A Romantic Notion: One Scholar’s Lifetime of Devotion to the Letters of Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett Browning

Browning-lettersBy Nicholas A. Basbanes | HUMANITIES, September/October 2015 | Volume 36, Number 5

If ever there was an understatement in four simple words, it is on a small plaque in the Winfield, Kansas, offices of an eighty-year-old man who is editing and publishing the complete correspondence—11,601 letters and counting—of Robert and Elizabeth Barrett Browning, two of the most celebrated poets of the Victorian Age.

Nothing daunts a scholar,” the inscription reads, though Philip Kelley, founder and proprietor of Wedgestone Press, says that he, personally, isn’t a scholar, and that the little sign was a gift from some admirers. While not disputing the premise—that perseverance is central to what he has accomplished—the self-effacing perfectionist suggests he is more an enabler of those who profit from his highly specialized bibliographic efforts, which historians, biographers, textual editors, and literary critics on both sides of the Atlantic have called indispensable. If these beneficiaries call him a “scholar”—and many do—then so be it.

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