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Full text of "The Brontës; fact and fiction"

UC-NRLF 




B 3 5M7 7M7 




THE BRONTES 

FACT AND FICTION 




THE BRONTES 

FACT AND FICTION 

jBy ANGUS M. MacKAY, B.A.^ 

(/ 






LONDON: SERVICE ^ PATON 
5 HENRIETTA STREET ^ 1897 



Printed by Ballantyne, Hanson cr* Co 
At the Ballantyne Press 



PREFACE 

^T^HE nucleus of the longer essay in 
* this little volume is an article in 
the Westminster Review of October 1895, 
which is now out of print. I enlarge it 
and republish it at the solicitation of some 
of those who read it in its original form, 
and with the desire to set at rest a vexed 
question of Bronte bibliography. An 
attempt to apply the methods of the 
''higher criticism" to a modern book is 
novel and may prove not uninteresting. 

Let me hasten to say that I make no 
charge of dishonesty against Dr. William 

Wright. I concern myself with the credi- 

vii 

7599 1 4 



Preface 

billty of the book, not with the motives or 
character of its author. In the seven- 
teenth century, long before the key to 
Egyptian hieroglyphics was discovered, 
Kircher professed to give translations of 
Egyptian stelae ; he was enthusiastic, he 
was honest, he had spent years in studying 
the subject, nothing could be laid to his 
charge except, perhaps, a little unconscious 
self-deception — and yet his translations 
bore not the slightest resemblance to the 
true meaning of the originals. So Dr. 
Wright has, I am informed, been diligent 
in inquiry, and I do not accuse him of bad 
faith ; but I am convinced that his volume 
is unreliable almost from cover to cover. 

It may, perhaps, be thought that the 
matter is here dealt with in too great 
detail. It may be asked. Why break a fly 

viii 



Preface 

upon the wheel ? But It must be remem- 
bered that Dr. Wright's book has passed 
through several editions, It was received 
with a chorus of approval by the critics, 
and Its narratives have been widely ac- 
cepted as history : only a very thorough 
exposure of Its unreliability can extirpate 
the errors which It has sown broadcast. 
But I have no doubt that the facts set 
forth In the following pages will carry com- 
plete conviction with them, and that those 
who possess The Brontes in Ireland will 
henceforth merely treasure it for what it 
is — one of the curiosities of nineteenth- 
century literature. 

The other essay In this little book — 
which Is here printed first — deals mainly 
with the secret tragedy In Charlotte 
Bronte's life which had so remarkable 

ix 



Preface 

an effect in quickening and directing 
her genius. Circumstances have made it 
necessary to treat the matter now with 
perfect frankness, but I trust I have 
said nothing which is not compatible with 
entire reverence for one of the noblest 
and most gifted of women. 

ANGUS M. MacKAY. 

Aberdeen, April 1897. 



CONTENTS 



PAGE 

I. FRESH LIGHT ON BRONTE BIOGRAPHY 15 

THE BRONTE FAMILY GROUP . . . . l6 

THE RELIGIOUS VIEWS OF THE NOVELISTS 26 

CHARLOTTE BRONTE'S SECRET .... 32 

II. A CROP OF BRONTE MYTHS ... 85 

THE GENEALOGICAL CHART . . . . 90 
THE ALLEGED ORIGINALS OF " WUTHERING 

HEIGHTS " 97 

HUGH II. (the paragon) I26 

THE IRISH UNCLES AND AUNTS OF THE 

NOVELISTS 135 

THE REVIEWER AND THE AVENGER . . . I46 
THE ASSERTED IRISH ORIGIN OF THE BRONTE 

NOVELS 161 

PRUNTY V. BRONTE 166 

SOURCES OF ERROR 172 

"THE BRONTES IN IRELAND" AND THE CRITICS I79 



FRESH LIGHT ON BRONTE 
BIOGRAPHY 



J J J 

> ' » ' •> 



FRESH LIGHT ON BRONTE 
BIOGRAPHY 

THE recent publication of Mr. Shorter's 
admirable work, Charlotte Bronte and 
her Circle, has quickened the interest which 
is everywhere felt in Bronte biography. 
Mr. Shorter has very skilfully grouped the 
copious material placed at his disposal, 
and we are now in possession of all the 
facts which are ever likely to be known 
concerning the wonderful Haworth family. 
It must not be supposed, however, that the 
mystery and glamour are now dispelled, and 
that henceforth we are to see Charlotte, 
Emily and Anne only in the light of com- 
mon day. The doings and sufferings of 
the shy, depressed, awkward girls at the bare 



The Brontes 

parsonage or in the fashionable Pensionnat 
will continue to have a strange attraction 
for all students of literary genius. It still 
remains true that never before was a drama 
so fascinating constructed out of such 
homely material or acted upon so narrow 
a stage, but about the characters of the 
actors there is henceforth little room for 
dubiety. It may be well to summarise the 
impressions which result from a study of 
the abundant material now at our dis- 
posal. 

The Bronte Family Group. 

The character of the Rev. Patrick 
Bronte, the father of the novelist, has 
been alternately blackened and white- 
washed since Mrs. Gaskell's Life appeared, 
but these accretions are now removed, and 
the original figure stands revealed. Indeed 
one cannot but wonder at the skill with 

which Mrs. Gaskell, w^ithout any violation 

j6 



Fact and Fiction 

of good taste, was able to suggest the 
blemishes no less than the excellences of 
old Mr. Bronte, writing as she did during 
his lifetime and at his request. The Vicar 
of Haworth was eccentric, self-willed, some- 
what vain ; he was grandiose in speech and 
tyrannous in bearing when his will was 
crossed. Once at least, as we are now 
permitted to know, he took to excessive 
whisky-drinking. Mr. Shorter amiably 
tries to soften these unpleasant traits, but 
the facts are too strong for him. When 
the Rev. A. B. Nicholls had the pre- 
sumption to propose to Charlotte Bronte 
it is thus the daughter describes the effect 
of the news upon her father : 

" Papa worked himself into a state not 
to be trifled with : the veins on his temples 
started up like whipcord and his eyes 
became suddenly bloodshot. I made haste 
to promise that Mr. Nicholls should on the 
morrow have a distinct refusal." 

Alluding to this episode, Mr. Shorter 

17 B 



The Brontes 

writes : " For once, and for the only time 
in his life there is reason to believe, his 
passions were thoroughly aroused." But 
this will not do. Charlotte's words in 
writing to Miss Nussey are : '' I only wish 
you were here to see papa in his present 
mood : you would know something of him ; " 
and she goes on to speak of his relentless 
cruelty to Mr. Nicholls. Her language is 
capable of but one construction — the out- 
burst was not exceptional, it was charac- 
teristic. The story that in a gust of 
passion he cut to pieces his wife's silk 
gown has been contradicted ; but if it is 
not true we must at least think it well 
invented. And yet, while old Mr. Bronte 
was far from immaculate, there is another 
side of his character which inspires respect. 
He was the reverse of commonplace, was 
proud in the nobler sense of the word, pos- 
sessed an indomitable will, and had abilities 
decidedly above the average. The fact 
that the Rev. Patrick Bronte, A.B., began 

i8 



Fact and Fiction 

life as Patrick Prunty, the bare-footed 
peasant, and owed his success entirely to 
his own exertions, speaks for itself. Some 
of his daughter's biographers, indeed, de- 
scribe him as meanly ignoring his Irish 
relations. This we now know is quite 
untrue. He was in correspondence with 
his Irish relatives till his death ; he visited 
them and they him ; he mentioned them in 
his will ; and, straitened as were his own 
circumstances, he never failed to contribute 
most generously to his mother's support so 
long as she lived. When every fault has 
been admitted, we can all give in our 
adhesion to Mr. Shorter's verdict on him 
as *' a thoroughly upright and honourable 
man, who came manfully through a some- 
what severe life-battle." 

Patrick Branwell Bronte does not come 
out so well under the fiercer light which 
now beats upon the family group. Unless 
want of balance is to be considered as 

19 



The Brontes 

synonymous with genius, it is impossible 
to credit him with unusual mental talents. 
With his letters before us we cannot but 
perceive that he was intellectually common- 
place. As to his moral character, the less 
said the better. A small incident may 
sometimes serve as an index to wide 
tracts of a man's disposition ; and any 
one who reads the mean and sly letter to 
Hartley Coleridge which appears on p. 126 
of Mr. Shorter's book will think Branwell 
capable of the worst which has been im- 
puted to him. 

As for the gentle Anne, she remains — 
well, just the gentle Anne — pious, patient 
and trustful. Her talent was of that 
evangelical, pietistic type which never 
lacks a certain gracefulness and never 
rises above a certain intellectual level. 
Had she lived in our day her novels 
would have attracted little attention, and 

her poetry would hardly have found ad- 

20 



Fact and Fiction 

mission into any first-class magazine. It 
remains clear as ever that her immortality- 
is due to her sisters. Upon those bright 
twin-stars many telescopes are turned, and 
then there swims into the beholder's view 
this third, mild-shining star of the tenth 
magnitude, which otherwise would have 
remained invisible. It follows that Anne 
will always have a place assigned her in 
the chart of the literary heavens. Nothing, 
however, is ever likely to occur either to 
heighten our estimate of her literary ability 
or to lessen the affection which her character 
inspires. 

The author of Wtithering Heights still 
remains, what she has ever been, the 
sphynx of literature. Mr. Shorter prints 
a curious document, written by Emily in 
her twenty-seventh year, which shows how 
the child-spirit survived in her, as it is apt 
to do in men and women of genius, but it 
sheds no farther light upon its writer's 

21 



The Brontes 

personality. The mystery enshrouding her 
is, indeed, partially accounted for when we 
learn how almost absolutely impenetrable 
was the reserve in which this lonely soul 
clothed herself — a reserve so great that it 
seems positively to have revolted some of 
Charlotte's Brussels friends. But to account 
for the presence of a mystery is not to ex- 
plain the mystery itself, and we know now 
more clearly than ever that Emily was one 
of those self-centred natures which '' will 
not abide our question." As her genius 
was " rare " in the felicitous sense in which 
that word is applied to Ben Jonson in the 
famous epitaph, so her personality was 
unique. It might be said of her, almost 
more truly than of Milton : 

♦'Her soul was like a star, and dwelt apart." 

Her genius may be compared to a mountain 
peak, whose bold contour compels attention 
yet forbids approach ; bare, steep, affording 
no foothold to the explorer, and shrouding 

22 



Fact and Fiction 

its summit in clouds which shift but do not 
lift ; a Matterhorn which no Whymper 
has yet appeared to scale. To this proud 
isolation of spirit is partly due the strong 
originality which places her in a rank above 
her sister, and explains why those who have 
appreciated her — from Sydney Dobell to 
Mr. Swinburne — have been fit, if few. 

But it need hardly be said that the great 
bulk of the new material in Mr. Shorter's 
book relates to Charlotte. We can hardly 
say that it alters the figure now so familiar 
to us, but it brings it into clearer light, and 
confirms our former estimate of the great 
novelist's genius and character. We now 
know that Lockhart, the editor of the 
Quarterly, some months before the criticism 
appeared in his review which gave Charlotte 
such pain, wrote thus of the author oijane 
Eyre : 

" I think her far the cleverest that has V 
written since Austen and Edge worth were 

23 



The Brontes 

in their prime, worth fifty Trollopes and 
Martineaus rolled into one counterpane, 
with fifty Dickenses and Bulwers to keep 
them company." 

It is a surprising estimate considering 
the time and the man, but when truer 
canons of criticism prevail, and our guides 
in literature learn to discriminate between 
the natural and the artificial, between crea- 
tion and caricature — which at best is only 
humorous imitation — it will not be found 
one whit too high. Certainly the letters 
of Charlotte Bronte, now made public for 
the first time, increase our respect for her 
intellectual ability ; nor do they lower our 
previous admiration for her character ; 
more than ever are we ready to unite 
with Thackeray in doing homage to *' the 
burning love of truth, the bravery, the 
simplicity, the indignation at wrong, the 
eager sympathy, the pious love and rever- 
ence, the passionate honour, so to speak, 
of the woman." The publication of Mr. 

24 



Fact and Fiction 

Shorter's work will certainly tend to the 
firmer establishment of Charlotte Bronte's 
fame. 

With the inferences which the author 
draws from his copious material, however, 
it is not always possible to agree. Some- 
times, indeed, these appear directly con- 
trary to the evidence on which they are 
ostensibly based. While the instances of 
this are not numerous enough to weaken 
our gratitude to Mr. Shorter they are 
important enough to call for instant chal- 
lenge, and I purpose now to discuss two 
of the subjects on which he has, as I think, 
arrived at wrong conclusions. One of 
the questions thus raised I shall touch 
with extreme reluctance — I allude to the 
relations between M. Heger and his gifted 
pupil ; but I feel that it would be hurtful 
to Charlotte's reputation to deal with it any 
longer only by hint and innuendo. The 
other question, which I shall treat first, is 

25 



The Brontes 

that of the reHgious opinions of Charlotte 
Bronte, which need not detain us long. 



The Religious Views of the 
Novelists. 

The theological position of a person of 
genius is always a matter of great interest, 
as that is, naturally, an index to much else. 
Mr. Shorter speaks of Charlotte's ultra- 
Protestant education, of her "inheritance 
of intolerance," of her sharing the views of 
her sister Anne, and he leaves us with the 
impression that she was a strict Tory 
touched with Orangeism. As to her poli- 
tical views I shall not here concern myself 
beyond saying that I think Mr. Shorter 
confuses the orirl's childlike enthusiasm for 
the '' Great Duke " with the opinions of 
the mature woman. But when we are 
bidden to judge of the religion of the 
daughters from the opinions of their 

26 



Fact and Fiction 

father, it is needful to remember that 

persons of strong intellect are apt to 

vindicate their right to freedom of thought 

by adopting some other opinions than those 

offered by their environment, — Maurice be- 

ofan life as a Unitarian, and Newman as 

an Evangelical. In any case there is no 

room for doubt as to the views of the 

Bronte sisters. Anne kept most nearly to 

the doctrine they had all been taught, but 

even she departed from it in one particular, 

for in her poem, '' A Word to the ' Elect '," 

she expresses a disbelief in the dogma of 

eternal punishment. Emily's views are 

not easily defined. The only fact that has 

come down to us is that she expressed 

approval of a friend who had refused to 

state what her religious opinions were. 

Her writings enable us to be certain of 

only one thing — that she was far removed 

from orthodoxy, and that what faith she 

retained she held, not with the help of, but 

in spite of, religious formulae. 

27 



The Brontes 

" Vain are the thousand creeds 
That move men's hearts .... 
To waken doubt in one 
Holding so fast by Thine infinity." 

But about Charlotte's position after her 
opinions had matured there surely can 
be no dispute — it was midway between 
those of her two sisters. Her views were 
not stereotyped, nor were they utterly 
formless. Her outspoken condemnation 
of some of the fruits of Roman Catholi- 
cism, as witnessed in the Pensionnat at 
Brussels, has been set down to her sup- 
posed Orange sympathies ; but it was quite 
compatible with detachment of mind : the 
ofirl who herself took refuo^e in the Con- 
fessional in her loneliness and distress, and 
who made a devoted Roman Catholic the 
hero of her greatest work, was not a person 
blinded by prejudices. Her attitude to- 
wards religious questions was never other 
than tolerant, but she was always out- 
spoken where she saw, or thought she saw, 

28 



Fact and Fiction 

what was blameworthy. She loved the 
Church of England, but she knew its 
faults and denounced them : '' God pre- 
serve it! God also reform it," she says in 
Shirley. Her verdict on its inferior clergy 
is well known : " They seem to me a self- 
seeking, vain, empty race." She hated 
with all her heart that narrow ecclesias- 
ticism which seems to have been common 
in her day as it is in ours. She was gener- 
ally painfully shy in company, but on one 
occasion, when the three famous curates 
''began glorifying themselves and abusing 
the Dissenters," she surprised herself and 
the company by some sharp sentences 
which struck all dumb. In her corre- 
spondence with W. S. Williams we get 
many interesting glimpses of her opinions 
on religious matters. When Mr. Williams 
had made a confession to her which he 
feared might displease her she wrote 
back : *' I smile at you for supposing .... 

that I could blame you for not being able, 

29 



The Brontes 

when you look among sects and creeds, to 
discover any one that you can exclusively 
and implicitly adopt as yours. I perceive 
myself that some light falls on earth from 
heaven, that some rays from the shrine ot 
truth pierce the darkness of this life and 
world, but they are few, and faint, and 
scattered." When the same correspon- 
dent speaks of his views as resembling 
those of Emerson she writes back : ** You 
are already aware that in much of what 
you say my opinion coincides with those 
you express." But she urges : *' Ignor- 
ance, weakness, or indiscretion must have 
their props — they cannot walk alone. Let 
them hold by what is purest in doctrine 
and simplest in ritual ; something they 
must have." She calls the Athanasian 
Creed "profane," and when she expresses 
her attachment to the Church of England 
she explains that she draws the line at this 
formulary. Her favourite divines are 
Arnold and Maurice. For the former 

30 



Fact and Fiction 

she expresses an unbounded veneration : 
''Were there but ten such men among the 
hierarchs of the Church of England .... 
her sanctuaries would be purified, her rites 
reformed, her withered veins would swell 
again with vital sap ; but it is not so." So 
again in another letter : ''A hundred such 
men— fifty — nay ten or five such righteous 
men might save any country ; might vic- 
toriously champion any cause." Maurice 
she heard preach when in London, and 
she was deeply impressed. '' Had I the 
choice," she wrote, ''it is Maurice whose 
ministry I should frequent." Miss Mary A. 
Robinson, in her book on Emily Bronte, 
says of her heroine that she concealed her 
opinions by the term " Broad Church," 
and "called herself a disciple of the 
tolerant and thoughtful Maurice." There 
is plainly no evidence of this, and it is 
quite possible that a description of 
Charlotte has been mistakenly applied to 
Emily. In any case it is clear, from the 

31 



The Brontes 

passages I have quoted from Charlotte's 
letters — and they might be reinforced by- 
passages from her novels — that '* Broad 
Church " is the only title which can 
describe her opinions. Had she been 
living in our day her favourite divines 
would have been Page- Roberts and 
Phillips Brooks ; her attitude resembled 
that of Tennyson and Browning and of 
most men of genius who have remained 
definitely Christian. To describe her as 
infected with an Orange taint and profess- 
ing a narrow Evangelicism is seriously to 
misrepresent her. 



Charlotte Bronte's Secret. 

I now proceed to deal with the other 
question upon which, as I think, Mr. 
Shorter has come to a wroncf conclusion. 
It is as follows : What was the nature 
of Charlotte Bronte s feeling towards 

32 



Fact and Fiction 

M. HdgeVy her Brussels teacher, and what 
effect had this tipon her after-life ? Let 
me state at the outset that I think this 
subject should never have been publicly 
touched upon. I do not say this because 
I sympathise with the illogical demand 
which has been made of late years that 
portraits of public men should have all the 
shadows left out. A biography which pre- 
sents only what is good in the career of 
its subject, and suppresses the rest, propa- 
gates falsehood. Charlotte Bronte, who was 
the very soul of truth, would undoubtedly 
have wished to be presented to posterity 
as she really was, and not as an ideal 
figure. But the episode to which I am 
about to refer was a secret which she kept 
hidden from her dearest friends in her life- 
time. It does not, as I shall attempt to 
show, affect, though it confirms, our esti- 
mate of her character, and the knowledofe 
of it is not necessary to the appreciation of 
her art. It should have been left alone. 

33 c ^ 

/ 



/ 



The Brontes 

But recent biographers of the Brontes 
have so used their discretion as to make 
any further reserve harmful. Sir Wemyss 
Reid, in his Monog7'aph, was the first to 
lift the curtain which concealed the tragedy 
of Charlotte Bronte's life ; he described 
her as leaving Brussels disillusioned, after 
having "' tasted strange joys and drunk 
deep of waters the very bitterness of 
which seemed to endear them to her." 
Mr. Augustine Birrell, in \\\^Life, published 
ten years later, while protesting that ''it is 
not admirable to seek to wrest the secrets 
of a woman's heart from the works of her 
genius," tells his readers they will find all 
they want in Villette, and will carry away 
from it " what they cannot doubt to be 
true information," — in fact, while professing 
anxiety to cover up the secret, he makes it 
known to all the world. Other writers 
have referred to the episode with the same 
affectation of mystery, and Miss Frederika 
Macdonald has more recently given, on 

34 



Fact and Fiction 

the authority of some Brussels friends, 
details which would, if true, have been 
little to the credit of Charlotte Bronte.^ 
Luckily Mr. Shorter is able absolutely to 
dispose of these latter allegations, and for 
this we are grateful. I am apprehensive, 
however, that his own treatment of the 
Brussels episode may have an effect which 
he him.self would be the first to regret. 
Mr. Shorter assures us that there was no 
tragedy, and he speaks of the allegation 
that there was as "a silly and offensive im- 
putation." His position may be sum- 
marised thus : The story is not true^ but 
if it were true it would be discreditable. 
All admirers of Charlotte Bronte then wait 
anxiously for a disproof which shall be 
final. But they do not get it : on the con- 
trary, the facts which Mr. Shorter has 
to tell strengthen previous surmises, and 
henceforth more than ever those who study 
Bronte literature will be of the opinion of 

* The Woman at Home, July 1894. 
35 



The Brontes 

Sir Wemyss Reid and Mr. Birrell. Must 
we, then, suppose Charlotte guilty of dis- 
creditable conduct such as will depose her 
from the high pedestal on which she has 
been hitherto placed ? Such a supposi- 
tion is only rendered possible by the 
mysterious way in which the subject has 
hitherto been treated. I should have 
infinitely preferred, as I have said, that 
the story should have been left in complete 
obscurity, but the treatment by dark hints 
and siofnificant nods is more danorerous 
than frank discussion. I propose, there- 
fore, to join issue with Mr. Shorter, and to 
maintain. The story is probably true, but if 
true it is not discreditable. When this 
part of Charlotte Bronte's history is dis- 
closed we shall pity her more, but I trust 
we shall not love or esteem her less. 

Let me now state the evidence relating 
to the Brussels episode as it presents itself 
to the close student of Bronte literature. 
In doing so I shall first touch upon certain 

36 



Fact and Fiction 

phenomena in Charlotte's writings which 
have always seemed to suggest some secret 
love tragedy in her life. 

There is a peculiarity In Charlotte 
Brontes novels which differentiates them 
from all other writings of their class — I 
refer to the fact that love in them is 
treated, not from the man's, but from the 
woman's point of view. This was almost 
a new element in literature. In previous 
love-tales, even when women were the 
authors, it was the man who longed, who 
suffered, who was left in suspense, and a 
veil remained over the heart of the heroine 
until shyly half-lifted in the closing scenes. 
Charlotte Bronte's bolder method revealed 
to us a hemisphere previously almost un- 
known, or at least not mapped out. Turn 
to Shirley, and it is not the hero, but 
Caroline Helstone, who loves and suffers, 
and whose fluctuating hopes and fears 
make the interest of the story. This new 

37 



The Brontes 

departure constituted a *' return to nature " 
as real as that accomplished by Words- 
worth in the domain of poetry. It attracted 
attention from the first. It was this which 
made those critics who confused the con- 
ventional with the moral describe Jane 
Eyre and Villette as " coarse." It was 
this which led Miss Martineau to dwell 
on Charlotte's '' incessant tendency to de- 
scribe the need of being loved," and to 
complain in her review of Villette, *'A11 
the female characters, in all their thoughts 
and lives, are full of one thing, or are re- 
garded by the reader in the light of that 
one thought — love. It begins with the 
child of six years old at the opening, and it 
closes with it at the last page." In reality, 
however, it is this very originality of treat- 
ment, combined with the knowledge of the 
deep things of the heart which it displays, 
which constitutes the value of this writer's 
work. It is this which gives her the 
supremacy over the other novelists of her 

38 



Fact and Fiction 

sex. Miss Ferrier and Miss Austen were 
artists as skilful in the use of the brush as 
Charlotte Bronte ; indeed the former sur- 
passes her in humour, and the latter in 
delicacy of touch. But both these authors 
dealt with subjects which, in comparison 
with hers, were trivial : they painted the 
surface of life ; she probed its depths. 
Even George Eliot, incomparably superior 
as she is in breadth of treatment and 
variety of subject, has not shown us the 
recesses of the human heart as has the 
author of Villette and Shirley. Charlotte 
Bronte herself was quite conscious wherein 
lay the strength of her genius ; she realised 
that a writer's ability to deal with the 
deepest passions of human nature is the 
true criterion of the greatness of his art. 
It was on this ground she challenged Miss 
Austen's right to that supreme position 
which George Henry Lewes claimed for 
her. Her criticism is well worth recalling 
and well worth pondering : 

39 



/ 



The Brontes 

"Jane Austen ruffles her reader by 
nothing vehement, disturbs him by nothing 
profound. The passions are perfectly un- 
known to her ; she rejects even a speaking 
acquaintance with that stormy sisterhood. 
Even to the feeHngs she vouchsafes no 
more than an occasional graceful but dis- 
tant recognition ; too frequent converse 
with them would ruffle the smooth elegance 
of her progress. Her business Is not half 
so much with the human heart as with the 
human eyes, mouth, hands and feet. What 
sees keenly, speaks aptly, moves flexibly, 
it suits her to study ; but what throbs fast 
and full, though hidden, what the blood 
rushes through, what is the unseen seat of 
life and the sentient target of death^-this 
Miss Austen ignores. She no more with 
her mind's eye beholds the heart of her 
race than each man, with bodily vision, sees 
the heart in his heavlnof breast. ... If 
this is heresy I cannot help it." 

Charlotte Bronte's own art was the anti- 

40 



Fact and Fiction 

thesis of that of Jane Austen. It was hers 
to depict love in its deeper, more tragic, 
more serious moods and aspects. She 
could give us the ordinary 'Move scene," 
and charm us with a spell such as few 
others can command — witness the passage 
in The Professor, in which Crimsworth 
claims Frances Henri — but it is the love 
agony which is her element. The pain of 
unrequited affection is the feeling she 
never tires of depicting, and in describing 
this she has no equal. Her novels may 
end happily, but not till they have been 
made the medium of exhibiting the suffer- 
ing which the master passion brings with 
it when unaccompanied by hope. Nowhere 
else are to be found such piercing cries of 
lonely anguish as may be heard in Shirley 
and Villette. They are the very de pro- 
fundis of love sunk in the abyss of despair. 
And their author insists throughout how 
much greater this suffering must be for 
women than for men, both because they 

41 



The Brontes 

are doomed to bear in silence, and because 
they have not the distraction of an active 
career. There Is a passage In Shirley 
which may be taken as the text upon 
which most of the novels were written : 

''A lover feminine can say nothing ; if 
she did the result would be shame and 
anguish, inward remorse for self-treachery. 
Nature would brand such demonstration 
as a rebellion against her instincts, and 
would vindictively repay It afterwards by 
the thunderbolt of self-contempt smiting 
suddenly in secret. . . . You expected 
bread, and you have got a stone ; break 
your teeth on it, and don't shriek because 
the nerves are martyrised. Do not doubt 
that your mental stomach — If you have 
such a thing — is strong as an ostrich's ; 
the stone will digest. You held out your 
hand for an ^%'g, and fate put into it a 
scorpion. Show no consternation ; close 
your fingers firmly upon the gift ; let it 

sting through your palm. Never mind : 

42 



Fact and Fiction 

In time, after your hand and arm have 
swelled and quivered long with torture, the 
squeezed scorpion will die, and you will 
have learnt the great lesson how to endure 
without a sob. In the whole remnant of 
your life, if you survive the test — some, it 
is said, die under it — you will be stronger, 
wiser, less sensitive." 

Now, on finding Charlotte Bronte so 
perfect a mistress of all the moods of love 
as it affects women, and especially of the 
more tragic aspects of it, one cannot but 
ask, How did she obtain this knowledge ? 
Is she writing merely from observation or 
from personal feeling? Luckily, we can 
give the answer in her own words. *' De- 
tails, situations which I do not understand 
and cannot personally inspect, I would not 
for the world meddle with. . . . Besides, 
not one feeling on any subject, public or 
private, will I ever affect that I do not 
really experienced But this assurance is 
not necessary to those who have lovingly 

43 



The Brontes 

studied her works. The light that is in 
them is not pale reflected light ; the burn- 
ing rays come direct from the source in 
which they were kindled. Personal feel- 
ing vibrates in every line of Charlotte's 
writing. That her novels are the outcome 
of personal experience is, to those who 
know her best, a self-evident truth. 

We turn, then, to the numerous lives of 
Charlotte Bronte to see where and when 
were learnt those bitter lessons which her 
writings teach. We knew her well before 
Mr. Shorter s book appeared ; and now 
she is perhaps more minutely known to 
us than any other person of literary genius, 
save perhaps Samuel Johnson — and even 
this is a doubtful exception, for our know- 
ledge of Johnson is confined to his table- 
talk and his outward characteristics, he 
never bared his heart to us as Charlotte 
does in her novels. We can now trace 
step by step every mile of her life's 

44 



Fact and Fiction 

journey ; we know all her friends ; we can 
peruse her copious correspondence ; we 
can identify almost every character in 
her novels, even the most subordinate. 
And when we examine all this informa- 
tion, this truth is forced upon us : that 
the characteristic experiences recorded in 
her books were not gained at Haworth : 
there is no room for any love tragedy there. 
The only gentlemen she met there were 
the neighbouring curates ; through her 
correspondence we now know them all, 
and what she thought of them, and her 
remarks are frank but the reverse of com- 
plimentary. The way to Charlotte's heart, 
we may be sure, lay through her intellect 
and imagination, and the curates, as she 
describes them, are not the men to have 
captivated her. Plain though she was she 
seems to have exercised a peculiar fascina- 
tion over some natures. She had four offers 
of marriage in all — two before she became 
famous and two after ; and if we glance at 

45 



The Brontes 

the way in which she dealt with them, we 
shall learn that she certainly was not easily 
susceptible of love. 

Her first suitor was the Rev. Henry 
Nussey, a brother of her life-long friend. 
Her reply was of a very business-like 
character, explaining that ''delay was 
wholly unnecessary," returning "a decided 
negative," and giving him a description oi 
the kind of wife he ought to choose. 

The next aspirant was the Rev. Mr. 
Price, a young Irish clergyman fresh from 
Dublin University, who proposed to her 
after having spent only one afternoon and 
evening in her company. On this adven- 
ture she writes to her friend Miss Nussey : 
"Well, thought I, I have heard of love 
at first sight, but this beats all ; I leave 
you to guess what my answer would be, 
convinced that you will not do me the 
injustice of guessing wrong. When we 
meet I'll show you the letter. I hope 
you are laughing heartily." 

46 



Fact and Fiction 

This was in the year 1839. Nearly ten 
years elapsed before another offer came, 
and meanwhile the Brussels episode had 
taken place. 

The third suitor was a Mr. James 
Taylor, a literary gentleman connected 
with Messrs. Smith and Elder. He was 
in every way a man to be respected, and 
was most persevering in his endeavours 
to attain his end. But, like most persons 
who are liable to fall into the grasp 
of a tyrannous affection, Charlotte was 
capable also of strong antipathies. She 
writes : '' Friendship, gratitude, esteem I 
have ; but each moment that he came near 
me, and that I could see his eyes fastened 
upon me, my veins ran ice. Now that 
he is away I feel far more gently towards 
him ; it is only close by that I grow rigid 
— stiffening with a strange mixture of ap- 
prehension and anger, which nothing softens 
but his retreat and a perfect subduing of 
his manner." She respected and pitied 

47 



The Brontes 

him, but she was firm in insisting that 
as she did not love him she could not 
marry him. 

The story of the wooing of the Rev. 
A. B. Nicholls, three years later, is as 
interesting as anything in the novels. 
When the first offer came Charlotte felt 
that she could not marry him, and yet 
the manner in which he pleaded his suit 
evidently impressed her : " Shaking from 
head to foot, looking deadly pale, speaking 
low, vehemently, yet with difficulty, he 
made me for the first time feel what it 
costs a man to declare affection when he 
doubts response." She refused him, and 
her father, as we have seen, treated his 
pretensions to his daughter's hand with 
disdain. Time passed on, and the suffer- 
ings which the rejected lover endured 
were such as could not fail to touch 
Charlotte's pity. We read of his breaking 
down while administering the Communion 

to Charlotte in Haworth Church : '* He 

48 



Fact and Fiction 

struggled, faltered, then lost command 
over himself, stood before my eyes, and 
in the sight of all the communicants, white, 
shaking, voiceless." The women sobbed 
audibly and tears came to Charlotte's eyes. 
Another touching scene took place when 
he called to take his final leave of Mr. 
Bronte : '' Perceiving that he stayed long 
before going out of the gate, and, re- 
membering his long grief, I took courage 
and went out, trembling and miserable. 
I found him leaning against the garden 
door in a paroxysm of anguish, sobbing 
as women never sob. Of course I went 
straight to him. Very few words were 
exchanged, those few barely articulate." 
A passion mighty as this was bound 
to make an impression sooner or later 
upon a heart so compassionate as Char- 
lotte's, and we are not surprised to find 
her writing to her confidante : " Dear 
Nell, without loving him I don't like to 
think of him suffering in solitude, and 

49 P 



The Brontes 

wish him anywhere, so that he were 
happy." Pity is proverbially akin to love, 
and within eighteen months from the first 
proposal a happy marriage was consum- 
mated. But to the last she had no illusion 
as to the nature of her own feelings. Only 
a few weeks before the wedding she wrote : 
*' I am still very calm, very inexpectant. 
What I taste of happiness is of the soberest 
order. I trust to love my husband. I am 
grateful for his tender love to me. I believe 
him to be an affectionate, a conscientious, 
a high-principled man ; and if, with all 
this, I should yield to regrets that fine 
talents, congenial tastes and thoughts are 
not added, it seems to me I should be 
most presumptuous and thankless." 

After marriage she writes in the same 
sober strain. Mr. Nicholls indeed is en- 
titled to the gratitude of all who appreciate 
the genius of Charlotte Bronte. He brought 
the first taste of unalloyed happiness into 
her life. He taught her the sweet and 

5^ 



Fact and Fiction 

tranquil pleasures of an affection which 
is almost more precious than love. But 
it is plain that the over-mastering passion 
depicted in the novels had no place in 
her relations with him. The flame, it 
would seem, had already passed on her, 
and left behind nothing that was inflam- 
mable. No chapter in her life at Haworth, 
before the Brussels episode, can account 
for the phenomena of the novels, and all 
that took place there afterwards showed 
that the experiences upon which the novels 
were founded were already things of the 
past. 

To Brussels, then, perforce, we are driven 
if we are to continue our quest. Every one 
knows how Charlotte and Emily, aged 
twenty-six and twenty-four respectively, 
went to the Pensionnat Heger in the Rue 
d'Isabelle to learn French and attain other 
accomplishments. At the head of this 
establishment was Madame Heger, but 

51 



The Brontes 

literature was taught by her husband, the 
Paul Emanuel of Villette. Any one who 
wishes to know his general characteristics 
has only to turn to the famous novel, where 
he is painted with an effect more lifelike 
than that of any photograph. Two points 
only need to be emphasised. The first is 
his great intellectual ability. All accounts 
agree that, though he wTote no book, his 
literary attainments were remarkable, and 
his capacity for awakening enthusiasm for 
what is great in literature amounted to 
genius. His critical insight is evidenced 
by the fact that at his interview with Mrs. 
Gaskell, at a time when Emily was un- 
known, and the fame of Charlotte was 
spreading widely in Europe, he gave the 
palm of genius to the younger sister, and 
sketched her characteristics in language as 
terse as it was true. The other point to 
be noted is that he was a man of deeply 
religious character. Mrs. Gaskell speaks 
of him as " a kindly, wise, good and religious 

52 



Fact and Fiction 

man;" and a lady in Brussels thus described 
him some ten years after the Brontes had 
left Brussels : 

** Je ne connais pas personnellement 
M. Heger, mais je sais qu'il est peu de 
caracteres aussi nobles, aussi admirables 
que le sien. II est un des membres les 
plus z61es de cette Societe de S. Vincent 
de Paul dont je I'ai deja parl4 et ne se 
contente pas de servir les pauvres et les 
malades, mais leur consacre encore les 
soirees. Apres des journees absorb^es 
tout entieres par les devoirs que sa place 
lui impose, il reunit les pauvres, les 
ouvriers, leur donne des cours gratuits, et 
trouve encore le moyen de les amuser en 
les instruisant. Ce d^vouement te dira 
assez que M. Heger est profondement et 
ouvertement religieux." 

This was the man who first gave Char- 
lotte that intellectual sympathy for which 
she must have been craving all her life ; 
who, day after day, sat by her side or bent 

53 



The Brontes 

over her shoulder, correcting her mistakes, 
reproving her faults, and acting towards 
her as Paul Emanuel acted towards Lucy 
Snowe or Crimsworth towards Frances 
Henri. He did not, however, share the 
warm feelings with which, in fiction, 
these two gentlemen regarded their pupils. 
He was interested, no doubt, in Charlotte's 
intellectual freshness, and he pitied her 
obvious forlornness. Miss Frederika Mac- 
donald, who was his pupil many years 
later, writes : *' He was a man of an extra- 
ordinarily tender heart as well as a powerful 
mind, whose most terrible moods — and his 
moods were sometimes terrible — would sud- 
denly melt and soften at the spectacle of 
any token of genuine distress." We may 
be sure that the loneliness of the friendless 
girls would appeal very strongly to him. 
He admired, too, Charlotte's character, 
and spoke in warm terms to Mrs. Gaskell 
of her unselfishness. But nothing is more 
certain than that M. Heger had no feeling 

54 



Fact and Fiction 

towards his plain awkward pupil which he 
was not willing for the whole world to see. 

When the Bronte girls had been at 
Brussels nine months their aunt died, and 
they hurried back to Haworth Vicarage. 
Emily then elected to stay at home and 
keep house for her father, but Charlotte 
returned to Brussels. She herself thus 
comments upon this decision in a letter 
to Miss Nussey : 

'*I returned to Brussels after aunt's 
death against my conscience, prompted by 
what then seemed an irresistible impulse. 
I was punished for my selfish folly by a 
total withdrawal for more than two years 
of happiness and peace of mind." 

Mr. Shorter endeavours to account for 
this confession by saying that old Mr. 
Bronte took to excessive whisky-drink- 
ing at this time under the influence of a 
curate of convivial tastes, and that Char- 
lotte felt she should have stayed to protect 
him : he fails to see that this leaves the 

55 



The Brontes 

really suggestive phrases In this passage 
unexplained. Granted that anxiety for her 
father caused a part, or even the whole, 
of the uneasiness of conscience of which 
Charlotte speaks, the question remains, 
what was that ''irresistible impulse" which 
impelled so dutiful a daughter to act thus ? 
And how are we to account for the last 
half of the statement ? Mr. Shorter admits 
that the daughter's return speedily rescued 
the father from his evil habit, and she only 
stayed in Brussels one year. Yet Char- 
lotte, who was accustomed to weigh her 
words, states thaty^r two years she suffered 
a total withdrawal of happiness and peace 
of mind. Whatever it may have been, 
something must have happened at Brussels 
to account for this melancholy result. 

Charlotte's second stay at the Pensionnat 
was less happy than the first had been. 
Emily was no longer with her, and her 
friend Mary Taylor had left the city. 
She was now more lonely than ever, had 

56 



Fact and Fiction 

a deeper craving for sympathy, and was 
more grateful for every word and look of 
kindness. Meanwhile she was brought 
into still closer relationship with M. 
Heger, for she not only received from him 
lessons in literature but she instructed him 
and his brother-in-law in English. At 
times, especially in the vacation, when she 
was left almost entirely alone, she suffered 
terribly, as all readers of Villette knows. 
It was shortly before she left Brussels that 
she paid that visit to the Confessional 
which she has dramatised in her greatest 
novel. Mr. Shorter prints a letter to 
Emily in which she speaks of it lightly as 
a whim ; but we may be sure that it must 
have been desperate need which em- 
boldened this sensitive girl — so shy that 
she could not pass a stranger on the 
Haworth roads without putting up her 
hand to hide her face — to seek advice in 
such a quarter. In after years, in one of 
her letters she wrote of Lucy Snowe — and 

57 



The Brontes 

Lucy Snowe, we all know, was Charlotte 
Bronte — '* It was no impetus of healthy 
feelinor which uro^ed her to the confes- 
sional, it was the semi-delirium of grief 
and sickness ; " and this, we may be sure, is 
the true account. What could have been 
the nature of her communication to the 
father confessor ? She says to Emily, " I 
actually did confess — a real confession " ; 
but we may safely conclude that it was of 
sorrow rather than of sin she spoke, and 
that she sought not absolution but con- 
solation. Consolation, however, did not 
readily come. Three months later we find 
her writing to Emily : '' Low spirits have 
afflicted me much lately. ... I am not ill 
in body. It is only the mind that is a 
little shaken — for want of comfort." 

Suddenly Charlotte resolved to return 
home. She was helped to this decision by 
Mary Taylor, to whom she wrote speaking 
of the low and depressed condition into 
which she had fallen. Her friend advised 

58 



Fact and Fiction 

her to go home or elsewhere at once, 
otherwise she would not have energy to 
move, and her friends would be in ignor- 
ance of her condition. For this advice 
Charlotte displayed a gratitude so deep 
that it seems to have puzzled both her 
friend and Mrs. Gaskell ; but to those who 
believe in the Brussels tragedy Mary 
Taylor's words will be significant of 
much : 

** Charlotte wrote that I had done her a 
great service, that she should certainly 
follow my advice, and was much obliged to 
me. I have often wondered at this letter. 
Though she patiently tolerated advice she 
could always put it aside and do as she 
thought fit. More than once afterwards 
she mentioned the * service ' I had done 
her. She sent me ^lo to New Zealand 
on hearing some exaggerated accounts of 
my circumstances, and told me she hoped 
it would come in seasonably ; it was a debt 
she owed me ' for the service I had done 

59 



The Brontes 

her.' I should think ^lo was a quarter of 
her income." 

Mrs. Gaskell makes it clear that M. and 
Mme. Heger were surprised at her sudden 
resolution, but as she alleged as a reason 
her father's increasinof blindness — which, 
as Mrs. Gaskell admits, was not the whole 
reason — they could offer no opposition. Her 
first biographer tells of her deep distress and 
tears when the time of parting came. On 
whose account were the tears shed ? We 
know what she thought of Madame Heger, 
whom she has pilloried as Madame Becke 
and Mdlle. Reuter; she despised the pupils, 
she detested the teachers. But, indeed, she 
answers my question herself in a letter 
written a month after her return home: 
*'I suffered much before I left Brussels. I 
think, however long I live, I shall not 
forget what the parting with M. Heger 
cost me." In the same letter she writes : 
*' I do not know whether you feel as I do, 
but there are times now when it appears 

60 



Fact and Fiction 

to me as If all my ideas and feelings, 
except a few friendships and affections, are 
changed from what they used to be ; 
something in one, which used to be enthu- 
siasm, is tamed down and broken. I have 
fewer illusions ; what I wish for now is 
active exertion — a stake in life. Haworth 
now seems such a quiet spot, buried away 
from the world. ... It seems as if I ought 
to be working, and braving the rough 
realities of the world as other people do." 
Readers of Shirley will remember several 
passages in which Caroline Helstone,"^ 
when feeling ''the pangs of despis'd love," 
utters just such plaints as the above. 
Plainly Charlotte was still suffering under 
''the total withdrawal of all happiness and 
peace of mind." 

Such were the facts of the Brussels 
episode as they were known before the 

* Caroline Helstone is often said to be a portrait of 
Miss Ellen Nussey, but this is true only of external 
aspect : the inner life depicted is undoubtedly that of 
Charlotte Bronte. 

6i 



The Brontes 

publication of Mr. Shorter's book. But 
Mr. Shorter, who asks us to scout the idea 
of any tragedy of the heart at Brussels, 
adds one or two facts which make it 
almost impossible to follow his advice. 
He admits that Madame Heger and her 
children suspected that Charlotte felt too 
warmly for her teacher, and he tells us on 
unimpeachable authority that the subse- 
quent correspondence between Charlotte 
and M. Heger, after it had lasted only 
eighteen months, came to an abrupt end 
through the intervention of Madame 
H6ger, who objected to it. The facts 
were sufficient before to convince such 
close Bronte students as Sir Wemyss Reid 
and Mr. Augustine Birrell of the reality 
of the Brussels tragedy. With the addi- 
tions which Mr. Shorter makes it will be 
more difficult than ever to stop short of 
this conclusion. 

If now we turn from the Brussels 

62 



Fact and Fiction 

history, as recorded in the biographies, to 
Charlotte's novels, one or two significant 
phenomena immediately present them- 
selves. We are surprised to find how 
absolutely Charlotte accepts M. Heger as 
her beau iddal. Her heroes are nearly 
always dark men of intense nature, strong- 
willed, masterful, abrupt, with a dash of 
the pedagogue, and yet at heart chivalrous 
and tender. I do not mean that there 
is any monotony in Charlotte's picture 
gallery. Each character has its own 
distinct individuality, but they remind one 
of the ''composite photograph" which is 
made by combining several faces into one, 
and in each there is a strong blend of the 
Brussels professor. In Paul Emanuel we 
have an undisguised portrait of M. Heger: 
it is as startlingly lifelike as a Moroni 
painting ; no other character can vie with 
it in piquancy and interest. Next to it 
in vividness comes old Helstone, Rector 
of Briarfield, the ''clerical cossack" of 

63 



The Brontes 

Shirley ; he is just the Belgian professor 
with the imagination and the tender heart 
omitted from his composition. Robert 
and Louis Moore and Crimsworth are 
merely paler copies of the same original 
with one or two distinguishing traits 
thrown in. Even Rochester has a few of 
the same lineaments, though here some 
other face is superimposed on the dark 
intense visage which is so familiar to us. 
As when we have gazed long on some 
object in a bright light it reproduces itself 
in whatever direction we look, so was 
Charlotte's vision haunted by the figure of 
M. Heger. Account for it how we may, it 
is clear that this remarkable man domi- 
nated her imagination. 

Another significant phenomenon is the 
frequency of love scenes between master 
and pupil in these works ; indeed, the thing 
is repeated so often that only the sweet 
magic of Charlotte Bronte's art could have 
prevented it from becoming wearisome. 

64 



Fact and Fiction 

In the pages of three out of her four 
novels love and lessons always go on 
simultaneously. In this pleasant way 
Robert Moore in Shirley teaches the 
charming Caroline Helstone, and Louis 
Moore the equally charming Shirley 
Keelder. So in Villette does M. Paul 
Emanuel teach Lucy Snowe, and so in 
The Professor does William Crimsworth 
instruct Frances Henri. How was it that 
this great writer could hardly picture any 
wooing which did not involve this relation- 
ship ? It is certain, of course, that no 
approach to love-making ever went on in 
the Pensionnat Heger, but it is difficult to 
resist the impression that it was the play 
of the imagination on the memory of her 
Brussels experiences which produced the 
scenes which have so subtle a charm for 
us. 

In Jane Eyre alone the lovers do not 
stand in the relation of teacher and taught ; 
but Jane Eyre too lends its corroboration to 

6s E 



The Brontes 

the theory we are considering. For what 
is the thesis of the book ? The suffering 
which is occasioned to a woman who is 
innocently led into love for one who belongs 
to another ; the agony which in such case 
the parting costs ; the long and painful 
struggle which ensues in attempting to 
crucify affections which have no longer 
the right to live. How intensely all this 
is indicated in Jane Eyre all readers will 
know. How poignant is the feeling in the 
following passage : 

'' Self- abandoned, relaxed, and effortless, 
I seemed to have laid me down in the 
dried-up bed of a great river ; I heard a 
flood loosened in remote mountains, and 
felt the torrent come. . . . The whole 
consciousness of my life lorn, my love 
lost, my hope quenched, my faith death- 
struck, swayed full and mighty above me 
in one sullen mass. That bitter hour 
cannot be described : in truth ' the waters 
came into my soul ; I sank in the deep 

66 



Fact and Fiction 

mire ; I felt no standing ; I came into 
deep waters ; the floods overflowed me.' 

*' Some time in the afternoon I raised 
my head, and, looking round and seeing 
the western sun gilding the sign of its 
decline on the wall, I asked, ' What am 
I to do?' 

'' But the answer my mind gave — * Leave 
Thornfield at once ' — was so prompt, so 
dread, that I stopped my ears : I said I 
could not bear such words now. ' That I 
am not Edward Rochester's bride is the 
least part of my woe,' I alleged: 'that I 
have wakened out of the most glorious 
dreams and found them all void and vain 
is a horror I could bear and master ; but 
that I must leave him decidedly, instantly, 
entirely, is intolerable. I cannot do it.' 

" But then a voice within me averred 
that I could do it and foretold that I 
should do it. I wrestled with my own 
resolution : I wanted to be weak, that I 
might avoid the awful passage of further 

67 



The Brontes 

suffering that I saw laid out for me ; and 
conscience, turned tyrant, held passion by 
the throat, told her tauntingly she had yet 
but dipped her dainty foot in the slough, 
and swore that with that arm of iron he 
would thrust her down to unsounded depths 
of agony. 

'* ' Let me be torn away, then ! ' I cried. 
' Let another help me.' 

" ' No ; you shall tear yourself away, 
none shall help you : you shall yourself 
pluck out your right eye : yourself cut off 
your right. hand: your heart shall be the 
victim, and you the priest to transfix 
it.'" 

The wrench, Jane Eyre tells us, was 
worse than death : 

" * If I could go out of life now, without 
too sharp a pang, it would be well for me,' 
I thought ; ' then I should not have to 
make the effort of cracking my heart- 
strings in rending them from among Mr. 
Rochester's. I must leave him, it appears 

68 



Fact and Fiction 

I do not want to leave him — I cannot 
leave him.' " 

But in the novel we are never permitted 
to doubt that the heroine will be true to 
conscience. In her secret heart her deter- 
mination was taken from the first : 

" ' I will hold to the principles received 
by me when I was sane, and not mad — as 
I am now. Laws and principles are not 
for the times when there is no temptation : 
they are for such moments as this when 
body and soul rise in mutiny against their 
rigour ; stringent are they ; inviolate they 
shall be.' " 

No moralist ever more sternly Inculcated 
submission to conscience and principle than 
did Charlotte Bronte ; none more unflinch- 
ingly practised it. 

Concerning the bearing of Shirley and 
The Professor upon the theory of a 
Brussels tragedy enough has been said. 
As to Villette, it is now everywhere ac- 
knowledged that the part of it which 

69 



The Brontes 

deals with the Pensionnat is autobiography 
with a mere touch of romance added. 
All the characters in it can be identified : 
nothing is changed from the reality except 
the names. When we remember that 
Charlotte herself is Lucy Snowe, and 
that M. Hdger is M. Paul Emanuel, the 
curious ending of the book is significant. 
Old Mr. Bronte was urgent that the story 
should end happily, and that the Pro- 
fessor and his pupil should marry ; but his 
daughter, usually so compliant to his 
wishes, proved in this matter inflexible. 
She knew that there is a point at which 
it is necessary to draw the line even in 
imagination. The lovers in her other 
novels were composite characters ; they 
had no absolute originals in real life ; she 
could do with them as she would. But as 
regards Lucy Snowe and Paul Emanuel 
it was different : hence their ultimate fate 
is left shrouded in uncertainty, and the 

curtain falls on them still unwed. 

70 



Fact and Fiction 

In the poems of Charlotte Bronte we 
find traces of the same thoughts and ideas 
which so persistently haunt the novels. 
As a rule her verses are jejune enough, 
but the following, taken from a poem 
entitled '' Frances " — a name significant 
to those who have read The Professor — 
are not wanting in life and passion : 

" God help me in my grievous need, 
God help me in my inward pain ; 
Which cannot ask for pity's meed, 
Which has no licence to complain, 

" Which must be borne ; yet who can bear 
Hours long, days long, a constant weight — 
The yoke of absolute despair, 
A suffering wholly desolate ? 

" Who can for ever crush the heart. 
Restrain its throbbings, curb its life ? 
Dissemble truth with ceaseless art, 
With outward calm mask inward strife ? 

" Unloved I love; unwept I weep ; 
Grief I restrain, hope I repress : 
Vain is the anguish — fixed and deep ; 
Vainer desires and dreams of bliss. 



71 



The Brontes 

" For me the universe is dumb, 

Stone-deaf and blank and wholly blind ; 
Life I must bound, existence sum 
In the strait limits of one mind ; 

" That mind my own. Oh 1 narrow cell. 
Dark, imageless — a living tomb ! 
There must I sleep, there wake and dwell 
Content with palsy, pain and gloom. 
« * * « 

" Still strong and young, and warm with vigour. 
Though scathed, I long shall greenly grow ; 
And many a storm of wildest rigour 
Shall yet break o'er my shivered bough. 

" Rebellious now to blank inertion, 

My unused strength demands a task ; 
Travel and toil and full exertion 
Are the last only boon I ask." 

Here again we have a love that must 
remain unspoken, a love which must not 
even ask for pity ; here again we have the 
agony of unrequited affection, the longing 
to be set such toilsome tasks as may 
deaden sensation to the pangs within. 
For my part I cannot but think that the 
feelings thus often and eloquently expressed 

72 



Fact and Fiction 

were the feelings not merely of the author 
but of the woman. 

I might multiply indefinitely passages 
from Charlotte's works which illustrate the 
hidden tragedy of her life ; but let these 
suffice as specimens. I think every one 
will admit that, when taken in conjunction 
with the facts of her history, they constitute 
a body of evidence not easily explained 
away. No doubt it falls short of absolute 
demonstration. But if the strength of a 
theory is to be measured by the complete- 
ness with which it accounts for the facts 
of the subject-matter to which it is applied, 
then this theory must be accounted strong 
indeed. In the course of our inquiry 
many questions have presented themselves : 
Where did Charlotte Bronte obtain that 
intimate knowledge of love in which she 
surpasses all other novelists.? How is it 
that she dwells almost exclusively upon 
the agony of unrequited affection ? What 
was that ''irresistible impulse" which 

73 



The Brontes 

drove her to Brussels the second time ? 
Why did she suffer such fearful distress 
on parting finally with the Brussels Pro- 
fessor? What was the cause of the two 
years of utter gloom and despair? Why 
does the figure of M. Heger haunt the 
pages of all her novels ? Why do her love 
scenes almost invariably connect themselves 
with the schoolroom ? These and a dozen 
other questions are all answered by the 
theory under discussion, and I cannot see 
that it is possible to answer them in any 
other way. I do not say this with any 
desire to convert others to my view — that 
is not my object. But I think it will be 
admitted that the subject cannot be dis- 
missed as lightly as Mr. Shorter supposes. 
On the contrary, there are many of us to 
whom the quickening of the genius of 
Charlotte Bronte by a hidden tragedy at 
Brussels will seem a fact as clearly proved 
as the nature of the case will admit. We 
could not think otherwise if we would. 

74 



Fact and Fiction 

It only remains now to ask, Must those 
who agree with Sir Wemyss Reid on this 
matter therefore think less highly of Char- 
lotte Bronte's character ? To this question 
I reply by an emphatic negative. I main- 
tain that, if we accept this sad chapter of 
her life as authentic, more than ever she 
answers to Kingsley's description of her 
as ''a valiant woman made perfect by 
suffering." 

He must be a Pharisee Indeed who can 
fail to see that Charlotte was more to be 
pitied than blamed for the growth of her 
strong attachment to her teacher. Owing 
to her shyness and the isolation of her 
position, she had known no man intimately 
till she went to Brussels, save her father 
and brother : she had met at Haworth 
only a few of those curates whom she 
described as " highly uninteresting, narrow, 
and unattractive specimens of the ' coarser 
sex.' " Then suddenly her duty brought her 
daily into close association with one whose 

75 



The Brontes 

personality was magnetic, whose intellectual 
gifts had an irresistible attraction for such 
a mind as hers, and whose sympathy was, 
during long lonely months, her only solace 
amid a world of strangers. The ripening 
of friendship and gratitude into a stronger 
feeling would be by imperceptible stages, 
and she herself would not know when that 
line was crossed which divides friendship 
from that stronger form of attachment 
which makes separation from its object 
an agony. If we call this attachment 
''love," it is for want of a more discrim- 
inating word : whatever the feeling was, 
it was known in her consciousness only 
as suffering, and was kept prisoner in 
secret in the depths of her own heart. 
She was "martyr by the pang without 
the palm." Even Miss Frederika Mac- 
donald, who seems to hold a brief for 
Madame Heger and her daughters, ac- 
knowledges that Charlotte's feeling for her 
teacher "was not tainted nor disfigured by 

76 



Fact and Fiction 

the shadow of any attempt or desire to 
draw on herself affections that were pledged 
elsewhere." Under all the circumstances 
it seems to me that, like Jane Eyre in 
the story, she was drawn into love of her 
"master" quite innocently. If we have 
nothing but pity for Jane in the romance, 
we can have no harsher feeling for Charlotte 
in real life. 

There may be some, indeed, who will 
assume that Charlotte knew her own heart 
by the time she first left Brussels. These 
may perhaps urge that to return was a 
highly censurable action, and that here she 
falls far short of the heroic inflexibility of 
her own heroine, Jane Eyre. But even if 
we suppose that at this time Charlotte 
knew the nature of her own feelings — 
which I am not prepared to admit — her 
case and Jane Eyre's are not here parallel. 
Jane, if she had returned to Mr. Roches- 
ter, would have gone back to a man who 
loved her and who was bent on forcing 

77 



The Brontes 

her Into a wrong path. Charlotte, in 
returning to Brussels, ran no such risks : 
she went with her will fixed upon carrying 
out the course she had mapped out, even 
though it involved the draining of the 
bitter cup — nine parts gall to one of sweet- 
ness — of which she had already tasted. 
She was one of those strong souls who can 
walk with security along the edges of 
dizzy precipices where others would faint. 
She knew, for she had proved it in many 
a struggle, that she was mistress of her- 
self Even had I to grant that in re- 
turning to a sphere so dangerous to her 
peace she was guilty of a moral error, I 
should recall the path of thorns and flints 
into which that error led her, and blame 
would be almost lost in admiration for the 
Stoic courage with which she trod that 
path. 

For my part, however, I do not grant 
any moral error. I think that she did not 
analyse at the time the " irresistible im- 

78 



Fact and Fiction 

pulse " which took her back to Brussels ; 
that she did not then understand, or but 
half understood, her own feelings ; and 
that if she failed it was only in that self- 
knowledge in which we all fail. I cannot 
agree, however, with a recent writer who, 
while expressing belief in the tragedy of 
Charlotte's life, says that probably '' never 
in the most secret and inward imagina- 
tions of her own heart " did she describe 
her feeling for M. Heger as other than 
friendship. Charlotte Bronte had not 
that facile power of self-deception which 
belongs to most of us, and it seems 
certain that, when she wrote her novels, 
she recognised clearly the nature of the 
struggle she had come through. At the 
same time it should be remembered that 
''love" has probably as many shades of 
meaning as there are varieties of human 
character, and in Charlotte's vocabulary it 
was expressive of all that is pure and 
noble. Let me recall the indignant words 

79 



The Brontes 

she wrote to Miss Martlneau in reply to 
some unworthy criticism : "I know what 
love is as I understand it ; and if man or 
woman should be ashamed of feeling such 
love, then is there nothing right, noble, 
faithful, truthful, unselfish in this earth, as 
I comprehend rectitude, fidelity, truth and 
disinterestedness." True, it is not allow- 
able to cherish even such a feeling as 
this for one who is another's. But there 
can be no doubt that, as soon as she 
thoroughly knew her own heart, Charlotte 
broke the chain and fled. This involved 
the same terrible struggle that she 
describes in two of her novels, and it 
issued in the same noble victory. The 
Brussels episode, as I understand it, calls 
not for the censure of fallible human 
nature, but for its respectful admiration. 

The flight from Brussels did not, as we 
know, put an end to all intercourse 
between M. Heger and Charlotte Bronte. 
For some eighteen months they main- 

80 



Fact and Fiction 

tained a friendly correspondence, the tone 
of which can be judged from the specimen 
of it in Mrs. Gaskell's Life. The recent 
suggestion that Charlotte expressed her- 
self with an unseemly warmth, and that 
her Brussels friends were therefore obliged 
to restrict her to two letters a year, which 
should contain only ''a plain account of 
her circumstances and occupations," need 
not be too deeply resented since it has 
called forth, in Mr. Shorter's book, a true 
account of how the friendly intercourse 
ceased. Madame Heger, who disliked 
Charlotte, objected to any correspond- 
ence, and M. Heger, unwilling to sever all 
connection with his talented pupil, asked 
her to address her letters to a Boys' School 
where he taught. It was a very unwise 
suggestion, but not perhaps entirely inex- 
cusable if we assume, as I think we may, 
that M. Heger had never reason to 
suspect Charlotte's secret. But his corre- 
spondent could give but one reply to such 

8i F 



The Brontes 

a request. '' I stopped writing at once," 
she told her friend Miss Wheelwright. 
** I would not have dreamt of writing to 
him when I found it was disagreeable to 
his wife ; certainly I would not write 
unknown to her." This rigid fidelity to 
principle is what all who know Charlotte 
Bronte's character would have expected 
from her on such an occasion. We may 
be sure it marked all her relations with the 
Rogers. 

To sum up, then : Charlotte Bronte's 
writings have proved a palimpsest, and 
scholars have from time to time hinted 
of the older sentences they could discern 
beneath the present characters. More 
recently there have been signs that hints 
are to be replaced by innuendos, and I 
have therefore endeavoured to restore the 
whole of the old text so far as it is still 
decipherable. It turns out to be a tragedy 
which for human interest equals anything 

$2 



Fact and Fiction 

in the novels, and which cannot but render 
those who peruse it wiser and stronger. 
Its central figure is Charlotte herself, as 
noble and brave a heroine as any which 
her imagination created. We see an acute 
sensitiveness which attracts our pity, 
wedded to a dauntless fortitude which 
compels our admiration. We see her sore 
wounded in her affections, but unconquer- 
able in her will. The discovery of the 
secret of her life does not degrade the 
noble figure we know so well ; it adds to 
it a pathetic significance. The moral of 
her greatest works — that conscience must | 
reign absolute at whatever cost — acquires 
a greater force when we realise how she 
herself came through the furnace of tempta- 
tion with marks of torture on her, but with 
no stain on her soul. And if there are 
passages in her books by which she 
appeals to our deepest experiences as 
hardly any other writer can, we know now 
that it was because the pen with which 

83 



The Brontes 

she wrote was dipped in her heart's blood. 
The inner lives of few men or women 
have been unveiled to the public gaze as 
has that of Charlotte Bronte, but few could 
stand the scrutiny so well. Those who 
are most familiar with her history will ever 
be those most ready to exclaim with 
Kingsley, " She is a whole heaven above 
me," and to endorse Sir Wemyss Reid's 
/ assertion, "No apology need be offered 
j for any single feature of Charlotte Bronte's 
I life or character." 



84 



A CROP OF BRONTE MYTHS 



I 



A CROP OF BRONTE MYTHS 

N 1893 Dr> William Wright issued a 
book* in which he professed not only 
to trace the history of four generations of 
Irish Brontes, but to prove that the plot of 
Wuthering Heights was founded on family 
history, and that the other Bronte novels 
had likewise an Irish origin. As a Bronte 
enthusiast I was naturally interested ; but 
when review after review came to hand, all 
speaking of Dr. Wright's book in laudatory 
terms, and declaring that he had established 
his thesis, my curiosity died down, and I 
accepted this verdict as final. About two 
years ago I procured his volume for the 

* The Brontes in Ireland; or^ Facts stranger than 
Fiction. By Dr. William Wright. London: Hodder 
and Stoughton. 

87 



The Brontes 

purpose of keeping my Bronte knowledge 
up to date. Imagine my surprise to find 
it a work neither consistent nor coherent, 
bearing its own refutation on every page 
for any reader who, with adequate know- 
ledge, would examine its statements. It 
reminded me of nothing so much as of that 
prophetical literature which once under- 
took to prove that Napoleon III. was 
Antichrist, and which still is prepared to fix 
the date of the end of the world. There 
was the same absence of all critical faculty, 
the same unreasoning acceptance of every 
alleged fact which could serve the end in 
view, the same substitution of faith for 
proof I could only account for the favour- 
able reception of the book by supposing 
that the reviewers had been too busy to do 
more than to read it as one would read a 
novel. I at once wrote an article in the 
Westminster Review (October 1895) point- 
ing out the mythical character of the work ; 
but public interest in the matter was for 

88 



Fact and Fiction 

the time spent, and though my criticism 
attracted the attention of a few Bronte 
specialists it eluded the notice of that guile- 
less public which had so warmly welcomed 
The Brontes in Ireland, and Dr. Wright 
himself attempted no reply to my damaging 
criticism. 

So matters remained till the great revival 
of interest in Bronte history which has 
marked the last few months. The publi- 
cation of Mr. Clement Shorter's valuable 
work, Charlotte Bronte and her Circle^ 
however, then seemed to make further 
action desirable. It moved Dr. Wright to 
renewed efforts to circulate his book, and so 
indirectly promoted the spread of the very 
mischief which it was my purpose to check. 
On the other hand, Mr. Shorter, by ex- 
pressing agreement with my view of The 
Brontes in Ireland, and drawing attention 
pointedly to the Westminster article, com- 
pelled Dr. Wright to break silence, and 
thus has provided me with new material 

89 



The Brontes 

It is plainly desirable, therefore, that the 
matter should now be brought to an issue, 
and I propose to analyse the work once 
more with a view to proving, once and for 
all, that it can have no serious significance 
for Bronte students. It is not a pleasant 
task to upset a favourable verdict ; but, if 
Dr. Wright's theories are accepted, the 
whole broadening stream of Bronte biblio- 
graphy will be deflected and made turbid. 
In the interests, then, of truth, and of 
the Bronte fame, the utterly untrustworthy 
character of the book must be exposed. 

The Genealogical Chart. 

As a preparation for our investigation, I 
shall give, with dates, a genealogical table 
of the characters who appear in Dr. 
Wright's pages ; and this is the more 
necessary as our author is as confused 
in his account of the family relationship 
as in most else ; for example, on p. 1 9, the 

90 



Fact and Fiction 



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73 



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91 



The Brontes 

grandfather of Hugh Bronte II. Is called 
his father, and on p. 49, Hugh I. is de- 
scribed as the great-great-great-grandfather 
of the novelists, where there is a *' great " 
too much. Once we grasp the relationships, 
a mere comparison of dates will be enough 
to bring the whole story toppling down like 
a house of cards. For the sake of greater 
distinctness I shall give cognomens to the 
three Hughs in the chart. The first I 
shall call the Founder; Hugh II., the grand- 
father of the novelists, I shall dub the 
Paragon,^ for if Dr. Wright's stories could 
be accepted he would be one of the most 
remarkable peasants who ever lived ; for 
the third Hugh, the uncle of the novelists, 
I will retain the nickname of Dr. Wright's 
choosing, viz., the Giant, though probably 
"the Avenger" would be more appro- 
priate in view of the remarkable story, 

* I apply this title not, of course, to the real Hugh II., 
who was doubtless an estimable man, but to the 
imaginary personage who is the hero of Dr. Wright's 
romance. 

92 



Fact and Fiction 

to which I shall have to direct attention 
further on. I will ask the reader then to 
refer, when need be, to the chart on p. 91, 
remembering always that Hugh II. is the 
character upon whom all else depends, the 
hero of the whole romance. 

Now it is of great importance that the 
reader should convince himself that this 
genealogical tree does truly represent the 
alleged facts as set forth in Dr. Wright's 
book. The chart appeared originally in 
the Westminster article, and when sixteen 
months later Dr. Wright attempted a 
reply, in the Bookman of February 1897, 
his defence took the form of denying the 
validity of his own dates. He writes as 
follows : 

'' Hugh Brontes [the Paragon's] stories 
contained no fixed point in chronology. 
. . . The early Bronte house was on the 
banks of the Boyne. As a conjecture I 
placed the date vaguely after the battle 
which made the river famous. It was a 

93 



The Brontes 

mere approximation. It might have been 
earlier or it might have been later ; most 
likely later. I had no chronological land- 
marks to guide me," &c. 

Dr. Wright, as we shall see, has a 
habit of thus shifting his ground as soon 
as it is seriously assailed, but he must not 
suppose that ground so vacated is not in 
possession of the enemy. His credibility 
as an historian must necessarily suffer by 
these sudden chancres of his text. Let us 
see what are his own words in his book : 
''Shortly after the events which in 1688 
rendered the Boyne memorable, Hugh 
Bronte, the elder, occupied, as we have 
seen, a house and farm on the banks of 
that river. It is not improbable that 
he received his possession for Imperial ser- 
vices rendered in those turbulent times " 

(p. 156). 

Here there is no perad venture about the 
date, but only as to whether Hugh I. had 
received the estate as the reward of loyalty. 

94 



Fact and Fiction 

Hugh II., the Paragon, confirms this latter 
conjecture ; he is made to say : ** The 
Brontes had occupied a piece of forfeited 
land, with well-defined obligations to a 
chief or landlord," &c. ; and let it be 
remembered that upon the alleged stories 
of Hugh II. most of the book is founded, 
so that if he is not reliable the narrative 
falls to pieces. But the chart, of course, 
does not depend upon this one date. On 
p. i6 Dr. Wright says that Hugh II. was 
taken from his home by a villain named 
Welsh ''some time about the middle of 
the last century or a little earlier," when 
Hugh II. was about five years old. This 
is not a date about which Hugh II. could 
have been in error to any material extent, 
and from this fixed date of 1750 we can 
work at ease either backwards or forwards. 
It follows that the Paragon was born circa 
1745. He was a very young member of a 
*' large " family, he had ''numerous brothers 
and sisters," and therefore his father's 

95 



The Brontes 

marriage must have been at least ten years 
earlier, say 1735. The father, from the 
story, was evidently a young unmarried 
man of twenty-five or so when he settled 
in the South of Ireland, so that, even 
supposing him to have been married 
immediately after this, he could not have 
been born later than 1710. He, too, 
belonged to a large family, and allowing 
for the time it would take Hugh I., the 
Founder, to accomplish all that the tale 
tells us — drain the estate, improve the 
land, build a fine house, grow rich by 
cattle-dealing, and rear a family to man- 
hood — undoubtedly we do find ourselves 
taken back to the date of the Battle of the 
Boyne, or shortly after. In a similar way, 
starting from the same date of 1750, we 
may work downward. Hugh stayed eleven 
years with Welsh, which brings us to 1761. 
He married Alice McClory in 1776, and 
the other dates are from authentic records. 
Of course 7ny belief is that most of the 

96 



Fact and Fiction 

events covered by these dates are fictitiouSy 
but the dates are based on the allegfed facts 
in such a way that, if the facts are as 
narrated by Dr. Wright, then the chart is, 
for the purposes of this controversy, un- 
assailable. 



The Alleged Originals of Wuthering 
Heights. 

Let us glance first at the opening 
chapter of the romance relating chiefly 
to Hugh I., the Founder, and Welsh. 
Hugh I. settled on his farm about 1690, 
and was a cattle-dealer as well as farmer. 
He became rich and prosperous. His 
sons were brought up in comparative 
luxury, were well educated and had been 
much in England. Then one day Hugh I. 
(the Mr. Earnshaw of Wuthering Heights^ 
finds on a Liverpool boat a Lascar baby 
and adopts it. This boy, Welsh (the Heath- 

97 G 



The Brontes 

cliffe of Wuthering Heights), makes him- 
self very useful to Hugh I., and gradually 
gets the management of the whole business 
into his own hands. He uses as tools a 
hypocrite named Gallagher (the Joseph of 
Wuthering Heights) and a woman, Meg, 
whose chief business apparently was to 
murder illegitimate children. At last 
Hugh I. goes over to Liverpool with the 
largest consignment of cattle he had ever 
taken, and on the way back he dies — 
murdered, we are led to suppose, by 
Welsh. What has become of the money 
received for the cattle no one knows ; all 
the business-books have disappeared and 
the capital is in Welsh's pocket. The 
villain succeeds after a time in driving his 
foster-brothers out of the farm to which 
they cling, and, with Meg's help, he 
compels Mary, the youngest sister, to 
marry him. So the curtain falls, with 
Welsh rich and prosperous, married to his 
master's daughter and living in the Brontes' 

98 



Fact and Fiction 

ancestral farm, while the Bronte sons are 
beggared and homeless. 

Now, to begin with, it is somewhat start- 
ling to find Dr. Wright describing so 
minutely events which happened nearly 
two hundred years ago, when he has 
nothing but oral tradition to rely upon. 
And it becomes more than startling when 
we are told that these events, known in 
such detail to Dr. Wright and his in- 
formants, were unknown to most of the 
Irish Brontes themselves. The fons et 
origo of this history, and of much else to 
follow, is alleged to be Hugh II., the 
Paragon, who is represented as a perfect 
genius, and who told the story in a most 
graphic fashion to many persons. We 
may be quite sure that the persons most 
interested in the story would be his ten 
children, all of them most remarkable 
characters according to Dr. Wright, and 
living nearly a century nearer the alleged 
events than we. One of these, Alice, lived 

99 



The Brontes 

to a great age and died in 1890. If they 
or their children knew not of this story it 
will appear to most persons that it cannot 
be true, and further, that it cannot really 
have originated with Hugh II. And even 
on Dr. Wright's own showing we might 
conclude that these narratives do not rest 
on Bronte evidence. These are his own 
words on p. 50 : 

" With the exception of Alice, none of 
the Irish Brontes knew anything of the 
early history of the family. I visited most 
of them, and the vague information they 
had to communicate was merely an echo 
from English biographies. Even Alice 
mixed up different events in a way some- 
times that made it difficult to disentangle 
them." 

What Alice's evidence amounted to we 
shall have occasion to see later on. 

Further, the story itself is surely in- 
credible. Even at the beginning of last 

century an interloper could not murder his 

100 



Fact and Fiction 

foster-father and embezzle the whole ;.Qf a *.•{:»•;, •'.{ 
rich man's capital without being criminally- 
prosecuted. If Welsh had had to do with 
helpless children the improbabilities would 
have been less, but he had to do with a 
number of young men "brought up in 
comparative luxury " and '' well educated," 
and when we realise these circumstances 
the story becomes absurd. 
f Moreover, if Hugh II. was indeed re- 
sponsible for this piece of family history, it 
will be well to know with what sort of an 
historian we are dealing. He tells us 
repeatedly (p. 148) that his grandfather, 
Hugh I., was unjustly dealt with by 
means of legal documents issued under 
George III.'s authority. It will be seen 
that Hugh I. would have been over one 
hundred years old when George III. 
ascended the throne in 1760, and as he 
left a young family behind him when he 
died, he must have begun the begetting of 
his numerous offspring when he was about 

lOI 



The Brontes 

eighty ! Wonderful men, truly, these Irish 
Brontes ! 

But it is time we passed on to the next 
stage of this romance. When the curtain 
again rises ''many years" have elapsed 
(p. 32). I calculate these years as fifteen 
at the least ; nothing less will meet the 
demands of the history. Welsh, whom we 
left in the possession of all the fortune of a 
" rich and prosperous " man, has fallen into 
abject poverty. His foster brothers and 
sisters with one exception have all dis- 
appeared for ever. But the exception, the 
unnamed father of Hugh H., though he 
had not a penny when we last saw him, is 
now "a man in prosperous circumstances" 
(p. 16). He is married and has a large 
family, and his children live in luxury 
(pp. Ill and 154). Farming in those 
days appears to have resembled stock- 
broking in these from the rapidity with 
which fortunes were made and lost. One 
of the younger members of this family was 

I02 



Fact and Fiction 

the famous Hugh II., the Paragon, at this 
time aged five. Suddenly appears on the 
scene the infamous Welsh, who represents 
himself as a rich but childless man pining 
to adopt a little boy. He succeeds, of 
course, in his nefarious scheme and carries 
off little Hugh II., having first exchanged 
a melodramatic oath with the father — 
Welsh and his wife swearing that they 
will never let Hugh II. know where his 
family live, and the little boy's father 
swearing that he will never inquire about 
him. Then they drive off, and before the 
lights of home have disappeared Welsh 
begins to beat the child brutally. Then 
follow eleven years of the most cruel 
oppression, and at last, when aged six- 
teen, Hugh II. runs away and begins life 
for himself He never succeeds, however, 
in discovering any trace of his father or his 
family. 

r' Surely nothing but the improbabilities 
• are necessary to expose the falsity of this 

103 



The Brontes 

so-called history. Hugh II.'s father, in 
common with all the family, knew Welsh 
to be an unmitigated scoundrel of the 
deepest dye ; why then should he and his 
wife give up to him a son to whom they 
were tenderly attached ? The plea of 
poverty does not come In, for they were 
rich and prosperous. Again, what possible 
object could Welsh, too poor to support 
himself, have in burdening himself with a 
little child ? Later on It Is stated that 
he was promised ;^50 with the child, 
which he did not receive. But Welsh, in 
his feigned character of a rich man, could 
not have asked for money, and If he had, 
that at least would have opened the father's 
eyes to his real motives. Again, how are 
we to suppose that his wife, the excellent 
Mary, could have lent herself to the dia- 
bolical scheme ? And the way in which 
the story is told is at least as ridiculous as 
the plot. The child, If he had been Prince 
Alexander of Battenberg, could not have 

104 



Fact and Fiction 

been carried off with greater precautions 
against recovery : they travelled only by 
night, and slept during the day, and for 
four nights the journey was continued. In 
Chapter VI. we have a minutely detailed 
account of all that happened during that 
fearful journey, and a highly coloured de- 
scription of the scenery. Interspersed with 
metaphysical reflections, and all based on 
the recollections of a child of five ! With 
a remarkable want of humour the story 
makes Welsh address this Infant at the 
journey's end thus : " This Is the only 
home you shall ever know, and you are 
beholden to me for It. No airs here, my 
fine fellow ! Your father was glad to be rid 
of you, and this Is the gratitude you show 
me for taking you to be my heir. Go to 
bed out of my way, and I'll find you some- 
thing to do in the morning to keep you 
from becoming too great for the position." 
To complete the absurdity of the story, 
Welsh becomes a father for the first time 

105 



The Brontes 

the year before Hugh runs away, or about 
thirty years after his marriage with Mary ! 
Before leaving this part of the alleged 
history it is necessary to point out that the 
scenes where these too earlier parts of the 
drama were enacted — like nearly all the 
other evidence — are lost. As to the house 
and farm, probably given in return for 
services during the political troubles of 
William III.'s reign, Dr. Wright fears 
** that the tradition has now faded out of the 
district." He says that this is not to be won- 
dered at, since few families of the rank of the 
Brontes can trace pedigrees to the sixth or 
seventh generation. But this excuse will 
not do. Alice, as we have seen, lived till 
1890, and her grandfather is alleged to 
have dwelt on the ancestral farm till he 
was a young man of twenty-five or so ; 
moreover, her father, Hugh H., had lived 
In the immediate neighbourhood from his 
fifth till his sixteenth year. Alice, indeed, 

is quoted to the effect that an Aunt Mary, 

106 



Fact and Fiction 

who visited her when a child, then still 
lived near Drogheda on the Boyne, and 
Dr. Wright would have us believe that this 
was no other than Mrs. Welsh. But when 
we examine the evidence it is of a piece 
with all the rest, and is indeed not a 
little ludicrous. A reference to our genea- 
logical table will show that I have put 
Mary Welsh's birth at 1715. That it 
could not be later than that, supposing 
the history a true one, I will now show 
beyond all reasonable doubt. Hugh II. 
was taken off by Welsh, says Dr. Wright, 
about the year 1750 (p. 16). Welsh had 
then been married "many years" (p. 32), 
and as I have already shown, fifteen years 
at least must be allow^ed for the events 
which intervene. This gives us 1735 
as the year when Welsh married Mary. 
As he had tried for some years in vain 
to make her marry him, we cannot be far 
wrong in supposing her to be twenty at 

least in 1735, and if so she cannot have 

107 



The Brontes 

been born later than 17 15. Now old Alice 
Bronte, who was born in 1800, said she 
remembered her Aunt Mary coming from 
Drogheda to visit her when a child. Even 
supposing Alice to have been then only- 
five years old, Aunt Mary must have been 
about ninety. How then did old Alice 
describe this nonogenarian ? "Tarrible 
purty she was. A shop-keeper in Rath- 
friland courted her. . . . After she went 
home he sent after her but she would not 
take him / " "^ Dr. Wright in his book sug- 
gests Alice may have alluded to a daughter 
of Aunt Mary's, but though he was in 
correspondence with Alice Bronte "directly 
and indirectly till her death," she made no 
such admission. Besides, as I have already 
pointed out, Mary could scarcely have had 
a daughter after being childless for thirty 
years. Clearly it can be proved from the 
book itself that the visit of this Aunt Mary, 
Mrs. Welsh, is apocryphal. 

The italics here and throughout are mine. — 
A. M. M. 

108 



Fact and Fiction 

But, as I have already warned the reader, 
Dr. Wright, when convicted of an absurdity, 
promptly shifts his ground. He has done 
so in this case ; but I shall now show that 
this manoeuvre does not enable him to 
escape from the horns of the dilemma. After 
the absurdity of the story was brought to 
his notice, Dr. Wright defended himself 
thus in the Bookman of February 1897 • 

'' I followed the tradition that the lady 
was Hugh's Aunt Mary, but Alice assured 
Mr. Lusk"^ that she was Hugh's sister, and 
Miss Shannon t is of the same opinion. 
Possibly she may have been a younger 
sister of Hugh's, who may have been stay- 
ing at Drogheda with Aunt Mary after the 
tragic death of Welsh." 

In the first place, I must submit that 
a statement given at first hand is not a 
'' tradition," and the story of Mrs. Welsh's 

* Rev. J. B. Lusk, who visited Alice Bronte on her 
deathbed, and took down her account of the family, 
t Great-grand-daughter of Hugh II., the Paragon. 

109 



The Brontes 

visit is told three times in the book, 
and the authority for it is twice given 
as Alice Bronte, who "distinctly remem- 
bered it" (pp. 50 and 158). Now Dr. 
Wright, as we have seen, corresponded 
with old Alice to the last. On a matter of 
such importance could he have been de- 
ceived ? I will show that he cannot have 
been. On p. 34, alluding to the solemn 
oath Mary Welsh took never to reveal the 
situation of the home from which Hugh II. 
had been taken, Dr. Wright says : 

" The Bronte covenant was faithfully 
kept, and even when Mary (Welsh) visited 
Hugh in County Down some time about the 
beginning of this century she could neither 
be coaxed nor compelled to give him either 
directly or indirectly a clue or hint by which 
he might discover the home of his childhood^ 

Is that statement true ? If it is, why 
does Dr. Wright now hint that it was not 
Mary Welsh at all who paid the visit, but a 
sister of Hugh II.'s, who could have had no 

no 



Fact and Fiction 

reason to keep from him the site of his old 
home ? If it is not true, Dr. Wright owes 
it to himself to let us know who invented 
this misstatement. The truth is, the story is 
damaged beyond rehabilitation. It is clear 
that there is no Bronte evidence, and 
nothing beyond late and loose tradition, to 
show that the Drogheda farm and house 
" probably given for imperial services" ever 
existed. 

Again, as regards the house of Hugh II. 's 
father " in the South of Ireland," there is 
the same absence of all evidence. Dr. 
Wright, when a young man, once spent 
two months, '' disguised as a peasant," 
trying to find some trace of it, but in vain. 
One is not surprised at this after the lapse 
of more than a century, but how are we to 
account for the fact that Alice Bronte, 
Hugh the Paragon's youngest daughter, 
was not apparently aware of the existence 
of this house? In the narrative taken 

III 



The Brontes 

down by the Rev. J. B. Lusk — one of the 
few documents quoted by Dr. Wright — 
Alice declares that her father '' came origi- 
nally from Drogheda," on the Boyne. This 
ignorance of the Bronte relatives about the 
house ''in the South of Ireland" is even 
more difficult to account for than the loss 
of all trace of the ancestral farm near 
Drogheda. 

However, since Dr. Wright's book ap- 
peared, a great discovery has been made. 
The real home, so we are assured, has 
been identified. The manner of its dis- 
covery is so amusing and so characteristic 
of the methods by which the " facts " of 
this extraordinary book have been com- 
piled, that I shall briefly allude to it.^ A 
gentleman from that part of Ireland where 
the Bronte myths originated, viz., County 
Down, heard that a ferryman on Lough 
Erne, Frank Prunty by name, said that he 

* The narrative will be found in the Bookman, Feb- 
ruary 1897. 

112 



Fact and Fiction 

was related to the Brontes. This enthu- 
siastic gentleman secured a photographer 
and a camera, and at once set out to in- 
vestigate the matter — for might not this 
be a representative of the long-lost family 
upon whom the curtain fell in 1750? He 
found that the ferryman had heard of the 
existence of the County Down Brontes, 
and no doubt tourists had from time to 
time spoken to him of the supposed 
identity of the names Prunty and Bronte. 
Asked about his ancestry, he said : '' My 
father was a native of these parts, but 
my grandfather or my great-grandfather 
came from somewhere about Galway." 
This must have been a damper ! The 
Bronte who was "wanted" was one whose 
ancestors had been driven by Welsh out 
of the ancestral home near Drogheda on 
the Boyne. However, after an afternoon 
spent in conversation and taking views of 
Mr. Prunty and his home, the gentleman 
happened to mention Drogheda in con- 

113 H 



The Brontes 

nection with the Brontes ; thereupon the 
ferryman seems to have pricked up his 
ears, and declared that he had made a 
mistake. He had meant to say that his 
ancestor came not from Gailway but from 
Drogheda ; he had confused the names ! 

This is the story as told in the Bookman. 
But in contradiction to this is the account 
of another gentleman, quoted in the third 
edition of The Brontes in Ireland^ who, 
having interviewed Frank Prunty, reports, 
** He knew nothing of the family beyond 
his grandfather. ... He had no idea of 
what part of the country his grandfather 
had come from " ! In this third edition 
Dr. Wright is quite certain that it was 
Frank's grandfather who founded the 
"South of Ireland" home, and so here 
we have another of those laughable con- 
sequences in which this book abounds. 
Frank Prunty's father was, according to 
both the accounts, born in 1 803 ; and if the 
reader will consult the genealogical table, 

114 



Fact and Fiction 

on page 91 he will find that on Dr. 
Wright's theory he was a brother of 
Hugh II. the Paragon. Now Hugh, who 
was a younger member of a large family, 
was born, we are told explicitly, about the 
year 1745. So that the wonderful Bronte 
who first settled in the South of Ireland — 
the great-grandfather of the novelist — had 
a large family by 1745, and then went on 
begetting children for nearly sixty years j^ 
longer I This is the conclusion to which 
Dr. Wright's contentions lead us, and there 
is no escape from it. 

The Frank Prunty story is indeed at 
every point irreconcilable with Dr. Wright's 
book. Hugh II. had always described 
the lost home as ''in the South of Ire- 
land." Loupfh Erne is in the north-east. 
Dr. Wright tells us, with particularity, that 
there were three brothers scattered from 
the ancestral home by the Boyne ; but 
Frank Prunty says " there w^ere two 
brothers of them, but only my great- 

115 



The Brontes 

grandfather came down here." Further, 
he says the other brother "went off to- 
wards Belfast, Newry, or somewhere in 
that direction, but my father never knew 
any of that branch." No doubt he or 
his father founded this last conjecture on 
their knowledge that there were Brontes 
settled in County Down ; but these were, 
of course, the novelists' aunts and uncles 
and their descendants, well known to Dr. 
Wright and his informants, and not mem- 
bers of the missing family. The reader 
shall judge for himself whether it is now a 
settled fact that Frank Prunty is a descen- 
dant of Hugh II.'s father, who was last 
heard of in 1750, and he must form his 
own conclusion as to the credibility of a 
witness who does not know whether it was 
his grandfather or his great-grandfather 
who first settled at Lough Erne ; who con- 
fuses Galway with Drogheda ; and who yet 
can say not only at which part of the road 
two brothers parted in 1735, viz., ''some- 

n6 



Fact and Fiction 

where about Castle Sanderson," but can 
tell in what direction his ofreat-orreat-uncle 
then went off! But Dr. Wright, of course, 
has no doubts. He speaks of his friend's 
visit to Lough Erne as '' the identification 
of a vigorous descendant of the dispersed 
Brontes," and he adds : " I think that most 
people capable of weighing evidence will 
be satisfied that at last the early home of 
Hugh Bronte has been discovered, aitd 
the leading facts in his stories confirmed !'' 
Before leaving this part of my subject 
it only remains to summarise the evidence 
of members of the Bronte family living or 
recently living. When I attacked the 
book in 1895 ^ ^^^ ^"^Y the author's own 
statements to go upon, but my criticisms 
and those of Mr. Shorter have elicited 
external testimony which confirms the 
results at which I had arrived in every 
particular. When we have this before us 
we shall not only be convinced that the 
earlier stories are inventions, but we shall 

117 



The Brontes 

find ourselves wondering where Dr. Wil- 
liam Wright could have obtained his 
information, and how he could have per- 
suaded himself to believe them and to 
publish them. 

In the first place, the truth about Alice's 
testimony is now being extracted piece- 
meal. Even in his book Dr. Wright 
incautiously quotes Alice as saying : " My 
father came originally from Drogheda " 
(p. 157). In the Sketch of March 10, 
1897, we have her story in the oblique 
narration as reported by the Rev. J. B. 
Lusk : "Her father Hughey came from 
Drogheda. When he was eight years 
of aee an uncle took him from his 
father's place, intending to make him his 
heir as he had no children. But after 
he went to his uncle's his aunt had a 
child. Her father then left his uncle 
and came to Erndale (County Down), 
and never saw either his mother or uncle 

again." 

118 



Fact and Fiction 

Here we have a plain unvarnished tale 
with no gleam of romance about it. There 
is no word about a home in the South of 
Ireland, about an abduction, about the 
brutality of Welsh, or any of the strange 
things in Dr. Wright's story. We have 
already seen that Dr. Wright himself — 
in contradiction to all that he asserts in his 
book — is now inclined to own that Alice 
never said anything about Mary Welsh, 
the villain's wife, visiting Hugh H., but 
that the visitor was Hugh's sister ; so that 
evidently Alice had never even heard of the 
lost family and the lost homestead. Plainly 
she thought that her father was a peasant 
who had emigrated from the neighbour- 
hood of Drogheda on the Boyne, and had 
peasant relatives there. 

We have now also the evidence of Mrs. 
Heslip to go upon.^ This relative of 
the Brontes has been recently discovered 
at Oakenshaw, near Bradford. At the 

* See Sketch, February lo, 1897. 
119 



The Brontes 

time when his book was appearing in 
the pages of McClures Magazine her 
existence was unknown to Dr. Wright, 
and indeed to every other Bronte student. 
Mrs. Heslip is a daughter of Sarah, the 
only one of the noveHsts' aunts who mar- 
ried. She is thus a granddaughter of the 
Paragon, and she Hved among her uncles 
and aunts till her seventeenth year. Her 
testimony must of necessity outweigh that 
of Dr. William Wright. She says of the 
earlier stories in his book that she must 
have heard of them if they had been true 
— which is obvious — and that she entirely 
discredits the whole of them. 

To these I can now add the testimony 
of Miss Maggie Shannon, of Ballynas- 
keagh, who may be taken to represent 
all the County Down Brontes. Miss 
Shannon is the granddaughter of Welsh 
Bronte,"^ the fourth brother of the Rev. 

* We are left to suppose that this Welsh was named 
after the villain of an earlier generation — an improbable 

1 20 



Fact and Fiction 

Patrick Bronte. Her mother during her 
unmarried Hfe Hved next door to the 
home of Hugh H. and his sons, and after 
her marriage lived only a mile away, and 
saw them almost daily. She thus had 
complete knowledge, and her knowledge 
descends to her daughter, who has never 
left the neighbourhood. She writes me as 
follows : 

'' We never heard the story of little 
Hugh Bronte's abduction nor of any one 
of the name of Welsh connected with him. 
Hugh Bronte [H.] was an only son and 
had just one sister, and they were living 
with an uncle, a brother of their mother's, 
in Drogheda, both parents being dead. 
Hugh afterwards came down to the neigh- 
story on the face of it. Miss Shannon, however, tells 
me that her grandfather, Welsh, was named after a 
clergyman in their neighbourhood. We must, therefore, 
reverse the supposition, and believe that Dr. Wright's 
melodramatic villain was named after Miss Shannon's 
grandfather by the individual — whoever he was — who 
invented the myth. 

12? 



The Brontes 

bourhood of Hilltown to some relatives of 
his mother. ... His sister visited him 
once after his marriage." 

Finally, there is the very important 
evidence of the Rev. A. B. Nicholls, the 
husband of Charlotte Bronte, who still 
survives. He lived at the parsonage 
alone with the Rev. Patrick Bronte for six 
years. His father-in-law, we are told, was 
by no means disposed to reticence, yet he 
" never heard one single word about the 
stories," and believes them to be " purely 
legendary."^ 

From these witnesses it becomes clear that 
not only i\lice, Sarah, Welsh and Patrick, 
but all the other sons and daughters of 
Hugh n., were ignorant of the romantic 
incidents narrated by Dr. Wright. Yet 
Dr. Wright asks us to believe that Hugh 1 1, 
was constantly narrating them. He says 
of the account of the abduction, which 
occupies sixteen pages of his book, that 

* Charlotte Bronte and her Circle^ p. 158. 

122 



Fact and Fiction 

he received* it from four different nar- 
rators, and that all agreed on the main 
incidents (p. 46), and he states in the 
Bookman (February 1897) t^3,t he ''knew 
Hug/ts minute narrative by hearth Can 
any one reconcile these two sets of facts ? 
I confess I cannot. It is clear that the 
stories are untrue ; and it seems now 
equally certain that it was not Hugh II. who 
propagated them. Who then was it that 
hoaxed the four narrators ? I fear we must 
leave the problem as quite unsolvable.^ 

I have now concluded the examination 
of that part of Dr. Wright's story which 
he alleges forms the groundwork of Wuther- 
ing Heights, Since its manifold absurdi- 

* Dr. Wright is now inclined to make much of a letter 
received in 1894 from a Mr. John Bronte, in New 
Zealand, a grand-nephew of the Rev. Patrick Bronte. 
It confirms some details about the novelists' uncles 
which are not in dispute, but it says nothing about the 
older stories of which we may be sure this Mr. John 
Bronte never heard. He says the only point to which 
he can take exception is the application of the term 

123 



The Brontes 

ties were exposed in the Westminster, the 
author has drawn a careful distinction 
between two parts of his book ; what goes 
before Hugh II.'s flight from Welsh, he 
says, is traditional, what follows is his- 
torical. I am afraid this is somewhat of 
an afterthought. Traditional, of course, 
much of the book is in the sense that 
it has been orally transmitted, but Dr. 
Wright certainly intended us to accept it 
as quite trustworthy in all material points. 
The sub- title of his volume is " Facts 
Stranger than Fiction"; in the chapter on 
the sources of his information he calls the 
narrative ''history" (p. 14), and at the 
beginning of his book he says : " I do not 

Shthun to a lawful grocery business kept by his great- 
uncle, but that does not mean that he is prepared to 
endorse all the rest. He adds also : " Of one thing I 
am certain ; you have given to the world the last word 
on the history of the Brontes in the British Isles ; " and 
in a sense this is true, for the biographical facts about 
the novelists' uncles and aunts which we owe to the 
Rev. J. B. Lusk are probably all we shall ever know. 
(For this letter, see Bookman, March 1897.) 

124 



Fact and Fiction 

even now pretend to have reached absolute 
accuracy on every point referred to In the 
following pages, but the statements are as 
close approximation to fact as they can be 
made by patient industry" (p. 13). To 
his critics, however, it is not of the least 
importance whether he calls the earlier 
chapters history or tradition ; the only 
question is, are they true? If not, they 
have no interest for Bronte students. I 
think I have shown that they are alike 
inconsistent and incredible ; and there 
fore the assertion that early Bronte 
history is the basis of Wuthering Heights 
falls to the ground. I proceed, however, 
to examine those parts of the book which 
Dr. Wright declares to be history and to 
involve " practical certainty," and we shall 
soon discover that most of the history is 
as mythical as the tradition ; nay, that the 
nearer the story approaches our own time 
the more clearly it can be shown to have 
no foundation in fact. 

125 



The Brontes 



Hugh II. (the Paragon). 

As the story of Hugh the Paragon is 
the nucleus of the whole book, and as he 
is the alleged authority for most of the 
startling facts with which it abounds, it will 
be well to realise what manner of person 
he was. Let me first quote the un- 
doubtedly genuine record of him from the 
lips of his daughter Alice as taken down 
by the Rev. J. B. Lusk: *' My father 
came originally from Drogheda. He was 
not very tall but purty stout ; he was 
sandy-haired and my mother fair-haired. 
He was very fond of his children, and 
worked to the last for them." Dr. 
Wright's account is a rather more highly 
coloured description. Hugh II. was hand- 
some in person and powerful in build, but 
his physical gifts were as nothing compared 
with his mental endowments. He was 

apparently in the very first rank of great 

126 



Fact and Fiction 

speakers. ** Mr. Mc Allister had heard 
most of the orators of his time, including 
O'Connell and Cooke and Chalmers, but 
no man ever touched or roused and thrilled 
by the force of eloquence as old Hugh 
Bronte did " (p. 47). In force of imagination 
he surpassed the girls who made his name 
famous — indeed their novels were only his 
own stories in an inferior dress : ''It may 
be questioned if any tale ever told by 
Hugh Bronte's granddaughters equalled 
those which he narrated in wealth of 
imagination or picturesque eloquence or 
intensity of human feeling or vividness of 
colouring or immediate effect" (p. 47). 
Only opportunity was wanting to make him 
a great politician : '' Under different circum- 
stances he might have been an advanced 
statesman, and saved his country from 
unutterable woe" (p. 134). Such was the 
remarkable person from whom Dr. Wright 
indirectly derived most of the material 
from which his book is constructed. 

127 



The Brontes 

When we resume this hero's history at 
Mount Pleasant, whither at the age of six- 
teen he had fled from the tyrant Welsh, we 
find still much to marvel at. Whileserving at 
a lime-kiln he falls in love with the sister 
of a young man evidently of his own class. 
Difficulties arising on the part of the lady's 
Roman Catholic relations, he leaves the 
kiln and secretly takes service in her neigh- 
bourhood as a farm servant ; and then we 
hear that this peasant girl " was permitted 
to ride about the neighbourhood quite 
alone. She enjoyed horse exercise greatly," 
and she always rides "her own mare." 
She is, in fact, suddenly transformed into a 
squire's daughter. But to read Dr. Wright's 
book is like being in a dream, nothing 
surprises. Hugh II. at last secures her, of 
course in the most romantic way and under 
the most extraordinary circumstances, 
eloping with her on the morning when 
she was to have been married to a rival ; 

and Dr. Wright is able to tell us exactly 

128 



Fact and Fiction 

what had been prepared for that wedding 
breakfast In 1776 — it has been handed down 
orally for a century and a quarter — viz., a 
great pudding of flour and potatoes, two 
large turkeys In melted butter, and a 
huge roast of beef, &c. Having thus 
secured as a wife one who was "probably 
the prettiest girl In County Down at the 
time," the Paragon settles In that henceforth 
classic region, and In a small way prospers 
more and more as time rolls on ! ^ 

We must not suppose, however, that 
Hugh H. became as other men, and that 
the world Is to regard him merely as the 
grandfather of Charlotte and Emily Bronte. 
Dr. Wright claims for him that he was the 
author of the modern theory of tenant-right. 

* The story of the runaway match is as mythical as the 
rest. Mrs. Heslip herself remembers her grandmother, 
AUce McClory, but " she never heard of any runaway 
marriage, such as described by Dr. W^right, which would 
have surely been a family tradition if it had taken 
place." I have a letter, too, from Miss Shannon, which 
shows that no rumour of such a thing has ever reached 
the County Down Brontes. 

129 I 



The Brontes 

He makes much of this claim, and fore- 
shadows it early in his book. In describing 
the eviction of Hugh I.'s family by Welsh, 
which must have taken place about the 
year 1730, or fifteen years before the 
birth of Hugh H., he says : "This sordid 
transaction was fraught with far-reaching 
consequences to landlordism. It gave 
birth to a tenant-right theory of which we 
shall hear something in a subsequent chap- 
ter." Subsequent chapters inform us that 
Hugh II. derived from this eviction his 
views upon the land question, and that 
with these views he revolutionised Ireland. 
Some years after his flight from Welsh, 
he became, we are told, farm labourer to a 
country gentleman named Harshaw. The 
children of this country gentleman con- 
ceived a liking for Hugh II., now a grown 
man, and taught him to read, as Catherine 
taught Hareton Earnshaw in Withering 
Heights — an interesting fact if it can be 

established, but no proof is vouchsafed. 

130 



Fact and Fiction 

The chain of evidence is then continued in 
the following extraordinary fashion. Jane 
Harshaw, who taught Hugh II. to read, 
may have Imbibed as a child his theory of 
tenant-right. She afterwards married a 
neighbouring gentleman, Samuel Martin, 
and had a son John. Jane Martin may 
have instilled into her son John the tenant- 
right notions she had adopted as a child 
from the farm servant. John Martin met 
at school the famous John Mitchell, and 
may have communicated to him the ideas 
he had imbibed from his mother. After 
mentioning these possibilities and supposi- 
tions, Dr. Wright sums up : ' / think there 
is no doubt that John Martin's belief and 
principles grew from seeds sown by Hugh 
Bronte, the servant boy, in the sympathetic 
mind of his mother." 

Well, but the proof? Surely all this 
will not be put forward without some evi- 
dence ? Yes, a witness is called, and one 
only, but his testimony is rather upsetting. 

131 



The Brontes 

Of course, if Hugh II. had produced such 
an impression on the Harshaw family, had 
been taught by the children, and was the 
indirect means of sending one of the grand- 
children to penal servitude for ten years 
(p. 98), his memory would have survived 
among the Harshaws or nowhere. But 
what says the present representative of the 
family ? " The probability is that Hugh 
Bronte hired with my grandfather, whose 
land touched the Lough ; but I fear it is 
too true that he passed through my grand- 
father s service and left no permanent record 
behind him " (p. 96). 

But we have not disclosed the whole of 
the debt which the Irish tenants of to-day 
owe to Hugh II. For Hugh II. was a 
tenant on an estate which belonged to 
Sharman Crawford, '' a landlord who first 
took up the cause of tenant-right, and 
after spending a long life in its advocacy 
bequeathed its defence to his sons and 

daughters ; " and it seems to Dr. Wright 

132 



Fact and Fiction 

** not only probable but morally certain " 
that the words of Bronte II., dropped into 
the justice-loving minds of the Crawfords, 
were the primary seeds of all the recent 
land legislation in Ireland. But again we 
ask, what evidence is there 1 Dr. Wright 
replies : ''I knew the late W. Sharman 
Crawford, M.P., well ; and I once talked 
with him of Hugh Bronte's tenant-right 
theories, of which he was thoroughly aware. 
/ did not ask hiTU if his father had got his 
views from Bronte, as I had no doubt of the 
fact'' (p. 153). However, he apparently 
did ask another member of the family. 
Miss M. Sharman Crawford, and she sent 
the following very sensible reply : " My 
father certainly originated tenant-right as 
a public question, though, no doubt, long 
before the period when he strove to amend 
the position of Irish tenants, many thoughtful 
minds like his must have protested against 
the legalised injustice to which they were 
subject" (p. 153). She admits, that is, 

133 



The Brontes 

that Hugh Bronte, like many others, may 
have proclaimed the injustice under which 
tenants in Ireland were growing, but about 
Dr. Wright's little story she evidently knew 
nothing. No doubt, thousands of men of 
every rank, even earlier than Hugh H.'s 
time, must have given utterance to just 
such sentiments as are attributed to him in 
Dr. Wright's book.^ But there is not a 
shred of evidence to connect our mythical 
hero with recent Irish legislation, or to 
show that the Irish Land Acts are due 
to the eviction of the novelists' ancestors 
at the beginning of last century. I have 
examined this part of Dr. Wright's book 
at some length because it is typical of the 
rest, being a mass of illogical assumptions 
unsupported by even the semblance of proof 
Indeed the whole history of Hugh 1 1, seems 
to be a pure myth. Beyond the fact that 

* They are given apparently almost verbatim, and 
occupy nearly ten pages. We cannot but wonder at 
the prodigious memories which have preserved for us 
these century-old records. 

134 



Fact and Fiction 

the novelists' grandfather was named Hugh 
and that he married an Alice McClory in 
1776, I doubt whether we can depend on 
a line of the book relating to Hugh the 
Paragon. 

The Irish Uncles and Aunts of the 
Novelists. 

In considering Dr. Wright's stories about 
the next generation of the Brontes, the 
uncles and aunts of the novelists, the reader 
often finds himself asking, Did or did not 
Dr. Wright personally know these remark- 
able individuals, and if so what was the 
extent of his intimacy with them ? In his 
chapter on the sources of his information 
he merely says that "he came into contact 
with the Irish Brontes as a child^' and we 
read on, assuming that his minute informa- 
tion about these prodigies is derived from 
others. But presently our belief is unsettled. 
He says of Hugh III. (the Giant) in a note 
on p. 292 : 

135 



The Brontes 

" I often talked with Hugh of his adven- 
ture in England, but the conversation 
always came to an abrupt termination if I 
referred to Haworth or the object of his 
mission." 

Here he seems to know one of the most 
remarkable characters in the book quite 
intimately. Another passage confirms this 
impression. Dr. Wright declares on p. 173 : 

*' When I first began to take an interest 
in the Brontes I was admonished in a 
mysterious manner to have nothing to do 
with such people. I was advised to keep 
out of their way lest I should hear their 
odious language ; and it was even hinted 
that they might in some satanic way do me 
bodily harm." 

From the context it seems impossible to 
suppose that Dr. Wright is not here refer- 
ring to the Irish aunts and uncles ; and 
yet to our surprise in the body of his book 
he seems to know nothing of them himself. 
Even when he tells us such trivial facts as 

136 



Fact and Fiction 

that one was ''very smart " or that another 
could play the fiddle, the facts are never 
given at first hand. Old Alice at least we 
should have supposed was personally known 
to him ; but though he was " in corre- 
spondence with her directly or indirectly 
till her death," whenever her remarks are 
quoted it is always something that she has 
said to the Rev. J. B. Lusk. It is curious 
in what an atmosphere of fog Dr. Wright 
leaves all his sources of information. 

But, however his material may have 
been acquired, it is certain that even when 
the book brings us down to the time of the 
novelists' uncles and aunts the mythical air 
is not all dispersed. Dr. Wright gives a 
description of these most remarkable per- 
sons. It was given him when a boy by 
his teacher, the Rev. Mr. McAllister, and 
Mr. McAllister received it in turn from a 
young cousin ; but although this tradition is 
the best part of a century old, and has been 
handed down through three generations, 

137 



The Brontes 

Dr. Wright is able to give it apparently 
word for word to the length of eight pages ! 
The scene described (Chapter XVIII.) is 
the al fresco concert, dance and sports, in 
which the young men and maidens of the 
Bronte family indulged every favourable 
afternoon on the '' Bronte dancing green." 
The whole is like a scene from Spenser's 
Faery Queen, and shows these Brontes to 
have been extraordinary and unique in- 
deed, moving habitually in ''the light that 
never was on land or sea." The observers 
whose words Dr. Wright records w^ere 
" very young at the time " — and so we 
should have supposed from their inflated 
language —but apparently they were old 
enough to be struck, not only by the 
beauty and stateliness of form of the 
Brontes, and the poetry of their move- 
ments, but also by the originality of their 
conversation. We are told of their '' quaint 
conceptions," '' glowing thoughts," and their 
"expressions far from commonplace"; 

138 



Fact and Fiction 

they used language which '' Hterally made 
the flesh creep and the hair stand on end," 
and they uttered their thoughts " with a 
pent-up and concentrated energy never 
equalled in rugged force by the novelists." 
Dr. Wright assures us that they were 
looked upon as uncanny by the common 
people, and '' held themselves carefully 
aloof" from their neighbours. Unfortu- 
nately this generation of Brontes lived so 
near our own time that it is impossible to 
keep off from them altogether '' the light of 
common day," and with Dr. Wright's aid 
we get the historical view of these aunts 
and uncles of the novelists side by side 
with the semi-mythical. Welsh opened a 
public-house, which became a meeting- 
place for the fast youth of the district. 
Later, William kept a shebeen which be- 
came a source of degradation both to the 
neighbourhood and himself James was a 
shoemaker, and his sister Alice describes 
him as one who '' took a hand at every- 

139 



The Brontes 

thing, and was very smart and active with 
his tongue. He was a great favourite with 
children." Hugh HI. and Welsh the same 
sister describes as very industrious, and 
making a great deal of money by mac- 
adamising roads. In fact, the brothers and 
sisters belonged to a capable type of Irish 
peasant, but were by no means the awe- 
some and ideal figures of the myth. 
Nor did they always drop pearls and 
diamonds when they opened their mouths, 
as the Spenserian chapter would have 
us believe. There are several of their 
sayings scattered through the book, and all 
of the most ordinary description. I have 
already given Alice's account of her Aunt 
Mary. Then there is James's account of 
Charlotte on his return from a visit to 
Haworth : " Charlotte is tarrible sharp and 
inquisitive." It is admitted that they were 
unable to understand their nieces' novels. 
They took them, we are told, to the Rev. 
Mr. McKee, and were delighted when he 

140 



Fact and Fiction 

pronounced them **gran'," so that they 
could tell their neighbours, '' Mr. McKee 
thinks Charlotte very cliver." It is in- 
teresting to compare in this manner the 
real characters with the ideal. We thus 
learn that, as the sun can make a gorgeous 
sunset out of mist and smoke, so a beautiful 
myth can be evolved out of most common- 
place elements, provided a succession of 
enthusiastic imaginations be set to work 
upon them. That the al fresco chapter, 
apart from its want of harmony with other 
accounts of these Brontes, is inconsistent in 
itself, any careful reader will discover who 
will keep in mind the dates recorded in our 
genealogical chart, and remember that the 
scene described in that chapter took place 
in 1812.^ 

* £.^., the women are described thus: "They were 
mature maidens, but they had not lost their elegant 
figures or their fresh red and white complexions." 
This would lead us to suppose them women of thirty- 
five ; in point of fact, in 1812 the three eldest were aged 
twenty-three, twenty-one, and twenty respectively. 

141 



The Brontes 

The conclusion to which the book itself 
led me is strikingly confirmed by the ex- 
ternal evidence which has become available 
since my original exposure of Dr. Wright's 
work appeared. The terms in which I de- 
scribed the real Irish Brontes are re-echoed 
quite independently by Miss Shannon, who, 
of course, speaks with complete knowledge. 
She writes that *' there was nothing re- 
markable about them more than any other 
family " save their foreign appearance and 
quickness to resent insult. Mrs. Heslip's 
evidence shows that whenever Dr. Wright 
goes beyond such bare facts as that one 
macadamised roads and another kept a 
public-house, he falls into error. Through- 
out his book he insists, as we have seen, 
on the fact that these Brontes kept much 
to themselves, and were looked upon as 
uncanny by their neighbours. He supports 
this by saying (p. 239) that they went 
regularly to no place of worship ; that if 

ever they did drop into a meeting-house, 

142 



Fact and Fiction 

they were stared at as reprobates by the 
worshippers ; that they incurred " the 
stigma of Hving Hke heathen." Mrs. 
HesHp says, on the contrary, they went 
to church regularly, and continued to do 
so till the infirmities of old age kept 
them at home ; and the County Down 
Brontes emphatically confirm this state- 
ment. Again, Dr. Wright has some mar- 
vellous ghost stories to tell of Hugh III. 
(the Giant). Ghost-baiting, he says, was a 
passion with the Brontes. One of Hugh's 
sisters lived in a house in which a man 
named Frazer had committed suicide. 
Frazer's ghost haunted the house, and 
Hugh HI. sought to exorcise it, and 
challenored it to a combat. He afterwards 
retired to bed in a delirium of frenzy, and 
during the night the ghost appeared and 
gave him a squeeze, from which he died 
shortly after in great agony. Dr. Wright's 
book leaves us with the impression that 
this is a family tradition and he says, more- 

143 



The Brontes 

over, that an old fellow named Norton, still 
living, can confirm it. Hugh's niece and 
grand-niece, however, point out that there 
is no excuse for perpetuating such a tale, 
since Hugh lived till March 1863, when 
he died a very old man and without 
sufferine."^ Then there is another marvel- 
lous yarn about Hugh HI. and the devil. 
On the occasion of a potato blight this 
Hugh believed that the devil in bodily 
form had destroyed the crop, and resolved 
not to submit tamely to this personal 
injury. In order to insult the fiend he 
determined to gather a basketful of rotten 
potatoes, and taking them to the edge of a 
precipice, to '' call on the devil to behold 
his foul and filthy work, and then with 

* A correspondent points out to me that in his third 
edition, at the end of a footnote in small print quoting 
old Norton's testimony, Dr. Wright adds, in two lines, 
the true facts as given by Hugh's relations. By these 
facts the story is completely destroyed ; but instead of 
cancelling the myth Dr. Wright puts the refutation where 
few will notice it. 

144 



Fact and Fiction 

great violence dash them down as a feast 
for the fetid destroyer." Dr. Wright de- 
scribes the incident in the following melo- 
dramatic style : 

"With bare outstretched arms, the 
veins in his neck and forehead standing 
out like hempen cords, and his voice 
choking with concentrated passion, he 
would apostrophise Beelzebub as the 
bloated fly, and call on him to partake 
of the filthy repast he had provided. The 
address ended with wild scornful laughter 
as Bronte hurled the rotten potatoes down 
the bank" (p. 184). 

A spectator told Dr. Wright that for a 
few seconds he watched in terror, expect- 
ing the fiend to appear, so powerful was 
the spell of Hugh's earnestness. But now, 
as Prince Henry said to Falstaff, ''mark 
how a plain tale shall put you down ; " this 
inconvenient Mrs. Heslip is here to give 
us the true version : '* I gathered potatoes, 
and helped him to carry the basket to the 

145 K 



The Brontes 

cliffs ; and as we emptied he would say, in 
a laughing style and for fun, ' There's a 
mouthful for the devil.' " In fact, she says, 
her uncle was full of such rollicking humour 
on these occasions that she would lie down 
on the ground and roar with laughter. 
Here again we see how, under the touch 
of an enthusiastic fancy, a commonplace 
incident can be transformed into a roman- 
tic myth. The latter part of Dr. Wright's 
book is as full of such myths as the earlier. 
Indeed, it would appear that there is 
nothing trustworthy in our author's ac- 
count of the novelists' aunts and uncles 
beyond the few dry biographical facts 
which old Alice Bronte gave to the Rev. 
J. B. Lusk in 1890. 

The Reviewer and the Avenger. 

When we come to the latest narrative 
in the book, which brings us nearly to the 
year 1850, the reader will suppose that 

1^6 



Fact and Fiction 

here, at least, we must reach solid ground. 
But it is not so. Everyone has heard how 
Hugh III. (the Giant) set out, shillelagh 
in hand, on what Dr. Wright calls '' one 
of the strangest undertakings within the 
whole range of literary adventure," viz., to 
find and slay the Qtcarterly reviewer who 
had traduced his niece. The tale has 
found its way, I believe, into almost every 
newspaper in Great Britain, and will pro- 
bably continue to be told as fact for many 
a long year to come. Yet I shall be able 
to show beyond all controversy that there 
is not a word of truth in the story. My 
suspicions were aroused by the incon- 
sistencies and peculiarities of the narrative 
itself, and by Dr. Wright's admissions that 
he could never induce Hugh H I. to acknow- 
ledge its truth, nor could the daughter of 
the gentleman to whom Hugh is alleged 
to have told it, and that it was unknown to 
some of Hugh's brothers and sisters. I 
resolved, therefore, to institute inquiries. 

147 



The Brontes 

The story tells that Hugh III. called again 
and again at Murray's, and inquired for the 
reviewer ; the publishers gave him no infor- 
mation, however, but, instead, tried to find 
out from him the name of the anonymous 
author oijane Eyre ; and, at last, seeing his 
truculent character, forbade him the house. 
A piquant anecdote such as this, I said to 
myself, relating to so famous a person as 
Charlotte Bronte, is sure to be treasured 
among the literary reminiscences of the 
firm of Murray. Accordingly I wrote to 
them on the subject. Mr. John Murray 
says in his reply that he is unable to 
believe a word of the story, and adds : 
"There is no record here of such a visit 
having taken place, and I never heard my 
father allude to it as a fact." Dr. Wright 
proceeds to tell us that when the Avenger 
was baffled at Murray's he went to Messrs. 
Smith, Elder & Co., and told them his 
errand ; they received him civilly, and pro- 
cured for him admission into the British 

148 



Fact and Fiction 

Museum reading-room, where he might 
perchance find out the name of the offend- 
ing reviewer. Now every one knows that 
the relations between Charlotte Bronte 
and her publishers were of the most friendly- 
character ; they took the warmest interest 
in all that concerned her literary work, and 
they knew how deeply she had been hurt 
by the review in the Quarterly, If this 
extraordinary incident had taken place, 
then, it would have made a great impres- 
sion. The member of the firm with whom 
Charlotte corresponded, and at whose 
house she visited, is fortunately yet with 
us, and could confirm the story if true. 
But, in reply to my inquiries, the firm 
write that they have ''no recollection" of 
any such incident. f"Finally, Dr. Wright 
tells us that Hugh III. haunted the British 
Museum reading-room, and met there a 
rich old gentleman who several times in- 
vited him to his house, drank his health at 
dinner, examined his shillelagh, and so 

149 



The Brontes 

forth. Now it so happens that an accurate 
and classified Hst is kept of all who are 
admitted to the reading-room of the British 
Museum. One of the officials has kindly 
made a careful search for me, and no 
Hugh Bronte visited the room as stated in 
Dr. Wright's history. The story is plainly 
apocryphal. Either Dr. Wright's informant 
or Hugh HI. himself was romancing. 

This external evidence will seem to 
most people sufficient. But in order that 
there may be left no pretext for resusci- 
tating the tale, I propose next to test its 
statements by other facts known to us. 

The Quarterly containing the savage 
attack upon the author oi Jane Eyre was 
issued December 1848. The correspond- 
ence in Mr. Shorter's book makes it clear 
that, contrary to what has hitherto been 
believed, the authorship of the offending 
article did not long remain a secret ; 
shortly after February 4, 1849, Charlotte 
knew that Miss Rigby was the reviewer. 

150 



Fact and Fiction 

The disclosure of this fact must have been 
as a bolt out of the blue to Dr. Wright ; 
but he is not easily staggered, and he soon 
recovered himself In the Bookman of 
December 1896 he explains how it all 
happened. By the second week in 
December the covert taunts of the sur- 
rounding peasantry, who, no doubt, were 
diligent readers of the Quarterly, had 
roused Hugh III. to undertake his mis- 
sion of vengeance : " The Brontes never 
delayed, and Hugh must have reached 
Haworth before Christmas. Hugh's 
money and mission must certainly have 
come to an end before the close of 
January 1849."^ Very well : we will take 
Dr. Wright's word for it, and will examine 
the tale accordingly. 

Before Christmas, then, Hugh the Giant 
arrived at Haworth. Anne Bronte at this 

* It is almost certain that Charlotte did not su the 
offending article till the beginning of February. (See 
Charlotte Bronte and her Circle^ p. igo.) 

151 



The Brontes 

time was most seriously ill ;^ and on 
December 19 Emily Bronte died. It was 
a period of most poignant anguish, and 
the agony of it still throbs in brave Char- 
lotte's letters. How is it, then, that not 
a word of all this occurs in Dr. Wright's 
detailed account of the visit? Is it pos- 
sible that Hugh, who must have been in 
the house at the time of the death or the 
funeral, or both, can have said nothing of 
these sad circumstances to his Irish confi- 
dants, when he gives so many other unim- 
portant and trivial details of his visit ? 

Hugh, we are told, '' reached the 
vicarage on a Sunday, when all except 
Martha, the old servant, were at Church." 
Martha " rated him soundly for journeying 
on the Sabbath," but allowed him to re- 
main till the family returned. It will be 
seen at once that this is quite irrecon- 

* This appears from several of Charlotte's letters — 
among others those dated January 10 (Mrs. Gaskell's 
Life, p. 284) and January 2 and 18 {Charlotte Bronte and 
her Circle, pp. 176 and 185). 

152 



Fact and Fiction 

cileable with the facts. Anne at this time 
was far gone in consumption, Charlotte 
was engaged in nursing her, and both 
sisters were prostrate with grief Is it 
likely that they would be allowed on a 
Sunday in mid-winter to go and sit in a 
cold church ? 

When the family returned, we are told, 
'' the girls gathered round him," and lis- 
tened eagerly to his ghost stories ! Appa- 
rently Dr. Wright imagined that all three 
sisters were alive and full of vivacity and 
spirit. Imagine the two girls listening 
eagerly to ghost stories at a time when 
Emily was either lying dead upstairs or 
had just been placed in her grave ! These 
are minute points, perhaps, but I allude to 
them to show that there is not a fino^er's 
breadth in this narrative which does not 
crumble away at a touch. 

Old Mr. Bronte and Charlotte, we are 
told, tried to dissuade Hugh III. from his 
purpose, ''but gentle Anne sympathised 

153 



The Brontes 

with him and wished him success." On 
his return, unsuccessful, ''the gentle Anne 
received him with the warmest welcome, 
and talked of accompanying him to Ireland, 
which she spoke of as 'home.' At part- 
ing she threw her long slender arms round 
his neck and called him her ' noble uncle,' " 
(p. 291). Is this credible.'^ Remember 
Hugh's purpose was murder: "The 
scoundrel who had spoken of his niece as 
if she were a strumpet must die. Hugh's 
oath was pledged, and he meant to per- 
form it " (p. 282). Before leaving Ireland, 
we are told, he made his will, apparently 
thinking that either he might be slain in 
making his assault or fall into the hang- 
man's hands afterwards. Is it conceivable 
that the dying Anne, deeply religious as 
we know her to have been, would have 
encouraged an ignorant peasant to the 
commission of a crime which would have 
brought him to the gallows 1 I venture 
to think there is not one of my readers 

154 



Fact and Fiction 

who will not cry out upon this story, Im- 
possible ! 

It is remarkable, too, that Hugh should 
have known his niece to be the author of 
Jane Eyre at a time when Charlotte was 
most anxious to keep it a profound secret. 
Dr. Wright says, indeed, that she sent 
presentation copies of all her works to her 
Irish relatives, and that he possesses some 
of these himself. He does not tell us what 
proof he has that the copies in his posses- 
sion once belonged to the Irish Brontes, 
and he acknowledges that the volumes of 
Jane Eyre cannot be traced. I am afraid 
it will need evidence much stronger than 
is yet forthcoming to convince us that 
Charlotte thus gave away her secret. 
Ten months after the alleged mission of 
vengeance we find her writing to Mr. 
Williams : " I earnestly desire to preserve 
my incognito." ^ Yet Dr. Wright wishes 
us to believe that from the first the name 

* See Charlotte Bronte and her Circle, p. 354. 
155 



The Brontes 

of the author oi Jane Eyre had been known 
not only to the people of the manse at 
Ballynaskeagh, but to all the surrounding 
peasantry ! Even could this be proved, 
the mission of vengeance would still re- 
main incredible. Charlotte would have 
moved heaven and earth to prevent it. 
It would have been intolerable to her that 
the secret which had exercised all the 
newspaper editors in Great Britain should 
first be disclosed in the paragraphs of 
police intelligence. Yet if she had allowed 
a wild Irishman to go to London to 
vindicate her honour with his shille- 
lagh, that would have been the inevitable 
result. 

Again, if this story be true, old Mr. 
Bronte knew in December 1848 that Hugh 
both possessed a copy oi Jane Eyre and 
was aware who was its author. That this 
was not so I shall now prove from Dr. 
Wright's own pen. There is a volume in 
existence of a cheap edition oi Jane Eyre 

156 



Fact and Fiction 

with the following inscription in Mr. 
Bronte's own handwriting : 

" To Mr. Hugh Bronte, Ballynaskeagh, 
near Rathfisland, Ireland, — This is the 
first work published by my daughter under 
the fictitious name of ' Currer Bell,' which 
is the usual way at first of authors, but 
her real name is everywhere known. She 
sold the copyright of this and her other 
two works for fifteen hundred pounds, so 
that she has to pay for the books she gets 
the same as others. Her other books are 
in six volumes, and would cost nearly four 
pounds. This was formerly in three 
volumes. In two years hence, when all 
shall be published in a cheaper form, if all 
be well, I may send them. You can let 
my brothers and sisters read this. 

^'P. Bronte, A.B., 

" Incumbent of Haworth, near Keighley. 
*^ January 20, 1853." 

Dr. Wright's own comment upon this 



The Brontes 

inscription is : " It assumes that the uncles 
and aunts of the novelists had never seen 
the first edition of their nieces' works." 
But how could old Mr. Bronte have 
believed, in 1853, that Hugh knew nothing 
of Charlotte's writings, if in 1849 he had 
tried to dissuade him from executing ven- 
geance on the reviewer who had traduced 
the author o{ Jane Eyre? Can any one 
explain this puzzle ? Further, it can now 
be proved from Charlotte's own letters that 
ten months after Hugh's alleged mission 
of veneeance old Mr. Bronte did not even 
know of the offending reviewer s existence. 
In August 1849 Charlotte writes to Mr. 
W. S. Williams: "The Quarterly I kept to 
myself: it would have worried papa."^ 

It is slaying the dead perhaps to pursue 
the subject further, but I cannot forbear 
to point out one more of the intrinsic 
absurdities of the tale. The incumbent 
of Haworth, we are told, endeavoured, by 

* Charlotte Bronte and her Circle ^ p. 347. 

158 



Fact and Fiction 

showing Hugh the sights of Yorkshire, 
to draw his mind from its fierce intents. 
*' He was careful that Hugh's entertain- 
ment should be to his taste, and he took 
him to see a prize-fight." Could anything 
be more blankly incredible ? Even if he 
had been the most flinty hearted wretch 
then living, would this aged evangelical 
clergyman have allowed himself to be seen 
feasting his eyes on a pugilistic encounter 
almost before his daughter Emily was cold 
in her grave ? Yet this story has been 
gravely accepted as history by half the 
literary critics of this country ! 

I think one is now entitled to ask 
Dr. Wright to explain the genesis of 
this curious narrative. It is not oriven 
as a vague myth, but as a detailed 
history. We are told exactly how the 
hero's shillelagh was fashioned for the 
adventure, that he embarked at Warren- 
point and landed at Liverpool, that the 
name of the vessel in which he crossed was 



The Brontes 

the Sea Nymph, that the position of his 
lodgings at Haworth was near the 
river, and so forth. I am informed on 
the best authority that the Brontes of 
County Down deny the whole story ; and 
Mrs. Heslip, the niece of Hugh III. and 
Miss Shannon,^ his grand-niece, both assert 
that at the date when their uncle was in 
England the Bronte novels had neither 
been written nor thought of. Dr. Wright 
must have known these facts. What justi- 
fication can he plead for publishing the 
story without giving the slightest hint that 
it was disputed ? All who are interested 
in literature will wait with curiosity for 
Dr. Wright's answer. In any case it is 
clearly proved that Hugh III.'s adven- 
tures are apocryphal, and if we cannot 
trust our author's investigations when 
they relate to events alleged to have 

* Miss Shannon writes me : " Until we saw the 
account of Hugh's visit to thrash the reviewer we never 
heard of it, nor do we believe it." 

i6o 



Fact and Fiction 

happened only half a century since, what 
credit can we give to his two-hundred-year- 
old records ? 



The Asserted Irish Origin of the 
Bronte Novels. 

That Dr. Wright himself may unwit- 
tingly have helped the growth of these 
myths is rendered possible by an extra- 
ordinary statement which he makes in the 
second chapter of his book. He tells us 
that when he was a boy his old school- 
master, the Rev. Mr. McAllister, used to 
dictate to him some of Hugh II. 's tales, as 
well as the story of his life, as themes for 
composition ; and then Dr. Wright pro- 
ceeds : 

*' It thus happens that I wrote screeds of 
the Bronte novels before a line of them had 
been penned at Haworth. ... I read the 
Bronte novels with the feeling that I had 

iGl L 



The Brontes 

already known what was coming, and I 
was chiefly interested in the wording and 
skilful manipulation of details" (p. 8). 
He repeats the assertion on p. 139 : " The 
stories are all Bronte stories, an echo 
of the thrilling narratives related by old 
Hugh." There cannot be a doubt that 
Dr. Wright's memory is playing strange 
pranks with him here. If we accepted the 
history contained in his book as true, it 
would show that Wuthering Heights was 
based on facts, but it would not account 
for a single line of the other novels. What 
possible excuse, then, can Dr. Wright give 
for saying, as he plainly does in the above 
passage, that all the novels of Charlotte, 
Emily and Anne Bronte were founded 
either on Hugh H.'s life or his stories.^ 
It will not do to take refuge in the latter. 
Wuthering Heights is a work of pure 
imagination, and it is easy to shape a 
myth so as to resemble it. But the stories 
in the other books deal with places and 

162 



Fact and Fiction 

conditions which were altogether beyond 
the horizon of Hugh I I.'s experiences. Jane 
Eyre treats of Hfe in a girl's charity school, 
and then of the history of an English 
governess. The plots of Villette and The 
Professor are both laid in Belgian schools. 
The characters in Shirley are Yorkshire 
girls, Yorkshire parsons, and Yorkshire 
manufacturers. Agnes Grey records the 
experiences and trials of a private gover- 
ness in various families. The Tenant of 
Wildfell Hall deals with the history of a 
besotted drunkard, and Charlotte tells us 
distinctly that it was founded minutely on 
observation. Indeed, the whole of the 
Bronte novels, with the exception of 
Wuthering Heights, are the result of the 
play of a creative imagination on personal 
experiences, and those who are familiar 
with both the lives of the Brontes and 
their novels can identify almost every 
character of importance in them. It is 
therefore utterly impossible that Dr. 

163 



The Brontes 

Wright could have known what was 
coming as he read the Bronte novels for 
the first time, and he may be challenged to 
point out any plot in Charlotte's or Anne's 
books which could by any possibility have 
been borrowed from the stories of an Irish 
peasant in Hugh's circumstances. 

And the claim that WutJiering Heights 
is based upon this Hugh's history is as 
ridiculous as that the other novels are 
founded upon his stories. The improba- 
bilities, the anachronisms, the inconsis- 
tencies of that history, as told by Dr. 
Wright, I have already exposed. I have 
shown that not a scrap of evidence worthy 
the name is adduced in its favour ; and I 
have recalled the fact that the near re- 
lations of Hugh n. were confessedly igno- 
rant of the story which yet we are led to 
believe was ever on his lips. But, even if 
the evidence were as strong as it is weak, 
we should still have to reject Dr. Wright's 
theory. The truth - loving Charlotte's 

164 



Fact and Fiction 

account of the matter must necessarily be 
final. She might blamelessly have kept 
silence about the origin of Wuthering 
Heights, but she would never have de- 
liberately misled us ; and she tells us 
distinctly in her preface to her sister's 
book, that the materials of Wuthering 
Heights were gathered in Yorkshire. 
Speaking of Emily's aloofness from all 
her neighbours, she says : *' Yet she knew 
them ; knew their ways, their language, 
their family histories ; she could hear of 
them with interest, and talk of them with 
detail, minute, graphic and accurate ; but 
with them she rarely exchanged a word. 
Hence it ensued that what her mind had 
gathered of the real concerning them was 
too exclusively confined to those tragic 
and terrible traits of which, in listening to 
the secret annals of every rude vicinage, 
the memory is sometimes compelled to re- 
ceive the impress. Her imagination, which 

was a spirit more sombre than sunny, more 

165 



The Brontes 

powerful than sportive, fotmd in such traits 
material whe7ice it wrought creations like 
Heathcliffe, like Earns haw, like Catherine T 
To all who really know Charlotte's cha- 
racter, this is conclusive and final. Had 
both plot and characters been derived from 
the history of an ancestor, these words 
would never have been written. 



Prunty v. Bronte. 

Enough has now been said to show that 
Dr. Wright s book is not history but myth, 
and substantially nothing else but myth. 
But his errors have been the means of 
eliciting light upon at least one interesting 
question — that of the name of the Irish 
ancestors of the novelists. Before the 
publication of The Brontes in Ireland it 
was conjectured that the novelists' father 
had assumed his high-sounding cognomen 
about the time (1799) when the dukedom 

166 



Fact and Fiction 

of Bronte was conferred upon Nelson ; It 
was asserted that Bronte was not an Irish 
name, and Mr. Birrell and others sug- 
gested that the novelists were descended 
from Irish Pruntys. Dr. Wright In his 
book set himself to prove that the name 
had always been ''Bronte" and nothing 
else, and In order to do this he used 
what evidence was In his favour and 
entirely omitted all that told against his 
theory. The baptismal register of Patrick 
Bronte and his brothers — extending be- 
tween the years 1779 and 1791 — was 
discovered by the Rev. H. W. Lett, and 
here the surname is found as Brunty and 
B run tee. Dr. Wright quotes all the 
Christian-names from this register (p. 159), 
but never gives a hint that the surname is 
not Bronte.^ Similarly he tells us that he 
possesses photographs of Patrick Bronte's 
matriculation and graduation signatures, 

* My references throughout are to Dr. Wright's first 
edition. 

167 



The Brontes 

and of the latter (1806) he gives a facsimile 
— '' Patrick Bronte," without the diaeresis — 
dut he gives us not a hint that at matricii- 
lation (1802) the name is entered " Patrick 
Branty^ Throughout his book he never 
for a moment suororests that the name had 
been written other than as at present, and 
yet the evidence then in his possession 
revealed prior to 1803 ^^ names B runty, 
Bruntee and Branty, and not a single 
Bronte. While thus suppressing the facts 
that told against him, he asserts in his 
preface (p. vi.) that the discovery of the 
baptismal register ''disposes for ever of 
the baseless assertion that the family was 
called ' Prunty ' in Ireland." This is how 
the matter was left when Dr. Wright first 
issued his book. 

But the publication of Charlotte Bronte 
and her Circle brought to light the facts 
which Dr. Wright had ignored. Mr. 
Shorter revealed the surnames as written in 
the baptismal register and in the list of ad- 

168 



Fact and Fiction 

missions of St. John's College, Cambridge, 
and further pointed out that the name took 
several forms prior to 1799, but never that 
of Bronte. Since these facts were made 
known Dr. Wright, to do him justice, has 
disclosed the further evidence which has 
come under his notice, and very valuable it 
is. He has received from the Rev. J. B. 
Lusk — to whom belongs the credit of re- 
covering them — certain old school-books of 
the Brontes. On one of these on different 
pages are found the following inscriptions : 
** Patrick Pruty's book, bought in the year 
1795 "5 P- 240, "Patrick Prunty his 
book " ; p. 249, ** Patrick Prunty his book 
and pen." On pp. 232 and 250 the 
name *'Brunty" appears; and on pp. 66 
and 240 '* Walsh Bronte." In another book 
is found the inscription, *' Hugh Bronte. 
His book in the year 1803." ^^- Wright 
has also picked up a New Testament which 
he declares, but without giving proof, 
belonged to the wife of Hugh H., the 

169 



The Brontes 

grandmother of the novelists, and in this 
volume the name " Allie Bronte" is faintly 
decipherable. 

If all the above evidence be carefully 
examined the following facts will seem 
to emerge, though I do not pretend that 
complete certainty can be arrived at. The 
peasant ancestors of the Brontes spelt by 
ear, so to speak, and were accustomed to 
confuse P and B. Patrick, when a youth 
of eighteen years of age with literary 
ambitions, knew that the right spelling 
was Prunty, and wrote it accordingly — for 
*' Pruty " is evidently a mere slip. In 
1802, when Patrick entered at St. John's 
College, Cambridge, the plebeian Prunty 
beofan to undero^o a transformation and 
became Branty. In 1803, and again in 
1806, we find Bronte, but without the 
diaeresis. A little later and it assumes the 
shape now so familiar to all admirers of 
English literature. As to the adoption of 

the modern form of the name by the Irish 

170 



Fact and Fiction 

relations we must remember that the Rev. 
Patrick Bronte was in life-long corre- 
spondence with his brethren of County 
Down, and doubtless, as Mr. Shorter 
suggests, '* with a true Celtic sense of the 
picturesqueness of the thing they seized 
upon the more attractive surname." The 
inscription, " Walsh Bronte," in the school- 
book is accounted for when we remember 
that Welsh was nine years younger than 
Hugh, and probably would not come into 
possession of Hugh's book till the change 
of name was in progress. The inscrip- 
tion, *' Allie Bronte," presents no diffi- 
culties ; if it really belonged to the mother 
of Patrick Bronte and not to his sister — 
of which at present there is no proof — she 
would, of course, take to spelling her name 
as did her children, and especially as did 
that kind son in England who contributed 
so liberally to her support. If the original 
name had been Bronte we may be sure 
Patrick, the young and ambitious school- 

171 



The Brontes 

master of County Down, would never have 
written himself plain Patrick Prunty, nor 
would Allie have registered her children as 
Bruntys. It is true that we cannot yet 
get beyond exceedingly probable conjec- 
ture, but there is at least an end of Dr. 
Wright's too confident assertion that the 
name was never in Ireland called Prunty.^ 

Sources of Error. 

Before closing my notice of Dr. Wright's 
work two interesting questions suggest 
themselves. The first is : How did Dr. 
Wright come to put together such a book ? 
It is a question I cannot fully answer, 

* It is scarcely necessary to notice the statement of 
Frank Prunty, the boatman on Lough Erne, who 
"believes" that the name was spelt "Bronte" in the 
south. There is no evidence of any such spelling pre- 
vious to the conferring of Nelson's dukedom, and there 
is clear evidence that it was then spelt " Prunty " and 
" Brunty." The change from the plebeian to the aristo- 
cratic form can be readily accounted for, but not so the 
converse change. 

172 



Fact and Fiction 

but I will endeavour in some measure to 
assist the puzzled reader. 

One source, possibly, of this strange 
volume is indicated in our author's second 
chapter. It may be partly founded upon 
the tittle-tattle of a few Presbyterian 
manses in County Down thirty or forty 
years ago, unwittingly distorted, perhaps, 
by the lapse of time since. All Dr. 
Wright's geese are swans, and accordingly 
the Rev. Mr. McAllister of Finard, the 
Rev. Mr. McKee of Ballynaskeagh, and 
the rest are marvels of erudition and literary 
acumen. Mr. McKee in particular is re- 
presented as an intellectual giant as well 
as a moral paragon. =^ He may have seemed 
so to Dr. Wright when a boy, but of his 
critical faculty we are enabled to judge for 
ourselves by an anecdote that our author 

* " It was a common saying of the pupils that, had 
he lived with more favourable surroundings, he would 
have enriched the world with thoughts as brilliant as 
Carlyle's, but without Carlyle's bile" {Brontes in Ireland, 
p. 9). 

173 



The Brontes 

has preserved. When a copy oi Jane Eyre 
was brought to Mr. McKee by Hugh III., 
the uncle of the novelists, his criticism, after 
reading it, was this: "The child, Jane 
Eyre, is your father in petticoats, and 
Mrs. Reed is the wicked uncle by the 
Boyne " ! A more ridiculous comparison 
it is impossible to imagine. The melo- 
dramatic villain Welsh — a murderer and 
embezzler — bears not the slightest resem- 
blance to the narrow, hard, evangelical 
lady whose severity is so distressing to 
little Jane ; and the history of the boy 
stolen from home and suffering for ten 
years the physical torments and brutalities 
of his father's enemy, is totally unlike the 
history of the little orphan girl at Gates- 
head Hall and Lowood School. But this 
anecdote gives us a possible key to some 
of the myths. One who could see resem- 
blances between Welsh and Mrs. Reed, 
Hugh H. and Jane Eyre, could see resem- 
blances at will everywhere. Doubtless, as 

174 



Fact and Fiction 

the fame of the Brontes grew, the ministers 
became proud of their knowledge of the 
Bronte ancestry,, and gradually, from tracing 
imaginary resemblances, such as those just 
given, they may have proceeded uncon- 
sciously to colour " old Hugh's yarns," as 
Mr. McKee calls them, with what they read 
in Wuthermg Heights. 

Another source of error is suggested by 
Mr. Shorter in his recent book. '' Dr. 
Wright," he says, "probably made his 
inquiries with the stories of Emily and 
Charlotte well in his mind. He souoht 

o 

for similar traditions, and the quick-witted 
peasantry gave him all that he wanted. 
They served up and embellished the current 
traditions of the neighbourhood for his 
benefit, as the peasantry do everywhere 
for folk-lore enthusiasts." This theory 
may account, perhaps, for the genesis of 
some of the myths, but I fear it will not 
carry us far. 

The chief explanation of Dr. Wright's 

^75 



The Brontes 

errors is to be found, doubtless, in his 
strange conceptions of what constitutes 
evidence and of what is legitimate in the 
manipulation of facts. Our author is first 
possessed by an idea, and then he finds in 
every testimony he comes across *' con- 
firmation strong as Holy Writ," even when 
it is testimony distinctly unfavourable. 
Several instances of this I have already 
had occasion to notice ; let me strengthen 
them by other examples. 

In the preface, in which he expresses 
indebtedness to those who assisted him in 
his work. Dr. Wright devotes a paragraph 
to Miss Nussey, the life-long and intimate 
friend of Charlotte Bronte, and classes her 
among the ladies who have ''helped" him. 
And in the body of the book, where he 
identifies the characters of Wuthering 
Heights with his mythical personages, he 
prefaces his observations with these words : 
"Miss Nussey .... believes firmly that 
the girls caught their inspiration from their 

176 



Fact and Fiction 

father, and that Emily got not only her 
inspiration but most of her facts from her 
father's narratives." The effect of all this 
upon the reader is the conviction — which 
carries immense weight — that Miss Nussey 
in some way helped Dr. Wright with his 
work and is a convert to his theories. In 
point of fact, however, nothing in this 
volume originated with Miss Nussey, and 
she entirely discredits his stories, ''firmly 
believing them to be mythical."^ 

In replying in the Bookman of December 
1896 to critics who discredited the story 
of Hugh's mission of vengeance, Dr. 
Wright wrote as follows : 

'' Mrs. Heslip, a daughter of Sara Bronte, 
Patrick's sister, first cousin to Charlotte, 
writes me that she used to work for her 
uncle Hugh, and remembers him coming 
to England." 

In a similar strain, and at greater length, 
he quotes Miss Maggie Shannon, of Bally- 

* Charlotte Bronte and her Circle, p. 158. 
177 M 



The Brontes 

naskeagh, first premising that she has 
" great stores of information " about the 
Brontes. After quoting these two ladies, 
he proudly claims to have demolished his 
critics. The guileless readers of the Book- 
man, of course, must have concluded that 
these two relatives believed in the adven- 
ture. Which of them would guess that 
both entirely discredit it, and that Mrs. 
Heslip had told Dr. Wright to his face 
what she thought of his book?^ Surely 
Dr. Wright himself will see on reflection 
that a suppression of this kind is quite 
indefensible ; he will not seriously contend 
that he may quote two witnesses as 
favourable when it is known that neither 
of thcfu believes a word of his story. Yet 
this lame defence is apparently all he has 
to offer. 

And Dr. Wright is apt to treat docu- 
ments as he treats witnesses. In the 
Bookman of December 1896 he quotes 

* Sketch, February 14, 1897. 
178 



Fact and Fiction 

from the Rev. J. B. Lusk's notes the 
following particulars which Alice gave con- 
cerning James* visit to England: ''Charlotte 
asked particularly about the Knock Hill 
and Lough Neagh .... Ann the youngest 
wanted to come home with Jamie. He 
thought it queer that she called Ireland 
home," &c. But in his book these facts 
are transferred from Jamie to Hugh. 
There it is Hugh whom Charlotte questions 
about the Knock Hill ; it is Hugh whom 
Anne proposes to accompany to Ireland, 
and to whom she speaks of Ireland as 
home (p. 291). By the use of such 
methods as these it is not surprising that 
Dr. Wright is able to "prove " all sorts of 
things that never happened. 

The Brontes in Ireland AND THE 
Critics. 

The other question which is likely to be 

aroused in the minds of my readers is, How 

179 



The Brontes 

came such a work to run successfully the 
gauntlet of the press ? 1 1 is certainly a 
curious phenomenon that a book with con- 
tradictions and absurdities written large on 
every page should have been received 
everywhere with applause, especially when 
it is remembered that among those who 
reviewed The Brontes in Ireland were 
brilliant writers whose names are every- 
where held in honour."^ A partial expla- 
nation may be found if my suggestion be 
accepted that the book was hastily read as 
one might read a novel. But it is an un- 
pleasant illustration of the way in which 
editors perform their duties if a work of 
this kind was assigned to men of facile pens 
and uncritical minds who had no peculiar 
knowledge of Bronte subjects. 

And even if this explanation be accepted 
it is not satisfactory. I have no hesitation 

* In the advertisement of the third edition the favour- 
able opinions of no less than thirty-one reviewers are 
quoted, and the praises of many of them are quite 
dithyrambic in their fervour. 

i8o 



Fact and Fiction 

in asserting that the literary merits of 
Dr. Wright's book are but little superior 
to its historical qualities. I have already- 
quoted a specimen of the melodramatic 
style in Hugh III.'s defiance of the devil. 
Let me give another from an account 
of a pugilistic encounter between Welsh 
Bronte and a neighbour, fought, I suppose, 
the best part of a hundred years ago, 
and of which Dr. Wright can only have 
received an oral account: ''A few awful 
moments followed. The spectators held 
their breath and some fainted, others 
covered their eyes with their hands or 
averted their faces. Terrific crushing and 
crashing blows resounded all over the 
field, and when the blows ceased to resound 
Sam Clarke was lying a motionless heap 
in the ring .... No word above a whisper 
had been heard during the long after- 
noon ! . . . . All were agreed as to the 
closing scene. During the last few seconds 

the fight became so fierce and furious that 

i8i 



The Brontes 

the blood of the spectators ran cold. 
Nothing like it for wild fury and Titanic 
ferocity had ever been witnessed by the 
crowd, and no such battle has ever 
before or since been fought in County 
Down." I can assure any one who has 
not read Dr. Wricrht's work that the 
pabulum with which he presents his readers 
is rich with such plums as these. One 
enthusiastic critic says, ** There is a real 
Homeric ring in the book," and I can only 
suppose he is alluding to the occurrence of 
such strained and exaggerated passages as 
the above. If this is Homeric, then Homer 
not only nods but snores. 

But I must not omit to call attention to 
our author in his softer moments. We 
have also the popular novelette style. Let 
me select as an instance the description 
of Alice McClory, the heroine of the 
apocryphal elopement with Hugh the 
Paragon : 

*' Her hair, which hung in a profusion 

182 



Fact and Fiction 

of ringlets round her shoulders, was lumi- 
nous gold ; her forehead was Parian marble ; 
her evenly set teeth were lustrous pearls ; 
and the roses of health orlowed on her 
cheeks. She had the long dark brown 
eyelashes that in Ireland so often accom- 
pany golden hair, and her deep hazel eyes 
had a violet tint and melting expression," 
&c. &c. 

Some of our modern critics are evidently 
much impressed to find such purple patches 
in Dr. Wright's pages. If the other kind 
is Homeric, I suppose it will be maintained 
that this has Tennyson's mother-of-pearl 
shimmer or is dipped in the rainbow hues 
•of Shelley ! 

I must draw attention, too, to another 
characteristic of the book — the lack of all 
sense of humour which it evinces. I have 
already alluded to one instance of this — 
the mock heroic speech addressed by the 
villain Welsh to an infant of five. An- 
other very remarkable specimen occurs in 

183 



The Brontes 

Chapter XV. Dr. Wright first describes 
how the neiofhbours crowded into the Para- 
gon's cottage to get within hearing of his 
marvellous and fascinating stories ; and 
then occurs the following : " Patrick, then 
a baby, was lying on the heap of seeds 
from which the fire was fed, with his eyes 
fixed on his father, listening, like the resty 
in breathless silence.'' 

I should have imagined the very first 
clause in the preface to the book would 
have damped the reviewer's ardour. It 
runs thus : 

** I trust it is unnecessary to say that I 
disclaim all responsibility for the Bronte 
acts, opinions and sentiments recorded in 
this book. xA-s no one living could lay 
claim to Bronte genius, even in its less 
cultured condition, no one should be held 
responsible for the eccentricities of that 
orenius." 

Could anything be more inane ? How 
could Dr. Wright be held responsible for 

184 



Fact and Fiction 

the opinions of persons long dead, even if 
there was anything to be ashamed of in 
those opinions, which there is not ? And 
what sanity is there in suggesting that 
these Irish peasants — about whom, in point 
of fact, very little is known — had genius 
such as no living person can lay claim to ? 
Here was an inscription over the very 
threshold of Dr. Wright's work, saying 
plainly to any one in search of sense and 
balance : " Abandon hope all ye who enter 
here." But the critics were undeterred, 
and their enthusiasm seems to have waxed 
warmer and warmer as they proceeded. 
It would almost seem as if a temporary 
madness had befallen the literary world. 

If this extraordinary book has the effect 
of making editors more cautious and critics 
more critical, it will not have been written 
in vain. But it is difficult to see what 
other object it can serve. Seeing how 
entirely its stories have been disproved, 
even when they relate to comparatively 

185 



The Brontes 

recent times, we certainly cannot treat any 
single page of it as trustworthy. True, in 
the last chapter its author leaves the re- 
cording of myths and sets about propound- 
ing a theory. He argues that the famous 
Quarterly article, though written by Lady 
Eastlake, owed all its offensiveness to the 
interpolations of Lockhart, its editor. But 
this is as exploded as the rest of the book. 
All who are qualified to judge are now con- 
vinced that the article was written through- 
out by Lady Eastlake, and Mr. Andrew 
Lang, whom Dr. Wright quotes as sharing 
his opinion, has now withdrawn his sup- 
port. For what, then, are Bronte students 
indebted to the author of The Brontes in 
Ireland? His volume gives us, indeed, 
the trivial and somewhat rambling state- 
ments of poor old Alice Bronte, and a 
copy (mutilated) of the baptismal register 
of Patrick Bronte's brothers and sisters ; 
but the former we owe to the Rev. J. B. 
Lusk and the latter to the Rev. H. W. 

i86 



Fact and Fiction 

Lett. If Dr. Wright has himself given 
us any material fact about the Brontes 
which was before unknown, let him point 
it out ; and I, when convinced, shall be 
duly grateful. But as to his theory of an 
Irish origin for the Bronte novels, there 
is nothing of it left ; and the genius of 
Emily Bronte remains as inscrutable as 
ever. 



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