Joseph Arnould

Joseph Arnould (1813–86)

As published in The Brownings’ Correspondence, 6, 361–363.

This early friend and devoted admirer of RB was born at Camberwell on 12 November 1813. His father, likewise named Joseph, was a doctor and landowner. The youth was educated at Charterhouse (well-known London boarding school also attended by two of EBB’s brothers) and at Wadham College, Oxford, graduating from the latter in 1836. At Oxford in 1834 he won the prestigious Newdigate prize for English verse with a poem called “The Hospice of St. Bernard.” He recited this at a gathering where the Duke of Wellington was present for installation as university chancellor, and evoked an ovation by interpolating a reference to the “Chief of Waterloo.” Arnould’s “Hospice” was printed in The Times, and some of his verses eventually appeared in print elsewhere, but he never seriously regarded himself as a poet. Writing to Alfred Domett in 1843, he indicated no desire to “add another to the metrical prosers of the day” (G & M, p. 82). Concentrating primarily on law, which he was studying when RB first knew him, he was called to the bar in 1841. Involved for a while both in legal and in journalistic work, he at one time was offered the editorship of The Daily News but turned it down. In 1848 Arnould combined his legal and literary skills to produce an authoritative work on marine insurance which survived through many editions. In 1859 he received a knighthood and also was appointed to the supreme court (later the high court of judicature) of Bombay, India. Upon his retirement, 10 years later, the people of Bombay created an Arnould scholarship at their university to commemorate his work in promoting the study of Islamic and Hindu law. Arnould was married first in 1841 and again, shortly after the death of his first wife, in 1860. He died at Florence on 16 February 1886.

Arnould belonged to the loosely organized club, or “set,” sometimes called the “colloquials,” which met at Limehouse and elsewhere ca. 1835–40, and whose members included RB and Alfred Domett (G & M, p. 80). Extant correspondence between Arnould and RB consists entirely of letters from Arnould (including one in which his first wife, Maria, joined). The first of Arnould’s extant communications to RB (letter 1062) includes a long poem in praise of the latter’s Dramatic Lyrics (1842), with an explanatory letter dated 27 November of that year. Despite its highly complimentary tone, the poem ends with an apparent warning against obscurity:


“Let the throned Genius with majestic grace

Put by the mists that still obscure his face

Divide the vapours with his parting hand

And full before the world then Seer & Teacher stand!–”


Years earlier Arnould had described RB’s Pauline (1833) as “strange, wild, and in parts singularly magnificent poet-biography: his own early life as it presented itself to his own soul” (G & M, p. 33). Highly valuable to Browning scholars is Arnould’s voluminous correspondence with Alfred Domett, with its frequent references to RB. In July 1844, for instance, he wrote of the poet: “It is solely by his means that I have obtained an entrance at last into Periodical Literature, which I have so long been endeavouring through less zealous friends to procure. He is a noble fellow. His life so pure, so energetic, so simple, so laborious, so loftily enthusiastic. It is impossible to know and not to love him” (G & M, p. 83). A letter written by Arnould to Domett in May 1843 carries the only full contemporary account of the production, in the previous February, of RB’s ill-fated A Blot in the ’Scutcheon and of RB’s clash with William Charles Macready over that play (G & M, pp. 116–118). Writing to Domett four years later, Arnould paired “Browning and Carlyle” as “my two crowning men amongst the highest English minds of the day” (G & M, p. 135). When direct correspondence between RB and Alfred Domett lapsed, after RB’s marriage, Arnould served as a link between them. Meanwhile, Arnould apparently was involved far differently in relations between RB and another acquaintance, Thomas Powell. Biographers have assumed Arnould (see RB-EBB, p. 383, n. 7), to have been the intended victim in an episode described by RB to EBB in a letter of 11 January 1846. RB said that Powell, a joint proprietor of The New Quarterly, had tried to defraud “a friend of mine” out of payment for an article. It is known that RB was instrumental in having a long article on Rabelais, by Arnould, published in The New Quarterly of January 1845. RB broke with Powell as a result of the attempted fraud.

When RB and EBB were married, Arnould became a trustee of their marriage settlement—along with John Kenyon and Henry F. Chorley. EBB was not so closely associated with Arnould as was her husband, but she did comment to RB, on 1 May 1846, about some of his verses: “I am delighted … & quite surprised … having expected to find nothing but love & law in them, & really there is a great deal besides.” On 16 October 1846, about a month after the Brownings’ wedding, Arnould wrote to RB on behalf of himself and his wife Maria, asking that “you and Mrs. Browning both take the friendliest of greetings & the sincerest of good wishes from two hearts who having for six years beat together as one know what a blessed thing ‘the marriage of true minds’ is.” The last extant letter from Arnould to RB, discussing the latter’s newly-published Christmas-Eve and Easter-Day, was written on 25 April 1850, but there was considerable contact beyond that time. Arnould tried unsuccessfully to have the Brownings stay at his house during their 1851 visit to London (G & M, p. 179), and he received a presentation copy of EBB’s Aurora Leigh (1857), as indicated by Reconstruction, C4. A letter of condolence from RB to Arnould, upon the death of the latter’s wife Maria, was mentioned by EBB to her brother George on 1 November 1860: “Sir Joseph Arnould wrote in reply to Robert’s letter of condolence, that he had taken another wife ‘young & pretty’!” She said also that Arnould had discussed withdrawing, because of his being in India, from trusteeship of the Brownings’ marriage settlement. However, he was still involved in their business affairs at the time of EBB’s death in 1861.


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