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8                              THE  BRONTE   SISTERS
place it occupies in literature. In these can be found the
answers to the questions whether the work is worth reading
and why: for its own merit or for its share in the merit
of others.
For the Bronte sisters, the study of both these aspects
must begin in an account of their lives, which reveal in a
very special way the source of the unique qualities of their
work and of their personal fascination, as well as their place
in time and in relation to other writers.
Lives of the Brontes
The Brontes' father, Patrick Branty or Brunty, was born
in northern Ireland in 1777, the eldest of the ten children of a
peasant farmer living in a, small whitewashed cabin in a soft
green dale. Patrick earned his living as blacksmith and linen
weaver while scarcely more than a child, and by the time
he was sixteen acted as schoolmaster in a tiny village school
near by. He then became tutor to the sons of a neighbouring
clergyman with Methodist leanings, who coached the clever
lad, helped him to save money and guided him to the
University of Cambridge, which he entered as a sizar (that
is, a student receiving assistance on the ground of poverty
in return for certain services) in 1802. He took his degree
in 1806, was ordained a clergyman of the Church of
England, and held two curacies. Presently a friend was
appointed to a curacy in Bradford, in the West Riding of
Yorkshire; he recommended Mr. Bronte (as Patrick began
to sign himself after the great Nelson became Duke of
Bronte) to a neighbouring vicar, and in 1809 Mr. Bronte
came to Yorkshire and never afterwards left it as a residence.
His friend introduced him to the family of his fiancee,
whose father was head of a Wesleyan Methodist school
outside Bradford. Here was staying Miss Maria Branwell,
a recently orphaned young cousin from Cornwall. Mr.
Bronte and Miss Branwell fell in love and after a decorous
courtship enlivened by charming letters from Maria,