Arabella Graham-Clarke (aunt)

Arabella Sarah Graham-Clarke (1785–1869)

As published in The Brownings’ Correspondence, 1, 297–298.

This frequently-mentioned aunt of EBB was known by the nicknames “Bell,” “Bummy,” and “Bum.” Born at Newcastle-upon-Tyne on 27 June 1785, she was the fourth child and second daughter of John and Arabella Graham (later Graham-Clarke). She was an accomplished harpist and avid reader. Never marrying, she devoted much of her time and attention to Graham-Clarke and Moulton-Barrett relatives. As did other family members, she engaged in a great deal of travelling and visiting. For a number of years, her principal base was the family home, Fenham Hall, where she lived with her mother until the latter’s death in 1827. In the following year, 1828, she accompanied her sister Mary Moulton-Barrett to Cheltenham, where Mary died on 7 October. After that, Bummy became of great service to the surviving Moulton-Barretts, spending much time with them at Hope End and elsewhere. There were, however, some clashes of will between her and EBB. Letters by EBB to Hugh Stuart Boyd and entries in her diary, written during the period just before the loss of Hope End, tell of Bummy’s being there at that time. Much to EBB’s exasperation, Bummy apparently knew what was going on, but helped the father to keep his unpleasant secret. When Bummy’s sister Charlotte Butler died, in 1834, Bummy took responsibility for Charlotte’s two daughters. (They were Cissy, who died in 1843, and Arlette, who married in 1847.) She was present during much of EBB’s stay at Torquay, taking care of her own expenses there. She was among various family visitors staying at 50 Wimpole Street—and causing complications for EBB—in the summer of 1846 shortly before the elopement with RB. Close as had been Bummy’s usual relationship with EBB, she sided against the latter when facts of the elopement became known. Bummy visited EBB in London in 1851, but reportedly was not friendly. Her late years were spent mainly at Frocester Manor, Gloucestershire and 32 Imperial-Square, Cheltenham. In the diary of Surtees Cook (Reconstruction, L4) there is an entry for 31 December 1869 reporting the death of “aunt Bell” on the previous morning “at her residence at Cheltenham. She is to be buried at Frocester.” In her will she made substantial specific bequests to a number of relatives, and left the remainder of her estate to nephew John Altham Graham-Clarke, Jr., who was appointed her executor.


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