dark hair and an oval face slightly sun-freckled. She was kind, sweet, and friendly, and a great favourite with all who knew her” (Diary, p. 8). He cited her death in 1833 five months after delivering a still-born son as being “due rather to exhaustion than disease.” His father’s aloofness and “hasty temper” were such, meanwhile, that it “kept us children at a distance from both” parents (p. 8).

An early aptitude for reading established a life-long passion for books and poetry, the latter becoming Allingham’s first love. He was educated locally at Wray's School in Church Lane, where the formal instruction was in Latin, followed by a year at a boarding school at Killeyshandra, County Cavan. Withdrawing from that unhappy interlude in 1838, he returned to his native town to become a clerk in the Provincial Bank of Ballyshannon, where his father was by then the manager, working at various branches in the region over the next seven years. A deep and continuing desire for a university education would never be realized, a void he regretted well into adulthood. “I am going to make a desperate effort (something short of the Newgate Calendar) to get together a few hundreds of pounds, & go to school, either at the London University or one of the new Queen’s Colleges in Ireland,” he declared in a lengthy letter to RB and EBB on 24 September 1853, but the dream was never realized (letter 3269).

His wish for self-improvement had led him, in 1843, to initiate a correspondence with one of the most prominent editors and critics of the day, the influential English essayist and poet Leigh Hunt (1784–1859), setting in motion introductions and exchanges with other literary notables, and the accumulation over time of an extensive body of correspondence. We can assume from the initial response Allingham received from Hunt that he had explained his situation, requested advice and mentorship, and included some examples of his own poetry. Whatever he wrote, it struck a responsive chord.

“I have just received your modest and interesting letter, and hasten to tell you that your verses have given me great pleasure,” Hunt wrote on 24 February 1843 from Kensington, offering generous words of encouragement. “Go on so, and you may give the world another true full-grown poet, being unquestionably one already as far as you have gone” (Letters to William Allingham, ed. Helen Allingham and E. Baumer Williams, 1911, p. 1). The editors surmised the arrival of this response to have been a “red-letter day” for Allingham, who was a month shy of his nineteenth birthday at the time (p. 1). Five months after posting that first response, on 17 July 1843, Hunt offered a candid assessment of the latest batch of poetic samples he had received. “The manuscript enclosed in your last letter but one … did not seem to me so entirely good, as some of your previous effusions,” he offered candidly. “Your power did not strike me as being quite so much at home, or unforced, in the world of fancy, as when you were in home itself, or feeling the strong flesh-and-blood world about you” (p. 3).

In 1846, Allingham took a position as Principal Coast Officer with the Irish Customs office, responsible for a sprawling district based in the town of Donegal, at an annual salary of £80. He would serve in a succession of civil service postings over the next twenty-five years, constantly moving about from town to town, and able, finally, to afford periodic visits to England and the Continent. In June of the following year, he traveled to London and met Hunt for the first time, recording in his diary how their stimulating introductory talk included gossip about “certain highly interesting men,” ranging from Charles Dickens to Thomas Carlyle to RB. “Browning—lives at Peckham, because no one else does,” Hunt quipped. “A born poet, but loves contradictions. Shakespeare and Milton write plainly … and why can’t Browning?” At that point, Allingham suggested that perhaps RB was “the Turner of poetry,” a reference to the experimental style typical of the artist J.M.W. Turner (1775–1851), to which Hunt replied, “Now you’ve said it! He’s a pleasant fellow, has few readers, and will be glad to find you admire him.” Especially welcome was Hunt’s offer to make some introductions on his behalf, pledging to “take an opportunity of asking Dickens, Carlyle, and Browning to meet you” (Diary, pp. 36––37).

A long friendship with the poet Coventry Patmore (1823–96) began in 1849 while Allingham was again in London; the two became confidantes from the start. “Believe me, I have made no acquaintance—since I had the happiness of making that of Mr. Tennyson—which has given me such satisfaction as yours has done,” Patmore wrote on 19 August 1849, and he offered the first of what would be continuing encouragement for the young man’s creative aspirations, emphasizing the need to always give nothing but his best effort (Memoirs and Correspondence of Coventry Patmore, ed. Basil Champneys, 1900, II, 167).

Less than a month later, Patmore wrote this. “I have often thought of you and of your verses since I saw you,” and urged Allingham to “put out your strength and strive indefatigably to do your best. Many a first-rate genius has made only a second rate poet, because he has not chosen to work hard” (Champneys, p. 168). A brief letter of 20 April 1850 closes with an enigmatic paragraph and abrupt change of subject. “I have not seen anything of Browning’s book,” he offered, presumably referring to Christmas-Eve and Easter-Day but obviously commenting in response to something Allingham had earlier mentioned. “He is a strange fellow. I can’t understand why he can’t set to and be a great man—but he never will” (p. 174).

Of the letters Allingham wrote to Hunt that have surfaced, the one dated 11 June 1848 includes a concise clarification of an earlier remark he had made about Sordello, RB’s experimental poem that had received decidedly hostile reviews when first published eight years earlier. “I must further tell you to prevent mistake that I find it nothing but a piece of rich confusion; confusing one most confoundedly” (Letters, p. 7)

Through Hunt and Patmore, Allingham established meaningful and lasting relationships with Thomas Carlyle, Alfred Tennyson, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, William Michael Rossetti, and Edward and Georgina Burne-Jones, each of whom came to champion his lyrics and ballads, and whose letters to him are richly represented in the 1911 edition of his correspondence. The instrument for his making first contact with the Brownings, however, was facilitated by the publication of his first book, Poems (1850), dedicated to “Leigh Hunt, Esq., who encouraged my first literary attempts, and has since befriended me in matters of more importance.”

The paucity of positive reviews, combined with poor sales—about five hundred copies were sold—prompted Allingham to withdraw, and likely destroy, the remainder, a circumstance that did not deter him from sending a copy to Tennyson, which to his “boundless joy” led to a personal introduction in London the following year, and an impromptu dinner with “The Great Man” on 28 June 1851 that left him “feeling that a longing of my life had been fulfilled” (Diary, pp. 60 and 63). Another presentation copy went to the Brownings via their and Allingham’s publisher, Chapman and Hall. The undated inscription, on the half-title page, reads, “To Mr. & Mrs. Browning—with Mr. Allingham’s compliments” (Reconstruction, A52).

Whether or not Allingham may have mentioned in a covering letter that he had referred to the couple in two of his verses—RB as a tiger lily in “Poets and Flowers: Fourth Guess” (Poems, 1850, pp. 242–243), and EBB as an “aspiring, shrinking Lily of the Vale” in “Poets and Flowers: A Parting Posy” (p. 295)—is not known, but the references were noted in RB’s gracious letter of acknowledgment to him, dated 23 September 1851.

“What ought we to say,—my wife & I,—of your flowery baptism of our two selves? She, in virtue of her lily-of-the-valleyship, may characteristically bow her head & say nothing—but I, the bolder blossom,—what is left me but to remind you that Mrs Malaprop’s avowal ‘Pardon my cameleon blushes—I am Dalia,’ is good precedent for one who if not Dahlia is Tiger-lily.” RB further described Allingham’s debut volume as a “feast” of “power, beauty & freshness,” along with this observation: “Certainly no one of the Poets that have come forward within the last few years exhibits so much promise & performance together—& this poor opinion of mine is bettered by its entire coincidence with that of my wife. So go on courageously for everybody’s sake, & God speed you” (letter 2948). That would pretty much be the extent of RB’s commentary on the merits of Allingham’s poetry going forward, though EBB was far more appreciative in the postscripts she typically appended to her husband’s letters.

Hoping to locate himself closer to the literary and artistic circles in which he was now aspiring, Allingham moved to London in 1854, and tried his hand at journalism, supervising, while there, a heavily revised version of his Poems, published that year with a new title, Day and Night Songs; a second edition was issued the following year with additional poems, and retitled The Music Master, A Love Story, and Two Series of Day and Night Songs, with illustrations by Dante Gabriel Rossetti, John Everett Millais, and Arthur Hughes, making it especially attractive to collectors of illustrated books. (See Mark Samuels Lasner, William Allingham: A Bibliographical Study, Philadelphia, 1993, and Samira Aghacy Husni, William Allingham: An Annotated Bibliography, Beirut, 1984.)

Disenchanted with the work he was able to get in London, Allingham returned to Ireland and the customs office in 1856 and was assigned variously to postings in Coleraine and Ballyshannon through 1863, when he transferred to Lymington, Hampshire, where he could easily visit Tennyson, who was living nearby on the Isle of Wight.


On 5 October 1859—a full nine years after publication of Allingham’s Poems—EBB offered, in her segment of a joint letter, thanks “for the pleasure it gives us to see poems of yours every now & then flashing out from between” the columns of The Athenæum, leading her to ask: “But are you doing nothing except for the Athenæum? Are we not soon to look for another volume from you?” (letter 4501). A year later, there was more of the same. “What are you doing, besides what we see in the Athenæum?” EBB asked in May 1860, writing from Rome. “Write & tell us of your works & ways, & I will promise for both of us to behave better to you for the future,” a reference to their tardiness in responding to an earlier letter of his (letter 4675).

As this communication indicates—and it was a continuing pattern—Allingham typically wrote first, and he penned what by far were the longest letters, each of which usually included scraps of information from England he had picked up during his holidays there, tidbits that RB and EBB hungrily welcomed. “What a thing,” RB wrote from Florence on 3 July 1853, “to get … a letter loaded with news,—news of yourself, then of themselves, the people, that is, we care about.” In the same letter, EBB encouraged Allingham to “send me the most incredible news you can,” and that he add to it “a long letter about yourself, your intentions in literature, & in life.” She closed with “most truly yours always” (letter 3221).

For Allingham, the arrival of a letter from the Brownings was always cause for jubilation. “I could never tell you, if I tried, how happy your letter made me,” he enthused on 24 September 1853. “I know the happiness will not wither from this moment,” he continued and included a lengthy poem—an impromptu tune, actually, “sung to myself” to celebrate the letter’s arrival. It begins by asking, “What brings the daily lottery of the Post? / A prize indeed! / From Florence. Now, how to enjoy it most?” (letter 3269).

Allingham unfailingly inquired in his letters about Pen, and usually commented at length on what he knew of common acquaintances such as Carlyle, Tennyson, and John Ruskin. A typical example, from 23 October 1858: “Carlyle I found, brown, almost ruddy, & in the best humour, after two delightful months of solitude in Scotland, & one disgustful month of travel in Germany,” adding further that Carlyle “most warmly … spoke of R. Browning,” and that he had “attentively” read RB’s collection Men and Women (1855), and “understood it all at last but one thing,” that “one thing” being RB’s use of the word “lampions” in the poem “Respectability” (letter 4259).

The same letter contains snippets on William Morris, Burne-Jones, Ruskin, and both Rossetti brothers. “Let me say for once that I love you both with all my heart,” Allingham concluded at length. In a postscript, he asked permission to include “six or eight” of the couple’s published works in a selection of short lyric poems he was editing for Bell and Daldy, a London publisher (letter 4259). On 8 November 1858, RB informed Allingham that he had written Chapman and Hall authorizing him to use “whatever you like” of both the Brownings’ works (letter 4270). In due course, Nightingale Valley was issued in 1860 (edited by Allingham under the name of “Giraldus”), with five poems by RB (“My Last Duchess,” “Protus,” “The Laboratory,” “Up at a Villa—Down in the City,” and “May and Death”) and three from EBB (Sonnet XLIII, “How Do I Love Thee?,” “A Man’s Requirements,” and “The Lady’s Yes”).

In the November letter, RB reported he had taken Allingham’s advice (see letter 4259) and asked William Rossetti to oversee the engraving of the Macaire photograph of EBB for the fourth edition of Aurora Leigh (1859). He noted, too, that an American acquaintance and musical composer, a Mr. Boott, had, at the request of Pen, set one of Allingham’s ballads, “Wishing,” to music, which the boy placed in his personal album. EBB amplified on this in her portion of the letter: “Let me add to Robert’s word, my dear Mr. Allingham, first of Mr. Boott’s music, that his putting the song on your verses into Penini’s album, he had no idea of the poet being our friend– So it was an harmonious coincidence,—& rang musically on my feelings, if, I may speak of mine when I might speak of Robert’s” (letter 4270).

Occasionally, Allingham offered his take on the political happenings of the day, observations that were limited in insight and perception, given the circumstance of his postings in rural corners of Ireland, though sufficient to draw a patient response from the more fully engaged EBB, especially when the topic involved Napoleon III, whose ambitions she championed unreservedly. The shallowness of Allingham’s grasp of the issues is suggested in this example, from a letter of 17 June 1859. “L Napoleon has done everything well so far—all I have against him (& it is a serious thing) is his look: there has never been a mean-looking great man. But I have never seen him with my own eyes: Can you help me?” (letter 4429). If EBB was moved to respond, nothing she may have written on this point has surfaced. Her last communication with Allingham, dated 17 June 1860, was posted a year before her death. She included three photographs, one of Pen, one of herself, and another of RB, which she had promised to send to him in an earlier posting (see letter 4675), but failed to enclose, eliciting this response: “But what can have happened [to] the photograph that should have come in your letter? Have the Holy Father’s police extracted it? The loss is a real vexation” (letter 4700). Before receiving Allingham’s letter, EBB wrote, correcting the oversight: “To make up for it, I send you Penini’s, . . and mine thrown in—besides what I promised. … Pray like us all, love us all, shall I say,—as you always seemed to do, with kindness & indulgence as of old” (letter 4693).

In addition to the cordial letters they sent to each other, there was the occasional exchange of books. EBB presented Allingham with a copy of the second edition of her Poems (1850), inscribed on the verso of the half-title of volume one: “With Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s kind regards to Mr. Allingham– London– 1852” (Reconstruction, C92). A copy of Allingham’s Music Master, a Love Story (1855) bears, on the half-title, “To Mrs Browning from W Allingham” (Reconstruction, A51).

Though Allingham’s acquaintance with the Brownings was conducted mostly through the post, there were a few scattered meetings over the years, usually in England, though once, in 1858, in Paris, when both parties were there on holiday. Allingham recorded a get-together on that same trip with William Makepeace Thackeray at his hotel. “I told him I had been with the Brownings (who were there in Paris, staying in the Rue Castiglioni, No. 6),” he wrote in his diary. “Browning was here this morning,” Thackeray replied, “what spirits he has—almost too much for me in my weak state. He almost blew me out of bed!” Both agreed with Allingham’s response, “A wonderful fellow, indeed,” which led to this from Thackeray. “But I can’t manage his poetry. What do you say?” Allingham summarized his response succinctly, without further elaboration: “I spoke highly of it” (Diary, p. 76).

According to William Michael Rossetti, it was through Allingham that his older brother, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, met RB for the first time, in 1852, five years after having written him about his possible authorship of Pauline, and developing, in the meantime, a “more deep and wellnigh unmixed satisfaction in Browning than in any other living British poet.” The younger Rossetti wrote that during one of Allingham’s visits to London, he had “called upon” RB, and that his brother had been “privileged to accompany him,” making possible his “first actual sight” of the poet (Some Reminiscences of William Michael Rossetti, 1906, I, 232–234). Another account suggests the two men may actually have met a year earlier through the good graces of the American artist Thomas Buchanan Read, but, either way, Allingham was in the mix (see Rosalie Glynn Grylls, “Rossetti and Browning,” The Princeton University Library Chronicle, Spring 1972, p. 232).

Once his friendship with the Brownings was in place, Allingham became a robust champion of RB’s work. Helen Allingham asserted that her late husband was “one of the first to recognise Browning’s genius” (Letters, p. 94), an observation seconded by W.M. Rossetti, who described the Irishman as being “the one most fully sensitive to the great claims of Browning” among those of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood with which he had ingratiated himself (Some Reminiscences, I, 233).

A letter addressed to both Brownings, dated 1 February 1860, contains a pensive reflection on prominent figures from the world of letters who had recently died:

How many of those whom we know in perhaps the surest way—by their books—have gone away from us in ’59. Leigh Hunt was the one I was most attached to personally: & he did his work too, though less tangibly than some: amidst all the flashing of Cornhill Magazines & Saturday Reviews one misses the little pot of poetic honey.

About [Thomas] De Quincy one had a sort of grand vague idea, but reading him was too much like walking down into the fog which lay below you in semblance of a city. But methinks the world is poorer for the going of each & every one of them—[Henry] Hallam, [Thomas Babington] Macaul[a]y, Washington Irving, Leigh Hunt, De Quincy, [William Hickling] Prescott: first & oftenest however (saving the Times’s favour) we’ll remember the Poet—any Poet—even a blurred one! (letter 4593).

Toward the end of her letter to Allingham from Rome in May 1860, EBB had brought up the hostile reception her recently published commentary in verse on political events in Europe, Poems Before Congress (1860), was receiving in England, noting how The Athenaeum, “which makes room for you”—her reference is to Allingham’s own poems, discussed above—“and does’nt set its wild beasts roaring at you as it does at me, gnashing their teeth in the thickets. See how I’ve been treated in England this year. … As for my poor little book I have pulled an arrow out of my flesh in writing it & relieved myself,—realizing the need of ‘speaking, though one dies for it’” (letter 4675). In her preface to the published edition of the book, dated three months earlier, EBB anticipated the reaction she was likely to receive in her native country, concluding, in two defiant paragraphs, with the hope that “poets who write of the events of [their] time, shall not need to justify themselves in prefaces, for ever so little jarring of the national sentiment, imputable to their rhymes” (Poems Before Congress, p. viii).

The last recorded letter from Allingham to EBB written prior to her death, dated 23 June 1860, is chatty, as usual, with gossip on, among others, Carlyle and Tennyson, and a riff on the recent marriage of Dante Gabriel Rossetti to Elizabeth Siddal, “once a ‘model,’ with a talent for drawing, & long very sickly as she still is I am sorry to hear” (letter 4700). He took pause, too, to record stirring words of support for Poems Before Congress, for if “nothing else, your outspeaking will do everybody immense good, & I for one am unfeignedly grateful for it.” Finally, in a postscript, there is this: “I am writing an Irish poem on tenant right &c,” which he described, simply, as “promising,” a teasing reference to what he hoped would be his magnum opus, Laurence Bloomfield in Ireland, a novel in verse dealing with the contemporary problems of land and landlordism that had been occupying his attention for several years.

During his many years of travel for the customs office, and inspired by the rediscovery of the ballad then in vogue among the Victorians, Allingham had sought out while on the road, and collected wherever he could find them, Irish varieties of the form from a succession of country people, and included them in an anthology of traditional ballads, The Ballad Book, that he edited, and published in 1864 (see his preface to the collection). That same year, he saw through the press Laurence Bloomfield in Ireland, which had appeared first in twelve installments in Fraser’s Magazine, beginning with the November 1862 number. A copy of the book was presented “To Robert Browning, Esq.” from “W. Allingham” in the year of publication (see Reconstruction, A50). During a visit to “the great Robert” at Warwick Crescent on 26 June 1864, RB “commended Bloomfield with reservation—‘Not so poetical as some of your things—but O so clever’” (Diary, p. 100).

EBB’s death in 1861 had changed, in ways both subtle and palpable, the character of the Allingham-Browning correspondence. RB’s relocation to London could well have led to a closer relationship between the two, had RB been so inclined, but other than a handful of informal get-togethers and an occasional lunch at Warwick Crescent over the next 28 years, a deeper friendship never materialized, and the frequency of exchanges decreased dramatically. The tenor remained friendly and respectful enough, but was never intimate to the degree Allingham enjoyed with Tennyson, Carlyle, and the Rossettis. Whether or not this cooling off may have tempered the enthusiasm Allingham once felt for RB’s work, which in the early years was unqualified, is conjectural. Whatever reservations he might have felt for RB’s work going forward were confined to his private diary, to marginalia in his copies of RB’s books, and to entries in a small notebook of ninety-five leaves, a commonplace book of readings he had copied out by hand and commented on, now in the Mark Samuels Lasner Collection of Victorian association materials at the University of Delaware. (See description of the item in Mark Samuels Lasner, “Browning’s First Letter to Rossetti: A Discovery,” BIS, 15, 1987, 82).

On 8 February 1868, Allingham began a memorandum in his diary: “Too often [there is] a want of solid basis for R.B.’s brilliant and astounding cleverness,” and then he asked: “How try to account for B’s twists and turns? I cannot. He has been and still is very dear to me. But I can no longer commit myself to his hands in faith and trust. Neither can I allow the faintest shadow of a suspicion to dwell in my mind that his genius may have a leaven of quackery. Yet, alas! he is not solid—which is a very different thing from prosaic” (Diary, p. 174).

A few months later, at a 26 May 1868 lunch with RB, the talk ran chiefly on The Ring and the Book (4 vols., 1868–69), then in final production. “I began it in rhymed couplets, like Laurence Bloomfield,” RB told Allingham of the writing, a reference to the latter’s own work that had to have been satisfying, despite RB having “thought by and by I might as well have my fling, and so turned to blank verse” (Diary, p. 181). In late November of that year, Allingham received a presentation copy of volume one of The Ring and the Book in the post. But, apparently, he did not consider it very “solid.” On 27 December 1868, during a visit to RB’s home at 19 Warwick Crescent, Allingham was presented with the second volume, and the author asked him how he had liked the first. He recorded his response: “I return praise, and for the present (with uneasy conscience) nothing but praise” (Diary, p. 195). Further evidence of his misgivings about The Ring and the Book can be seen in a diary entry for 2 January 1872. Reporting a discussion of the work with Carlyle, Allingham gives his own comments: “I said that B. had neither given us the real story as he found it, nor, on the other hand, constructed a poem out of it, and in reading The Ring and the Book I felt (as I told B. himself) like a creature with one leg and one wing, half hopping, half flying” (Diary, pp. 207–208).

In 1870 Allingham resigned his customs position to become subeditor—and four years later editor—of Fraser's Magazine in London. Finally feeling sufficiently secure financially—a concern he had expressed often in his letters as the main reason he had remained a bachelor—he married Helen Paterson. On learning of the forthcoming nuptials from Allingham, RB sent a congratulatory letter, posted on 13 August, in Somme, France, nine days before the wedding: “I am glad to my very soul to hear such good news about you. You only do me justice in making sure of my thorough friendliness,—though you don’t mention that your own exceeding benevolence to me and mine, long ago, required far more return than it was ever in my power to make: and so, I am certain, it will be found in respect to your present accession of happiness” (ms at Taylor Coll). RB expressed hope “that you will speedily do me the honor & pleasure of an introduction to Mrs Allingham,” and conveyed the best wishes, as well, of his sister, Sarianna, with whom Allingham had also established an acquaintance. Only three additional letters from RB to Allingham are known—all of them brief and to the point, the final one, dated 9 June 1888 (ms at Taylor Coll), a year before both men died, containing a single paragraph with an invitation for a Sunday luncheon. Allingham was ailing at the time, however, and unable to accept.

Twenty-four years younger than Allingham, Helen Mary Elizabeth Paterson was born on 26 September 1848 at Swadlincote, Derbyshire, the eldest of seven children (three boys and four girls) of Dr. Alexander Henry Paterson (1825–62), medical practitioner and surgeon, and his wife, Mary Chance (née Herford,, 1824–94). Helen grew up in what the ODNB calls an “enlightened middle-class family environment,” and received an early education at the Unitarian School for Girls founded by her grandmother. The death of her father when she was fourteen imposed financial difficulties on the family, instilling in Helen the importance of thrift, and a lifelong commitment to productive work.

An early proficiency in art led to schooling in the Government School of Design in Birmingham, and the Royal Academy Schools. Beginning in 1868, she worked as a freelance illustrator for various children’s magazines, becoming, in 1870, the only woman on the staff of a weekly periodical, The Graphic. She illustrated Thomas Hardy’s novel Far From the Madding Crowd when it was first serialized in The Cornhill Magazine in 1872, and Annie Thackeray’s novel Miss Angel in 1875, for the same periodical. By the time of her marriage, she was exhibiting regularly at the Royal Society of Painters in Water Colours.

She and William Allingham had three children, Gerald Carlyle (1875–1962), Eva Margaret (b. 1877), and Henry William (1882–1960). They lived at first in Chelsea, close to Carlyle, where the friendship strengthened. Allingham resigned as editor of Fraser’s Magazine in 1879, after which he and his family went to live at Sandhills, near Witley, in Surrey. Tennyson by then was at Aldworth, not far away. In 1888, owing to William’s failing health, the Allinghams moved to Eldon House in Lyndhurst Road, Hampstead, London, where he died on 18 November 1889 of complications stemming from a fall off a horse several years earlier. He was cremated in Woking, Surrey, and buried in Ballyshannon.

In addition to her painting, which provided an income for the support of her family, Helen Allingham committed herself to publishing her late husband’s diary and correspondence, the former appearing first, in 1907. In its lead review for 21 December 1907, The New York Times Saturday Review of Books declared the Diary to be “the Boswell’s Johnson of its time, as authentic and interesting a delineation of literary London during the Victorian as the other during the Georgian period,” and that the work would have relevance “as long as interest in the Victorian masters survives” (p. 842).

The release four years later of The Letters to William Allingham enjoyed similar approbation. The volume presented correspondence from nearly 60 notable individuals of the Victorian era, including thirteen letters from RB and EBB and four more from Sarianna Browning.

—Nicholas A. Basbanes


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