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William Hand Browne collection

Identifier: MS-0011

Scope and Contents

The collection of author and English professor, William Hand Browne, includes correspondence, notebooks, a scrapbook, pencil sketches, manuscript poems, and some published writings in Modern Language Notes, The Nation, and Sewanee Review. Numerous newspaper clippings are also included. In addition, there is an album of poetry and other writings by Browne's friend, John Banister Tabb. A few items relate to other family members, Lucy Hand Browne and Owens Hand Browne. William Hand Browne was known to be a man who disliked ostentation and who did not promote his own accomplishments. In a letter to Hopkins librarian, John French in 1942, Lucy Hand Browne wrote that her father disposed of most of his papers before his death in 1912. Although he was formally associated with The Johns Hopkins University from 1879 to 1910, the collection does not include any papers related to his work at the University. The collection has been artificially arranged into 7 series: Personal, Incoming Letters, Outgoing Letters, Writings, John Banister Tabb, Sketches, and Family.

William Hand Browne was a well-known authority on Maryland history, having spent thirty years editing the colonial Archives of Maryland. In the Personal Series are clippings from Baltimore newspapers in the early 1900s which reveal Browne's opinions on matters affecting the state of Maryland: financing, proposed memorials, the public intentions of Margaret Brent, and the state colors. Theodore Roosevelt's suggestion to simplify spelling in the United States also drew comment from Browne. Book reviews and memorials to Brown are also among the clippings. Browne's intellectual facilities developed early. Contained here is a list of mathematical and geographical questions answered by him before he was 2 years old. A final item, In Memoriam, was published in the Johns Hopkins Circular, February 1913.

Correspondence in Series 2: Incoming Letters, deals mostly with literary matters and the shared interest in poetry between Browne and some of his friends. Those represented include Lizette Woodworth Reese, Marguerite Easter, Mary Day Lanier, and Cary Franklin Jacob. The letters of poet-priest, John Banister Tabb are also included here.

Series 3 is Outgoing Letters. Of interest here is Browne's correspondence with John Ingram, the English editor and biographer of Edgar Allan Poe. Browne also wrote extensively to a former student and editor of the Sewanne Review, John H. McBryde. Letters to Hopkins colleague's Basil Gildersleeve and Edward Lucas White are also part of Series 3.

In Series 4: Writings, are examples of Browne's varied literary talents. Several bound volumes contain manuscript material, mostly poetry. Here also are a series of poems Browne wrote for his granddaughter, Cicely Browne. Katherine Hand Browne copied some of her father's poems into a notebook in 1886, and other pieces were photocopied. A biographical sketch of John Banister Tabb and an essay on "politeness" written in 1842 are the final items in the series.

A small series of sketches forms Series 5. Pencil sketches of landscapes and houses are included in notebooks. Browne was fond of numerical puzzles and challenging riddles and examples of these can also be found in his notebooks.

John Banister Tabb was born in Amelia County, Virginia in 1845. He entered Confederate service during the Civil War, was taken prisoner, and confined in the prison at Point Lookout, Maryland. The poet, Sidney Lanier, was held prisoner there during the same period, 1864-1865. Tabb later studied at St. Charles College, Baltimore, Maryland and was received into the Roman Catholic priesthood in 1884. Tabb valued Browne's editorial judgement and sent him manuscript copies of his poems. Browne mounted the poems in an album, sometimes referred to as the "Tabbalbum." This album and other examples of Father Tabb's poems are included in Series 6: John Banister Tabb. Tabb sketched the interior of his tent where he was held prisoner, and a photograph of this sketch is the final item in Series 5.

The last series of this collection is Series 7: Family. In a letter to John French (included with the provenance information to this collection), Lucy Hand Browne wrote that her father left to each child a notebook of family history but left his own page blank. This small series contains only material of daughter, Lucy, and great-grandson, Owens Hand Browne. Miss Browne's notebook contains puzzles and a few poems. A published pamphlet by the Rev. Olin Hallock is included. Items relating to Owens Hand Browne include correspondence with Special Collections, The Johns Hopkins University, regarding the disposition of his grandfather's poetry. Owens Hand Browne was the editor of a Conservative newsletter, The American Eaglet. The collection includes a copy of the newsletter and other tracts in opposition to liberal positions prevalent in the 1960s and early 1970s.


  • 1842-1973


Conditions Governing Use

Single copies may be made for research purposes. Researchers are responsible for determining any copyright questions. It is not necessary to seek our permission as the owner of the physical work to publish or otherwise use public domain materials that we have made available for use, unless Johns Hopkins University holds the copyright.

Biographical / Historical

William Hand Browne was born in Baltimore, December 31, 1828. He attended private schools in Baltimore and received the degree of M.D. from the University of Maryland in 1850. Instead of practicing medicine, Browne chose a career in the importing business which he continued until 1861. At the beginning of the Civil War, Browne abandoned commerce and the rest of his career was occupied with academic and literary pursuits. He wrote for various periodicals including The South, The Southern Review, The Southern Magazine, and The Nation. From 1906 to 1911, he edited the Maryland Historical Magazine.

In 1873, Dr. Browne collaborated with Richard Malcolm Johnston and published English Literature: A Historical Survey of English Literature from the Earliest Times. Soon after, Dr. Browne became associated with The Johns Hopkins University when he was invited to assist with English instruction there. In 1879, Browne was appointed Librarian of The Johns Hopkins University, but continued his duties with the English department. In 1891, Browne resigned as librarian and was appointed associate professor of English and later promoted to professor of English literature.

Browne's literary interests were varied, and he published several important works during his career: The Life of Alexander H. Stephens (1878), the Clarendon Dictionary (1882), Selections from the Early Scottish Poets (1896), and Maryland The History of a Palatinate (1899). Of equal importance was his editing of the colonial archives of Maryland, a work comprising 31 volumes. Browne was friends with other prominent literary figures of his day including Sidney Lanier and the poet-priest, John Banister Tabb. Both men valued Browne's editorial skills. Although most of Browne's published writings were prose works, he also wrote poetry. His poetry was mostly graceful, but for amusement, he also wrote nonsense rhymes, riddles, and limericks.

After his retirement from Hopkins, William Hand Browne lived in the countryside, north of Baltimore, where he died in 1912.


1.88 Cubic Feet (4 legal size document boxes)

Language of Materials


Immediate Source of Acquisition

The collection was a gift to the University from Browne family members. It was received at different times between the years 1942 to 1991. The earliest items included poems, clippings, correspondence, and notebooks and were given in 1942 by William Hand Browne's daughter, Lucy Hand Browne. Around the same time, another daughter, Mrs. Charles Hoff [Violet Browne] gave the letters of the Rev. John Banister Tabb. Owens Hand Browne, a great-grandson, donated additional items, 1971 and 1972. These included photocopies of poems grouped under the title, "The Bongo Tree and Other Poems," a list of questions answered by William Hand Browne in childhood, and poems from the years 1857 to 1860. Other material including poems, letters, and the memorial volume were received in 1991 from Browne's granddaughter, Marian Gilmor Howard Hall (Mrs. Robert C. Hall).


The accession number for the items from Mrs. Hall is 90-91.33.

Related Materials

Material of William Hand Browne can be found in the Daniel C. Gilman papers MS.0001, Sidney Lanier papers MS.0007, Edward Lucas White papers MS.0056, and the Edward Spencer papers MS.00149, Special Collections.

Processing Information

Finding aid prepared by Joan Grattan in 1991.

William Hand Browne collection
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the Special Collections Repository

The Sheridan Libraries
Special Collections
3400 N Charles St
Baltimore MD 21218 USA