After the death of William Wordsworth in April 1850, debates began about the new Poet Laureate. Samuel Langley, in this letter to the Daily News on 15 May 1850, asks, ‘Why … should we not have a female laureate?’ and cites numerous women ‘of true poetic genius’, including Elizabeth Barrett Browning. Langley was not alone in his views; other contemporary newspapers reveal that Barrett Browning was a popular contender.
In the end, Queen Victoria appointed Alfred Tennyson as Poet Laureate. However, Langley’s argument that women’s ‘equality of genius’ should entitle them to ‘equal participation’ in the laureateship reveals a growing change in Victorian attitudes towards women and their role in society.