TEB is, as we all know, little read and known not at all outside of the Isle of Man. His fate, like other figures of Victorian fiction and poetry, is similar to that of George Borrow, influential in his day but now equally neglected. As was written recently of him and his decline in popularity: “Since then he has suffered the characteristically British fate of a decline into biography.” [Duncan, Ian. “Wild England: George Borrow’s Nomadology.” Victorian Studies 41.3 (1998): 381–93.] This too has happened with TEB; for example Winterbotton, Derek. T.E. Brown: His Life and Legacy. Douglas: The Manx Experience, 1997. Much earlier, though a different kettle of fish, is Tobias, Richard. T.E. Brown. Twayne’s English Authors Series. Ed. Herbert Sussman. Vol. 213. Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1978. Tobias has shown himself to be a sensitive critic of TEB and this is an essential read for those even mildly interested in him.
Personally, I think I was first put off TEB by that gloomy memorial room to him in the Manx Museum (of which more in another post). But recently I have come to reading (and rereading for that matter) the letters gathered in Irwin’s two volume edition from 1900 and there are any number of themes that you can draw upon from the material there. In fact, his letters are peppered with phrases that easy serve as titles for articles and much more and may be a better way into TEB that mere biography suggests.
The Irwin reference properly is Irwin, Sidney T., ed. Letters of Thomas Edward Brown. 2 vols. London: Archibald Constable, 1900. To be added is Dakyns, Andrew Graham, and Belinda Robinson, eds. Newly Discovered Letters of T.E. Brown. Vol. ii. 2 vols. Douglas: Manx Heritage Foundation, 2004. Also of note is Morrison, Sophia. “New Letters from T.E. Brown.” Mannin 9 (1917): 519–23. Anon. “Some Unpublished Letters of T.E.B.” T.E. Brown: A Memorial Volume, 1830–1930. Ed. Isle of Man Centenary Committee. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1930. 173–201. Finally, Morrison, Sophia. “T.E. Brown–Egbert Rydings.” Mannin 9 (1917): 505–10.
The Irwin set can be downloaded from the Internet Archive (as can the majority of TEB’s poetry for that matter). The links for the letters are:
Vol i = http://archive.org/details/lettersb01browuoft
Vol ii = http://archive.org/details/letters_02browuoft
I will post what I find interesting from the letters (and hope others are equally interested as well) in this thread rather than starting separate threads.