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V ■ ' ' 



CHARLOTTE BRONTE, 









■J J J ■* -* 



x< U W >< W 



CHARLOTTE BRONTE. 



Jl c4iftottogrji|jk. 



BY 

T. WEMYSS REID. 



WITH ILLUSTPATIO.VS. 



NEW YORK: 
SCRIBNER, ARMSTRONG & CO. 

1877. 



: ••• 
• ••• 



• • • • 

• • « • •* 

• • • • * 









•• 



•-• • •-f • ••! • • • 









••• 



• • • 

• • • - 






To THE Right Honourable 
THE LORD HOUGHTON, D.C.L. F.R.S. &c 

THIS MEMORIAL OF A LIFE 

WHICH HAS ADDED A NEW GLORY TO THE 

LITEBARY HISTORY OF YORKSHIRE 

IS RESPECTFULLY INSCRIBED BY HIS GRATEFUL FRIEND 

THE AUTHOR. 



252523 



PREFACE. 



I HAVE spoken so freely in the opening chapter of 
this Monograph of the circumstances under which it 
has been written, that very little need be said by way 
of introduction here. This attempt to throw some 
fresh light upon the character of one of the most 
remarkable women of our age has not been a task 
lightly taken up, or hastily performed. The life and 
genius of Charlotte Bronte had long engaged my 
attention before I undertook, at the request of the 
lady to whom I am indebted for most of the original 
materials I have employed in these pages, the work 



viii PREFACE. 



which I have now completed. In executing that work 
I have had ample reason to feel and acknowledge my 
own deficiencies. With the knowledge that I was 
treading in the footsteps of so consummate a literary 
artist as Mrs. Gaskell, I have been compelled to refrain 
from writing not a few of the chapters in Charlotte 
Bronte^s life which are necessary to a complete ac- 
quaintance with her character, simply because they had 
been written so well already. And whilst I necessarily 
shrink from any appearance of rivalry with Charlotte 
Bronte's original biographer, I have been additionally 
oppressed by the feeling that the pen which can do 
full justice to one of the most moving and noble 
stories in English literature has not yet been found. 
But I have been sustained both by the sympathy of 
many friends, known and unknown, who share my 
feelings with regard to the Brontes, and by the 
invaluable assistance rendered to me by those who 
were intimately acquainted with the household at 



PREFACE. ix 



Haworth Parsonage. Foremost among these must be 
mentioned Miss Ellen Nussey, the school-fellow and 
life-long friend of Charlotte Bronte, who has freely 
placed at my disposal all the letters and other mate- 
rials she possessed from which any light could be 
thrown upon the career of her old companion, and 
who has in addition aided me with much valuable 
counsel and advice in the decision of many difficult 
points. Miss Wooler, who was Charlotte's attached 
teacher, and who still happily survives in a green 
old age, has also placed me under obligations by 
her readiness to supply me with her pupil's letters 
to herself. Nor must I omit to mention my in- 
debtedness to Lord Houghton for information upon 
questions which could only be decided by those who 
met " Currer Bell " during her brief visits to London 
at a time when she was one of the literary lions of 
society. 

The additions made in this volume to the Mono- 



PREFACE. 



graph as it originally appeared in Macmillatis 
Magazine are numerous and considerable. It should 
be mentioned that a few of the letters now published 
(about twenty) were printed some years ago in an 
Americaji magazine now extinct. The remainder, 
and by far the larger portion, will be entirely new to 
readers alike in England and the United States. 



Headingley Hill, Leeds, 
February y 1877. 



v\y*^\\lf\y^^\^\\v^^v^^v\S3)\yv^\^^yD\\D^\:v^\mJ^ 



"^mn 



in iPOnttorji of 

MatU, wlA<i<tk«BMM p. BranU, A.B.. HlaWMrorBMNrtkt 

Sh« dM Snt' r IMh, 1821, in th« Wth vmx cT har af^ 

AIm of MkTfa, their dugbMr ; who diad May 6(li, 18B, in th« IM ywr of kr MT. 

AinorEUnOMtk, tli«ir DmnchMr; whodiad Jni«I5tli.l8B. in thalltk yMtreTbar nae. 

AIM of Pntriok BnawciC tli«ir ton ; who di«d 8«pt*r Mth, 1848, ■g*' ^ V»*^ 

AIm af Inily Jmm. thair daa^tar ; who diad Das' r IStlt. 184S. ml SOfaM* 

AIm «r AuMUiair dughtar; who diad Mar TBlh. 18i9, ac^V |«n| 

Saa waa bnriad at tha Old Ctinren. Searborongh. 

Aba of Ckarlotta. thalr danghtar; wifcoT tha EaT'd A. B. Kleiiolllb B. A« 

8ha diad March 31at. 18SS, :a tha 89th *aar of har ago. 

I Alio of tha afbNaa»ad Bar'd P. Bronta. A. B., who died J ana 7th. 1881, Ib ttMBB 

yai^ of hia agai hariag baan InonmhaDt of Bairorth for upwaida m 41 yaaiib 

I " n« *tta« q/^MlA it tim, mmd tkt t<rMW(A iff timitth* !■•{ (•« Ikaai* U fa 0*S 
U«i fiaat* M Iki aMtar* OrovfA aw Zord Jutu Oktiit i" 1 Cor. n. M. ST. 



II, ri' 



i>|iic 



mil 



TUS NI£W BKOMIU TABLET. 



CONTENTS. 



CHAPTER L PAOB 

Introductory i 

Mrs. Gaskell's "Memoir "--Charlotte Bronte's Letters. 

CHAPTER IL 

The Story of "Jane Eyre" 7 

" Jane Eyre : " its Publication and Popularity ; Unfavourable 
Criticisms — Mr. Thackeray and " Rochester" — Loose Gossip 
—The Truth. 

CHAPTER IIL 

Early History of the BrontSs 14 

Charlotte Bronte's Surroundings : the True Charm of her Story — 
Haworth — Mr. Bronte : his Characteristics and Eccentricities 
— The Bronte Children — Charlotte's Escape to the Golden 
City— Juvenile Efforts— "The Play of the Islanders." 

CHAPTER IV. 

The Family at Haworth 29 

Charlotte and her Friend — Bolton Bridge — A Family Sketch — 
Shyness of the Sisters — Varying Moods — The Youthful 
Politician — Branwell Bronte — Emily — Anne. 

CHAPTER V. 

Life as a Governess 45 

Governess Life — A Mental Struggle — First offer of Marriage — 
S3rmpathy with others — Trials of her own Life. 



xii CONTENTS. 



CHAPTER VL 

FAGB 

The Turning-point . . . . , • , .57 

The Storm and Stress Period — ^Not what the World supposes it to 
have been — Visit to Brussels : its Influence upon her Life — 
Disillusioned — Return Home — A Fallen Idol — ^A Pleasant 
Meeting — Branwell's Disgrace. 



CHAPTER VII. 

Authorship and Bereavement •••••• 73 

Branweirs Fall — Publication of the Poems — Emily's Poetry — 
Novel- writing begun — **The Professor" — **Wuthering 
Heights "—" Agnes Grey"— "Jane Eyre"— The Secret of 
the Authorship — Growth in Power — Branwell's Death — 
Decline and Death of Emily — Death of Anne. 



CHAPTER VIII. 

"Shirley" 99 

The Bitterness of Bereavement — Visit to London — Meets Thackeray 
— Authors and Critics — "Shirley" published : its Reception 
by the Critics — Husbands and Wives — An Invitation. 

CHAPTER IX. 

Loneliness and Fame • • .112 

Life at Home — Rumours of Marriage — Edits the Works of her 
Sisters — An offer of Marriage — Mr. Thackeray's Lectures— 
The Crystal Palace. 

CHAPTER X. 

"Villette" ••...••••• 127 

" Villette " begun — Life and Letters whilst writing it — Great De- 
pression of Spirits — Difficulty in writing — "Lucy Snowe" — 
" Villette " finished : its Private Reception ; the Public 
Verdict : Waiting for The Times, 



CONTENTS. idii 



CHAPTER XL ^^^^ 

Mahriagb and Death • • • 148 

A Secret History — Mr. NichoUs — Offer of Marriage — Mr. Bronte's 
Opposition — A Cruel Struggle — Mr. Nicholls leaves Haworth 
—The High Church Party and " Villette "—Miss Martineau 
— A Trip to Scotland — Brighter Prospects — Engaged to Mr. 
Nicholls — New Out-look upon Life — The Wedding — Married 
Life — The Last Christmas — Illness and Death. 



CHAPTER XIL 

Posthumous Honours 183 

A Nation's Moaming — Charlotte's Humility — Mrs. Gaskell's 
** Memoir : " Effect produced by it — Letter from Mr. Kingsley 
— Pilgrims to Haworth — An American Visitor — Death of 
Mr. Bronte — Devotion of Mr. Nicholls. 

CHAPTER XIIL 

The BrontS Novels • • . 201 

The Bronte Novels — " Wuthering Heights :" its Cleverness and 
Weirdness — Characters of the Story — Emily's Genius — 
Curious Foreshadowings — Mr. Bronte's Influence on Emily — 
Anne's Novels — " The Professor." 

CHAPTER XIV. 
Conclusion •••••••••, 228 

Charlotte's Character — Sufferings and Work. 



/ 



LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS. 



Rev. Patrick BrontK •••••• Frontispiece 

PAGB 

The New Bronte Tablet ••••••• x 

Haworth Village •••••• Facing i8 

The House that Charlotte visited • • • • 44 

The Roe Head School Facing 46 

Haworth Parsonage and Graveyard • • ,» 82 

The "Field Head" of Shirley • • • „ loi 

The "Briarfield" Church of Shirley • • „ 106 

Fac-Simile Letter of Charlotte BrontS . „ 134 

Haworth Church • • • • • • ,, 172 

Interior of Haworth Church • . • . „ 191 

Organ Loft over the Bronte Tablet and Pew • • 200 



1 



^0 tke JtteniotB ot iht ^nikox ot '* Jane (Ej^re." 



Beside her sisters lay her down to rest, 

By the lone church that stands amid the moors ; 

And let her grave be wet with moorland showers ; 

Let moorland larks sing o'er her mouldering breast ! 

Hers was the keen true spirit, that confest 

That she was nurtured in no garden bowers, 

Nor taught to deck her brow with cultured flowers, 

Nor by the soft and summer wind carest. 

Her words came o'er us, as in harvest -tide 

Come the swift rain-clouds o'er her native skies, 

Scatlenng tne thin sheaves by the heather's side? 

So fared it with our tame hypocrisies : 

But lo! the clouds are past, and far and wide 

The purple ridges glow beneath our eyes. 



W. H. Charlton* 

Hesleyside^ xSss* 



Vi 



«> w ^ 



• • w o * J 



CHARLOTTE BRONTE. 



I. 

INTRODUCTORY. 

It is just twenty years since one of the most fas- 
cinating and artistic biographies in the EngHsh 
language was given to the world. Mrs. Gaskell's 
" Life of Charlotte Bronte '* no sooner appeared than it 
took firm possession of the public mind ; and it has 
ever since retained its hold upon all who take an 
interest in the career of one who has been called, in 
language which is far less extravagant in reality than 
in appearance, "the foremost woman of her age." 
Written with admirable skill, in a style at once 
powerful and picturesque, and with a sympathy such 
as only one artist could feel for another, it richly 
merited the popularity which it gained and has kept. 
Mrs. Gaskell, however, laboured under one serious 
disadvantage, which no longer exists in anything like 
the same degree in which it did twenty years ago. 
Writing but a few months after Charlotte Bronte had 
been laid in her grave, and whilst the father to whom 
she was indebted for so much that was characteristic 

B 



o • * 

• • •••••••• 

• •• ••■•» 



• •• • *. 



•.••••• "o. • • • 



tHA&IMTTE BRONTE. [i. 



in her life and genius was still living, Mrs. Gaskell had 
necessarily to deal with many circumstances which 
aflfected living persons too closely to be handled in 
detail. Even as it was she involved herself in serious 
embarrassment by some of her allusions to incidents 
connected more or less nearly with the life of Charlotte 
Bronte ; corrections and retractations were forced upon 
her, the later editions of the book differed consider- 
ably from the first, and at last she was compelled to 
announce that any further correspondence concerning 
it must be conducted through her solicitors. Thus 
she was crippled in her attempt to paint a full-length 
picture of a remarkable life, and her story was what 
Mr. Thackeray called it, ** necessarily incomplete, 
though most touching and admirable." 

There was, moreover, another matter in which Mrs. 
Gaskell was at fault. She seems to have set out with 
the determination that her work should be pitched in 
a particular key. She had formed her own conception 
of Charlotte Bronte's character, and with the passion 
of the true artist and the ability of the practised 
writer she made everything bend to that conception. 
The result was that whilst she produced a singularly 
striking and effective portrait of her heroine, it was 
not one which was absolutely satisfactory to those 
who were the oldest and closest friends of Charlotte 
Bronte. If the truth must be told, the life of the 
author of " Jane Eyre " was by no means so joyless 
as the world now believes it to have been. That 
during the later years in which this wonderful woman 



I J 



1.3 MRS. GASKELnS MEMOIR. 3 

produced the .works by which she has made her 
name famous, her career was clouded by sorrow and 
oppressed by anguish both mental and physical, is 
perfectly true. That she was made what she was in 
the furnace of affliction cannot be doubted ; but it is 
not true that she was throughout her whole life the 
victim of that extreme depression of spirits which 
afflicted her at rare intervals, and which Mrs. Gaskell 
has presented to us with so much vividness and em- 
phasis. On the contrary, her letters show that at any 
rate up to the time of her leaving for Brussels, she 
was a happy and high-spirited girl, and that even to 
the very last she had the faculty of overcoming her 
sorrows by means of that steadfast courage which was 
her most precious possession, and to which she was so 
much indebted for her successive victories over trials 
and disappointments of no ordinary character. Those 
who imagine that Charlotte Bronte's spirit was in any 
degree a morbid or melancholy one do her a singular 
injustice. Intensely reserved in her converse with all 
save the members of her own household, and the soli- 
tary friend to whom she clung with such passionate 
affection throughout her Hfe, she revealed to these 

The other side, the novel 
Silent silver lights and darks undreamed of, 

which were and have remained hidden from the 
world, but which must be seen by those who would 
know what Charlotte Bronte really was as a woman. 
Alas ! those who knew her and her sisters well during 

B 2 



CHARLOTTE BRONTE. [i. 



their brief lives are few in number now. The Brontes 
who plucked the flower of fame out of the thorny- 
waste in which their lots were cast survive in their 
books and in Mrs. Gaskell's biography. But the 
Brontes, the women who lived and suffered thirty 
years ago, and whose characters were instinct with so 
rare and lofty a nobility, so keen a sensitiveness, so 
pure a nobility, are known no longer. 

Yet one mode of making acquaintance with them 
is still open to some among us. From her school- 
days down to the hour in which she was stretched 
prostrate in her last sickness, Charlotte Bronte kept 
up the closest and most confidential intercourse with 
her one life-long friend. To that friend she addressed 
letters which may be counted by hundreds, scarcely 
one of which fails to contain some characteristic touch 
worthy of the author of " Villette,*' No one can read 
this remarkable correspondence without learning the 
secret of the writer's character; none, as I believe, 
can read it without feeling that the woman who "stole 
like a shadow " into the field of English literature in 
1847, and in less than eight years after stole as noise- 
lessly away, was truer and nobler even than her 
works, truer and nobler even than that masterly 
picture of her life for which we are indebted to 
Mrs. Gaskell. 

These letters lie before me as I write. Here are 
the faded sheets of 1832, written in the school-girFs 
hand, filled with the school-girl's extravagant terms 
01* endearment, yet enriched here and there by sen- 



», 



I.] HER LETTERS. J 

tences which are worthy to live — some of which have 
already, indeed, taken their place in the literature of 
England ; and here is the faint pencil note written to 
" my own dear Nell " out of the writer's " dreary sick- 
bed,** which was 30 soon to be the bed of death l- 
Between the first letter and that last sad note what? 
outpourings of the mind of Charlotte ' Bronte are 
embodied in this precious pile of cherished manu-< 
script! Over five- and- twenty years of a blameless 
life this artless record stretches. So far as Charlotte 
Bronte's history as a woman, and the history of her 
family are concerned, it is complete for the whole of 
that period, the only breaks in the story being those 
which occurred when she and her friend were to- 
gether. Of her early literary ventures we find little 
here, for even to her friend she did not dare in the 
first instance to betray the novel joys which filled 
her soul when she at last discovered her true vocation, 
and spoke to a listening world ; but of her later life 
as an author, of her labours from the day when she 
owned " Jane Eyre " as the child of her brain, there 
are constant and abundant traces. Here, too, we read 
all her secret sorrows, her hopes, her fears, her com- 
munings with her own heart. Many things there are 
in this record too sacred to be given to the world. 
Even now it is with a tender and a reverent hand that 
one must touch these " noble letters of the dead ; " 
but those who are allowed to see them, to read them 
and ponder over them,- must feel as I do, that the soul 
of Charlotte Bronte stands revealed in these un- 



6 CHARLOTTE BRONTA [i. 

published pages, and that only here can we see what 
manner of woman this really was who in the solitude 
and obscurity of the Yorkshire hill-parsonage built up 
for herself an imperishable name, enriched the litera- 
ture of England with treasures of priceless value, and 
withal led for nearly forty years a life that was 
made sacred and noble by the self-repression and 
patient endurance which were its most marked cha- 
racteristics. 

Mrs. Gaskell has done her work so well that the 
world would scarcely care to listen to a mere repetition 
of the Bronte story, even though the story-teller were 
as gifted as the author of " Ruth " herself. But those 
who have been permitted to gain a new insight into 
Charlotte Bronte's character, those who are allowed 
to command materials, of which the biographer of 
1857 could make no use, may venture to lay a tribute- 
wreath of their own upon the altar of this great 
woman's memory — a tribute-wreath woven of flowers 
culled from her own letters. And it cannot be that 
the time is yet come when the name or the fame or 
the touching story of the unique and splendid genius 
to whom we owe " Jane Eyre," will fall upon the ears 
of English readers like " a tale of little meaning " or 
of doubtful interest. 



11. 

THE STORY OF "JANE EYRE." 

^ In the late autumn of 1847 the reading public of 

London suddenly found itself called to admire and 
wonder at a novel which, without preliminary puff of 
any kind, had been placed in its hands. " * Jane 
Eyre/ by Currer Bell," became the theme of every 
tongue, and society exhausted itself in conjectures as 
S to the identity of the author, and the real meaning of 

' the book. It was no ordinary book, and it produced 

no ordinary sensation. Disfigured here and there by 
certain crudities of thought and by a clumsiness of 
J expression which betrayed the hand of a novice, it 

I was nevertheless lit up from the first page to the last 

\ by the fire of a genius the depth and power of which 

/ none but the dullest could deny. The hand of its 

* author seized upon the public mind whether it would 

\ or no, and society was led captive, in the main against 

its will, by one who had little of the prevailing spirit 
of the age, and who either knew nothing of conven- 
tionalism, or despised it with heart and soul. Fierce 
was the revolt against the influence of this new-comer 
in the wide arena of letters, who had stolen in, as it 
were in the night, and taken the citadel by surprise. 



i 

\ 



8 CHARLOTTE BRONTE, [ii. 

But for the moment all opposition was beaten down 
by sheer force of genius, and " Jane Eyre " made 
her way, compelling recognition, wherever men and 
women were capable of seeing and admitting a rare 
and extraordinary intellectual supremacy. " How well 
I remember," says Mr. Thackeray, " the delight and 
wonder and pleasure with which I read * Jane Eyre,' 
sent to me by an author whose name and sex were 
then alike unknown to me ; and how with my own 
work pressing upon me, I could not, having taken the 
volumes up, lay them down until they were read 
through." It was the same everywhere. Even those 
who saw nothing to commend in the story, those who 
revolted against its free employment of great passions 
and great griefs, and those who were elaborately 
critical upon its author's ignorance of the ways of 
polite society, had to confess themselves bound by 
the spell of the magician. "Jane Eyre" gathered 
admirers fast ; and for every admirer she had a score 
of readers. 

Those who remember that winter of nine-and- 
twenty years ago know how something like a " Jane 
Eyre " fever raged among us. The story which had 
suddenly discovered a glory in uncomeliness, a gran- 
deur in overmastering passion, moulded the fashion 
of the hour, and "Rochester airs" and "Jane Eyre 
graces" became the rage. The book, and its fame 
and influence, travelled beyond the seas with a speed 
which in those days was marvellous. In sedate New 
England homes the history of the English governess 



11.1 ''JANE EYREP 



was read with an avidity which was not surpassed in 
London itself, and within a few months of the pub- 
lication of the novel it was famous throughout two 
continents. No such triumph has been achieved in 
our time by any other English author ; nor can it be 
said, upon the whole, that many triumphs have been 
better merited. It happened that this anonymous 
story, bearing the unmistakable marks of an unprac- 
tised hand, was put before the world at the very 
moment when another great masterpiece of fiction 
was just beginning to gain the ear of the English 
public. But at the moment of publication "Jane 
Eyre " swept past " Vanity Fair " with a marvellous 
and impetuous speed which left Thackeray's work in 
the distant background ; and its unknown author in a 
few weeks gained a wider reputation than that which 
one of the master minds of the century had been 
engaged for long years in building up. 

The reaction from this exaggerated fame, of course, 
set in, and it was sharp and severe. The blots in the 
book were easily hit ; its author's unfamiUarity with 
the stage business of the play was evident enough — 
even to dunces ; so it was a simple matter to write 
smart articles at the expense of a novelist who laid 
himself open to the whole battery of conventional 
criticism. In " Jane Eyre ^^ there was much painting 
of souls in their naked reality ; the writer had gauged 
depths which the plummet of the common story-teller 
could never have sounded, and conflicting passions 
were marshalled on the stage with a masterful daring 



10 CHARLOTTE BR0NT£. [ii. 

which Shakespeare might have envied ; but the cos- 
tumes, the conventional by-play, the scenery, even 
the wording of the dialogue, were poor enough in all 
conscience. The merest playwright or reviewer could 
have done better in these matters — as the unknown 
author was soon made to understand. Additional 
piquancy was given to the attack by the appearance, 
at the very time when the " Jane Eyre " fever was at 
its height, of two other novels, written by persons 
whose sexless names proclaimed them the brothers or 
the sisters of Currer Bell. Human nature is not so 
much changed from what it was in 1847 that oji^ 
need apologise for the readiness with which the 
reading world in general, and the critical world in 
particular, adopted the theory that " Wuthering 
Heights** and "Agnes Grey** were earlier works 
from the pen which had given them "Jane Eyre." / 

In "Wuthering Heights*' some of the faults of the ! 

other book were carried to an extreme, and some of 
its conspicuous merits were distorted and exaggerated j 

until they became positive blemishes ; whilst "Agnes 
Grey *' was a feeble and commonplace tale which it 
was easy to condemn. So the author of "Jane Eyre*' 1 

was compelled to bear not only her own burden, but 
that of the two stories which had followed the suc- 
cessful novel ; and the reviewers — ignorant of the fact 
that they were killing three birds at a single shot — 
rejoiced in the larger scope which was thus afforded 
to their critical energy. 

Here and there, indeed, a manful fight on behalf 



^ 



II.] CRITICISMS. II 

of Currer Bell was made by writers who knew nothing 
but the name and the book. " It is soul speaking to 
soul," cried Eraser's Magazine in December, 1847; 
" it is not a book for prudes," added Blackwood^ a few 
months later; "it is not a book for effeminate and 
tasteless men ; it is for the enjoyment of a feeling 
heart and critical understanding.^^ But in the main 
the verdict of the critics was adverse. It was dis- 
covered that the story was improper and immoral ; it 
was said to be filled with descriptions of " courtship 
after the manner of kangaroos,^' and to be impreg- 
nated with a "heathenish doctrine of religion ;" whilst 
there went up a perfect chorus of reprobation directed 
against its " coarseness of language," " laxity of tone," 
"horrid taste," and "sheer rudeness and vulgarity." 
From the book to the author was of course an easy 
transition. London had been bewildered, and its 
literary quidnuncs utterly puzzled, when such a story 
first came forth inscribed with an unknown name. 
Many had been the rumours eagerly passed from 
mouth to mouth as to the real identity of Currer Bell. 
Upon one point there had, indeed, been something 
like unanimity among the critics, and the story of 
"Jane Eyre" had been accepted as something more 
than a romance, as a genuine autobiography in which 
real and sorrowful experiences were related. Even 
the most hostile critic of the book had aqknowledged 
that "it contained the story of struggles with such 
intense suffering and sorrow, as it was sufficient misery 
to know that any one had conceived, far less passed 



12 CHARLOTTE BR0NT£. [ii. 

through/^ Where then was this wonderful governess 
to be found ? In what obscure hiding-place could the 
forlorn soul, whose cry of agony had stirred the hearts 
of readers everywhere, be discovered ? We may smile 
now, with more of sadness than of bitterness, at the 
base calumnies of the hour, put forth in mere wanton- 
ness and levity by a people ever seeking to know 
some new thing, and to taste some new sensation. 
The favourite theory of the day — a theory duly 
elaborated and discussed in the most orthodox and^ 
respectable of the reviews — was that Jane Eyre and 
Becky Sharp were merely different portraits of the 
same character ; and that their original was to be 
found in the person of a discarded mistress of 
Mr. Thackeray, who had furnished the great author 
with a model for the heroine of "Vanity Fair,'* and 
had revenged herself upon him by painting him as 
the Rochester of "Jane Eyre !" It was after dwelling 
upon this marvellous theory of the authorship of the 
story that the Quarterly RevieWy with Pecksniffian 
charity, calmly summed up its conclusions in these 
memorable words : " If we ascribe the book to a 
woman at all, we have no alternative but to ascribe it 
to one who has for some sufficient reason long for- 
feited the society of her own sex." 

The world knows the truth now. It knows that 
these bitter and shameful words were applied to one 
of the truest and purest of women; to a woman 
who from her birth had led a life of self-sacrifice 
and patient endurance ; to a woman whose affections 



11.] THE TRUTH. 13 

dwelt only in the sacred shelter of her home, or with 
companions as pure and worthy as herself; to one of 
those few women who can pour out all their hearts in 
converse with their friends, happy in the assurance 
that years hence the stranger into whose hands their 
frank confessions may pass will find nothing there 
that is not loyal, true, and blameless. There was 
wonder among the critics, wonder too in the gay 
world of London, when the secret was revealed, and 
men were told that the author of " Jane Eyre " was 
no passionate light-o'-love who had merely transcribed 
the sad experiences of her own life ; but " an austere 
little Joan of Arc," pure, gentle, apd high-minded, of 
whom Thackeray himself could say that " a great and 
holy reverence of right and truth seemed to be with 
her always." The quidnuncs had searched far and 
wide for the author of "Jane Eyre;" but we may 
well doubt whether, when the truth came out at last, 
they were not more than ever mystified by the dis- 
covery that Currer Bell was Charlotte Bronte, the 
young daughter of a country parson in a remote 
moorland parish of Yorkshire. 

That such a woman should have written such a 
book was more than a nine days' wonder ; and for 
the key to that which is one of the great marvels and 
mysteries of English literature we must go to Char- 
lotte Bronte's life itself. 



in. 

EARLY HISTORY OF THE BRONTKS. 

There is a striking passage in Mr. Greg's " Enigmas 
of Life/' in which the influence of external circum- 
stances upon the inner lives of men and women is 
dwelt upon somewhat minutely, and, by way of ex- 
ample, the connection between religious " conviction " 
and an imperfect digestion is carefully traced out. 
That we are the creatures of circumstance can hardly 
be doubted, nor that our destinies are moulded, just 
as the coral reefs are built, by the action of innumer- 
able influences, each in itself apparently trivial and 
insignificant. But the habit which leads men to find 
a full explanation of the lives of those who have 
attained exceptional distinction in the circumstances 
amid which their lot has been cast cannot be said to 
be a very wholesome or happy one. Few have suf- 
fered more cruelly from this tricTc than the Bronte 
family. Graphic pictures have been presented to the 
world of their home among the hills, and of their 
surroundings in their early years ; whilst the public 
have been asked to believe that some great shadow of 
gloom rested over their lives from their birth, and that 
to this fact, and to the influence of the moors, must 



III.] HER SURROUNDINGS. 15 

• 

be attributed, not only the peculiar bent of their 
genius, but the whole colour and shape of their lives. 
Those who are thus determined to account for every- 
thing that lies out of the range of common experience 
would do well, before they attempt to analyse the 
great mystery of genius, to reveal to us the true cause 
of the superlative excellence of this or that rare cru^ 
the secret which gives Johannisberg or Chateau 
d'Yquem its glory in the eyes of connoisseurs. Cir- 
cumstances apparently have little to do with the pro- 
duction of the fragrance and bouquet of these famous 
wines ; for we know that grapes growing close at 
hand on similar vines and seemingly under precisely 
similar conditions, warmed by the same sun, refreshed 
by the same showers, fanned by the same breezes, 
produce a wine which is comparatively worthless. 
When the world has expounded this riddle, it will be 
time enough to deal with that deeper problem of 
genius on which we are now too apt to lay presump- 
tuous and even violent hands. 

The Brontes have suffered grievously from this 
fashion, inasmuch as their picturesque and striking 
surroundings have been allowed to obscure our view 
of the women themselves. We have made a picture 
of their lives, and have filled in the mere accessories 
with such pre-Raphaelite minuteness that the distinct 
individuality of the heroines has been blurred and 
confused amid the general blaze of vivid colour, the 
crowd of "telling" points. No individual is to be 
blamed for this fact. The world, as we have seen, 



i6 CHARLOTTE BRONTM. [hi.: 

was first introduced to " Currer Bell " and her sisters 
under romantic circumstances ; the lives of those 
simple, sternly-honest women were enveloped from 
the moment when the public made their acquaintance 
in a certain haze of romantic mystery ; and when 
all had passed away, and the time came for the 
" many-headed beast " to demand the full satisfaction 
of its curiosity, it would have nothing but the com- 
pletion of that romance which from the first it had 
figured in outline for itself. 

Who then does not know the salient points of that 
strange and touching story which tells us how the 
author of " Jane Eyre " lived and died ? Who is not 
acquainted with that grim parsonage among the hills, 
where the sisters dwelt amidst such uncongenial and 
even weird influences ; living like recluses in the 
house of a Protestant pastor ; associated with sorrow 
and suffering, and terrible pictures of degrading vice, 
during their blameless maidenhood ; constructing an 
ideal world of their own, and dwelling in it heedless 
of the real world which was in motion all around 
them ? Who has not been amused and interested by 
those graphic pictures of Yorkshire life in the last 
century, in which the local flavour is so intense and 
piquant, and which are hardly the less interesting 
because they relate to an order of things which had 
passed away entirely long before the Brontes appeared 
upon the stage ? And who has not been moved by 
the dark tragedy of Branwell Bronte's life, hinted at 
rather than explicitly stated, in Mrs. Gaskell's story, 



III.] THE REAL CHARM. 17 

but yet standing out in such prominence that those 
who know no better may be forgiven if they regard it 
as having been the powerful and all-pervading influ- 
ence which made the career of the sisters what it 
was ? The true charm of the history of the Brontes, 
however, does not lie in these things. It is not to be 
found in the surroundings of their lives, remarkable 
and romantic as they were, but in the women them- 
selves, and in those characteristics of their hearts and 
their intellects which were independent of the acci- 
dents of condition. Charlotte herself would have 
been the first to repudiate the notion that there was 
anything strikingly exceptional in their outward cir- 
cumstances. With a horror of being considered 
eccentric that amounted to a passion, she united an 
almost morbid dread of the notice of strangers. If 
she could ever have imagined that readers throughout 
the world would come to associate her name, and still 
more the names of her idolised sisters, with the ruder 
features of the Yorkshire character, or with such a 
domestic tragedy as that amid which her unhappy 
brother's life terminated, her spirit would have arisen 
in indignant revolt against that which she would 
have regarded almost in the light of a* personal 
outrage. 

And yet if their surroundings at Haworth had 
comparatively little to do with the development of 
the genius of the three sisters, it cannot be doubted 
that two influences which Mrs. Gaskell has rightly 
made prominent in her book did affect their characters, 

c 



i8 CHARLOTTE BRONTE. [iii. 

one in a minor, and the other in a very marked 
degree. The influence of the moors is to be traced 
both in their lives and their works ; whilst far more 
distinctly is to be traced the influence of their father. 
As to the first there is little to be said in addition to 
that which all know already. There is a railway 
station now at Ha worth, and all the world therefore 
can get to the place without difficulty or incon- 
venience. Yet even to-day, when the engine goes 
shrieking past it many times between sunrise and 
sunset, Haworth is not as other places are. A little 
manufacturing village, sheltered in a nook among the 
hills and moors which stretch from the heart of York- 
shire into the heart of Lancashire, it bears the vivid 
impress of its situation. The moors which lie around 
it for miles on every side are superb during the 
summer and autumn months. Then Haworth is in 
its glory : a gray stone hamlet set in the midst of a 
vast sea of odorous purple, and swept by breezes 
which bear into its winding street the hum of the 
bees and the fragrance of the heather. But it is in 
the drear, leaden days of winter, when the moors are 
covered with snow, that we see what Haworth really 
is. Then we know that this is a place apart from the 
outer world ; even the railway seems to have failed to 
bring it into the midst of that great West Riding 
which lies close at hand with its busy mills and mul- 
titudes ; and the dullest therefore can understand that 
in the days when the railway was not, and Haworth 
lay quite by itself, neglected and unseen in its upland 



W C V Cr 



«. V (,< 



fc ••• .. 






III.] EXTERNAL INFLUENCES. ^ 19 

valley, its people must have been blessed by some at 
least of those insular peculiarities which distinguished 
the villagers of Zermatt and Pontresina before the 
flood of summer tourists had swept into those com- 
paratively remote crannies of the Alps. Nurtured 
among these lonely moors, and accustomed, as all 
dwellers on thinly-peopled hillsides are, to study the 
skies and the weather, as the inhabitants of towns 
and plains study the faces of men and women, the 
Brontes unquestionably drew their love of nature, 
their affection for tempestuous winds and warring 
clouds, from their residence at Haworth. 

But this influence was trivial compared with the 
hereditary influences of their father's character. Few 
more remarkable personalities than that of the Rev. 
Patrick Bronte have obtruded themselves upon the 
smooth uniformity of modern society. The readers 
of Mrs. Gaskell's biography know that the incumbent 
of Haworth was an eccentric man, but the full 
measure of his eccentricity and waywardness has 
never yet been revealed to the world. He was an 
Irishman by birth, but when still a young man he 
had gone to Yorkshire as a curate, and in Yorkshire 
he remained to the end of his days. His real name 
was not Bronte — regarding the origin of which word 
there was so much unnecessary mystery when his 
daughter became famous — but Prunty. Born of 
humble parentage in the parish of Ahaderg, County 
Down, he was one of a large family, all of whom were 
said to be remarkable for their physical strength and 

c 2 



20 CHARLOTTE BR0NT£. [iir. 

personal beauty. Patrick Pruiity was the most re- 
markable member of the family, and his talents were 
early recognised by Mr. Tighe, the rector of Drum- 
gooland. This gentleman undertook part at least of 
the cost of his education, which was completed at 
St. John*s College, Cambridge. As to the change of 
name from Prunty to Bronte, many fantastic stories 
have been told. Amongst them is one which repre- 
sents the Brontes as having derived their name from 
that of the Bronterres, an ancient Irish family with 
which they were connected. The connection may 
possibly have existed, but there is no doubt upon one 
point. The incumbent of Haworth in early life bore 
the name of Prunty, and it was not until very shortly 
before he left Ireland for England that he changed it, 
at the request of his patron, Mr. Tighe, for the more 
euphonious appellation of Bronte. He appears to have 
been a strange compound of good and evil. That he 
was not without some good is acknowledged by all 
who knew him. He had kindly feelings towards 
most people, and he delighted in the stern rectitude 
which distinguished many of his Yorkshire flock. 
When his daughter became famous, no one was 
better pleased at the circumstance than he was. He 
cut out of every newspaper every scrap which referred 
to her ; he was proud of her achievements, proud of 
her intellect, and jealous for her reputation. But 
throughout his whole life there was but one person 
with whom he had any real sympathy, and that 
person was himself. Passionate, self-willed, vain, 



III.] MR, BRONT&. SI 

habitually cold and distant in his demeanour towards 
those of his own household, he exhibited in a marked 
degree many of the characteristics which Charlotte 
Bronte afterwards sketched in the portrait of the 
Mr. Helston of " Shirley." The stranger who en- 
countered him found a scrupulously polite gentleman 
of the old school, who was garrulous about his past 
life, and who needed nothing more than the stimulus 
of a glass of wine to become talkative on the subject 
of his conquests over the hearts of the ladies of his 
acquaintance. As you listened to the quaintly-attired 
old man who chatted on with inexhaustible volubility, 
you possibly conceived the idea that he was a mere 
fribble, gay, conceited, harmless ; but at odd times 
a searching glance from the keen, deep-sunk eyes 
warned you that you also were being weighed in the 
balance by your companion, and that this assumption 
of light-hearted vanity was far from revealing the 
real man to you. Only those who dwelt under the 
same roof kne^y him as he really was. Among the 
ftiany stories told of him by his children, there is one 
relating to the meek and gentle woman who was his 
wife, and whose lot it was to submit to persistent 
coldness and neglect. Somebody had given Mrs. 
Bronte a very pretty dress, and her husband, who 
was as proud as he was self-willed, had taken offence 
at the gift. A word to his wife, who lived in habitual 
dread of her lordly master, would have secured all 
he wanted ; but in his passionate determination that 
she should not wear the obnoxious garment, he 



22 CHARLOTTE BRONTE. [iil 

deliberately cut it to pieces, and presented her with 
the tattered fragments. Even during his wife's life- 
time he formed the habit of taking his meals alone ; 
he constantly carried loaded pistols in his pockets, 
and when excited he would fire these at the doors 
of the outhouses, so that the villagers were quite 
accustomed to the sound of pistol-shots at any hour 
of .the day in their pastor's house. It would be a 
mistake to suppose that violence was one of the 
weapons to which Mr. Bronte habitually resorted. 
However stern and peremptory might be his dealings 
with his wife (who soon left him to spend the 
remainder of his life in a dreary widowhood), his 
general policy was to secure his end by craft rather 
than by force. A profound belief in his own superior 
wisdom was conspicuous among his characteristics, 
and he felt convinced that no one was too clever to 
be outwitted by his diplomacy. He had also an 
amazing persistency, which led him to pursue any 
course on which he had embarked with dogged 
determination. It happened in later years, when his 
strength was failing, and when at last he began to 
see his daughter in her true light, that he quarrelled 
with her regarding the character of one of their 
friends. The daughter, always dutiful and respectful, 
found that any effort to stem the torrent of his bitter 
and unjust wrath when he spoke of the friend who 
had offended him, was attended by consequences 
which were positively dangerous. The veins of his 
forehead swelled, his eyes glared, his voice shook, 



\ 



^ 



III.] PATERNAL ECCENTRICITIES. 23 

and she was fain to submit lest her father's passion 
should prove fatal to him. But when, wounded 
beyond endurance by his violence and injustice, she 
withdrew for a few days from her home, and told her 
father that she would receive no letters from him in 
which this friend's name was mentioned, the old 
man's cunning took the place of passion. He wrote 
long and affectionate letters to her on general 
subjects ; but accompanying each letter was a little 
slip of paper, which professed to be a note from 
Charlotte^s dog Flossy to his "much-respected and 
beloved mistress," in which the dog, declaring that 
he saw " a good deal of human nature that was hid 
from those who had the gift of language," was made 
to repeat the attacks upon the obnoxious person 
which Mr. Bronte dared no longer make in his own 
character. 

It was to the care of such a father as this, in the 
midst of the rude and uncongenial society of the 
lonely manufacturing village, that six motherless 
children, five daughters and one son, were left in the 
year 1821. The parson^s children were not allowed 
to associate with their little neighbours in the hamlet ; 
their aunt, who came to the parsonage after their 
mother's death, had scarcely more sympathy with 
them than their father himself ; their only friend was 
the rough but kindly servant Tabby, who pitied the 
bairns without understanding them, and whose acts 
of graciousness were too often of such a character as 
to give them more pain than pleasure. So they grew 



1 



24 CHARLOTTE BR0NT£. [in 

lip strange, lonely, old-fashioned children, with abso- 
lutely no knowledge of the world outside; so quiet 
and demure in their habits that, years afterwards, 
when they invited some of their Sunday scholars up 
to the parsonage, and wished to amuse them, they 
found that they had to ask the scholars to teach them 
how to play — they had never learned. Carefully 
secluded from the rest of the world, the little Bronte 
children found out fashions of their own in the way 
of amusement, and curious fashions they were. 
Whilst they were still in the nursery, when the oldest 
of the family, Maria, was barely nine years old, and 
Charlotte, the third, was just six, they had begun 
to take a quaint interest in literature and politics. 
Heaven knows who it was who first told these won- 
derful pigmies of the great deeds of a Wellington or 
the crimes of a Bonaparte ; but at an age when other 
children are generally busy with their bricks or their 
dolls, and when all life's interests are confined for 
them within the walls of a nursery, these marvellous 
Brontes were discussing the life of the Great Duke, 
and maintaining the Tory cause as ardently as the 
oldest and sturdiest of the village politicians in the 
neighbouring inn. 

There is a touching story of Charlotte at six 
years old, which gives us some notion of the ideal 
life led by the forlorn little girl at this time, when, 
her two elder sisters having been sent to school, she 
found herself living at home, the eldest of the 
motherless brood. She had read "The Pilofrim's 



III.] HER FACE ZIONWARDS, 25 

Progress," and had been fascinated, young as she 
was, by that wondrous allegory. Everything in it 
was to her true and real ; her little heart had gone 
forth with Christian on his pilgrimage to the Golden 
City, her bright young mind had been fired by the 
Bedford tinker's description of the glories of the 
Celestial Place ; and she made up her mind that 
she too would escape from the City of Destruction, 
and gain the haven towards which the weary spirits 
of every age have turned with eager longing. But 
where was this glittering city, with its streets of gold, 
its gates of pearl, its walls of precious stones, its 
streams of life and throne of light t Poor little girl ! 
The only place which seemed to her to answer 
Bunyan's description of the celestial town was one 
which she had heard the servants discussing with 
enthusiasm in the kitchen, and its name was Bradford! 
So to Bradford little Charlotte Bronte, escaping from 
that Haworth Parsonage which she believed to be a 
doomed spot, set off one day in 1822. Ingenious 
persons may speculate if they please upon the sore 
disappointment which awaited her when, like older 
people, reaching the place which she had imagined 
to be Heaven, she found that it was only Bradford. 
But she never even reached her imaginary Golden 
City. When her tender feet had carried her a mile 
along the road, she came to a spot where overhanging 
trees made the highway dark and gloomy ; she 
imagined that she had come to the Valley of the 
Shadow of Death, and, fearing to go forward, was 



26 CHARLOTTE BRONTM. [hi. 

presently discovered by her nurse cowering by the 
roadside. 

Of the school-days of the Brontes nothing need 
be said here. Every reader of ** Jane Eyre " knows 
what Charlotte Bronte herself thought of that 
charitable institution to which she has given so un- 
enviable a notoriety. There she lost her oldest sister, 
whose fate is described in the tragic tale of Helen 
Burns ; and it was whilst she was at this place that 
her second sister, Elizabeth, also died. Only one 
thing need be added to 'this dismal record of the 
stay at Cowan Bridge. During the whole time of 
their sojourn there, the young Brontes scarcely 
ever knew what it was to be free from the pangs 
of hunger. 

Charlotte was now the head of the little family ; 
the remaining members of which were her brother 
Bran well and her sisters Emily and Anne. Mrs. 
Gaskell has given the world a vivid picture of the 
life which these four survivors from the hardships of 
Cowan Bridge led between the years ^^825 and 183 1. 
They spent those years at Haworth, almost without 
care or sympathy. Their father saw little in their 
lot to interest him, nothing to drag him out of his^ 
selfish absorption in his own pursuits ; their aunt^N 
a permanent invalid, conceived that fier duty wa^ 
accomplished when she had taught them a few 
lessons and insisted on their doing a certain amount 
of needlework every day. For the rest they were 
left to themselves, and thus early they showed the 



III.] JUVENILE EFFORTS. 27 

bent of their genius by spending their time in writing 
novels. 

Mrs. Gaskell has given us some idea of the 
character of these juvenile performances in a series 
of extracts which sufficiently indicate their rare 
merit She has, however, paid exclusive attention 
to Charlotte's productions. All readers of the Bronte 
story will remember the account of the play of 
"The Islanders," and other remarkable specimens, 
showing with what real vigour and originality Char- 
lotte could handle her pen whilst she was still in the 
first year of her teens ; but those few persons who 
have seen the whole of the juvenile library of the 
family bear testimony to the fact that Branwell and 
Emily were at least as industrious and successful as 
Charlotte herself. Indeed, even at this early age, the 
bizarre character of Emily's genius was beginning to 
manifest itself, and her leaning towards weird and 
supernatural effects was exhibited whilst she com- 
posed her first fairy tales within the walls of her 
nursery. It may be well to bear in mind the fre- 
quency with which the critics have charged Charlotte 
Bronte with exaggerating the precocity of children. 
What we know of the early days of the Brontes 
proves that what would have been exaggeration 
in any other person was in the case of Charlotte 
nothing but a truthful reproduction of her own 
experiences. 

Only one specimen of these earliest writings 
of the Brontes can be quoted here : it is that to 



28 CHARLOTTE BRONTE, [iii 

which I have already referred, the play of "The 
Islanders : " 

June the 31st, 1829. 

The play of " The Islanders " was formed in December, 
1827, in the following manner. One night, about the time 
when the cold sleet and stormy fogs of November are 
succeeded by the snow-storms and high piercing night-winds 
of confirmed winter, we were all sitting round the warm 
blazing kitchen fire, having just concluded a quarrel with 
Tabby concerning the propriety of lighting a candle, from 
which she came off victorious, no candles having been 
produced. A long pause succeeded, which was at length 
broken by Branwell saying, in a lazy manner, "I don't know 
what to do." This was echoed by Emily and Anne. 

Tabby, Wha, ya may go t' bed. 

BranwelL I'd rather do anything than that 

Charlotte, Why are you so glum to-night. Tabby? Oh ! 
suppose we had each an island of our own. 

Branwell, If we had, I would choose the Island of 
Man. 

Charlotte, And I would choose the Isle of Wight 

Emily, The Isle of Arran for me. 

Anne, And mine shall be Guernsey. 

We then chose who should be the chief men in our 
islands. Branwell chose John Bull, Astley Cooper, and 
Leigh Hunt; Emily, Walter Scott, Mr. Lockhart, Johnny 
Lockhart ; Anne, Michael Sadler, Lord Bentinck, Sir Henry 
Halford. I chose the Duke of Wellington and two sons, 
Christopher North and Co., and Mr. Abernethy. Here our 
conversation was interrupted by the, to us, dismal sound of 
the clock striking seven, and we were summoned off to bed. 



r 



I 



IV. 

THE FAMILY AT HAWORTH. 

The years have slipped away, and the Brontes are 
no longer children. They have passed out of that 
strange condition of premature activity in which their 

. brains were so busy, their lives so much at variance 

with the lives of others of their age ; they have even 
" finished " their education, according to the foolish 
phrase of the world, and, having made some ac- 

' quaintances and a couple of friends at good Miss 

Wooler's school at Roehead, Charlotte is again at 

, home, young, hopeful, and in her own way merry, 

waiting with her brother and her sisters till that 
mystery of life which seems filled with hidden charms 

\ to those who still have it all before them shall be 

revealed. 

* One bright June morning in 1833, a handsome 

carriage and pair is standing opposite the Devon- 
shire Arms at Bolton Bridge, the spot loved by all 
anglers and artists who know anything of the scenery 
of the Wharfe. In the carriage with some com- 
panions is a young girl, whose face, figure, and 
manner may be conjured up by all who have read 
"Shirley," for this pleasant, comely Yorkshire maiden. 



\ 



30 CHARLOTTE BR0NT£. [iv. 

as we see her on this particular morning, is identical 
with the Caroline Helston who figures in the pages of 

that novel. Miss N is waiting for her quondam 

schoolfellow and present bosom friend, Charlotte 
Bronte, who is coming with her brother and sisters 
to join in an excursion to the enchanted site of 
Bolton Abbey hard by. Presently, on the steep road 
which stretches across the moors to Keighley, the 
sound of wheels is heard, mingled with the merry 
speech and merrier laughter of fresh young voices. 
Shall we go forward unseen, and study the approach- 
ing travellers whilst they are still upon the road } 
Their conveyance is no handsome carriage, but a 
rickety dogcart, unmistakably betraying its neigh- 
bourship to the carts and ploughs of some rural 
farmyard. The horse, freshly taken from the fields, 
is driven by a youth who, in spite of his countrified 
dress, is no mere bumpkin. His shock of red hair 
hangs down in somewhat ragged locks behind his 
ears, for Branwell Bronte esteems himself a genius 
and a poet, and, following the fashion of the times, 
has that abhorrence of the barber's shears which 
genius is supposed to affect. But the lad's face is a 
handsome and a striking one, full of Celtic fire and 
humour, untouched by the slightest shade of care, 
giving one the impression of somebody altogether 
hopeful, promising, even brilliant. How gaily he 
jokes with his three sisters ; with what inexhaustible 
volubility he pours out quotations from his favourite 
poets, applying them to the lovely scene around him ; 



IV. J AT BOLTON BRIDGE, 31 

' '■ ■ - 

and with what a mischievous delight, in his superior 
nerve and mettle, he attertipts feats of charioteering 
which fill the timid heart of the youngest of the 
party with sudden terrors ! Beside him, in a dress 
of marvellous plainness and ugliness, stamped with 
the brand "home-made" in characters which none 
can mistake, is the eldest of the sisters. Charlotte 
is talking too ; there are bright smiles upon her face ; 
she is enjoying everything around her, the splendid 
morning, the charms of leafy trees and budding roses, 
and the ever-musical stream ; most of all, perhaps, 
the charm of her brother s society, and the expecta- 
tion of that coming meeting with her friend, which is 
so near at hand. Behind sit a pretty little girl, with 
fine complexion and delicate regular features, whom 
the stranger would at once pick out as the beauty of 
the company, and a tall, rather angular figure, clad 
in a dress exactly resembling Charlotte's. Emily 
Bronte does not talk so much as the rest of the party, 
but her wonderful eyes, brilliant and unfathomable 
as the pool at the foot of a waterfall, but radiant also 
with a wealth of tenderness and warmth, show how 
her soul is expanding under the influences of the 
scene ; how quick she is to note the least prominent 
of the beauties around her, how intense is her enjoy- 
ment of the songs of the birds, the brilliancy of the 
sunshine, the rich scent of the flower-bespangled 
hedgerows. If she does not, like Charlotte and 
Anne, meet her brother's ceaseless flood of sparkling 
words with opposing currents of speech, she utters at 



32 CHARLOTTE BRONTE. [iv. 



times a strange, deep guttural sound which those who 
know her best interpret as the language of a joy too 
deep for articulate expression. Gaze at them as they 
pass you in the quiet road, and acknowledge that, in 
spite of their rough and even uncouth exteriors, a 
happier four could hardly be met with in this 
favourite haunt of pleasure-seekers during a long 
summer's day. 

Suddenly the dogcart rattles noisily into the open 
space in front of the Devonshire Arms, and the 
Brontes see the carriage and its occupants. In an 
instant there is silence ; Bran well contrasts his humble 
equipage with that which already stands at the inn 
door, and a flush of mortified pride colours his face ; 
the sisters scarcely note this contrast, but to their 
dismay they see that their friend is not alone, and 
each draws a long deep breath, and prepares for that 
fiercest of all the ordeals they know, a meeting with 
entire strangers. The laughter is stilled ; even Bran- 
welFs volubility is at an end ; the glad light dies out 
of their eyes, and when they alight and submit to the 
process of being introduced to Miss N 's com- 
panions, their faces are as dull and commonplace as 
their dresses. It is no imaginary scene we have been 
watching. Miss N still recalls that painful mo- 
ment when the merry talk and laughter of her friends 
were quenched at sight of the company awaiting 
them, and when throughout a day to which all had 
looked forward with anticipations of delight, the three 
Brontes clung to each other or to their friend, scarcely 



IV.] HER SHYNESS. 33 

- - - II — - — - - — — — - - - ■ ■ -- — ■ 

venturing to speak above a whisper, and betraying in 
every look and word the positive agony which filled 
their hearts when a stranger approached them. It 
was this excessive shyness in the company of those 
who were unfamiliar to them which was the most 
marked characteristic of the sisters. The weakness 
was as much physical as moral ; and those who sup- 
pose that it was accompanied by any morbid depres- 
sion of spirits, or any lack of vigour and liveliness 
when the incubus of a stranger's presence was removed, 
entirely mistake their true character. Unhappily, first 
impressions are always strongest, and running through 
the whole of Mrs. Gaskell's story, may be seen the 
impression produced at her first meeting with Char- 
lotte Bronte by her nervous shrinking and awkward- 
ness in the midst of unknown faces. 

It was not thus with those who, brought into the 
closest of all fellowship with her, the fellowship of 
school society, knew the secrets of her heart far better 
than did any who became acquainted with her in after 
life. To such the real Charlotte Bronte, who knew 
no timidity in their presence, was a bold, clever, out- 
spoken and impulsive girl ; ready to laugh with the 
merriest, and not even indisposed to join in practical 
jokes with the rest of her schoolfellows. The picture 
we get in the "Life" is that of a victim to secret terrors 
and superstitious fancies. The real Charlotte Bronte, 
when stories were current as to the presence of a 
ghost in the upper chambers of the old school-house 
at Roehead, did not hesitate to go up to these room& 

D 



34 CHARLOTTE BRONT&. [iv. 

alone and in the darkness of a winter's night, leaving 
her companions shivering in terror round the fire 
downstairs. When she had left school, and began 

that correspondence with Miss N which is the 

great source of our knowledge, not merely of the 
course of her life, but of the secrets of her heart, it 
must not be supposed that she wrote always in 
that serious spirit which pervades most of the letters 
quoted by Mrs. Gaskell. On the contrary, those who 
have access to the letters will find that even some of 
the passages given in the "Life" are allied to sentences 
showing that the frame of mind in which they were 
written was very different from that which it appears 
to have been. The following letter, written from 
Haworth in the beginning of 1835, is an example : 

Well, here I am as completely separated from you as 
if a hundred, instead of seventeen, miles intervened be- 
tween us. I can neither hear you nor see you nor feel you. 
You are become a mere thought, an unsubstantial impres- 
sion on the memory, which, however, is happily incapable 
of erasure. My journey home was rather melancholy, and 
would have been very much so but for the, presence and 
conversation of my worthy companion. I found him a very 
intelligent man. He told me the adventures of his sailor's 
life, his shipwreck and the hurricane he had witnessed in 
the West Indies, with a much better flow of language than 
many of far greater pretensions are masters of. I thought 
he appeared a little dismayed by the wildness of the country 
round Haworth, and I imagine he has carried back a pretty 
report of it. 

What do you think of the course politics are taking? 



IV.] VARIABLE AS QUICKSILVER. 35 

I make this inquiry because I now think you have a whole- 
some interest in the matter ; formerly you did not care 

greatly about it. B , you see, is triumphant. Wretch 1 

I am a hearty hater, and if there is any one I thoroughly 
abhor it is that man. But the Opposition is divided. Red- 
hots and lukewarms \ and the Duke {par excellence the 
Duke) and Sir Robert Peel show no signs of insecurity, 
although they have been twice beat. So ^^ courage y mon 
amie/" Heaven defend the right! as the old Cavaliers 
used to say before they joined battle. Now, Ellen, laugh 
heartily at all that rodomontade. But you have brought it 
on yourself. Don't you remember telling me to write such 
letters to you as I wrote to Mary ? There's a specimen 1 
Hereafter should follow a long disquisition on books ; but 
I'll spare you that. 

Those who turn to Mrs. Gaskell's " Life" will fiijd 
one of the sentences in this letter quoted, but without 
the burst of laughter over "all that rodomontade*' 
at the end which shows that Charlotte's interest in 
politics was not unmingled with the happy levity of 
youth. Still more striking as an illustration of her 
true character, with its infinite variety of moods, its 
sudden transitions from grave to gay, is the letter I 
now quote : 

Last Saturday afternoon, being in one of my sentimental 
humours, I sat down and wrote to you such a note as I 

ought to have written to none but M y who is nearly as 

mad as myself; to-day, when I glanced it over, it occurred 
to me that Ellen's calm eye would look at this with scorn, 
so I determined to concoct some production more fit for 
the inspection of common sense. I will not tell you all I 

D 2 



36 CHARLOTTE BRONT&. [iv. 

• 

think and feel about you, Ellen. I will preserve unbroken 
that reserve which alone enables me to maintain a decent 
character for judgment; but for that I should long ago 
have been set down by all who know me as a Frenchified 
fool. You have been very kind to me of late, and gentle , 
and you have spared me those little sallies of ridicule which, 
owing to my miserable and wretched touchiness of character, 
used formerly to make me wince as if I had been touched 
with a hot iron ; things that nobody else cares for enter into 
my mind and rankle there like venom. I know these 
feelings are absurd, and therefore I try to hide them ; but 
they only sting the deeper for concealment, and Fm an 
idiot. Ellen, I wish I could live with you always, I begin 
to cling to you more fondly than ever I did. If we had 
but a cottage and a competency of our own, I do think we 
might live and love on till death, without being dependent 
on any third person for happiness. 

Mrs. Gaskell has made a very partial and imper- 
fect use of this letter, by quoting merely from the 
words " You have been very kind to me of late," down 
to **they only sting the deeper for concealment." 
Thus it will be seen that an importance is given to an 
evanescent mood which it was far from meriting, and 
that lighter side to Charlotte's character which was 
prominent enough to hei^ nearest and dearest friends 
is entirely concealed from the outer world. Again, I 
say, we must not blame Mrs. Gaskell. Such sentences 
as those which she omitted from the letter I have just 
given are not only entirely inconsistent with that 
ideal portrait of " Currer Bell " which the world had 
formed for itself out of the bare materials in exist- 



iv.] A YOUNG POLITICIAN. 37 

ence during the author's lifetime, but are also utterly 
at variance with Mrs. Gaskell's personal conception of 
Charlotte Bronte's character, founded upon her brief 
acquaintance with her during her years of loneliness 
and fame. 

The quick transitions which marked her moods in 
converse with her friends may be traced all through 

her letters to Miss N . The quotations I have 

already made show how suddenly on the same page 
she passes from gaiety to sadness ; and so her letters, 
dealing as they do with an endless variety of topics, 
reflect only the mood of the writer at the moment 
that she penned them, and it is only by reading and 
studying the whole, not by selecting those which re- 
flect a particular phase of her character, that we can 
complete the portrait we would fain produce. 

Here are some extracts from letters which are not 
to be found in the " Life," and which illustrate what 
I have said. They were all written between the 
beginning of 1832 and the end of 1835 : 

Tell M I hope she will derive benefit from the 

perusal of Cobbett's lucubrations ; but I beg she will on no 
account burden her memory with passages to be repeated 
for my edification, lest I should not fully appreciate either 
her kindness or their merit, since that worthy personage and 
his principles, whether private or political, are no great 
favourites of mine. 

I am really very much obliged to you— she writes in 
September, 1832 — for your well-filled and very interesting 
letter. It forms a striking contrast to my brief meagre 



38 CHARLOTTE BRONTE. [iv. 

epistles; but I know you will excuse the utter dearth of 
news visible in them when you consider the situation in 
which I am placed, quite out of the reach of all intelligence 
except what I obtain through the medium of the news- 
papers, and I believe you would not find much to interest 
you in a political discussion, or a summary of the accidents 

of the week. ... I am sorry, very sorry, that Miss 

has turned out to be so different from what you thought 
her; but, my dearest Ellen, you must never expect per- 
fection in this world ; and I know your naturally confiding 
and affectionate disposition has led you to imagine that 

Miss was almost faultless. ... I think, dearest 

Ellen, our friendship is destined to form an exception to the 
general rule regarding school friendships. At least I know 
that absence has not in the least abated the sisterly affection 
which I feel towards you. 

Your last letter revealed a state of mind which promised 
much. As I read it, I could not help wishing that my own 
feelings more nearly resembled yours ; but unhappily all the 
good thoughts that enter my mind evaporate almost before 
I have had time to ascertain their existence. Every right 
resolution which I form is so transient, so fragile, and so 
easily broken^ that I sometimes fear I shall never be what 
I ought 

I write a hasty line to assure you we shall be happy to 
see you on the day you mention. As you are now acquainted 
with the neighbourhood and its total want of society, and 
with our plain, monotonous mode of life, I do not fear so 
much as I used to do, that you will be disappointed with 
the dulness and sameness of your visit. One thing, how- 
ever, will make the daily routine more unvaried than ever. 
Branwell, who used to enliven us, is to leave us iii a few 



r 

f^ IV.] JUVENILE TORYISM. 39 

days, and enter the situation of a private tutor in the neigh- 
bourhood of U . How he will like to settle remains 

^ yet to be seen. At present he is full of hope and resolution, 

I, who know his variable nature and his strong turn for 
active life, dare not be too sanguine. We are as busy as 
possible in preparing for his departure, and shirt-making 

, and collar-stitching fully occupy our time. 

X April, 1835. 

f The election ! the election ! that cry has rung even 

I .among our lonely hills like the blast of a trumpet. How 

f has it been round the populous neighbourhood of B ? 

Under what banner have your brothers ranged themselves ? 
the Blue or the Yellow ? Use your influence with them ; 
entreat them, if it be necessary on your knees, to stand by 
their country and religion in this day of danger ! . . . 
Stuart Wortley, the son of the most patriotic patrician 
Yorkshire owns, must be elected the representative of bis 
native province. Lord Morpeth was at Haworth last week, 
and I saw him. My opinion of his lordship is recorded in 
a letter I wrote yesterday to Mary. It is not worth writing 
over again, so I will not trouble you with it here. 



\ 



> 



r 



Even these brief extracts will show that Charlotte 
Bronte's life at this time was not a morbid one. 
These years between 1832 and 1835 must be counted 
among the happiest of her life — of all the lives of 
the little household at Haworth, in fact. The young 
people were accustomed to their father's coldness 
and eccentricity, and to their aunt's dainty distaste 
for all Northern customs and Northern people, them- 
selves included. Shy they were and peculiar, alike 
in their modes of life and their modes of thought ; 



1 



i 



40 CHARLOTTE BRONTE. [iv. 

but there was a wholesome, healthy happiness about 
all of them that gave promise of peaceful lives 
hereafter. Some literary efforts of a humble kind 
brightened their hopes at this time. Charlotte had 
written some juvenile poems (not now worth reprint- 
ing), and she sought the opinion of Southey upon 
them. The poet laureate gave her a kindly and 
considerate answer, which did not encourage her to 
persevere in these efforts ; nor was an attempt by 
Branwell to secure the patronage of Wordsworth for 
some productions of his own more successful. Had 
anybody ventured into the wilds of Haworth parish 
at this new year of 1835, ^t^d made acquaintance 
with the parson's family, it is easy to say upon whom 
the attention of the stranger would have been riveted. 
Branwell Bronte, of whom casual mention is made in 
one of the foregoing letters, was the hope and pride 
of the little household. All who knew him at this 
time bear testimony to his remarkable talents, his 
striking graces. Small in stature like Charlotte her- 
self, he was endowed with a rare personal beauty. 
But it was in his intellectual gifts that his chief charm 
was found. Even his father's dull parishioners re- 
cognised the fire of genius in the lad ; and any one 
who cares to go to Haworth now and inquire into the 
story of the Brontes, will find that the most vivid 
reminiscences, the fondest memories of the older 
people in the village, centre in this hapless youth. 
Ambitious and clever, he seemed destined to play a 
considerable part in the world. His conversational 



f IV.] BRANWELL. 



\ 



41 



powers were remarkable ; he gave promise of more 

)> than ordinary ability as an artist, and he had even as 

a boy written verses of no common power. Among 

other accomplishments, more curious thin useful, of 

which he could boast, was the ability to write two 

, letters simultaneously. It is but a small trait in the 

s^ history of this remarkable family, yet it deserves to 

r be noticed, that its least successful member excelled 

I Napoleon himself m one respect. The great conqueror 

' could dictate half-a-dozen letters concurrently to his 

secretaries. Branwell Bronte could do more than 

this. With a pen in each hand, he could write two 

different letters at the same moment. 

Charlotte was Branwell's senior by one year. In 
I 1835, when in her nineteenth year, she was by no 

r means the unattractive person she has been repre- 

sented as being. There is a little caricature sketched 
* by herself lying before me as I write. In it all the 

more awkward of her physical points are ingeniously 
exaggerated. The prominent forehead bulges out in 
^ an aggressive manner, suggestive of hydrocephalus, 

the nose, ** tip-tilted like the petal of a flower," and 
the mouth are made unnecessarily large ; whilst the 
little figure is clumsy and ungainly. But though she 
could never pretend to beauty, she had redeeming 
features, her eyes, hair, and massive forehead all 
\r being attractive points. Emily, who was two years 

' her junior, had, like Charlotte, a bad complexion ; 

but she was tall and well-formed, whilst her eyes were 
of remarkable beauty. All through her life her 



42 CHARLOTTE BRONTE. [iv. 



temperament was more than merely peculiar. She 
inherited not a little of her father's eccentricity, 
untempered by her father's savoir faire. Her aversion 
to strangers has been already mentioned. When the 
curates, who formed the only society of Haworth, 
found their way to the parsonage, she avoided them 
as though they had brought the pestilence in their 
train. On the rare occasions when she went out into 
the world, she would sit absolutely silent in the 
company of those who were unfamiliar to her. So 
intense was this reserve that even in her own family, 
where alone she was at ease, something like dread 
was mingled with the affection felt towards her. On 
one occasion, whilst Charlotte's friend was visiting 
the parsonage, Charlotte herself was unable through 
illness to take any walks with her. To the amaze- 
ment of the household, Emily volunteered to ac- 
company Miss N on a ramble over the moors. 

They set off together, and the girl threw aside her 
reserve, and talked with a freedom and vigour which 
gave evidence of the real strength of her character. 
Her companion was charmed with her intelligence 
and geniality. But on returning to the parsonage 
Charlotte was found awaiting them, and, as soon as 
she had a chance of doing so, she anxiously put to 

Miss N the question, " How did Emily behave 

herself.?" It was the first time she had ever been 
known to invite the company of any one outside the 
narrow limits of the family circle. Her chief delight 
was to roam on the moors, followed by her dogs, to 



IV.] EMIL Y. 43 

whom she would whistle in masculine fashion. Her 
heart, indeed, was given to these dumb creatures of 
the earth. She never forgave those who ill-treated 
them, nor trusted those whom they disliked. One is 
reminded ' of Shelley's " Sensitive Plant " by some 
traits of Emily Bronte : 

If the flowers had been her own infants, she 
Could never have nursed them more tenderly ; 

and, like the lady of the poem, her tenderness and 
charity could reach even 

the poor banished insects, whose intent^ 



Although they did ill, was innocent 

One instance of her remarkable personal courage is 
related in " Shirley," where she herself is sketched 
under the character of the heroine. It is her ad- 
venture with the mad dog which bit her at the door 
of the parsonage kitchen whilst she was offering it 
water. The brave girl took an iron from the jfire, 
where it chanced to be heating, and immediately 
cauterised the wound on her arm, making a broad, 
deep scar, which was there until the day of her 
death. Not until many weeks after did she tell her 
sisters what had happened. Passionately fond of her 
home among the hills, and of the rough Yorkshire 
people among whom she had been reared, she 
sickened and pined away when absent from Haworth. 
A strange untamed and untamable character was 
hers; and none but her two sisters ever seem to 
have appreciated her remarkable merits, or to have 



44 CHARLOTTE BRONTE. [iv. 

recognised the fine though immature genius which 

shows itself in every line of the weird story of ''■ 

"Wuthering Heights." 

Anne, the youngest of the family, had beauty in 
addition to her other gifts. Intellectually she was 
greatly inferior to her sisters ; but her mildness and 1 

sweetness of temperament won the affections of many 
who were repelled by the harsher exteriors of Char- < 

lotte and Emily. S 

This was the family which lived happily and I 

quietly among the hills during those years when life 
with its vicissitudes still lay in the distance. Gay i 

their existence could not be called ; but their letters 
show that it was unquestionably peaceful, happy, and 
wholesome >" 



V. 

LIFE AS A GOVERNESS. 

Moved by the hope of lightening the family expenses 
and enabling Branwell to get a thorough artistic train- 
ing at the Royal Academy, Charlotte resolved to go 
out as a governess. Her first " place " was at her old 
school at Roehead, where she was with her friend, 
Miss Wooler, and where she was also very near the 

home of her confidante, Miss N . Emily went 

with her for a time, but she soon sickened and pined 
for the moors, and after a trial of but a few months 
she returned to Haworth. A great deal of sympathy 
has been bestowed upon the Brontes in connection 
with their lives^s governesses ; nor^am I prepared to 
say that this sympathy is wholly misplaced. Their 
reserve, their affection for each other, their ignorance 
of the world, combined to make " the cup of life as it 
is mixed for the class termed governesses" — to use 
Charlotte's own phrase — particularly distasteful to 
them. But it is a mistake to suppose that they were 
treated with harshness during their governess life, or 
that Charlotte, at least, felt her trials to be at all un- 
bearable. It was decidedly unpleasant to sacrifice 
the independence and the family companionship of 



46 CHARLOTTE BR0NT£. [v. 

Haworth for drudgery and loneliness in the house- 
hold of a stranger ; but it was a duty, and as such 
it was accepted without repining by two, at least, of 
the sisters. Emily's peculiar temperament made her 
quite unfitted for life among strangers ; she made 
many attempts to overcome her reserve, but all were 
unavailing; and after a brief experience in one or 
two families in different parts of Yorkshire, she 
returned to Haworth to reside there permanently 
as her father's housekeeper. There is no need to 
dwell upon this episode in the lives of the Brontes. 
They were living among unfamiliar faces, and had 
little temptation to display themselves in their true 
characters, but extracts from a few of Charlotte's 
letters to her friends will show something of the 
course of her thought at this time. With the ex- 
ception of a detached sentence or two these letters 
will be quite new to the readers of Mrs. Gaskell's 
"Life:" 

I have been waiting for an opportunity of sending a 
letter to you as you wished; but as no such opportunity 
offers itself, I have at length determined to write to you by 
post, fearing that if I delayed any longer you would attribute 
my tardiness to indifference. I can scarcely realise the dis- 
tance that lies between us, or the length of time which may 
elapse before we meet again. Now, Ellen, I have no news 
to tell you, no changes to communicate. My life since I 
saw you last has passed away as monotonously and unvary- 
ingly as ever — nothing but teach, teach, teach, from morn- 
ing till night. The greatest variety I ever have is afforded 
by a letter from you, a call from the T s, or by meeting 



• • •• -», 



WW w 



*. ' "^L -' 



\0 «^ hf 4^ V 



• ••>••• w * 



v.] BOOKS. 47 



with a pleasant new book. The "Life of Oberlin," and 
Legh Richmond's " Domestic Portraiture," are the last of 
this description I have perused. The latter work strongly 
attracted and strangely fescinated my attention. Beg, borrow, 
or steal it without delay, and read the " Memoir of Rich- 
mond." That short record of a brief and uneventful life I 
shall never forget. It is beautiful, not on account of the 
language in which it is written, not on account of the inci- 
dents it details, but because of the simple narration it gives 
of the life and death of a young, talented, sincere Christian. 
Get the book, Ellen (I wish I had it to give you), read it, 
and tell me what you think of it. Yesterday I heard that 
you had been ill since you were in London. I hope you 
are better now. Are you any happier than you were ? Try 
to reconcile your mind to circumstances, and exert the quiet 
fortitude of which I know you are not destitute. Your 
absence leaves a sort of vacancy in my feelings which 
nothing has as yet offered of sufficient interest to supply. 
I do not forget ten o'clock. I remember it every night, and 
if a sincere petition for your welfare will do you any good 
you will be benefited. I know the Bible says : " The 
prayer of the righteous availeth much," and I am not 
righteous. Nevertheless I believe God despises no appli- 
cation that is uttered in sincerity. My own dear E , 

good-bye. I can write no more, for I am called to a less 
pleasant avocation. 

Dewsbury Moor, Oct. 2, 1836. 

I should have written to you a week ago, but my time 
has of late been so wholly taken up that till now I have 
really not had an opportunity of answering your last letter. 
I assure you I feel the kindness of so early a reply to my 
tardy correspondence. It gave me a sting of self-reproach. 
My sister Emily is gone into a situation as teacher 



• • • • 



48 CHARLOTTE BRONT&. [v. 

in a large school of near forty pupils, near Halifax. I have 
had one letter from her since her departure. It gives an 
appalling account of her duties. Hard labour from six in 
the morning till near eleven at night, with only one half- 
hour of exercise between. This is slavery. I fear she will 
never stand it. It gives me sincere pleasure, my dear Ellen, 
to learn that you have at last found a few associates of con- 
genial minds. I cannot conceive a life more dreary than 
that passed amidst sights, sounds, and companions all alien 
to the nature within us. From the tenor of your letters it 
seems that your mind remains fixed as it ever was, in no 
wise dazzled by novelty or warped by evil example. I am 
thankful for it. I could not help smiling at the paragraphs 

which related to . There was in them a touch of the 

genuine unworldly simplicity which forms part of your cha- 
racter. Ellen, depend upon it, all people have their dark 
side. Though some possess the power of throwing a fair 
veil over the defects, close acquaintance slowly removes the 
screen, and one by one the blots appear ; till at last we see 
the pattern of perfection all slurred over with stains which 
even affection cannot efface. 

The aflfectionate commendations of her friend are 
constantly accompanied by references of a very dif- 
ferent character to herself. 

If I like people — she says in one of her letters — it is 
my nature to tell them so, and I am not afraid of offering 
incense to your vanity. It is from religion that you derive 
your chief charm, and may its influence always preserve you 
as pure, as unassuming, and as benevolent in thought and 
deed as you are now. What am I compared to you ? I 
feel my own utter worthlessness when I make the com- 



v.] A MENTAL STRUGGLE. 49 

parison. I'm a very coarse, commonplace wretch I I have 
some qualities that make me very miserable, some feelings 
that you can have no participation in — ^that few, very few 
people in the world can at all understand. I don't pride 
myself on these peculiarities. I strive to conceal and sup- 
press them as much as I can, but they burst out sometimes, 
and then those who see the explosion despise me, and I 
hate myself for days afterwards. 

All my notes to you, Ellen, are written in a hurry. I 

am now snatching an opportunity. Mr. J is here ; by 

his means it will be transmitted to Miss E , by her 

means to X , by his means to you. I do not blame 

you for not coming to see me. I am sure you have been 
prevented by sufficient reasons ; but I do long to see you, 
and I hope I shall be gratified momentarily, at least, ere 

long. Next Friday, if all be well, I shall go to G . On 

Sunday I hope I shall at least catch a glimpse of you. 
Week after week I have lived on the expectation of your 
coming. Week after week I have been disappointed. I 
have not regretted what I said in my last note to you. 
The confession was wrung from me by sympathy and kind- 
ness, such as I can never be sufficiently thankful for. I 
feel in a strange state of mind ; still gloomy, but not 
despairing. I keep tr5dn^ to do right, checking wrong 
feelings, repressing wrong thoughts — ^but still, every instant 
I find myself going astray. I have a constant tendency to 
scorn people who are far better than I am. A horror at the 
idea of becoming one of a certain set — a dread lest if I 
made the slightest profession I should sink at once into 
Phariseeism, merge wholly in the ranks of the self-righteous. 
In writing at this moment I feel an irksome disgust at the 
idea of using a single phrase that sounds like religious cant 
I abhor myself; I despise myself If the doctrine of Calvin 

s 



so CHARLOTTE BRONTE. V. 

be true, I am already an outcast You cannot imagine how 
hard, rebellious, and intractable all my feelings are. When 
I begin to study on the subject I almost grow blasphemous, 
atheistical in my sentiments. Don't desert me — don't be 
horrified at me. You know what I am. I wish I could s^e 
you, my darling. I have lavished the warmest affections of 
a very hot, tenacious heart upon you. If you grow cold it 
is over. 

You will excuse a very brief and meagre answer to 
your kind note when I tell you that at the moment it 
reached me, and that just now whilst I am scribbling a 
reply, the whole house is in the bustle of packing and pre- 
paration, for on this day we all go home. Your palliation of 
my defects is kind and charitable, but I dare not trust its 
truth. Few would regard them with so lenient an eye as 
you do. Your consolatory admonitions are kind, Ellen; 
and when I can read them over in quietness and alone, I 
trust I shall derive comfort from them. But just now, in 
the unsettled, excited state of mind which I now feel, I 
cannot enter into the pure scriptural spirit which they 
breathe. It would be wrong of me to continue the subject. 
My thoughts are distracted and absorbed by other ideas. 
You do not mention your visit to Haworth. Have you 
spoken of it to the family? Have they agreed to let you 
come ? But I will write when I get home. Ever since last 
Friday I have been as busy as I could be in finishing up 
the half-year's lessons, which concluded with a terrible fog 
in geographical problems (think of explaining that to Misses 

and !), and subsequently in mending Miss 's 

clothes. Miss is calling me : something about my 

protSgi^s nightcap. Good-bye. We shall meet again ere 
many days, I trust. 

Here it will be seen that the religious struggle 



\ 



I 



i 



\ 



v.] THE FIRST OFFER. 51 

was renewed. The woman who was afterwards to be 
accused of " heathenism " was going through tortures 
such as Cowper knew in his darkest hours, and, like 
him, was acquiring faith, humility, and resignation in 
the midst of the conflict. But such letters as this 
are only episodical ; in general she writes cheerfully, 
sometimes even merrily. 

What would the Quarterly reviewer and the other 
charitable people, who openly declared their con- 
viction that the author of " Jane Eyre " was an 
improper person, who had written an improper book, 
have said had they been told that she had written the 
following letter on the subject of her first offer of 
marriage — written it, too, at the time when she was 
a governess, and in spite of the fact that the offer 
opened up to her a way of escape from all anxiety as 
to her future life ? 

You ask me whether I have received a letter from 
T . I have about a week since. The contents I con- 
fess did a little surprise me ; but I kept them to myself, 
and unless you had questioned me on the subject I would 

never have adverted to it. T says he is comfortably 

settled at , and that his health is much improved. He 

then intimates that in due time he will want a wife, and 
frankly aisks me to be that wife. Altogether the letter is 
written without cant or flattery, and in common-sense style 
which does credit to his judgment. Now there were in this 
proposal some things that might have proved a strong 

temptation. I thought if I were to marry so could 

live with me, and how happy I should be. But again I 

asked myself two questions : Do I love T as much as 

£ 2 



52 CHARLOTTE BRONT&. {v 

a woman ought to love her husband ? Am I the person 
best qualified to make him happy ? Alas I my conscience 
answered " No " to both these questions. I felt that though 

I esteemed T , though I had a kindly leaning towards 

him, because he is an amiable, well-disposed man, yet I had 
not and never could have that intense attachment which 
would make me willing to die for him — and if ever I marry 
it must be in that light of adoration that I will regard my 
husband. Ten to one I shall never have the chance again ; 
but T^importe. Moreover, I was aware he knew so little of 
me he could hardly be conscious to whom he was writing. 
Why, it would startle him to see me in my natural home 
character. He would think I was a wild, romantic enthu- 
siast indeed. I could not sit all day long making a grave 
face before my husband. I would laugh and satirise, and 
say whatever came into my head first ; and if he were a 
clever man and loved me, the whole world weighed in the 
balance against his smallest wish would be light as air. 
(^ould I, knowing my mind to bev such as that, conscien- 
tiously say that I would take a grave, quiet young man like 
T ? No ; it would have been deceiving him, and de- 
ception of that sort is beneath me. So I wrote a long letter 
back in which I expressed my refusal as gently as I could, 
and also candidly avowed my reasons for that refusal. I 
described to him, too, the sort of character I thought would 
suit him for a wife. 

The girl who could thus calmly decline a more 
than merely " eligible " oflfer, and thus honestly state 
her reasons for doing so to the friend she trusted, was 
strangely different from the author of " Jane Eyre " 
pictured by the critics and the public. Perhaps the 
full cost of the refusal related in the foregoing letter 



v.] SYMPATHY WITH OTHERS. 53 

is only made dear when it is brought into contrast 
^ with such a confession as the following, made very 

soon afterwards : 

I am miserable when I allow myself to dwell on the 
necessity of spending my life as a govemess. The chief 
requisite for that station seems to me to be the power of 
taking things easily when they come, and of making oneself 
comfortable and at home wherever one may chance to be— r 
qualities in which all our family are singularly deficient. I 

know I cannot live with a person like Mrs. ; but I 

hope all women are not Hke her, and my motto is '* Try 
again." 

How thoroughly at all times she could sym- 
pathise alike with the joys and sorrows of others, 
is proved by many letters extending over the whole 
period of her life. The following is neither the earliest 
nor the most characteristic of those utterances of a 
tender and heartfelt sympathy with her special friend, 
which are to be found in her correspondence, but as 
Mrs. Gaskell has not made use of it, I may quote it 

here : 

1838. 

We were at breakfast when your note reached me, and 
I consequently write in great hurry. Your trials seem to 
thicken. I trust God will either remove them or give you 
strength to bear them. If I could but come to you and 
offer you all the little assistance either my head or hands 
,:ould afford ! But that is impossible. I scarcely dare offer 

to comfort you about lest my consolation should seem 

like mockery. I know that in cases of sickness strangers 
cannot measure what relations feel. One thing, however, I 



54 CHARLOTTE BRONT&. [v. 

need not remind you of. You will have repeated it over 
and over to yourself before now : God does all for the best ; 
and even should the worst happen, and Death seem finally 
to destroy hope, remember that this will be but a practical 
test of the strong faith and calm devotion which have 
marked you a Christian so long. I would hope, however, 
that the time for this test is not yet come, that your brother 
may recover, and all be well. It grieves me to hear that 
your own health is so indifferent. Once more I wish I were 
with you to lighten at least by sympathy the burden that 
seems so unsparingly laid upon you. Let me thank you 
for remembering me in the midst of such hurry and afflic- 
tion. We are all apt to grow selfish in distress. This, so 
far as I have found, is not your case. When shall I see you 
again ? The uncertainty in which the answer to that ques- 
tion must be involved gives me a bitter feeling. Through 
all changes, through all chances, I trust I shall love you as 
I do now. We can pray for each other and think of each 
other. Distance is no bar to recollection. You have pro- 
mised to write to me, and I do not doubt that you will keep 

your word. Give my love to M and your mother. 

Take with you my blessing and affection, and all the 
warmest wishes of a warm heart for your welfare. 

From one of her situations as governess in a 
private family (she had long since left the kind shelter 
of Miss Wooler's house) she writes in 1841 a series of 
letters showing how little she relished the "cup of 
life as it is mixed for the class termed governesses.'* 

It is twelve o'clock at night ; but I must just write you a 
word before I go to bed. If you think I'm going to refuse 
your invitation, or if you sent it me with that idea, you're 



v.] LIFE AS A GOVERNESS, 55 



\ 



mistaken. As soon as I had read your shabby little note, I 
gathered up my spirits directly, walked on the impulse of 

the moment into Mrs. 's presence, popped the question, 

and for two minutes received no answer. " Will she refuse 
me when I work so hard for her ?" thought I. "Ye — e — es,'' 
drawled madam in a reluctant, cold tone. " Thank you, 
madam ! " said I with extreme cordiality, and was marching 
from the room when she recalled me with " You'd better go 
on Saturday afternoon, then, when the children have holiday, 
and if you return in time for them to have all their lessons 
on Monday morning, I don't see that much will be lost." 
You are a genuine Turk, thought I ; but again I assented, 
and so the bargain was struck. Saturday after next, then, 
is the day appointed. I'll come, God knows, with a thankful 
and joyful heart, glad of a day's reprieve from labour. If 
you don't send the gig I'll walk. I am coming to taste the 
pleasure of liberty ; a bit of pleasant congenial talk, and a 
sight of two or three faces I like. God bless you ! I want 
to see you again. Huzza for Saturday afternoon after next ! 
Good-night, my lass ! 

During the last three weeks that hideous operation 
called " a thorough clean " has been going on in the house. 
It is now nearly completed, for which I thank my stars, as 
during its progress I have fulfilled the double character of 
nurse and governess, while the nurse has been transmuted 
into cook and housemaid. That nurse, by-the-bye, is the 

prettiest lass you ever saw I was beginning to think 

Mrs. a good sort of body in spite of her bouncing and 

boasting, her bad grammar and worse orthography ; but I 
have had experience of one little trait in her character 
which condemns her a long way with me. After treating 
a person on the most familiar terms of equality for a long 
time, if any little thing goes wrong, she does not scruple to 



56 CHARLOTTE BRONTE. [v. 



give way to anger in a very coarse, unladylike manner, 
though in justice no blame could be attached where she 
ascribed it all. I think passion is the true test of vulgarity 
or refinement This place looks exquisitely beautiful just 
now. The grounds are certainly lovely, and all as green as 
an emerald. I wish you would just come and look at it 



VI. 

THE TURNING-POINT. 

The " storm and stress " period of Charlotte Bronte's 
life was not what the world believes it to have been. 
Like the rest of our race, she had to fight her own 
battle in the wilderness, not with one devil, but with 
many; and it was this sharp contest with the tempta- 
tions which crowd the threshold of an opening life 
which made her what she was. The world believes 
that it was under the parsonage roof that the author 
of "Jane Eyre" gathered up the precious experiences 
which were afterwards turned to such good account. 
Mrs. Gaskell, who was carried away by her honest 
womanly horror of hardened vice, gives us to under- 
stand that the tragic turning-point in the history of 
the sisters was connected with the disgrace and ruin 
of their brother. We are even asked to believe that 
but for the folly of a single woman, whom it is 
probable that Charlotte never saw, **Currer Bell" 
would never have taken up her pen, and no halo of 
glory would have settled on the scarred and rugged 
brows of prosaic Haworth. 

It is not so. There may be disappointment among 
those who have been nurtured on the traditions of 



/ 



> 



58 CHARLOTTE BRONT&. [vi. 



\ 



•the Bronte romance when they find that the reality is 
different from what they supposed it to be ; some 
shallow judges may even assume that Charlotte her- 
self loses in moral stature when it is shown that it 
was not her horror at her brother's fall which drove 
her to find relief in literary speech. But the truth 
must be told ; and for my part I see nothing in that 
truth which affects, even in an infinitesimal degree, the 
fame and the honour of the woman of whom I write. 
It was Charlotte's visit to Brussels, then, first as 
pupil and afterwards as teacher in the school of 
Madame H6ger, which was the turning-^oint in her 
life, which changed its currents, and gave to it a new 
purpose and a new meaning. Up to the moment of 
that visit she had been the simple, kindly, truthful 
Yorkshire girl, endowed with strange faculties, carried \ 

away at times by burning impulses, moved often by 
emotions the nature of which she could not fathom, \ 

but always hemmed in by her narrow experiences, ^ 

her limited knowledge of life and the world. Until 
she went to Belgium, her sorest troubles had been 
associated with her dislike to the society of strangers, | 

her heaviest burden had been the necessity under 
which she lay of tasting that "cup of life as it is 4 

mixed for governesses" which she detested so heartily. 
Under the belief that they could qualify themselves 
to keep a school of their own if they had once / 
mastered the delicacies of the French and German 
languages, she and Emily set off for this sojourn in 
Brussels. ] 

I 

\ 



i 



J~ 



VI.] BRUSSELS, 59 

One may be forgiven for speculating as, to her 
future lot had she accepted the offer of marriage she 
received in her early governess /lays, and settled 
down as the faithful wife of a sober English gentle- 
man. In that case " Shirley " perhaps might have 
been written, but " Jane Eyre " and " Villette " never. 
She learnt much during her two years* sojourn in the 
Belgian capital ; but the greatest of all the lessons 
she mastered whilst there was that self-knowledge the 
taste of which is so bitter to the mouth, though so 
wholesome to the life. Mrs. Gaskell has made such 
ample use of the letters she penned during the long 
months which she spent as an exile from England, 
that there is comparatively little left to cull from 
them. Everybody knows the outward circumstances 
of her story at this time. For a brief period she had 
the company of Emily ; and the two sisters, working 
together with the unremitting zeal of those who have 
learned that time is money, were happy and hopeful, 
enjoying the novel sights of the gay foreign capital, 
gathering fresh experiences every day, and looking 
forward to the moment when they would return to 
familiar Haworth, and realise the dream of their lives 
by opening a school of their own within the walls of 
the parsonage. But then Emily left, and Charlotte, 
after a brief holiday at home, returned alone. Years 
after, writing to her friend, she speaks of her return 
in these words : " I returned to Brussels after aunt^s 
death against my conscience, prompted by what then 
seemed an irresistible impulse I was punished for 



6o CHARLOTTE BR0NT£. [vi. 

my selfish folly by a total withdrawal for more than 
two years of happiness and peace of mind." Why 
did she thus go back " against her conscience ? " Her 
friends declared that her future husband dwelt some- 
where withiii sound of the chimes of St Gudule, and 
that she insisted upon returning to Brussels because 
she was about to be married there. We know now 
how different was the reality. The husband who 
awaited her was even then about to begin his long 
apprenticeship of love at Haworth. Yet none the 
less had her spirit, if not her heart, been captured and 
held captive in the Belgian city. It is not in her 
letters that we find the truth regarding her life at 
this time. The truth indeed is there, but not all the 
truth. " In catalepsy and dread trance," says Lucy 
Snowe, " I studiously held the quick of my nature. 

It is on the surface only the common gaze 

will fall." The secrets of her inner life could not be 
trusted to paper, even though the lines were intended 
for no eyes but those of her friend and confidante. 
There are some things, as we know well, that the heart 
hides as by instinct, and which even frank and open 
natures only reveal under compulsion. Writing to 
her friend from Brussels in October, 1843, she says: 
" I have much to say, Ellen ; many little odd things, 
queer and puzzling enough, which I do not like to 
trust to a letter, but which one day, perhaps, or rather 
one evening, if ever we should find ourselves again by 

the fireside at Haworth, or at B , with our feet on 

the fender, curling our hair, I may communicate to 



r 



iTi 



VI.] DISILL USIONED. 6 1 



V 



I 



you." One of the hardest features of the last year 
she spent at Brussels was the necessity she was 
under of locking all the deepest emotions of her life 
within her own breast, of preserving the calm and 
even cold exterior, which should tell nothing to the 
common gaze, above the troubled, fevered heart that 
beat within. 

When do you think I shall see you ? — she cries to her 
friend within a few days of her final return to Haworth — 
I have, of course, much to tell you, and I dare say you 
have much also to tell me — things which we should neither 
of us wish to commit to paper. .... I do not know 
whether you feel as I do, but there are times now when it 
appears 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 me which used to be enthusiasm is 
tamed down and broken. I have fewer illusions. What I 
wish for now is active exertion — a stake in life. Haworth 
seems such a lonely, quiet spot, buried away from the 
world. I no longer regard myself as young; indeed, I 
shall soon be twenty-eight, and it seems as if I ought to be 
working and braving the rough realities of the world, as 
other people do. It is, however, my duty to restrain this 
feeling at present, and I will endeavour to do so. 

Yes ; she was " disillusioned " now, and she had 
brought back from Brussels a heart which could never 
be quite so light, a spirit which could never again 
soar so buoyantly, as in those earlier years when the 
tree of knowledge was still untasted, and the mystery 
of life still unrevealed. This stay in Belgium was, as 
I have said, the turning-point in Charlotte Bronte^s 



62 CHARLCTTE BRONTA [vi. 

career, and its true history and meaning is to be 
found, not in her "Life" and letters, but in "Villette," 
the master- work of her mind, and the revelation of 
the most vivid passages in her own heart's history. 
" I said I disliked Lucy Snowe," is a remark which 
Mrs. Gaskell innocently repeats in her memoir of 
Charlotte Bronte. One need not be' surprised at it. 
Lucy Snowe was never meant to be liked — by every- 
body ; but none the less is Lucy Snowe the truest 
picture we possess of the real Charlotte Bronte ; 
whilst not a few of the fortunes which befell this 
strange heroine are literal transcripts from the life 
of her creator. One little incident in " Villette " — 
Lucy's impulsive visit to a Roman Catholic confessor 
— is taken direct from Charlotte's own experience. 
During one of the long lonely holidays in the foreign 
school, when her mind was restless and disturbed, 
her heart heavy, her nerves jarred and jangled, she 
fled from the great empty schoolrooms to seek peace 
in the street ; and she found, not peace perhaps, but 
sympathy at least, in the counsels of a priest, seated 
at the Confessional in a church into which she wan- 
dered, who took pity on the little heretic, and soothed 
her troubled spirit without attempting to enmesh it 
in the folds of Romanism. It was from experiences 
such as these, with a chastened heart and a nature 
tamed down, though by no means broken, that she 
returned to familiar Haworth, to face "the rough 
realities of the world." 

Rough, indeed, those realities were in her case 



VI.] AT HOME. 63 

Her brother, once the hope of the family, had now 
become its burden and its curse ; and from that 
moment he was to be the prodigal for whom no 
fatted calf would ever be killed. Her father was fast 
losing his eyesight ; she and her. sisters were getting 
on in life, and " something must be done." Charlotte 
had returned home, but her heart was still in Brussels, 
and the wings of her spirit began to beat impatiently 
against the cage in which she found herself im- 
prisoned. It was only the old story. She had gone 
out into the world, had tasted strange joys, and drunk 
deep of waters the very bitterness of which seemed to 
endear them to her. Returning to Haworth she went 
back a new woman, with tastes and hopes which it 
was hard to reconcile with the monotony of life in the 
parsonage which had once satisfied her completely. 

" If I could leave home I should not be at Ha- 
worth," she says soon after her return. " I know life 
is passing away, and I am' doing nothing, earning 
nothing; a very bitter knowledge it is at moments, 
but I see no way out of the mist." And then, almost 
for the first time in her life, something like a cry of 
despair goes up from her lips: " Probably, when I am 
free to leave home, I shall neither be able to find 
place nor employment. Perhaps, too, I shall be quite 
past the prime of life, my faculties will be wasted, and 
my few acquirements in a great measure forgotten. 
These ideas sting me keenly sometimes ; but when- 
ever I consult my conscience, it aflfirms that I am 
doing right in staying at home, and bitter are its 



J 



/ 




I < 



y 



^ T 



64 CHARLOTTE BRONT&. [vi. 

upbraidings when I yield to an eager desire for 
release." 

But this outburst of personal feeling was ex- 
ceptional, and was uttered in one ear only. Within 
the walls of her home Charlotte again became the 
house-mother, busying herself with homely cares, and 
ever watching for some opportunity of carrying her 
plan of school-keeping into execution. Nor did she 
allow either the troubles at home, or that weight at 
her own heart which she bore in secrecy, to render 
her spirit morbid and melancholy. Not a few who 
have read Mrs. Gaskell's work labour under the belief 
that this was the effect that Charlotte Bronte^s trials 
had upon her. As a matter of fact, however, she was 
far too strong, brave, cheerful — one had almost said 
manly — ^to give way to any such selfish repinings. 
She never was one of those sickly souls who go about 
"glooming over the woes of existence, and how un- 
worthy God's universe is to have so distinguished a 
resident." Even when her own sorrows were deepest, 
and her lot seemed hardest, she found a lively pleasure 
in discussing the characters and lots of others, and 
expended as much pajns and time in analysing the 
inner lives of her friends as our sham Byrons are 
wont to expend upon the study of their own feelings 
and emotions. Indeed, of that self-pity which is so 
common a characteristic of the young, no trace is to 
be found in her correspondence. Let the following 
letter, hitherto unpublished, written at the very time 
when the household clouds were blackest, speak for 



\ 



I 

I 



VI.] A FALLEN IDOL. 65 

her freedom from morbid self-consciousness, as well 
as for her hearty interest in the well-being of those 
around her : 

You are a very good girl indeed to send me such a 
long and interesting letter. In all that account of the young 
lady and gentleman in the railway carriage I recognise your 
faculty for observation, which is a rarer gift than you imagine. 
You ought to be thankful for it. I never yet met with an 
individual devoid of observation whose conversation was 
interesting, nor with one possessed of that power in whose 
society I could not manage to pass a pleasant hour. I was 

amused with your allusions to individuals at . I have 

litde doubt of the truth of the report you mention about 

Mr. Z paying assiduous attention to , Whether it 

will ever come to a match is another thing. Money would 
decide that point, as it does most others of a similar nature. 

You are perfectly right in saying that Mr. Z is more 

influenced by opinion than he himself suspects. I saw his 

lordship in a new light last time I was at . Sometimes 

I could scarcely believe my ears when I heard the stress he 
laid on wealth, appearance, family, and all tliose advantages 
which are the idols of the world. His conversation on 
marriage (and he talked much about it) differed in no 
degree from that of any hackneyed fortune-hunter, except 
that with his own peculiar and native audacity he avowed 
views and principles which more timid individuals conceal. 
Of course I raised no argument against an3rthing he said. I 
listened, and laughed inwardly to think how indignant I 
should have been eight years since if anyone had accused 

Z of being a worshipper of Mammon and of Interest 

Indeed, I still believe that the Z of ten years ago is 

,jH*t the Z of to-day. The world, with its hardness and 

F 



66 CHARLOTTE BRONT&. [vi. 

selfishness, has utterly changed him. He thinks himself 
grown wiser than the wisest. In a worldly sense he is wise. 
His feelings have gone through a process of petrifaction 
which will prevent them from ever warring against his 
interest ; but Ichabod ! all glory of principle, and much 
elevation of character are gone ! I learnt another thing. 

Fear the smooth side of Z ^s tongue more than the 

rough side. He has the art of paying peppery little com- 
pliments, which he seems to bring out with a sort of diffi- 
culty, as if he were not used to that kind of thing, and did 
it rather against his will than otherwise. Tl\gse compliments 
you feel disposed to value on account of their seeming 
rarity. Fudge ! They are at any one's disposal, and are 
confessedly hollow blarney. 

Still more significant, however, is the following 
letter, showing so kindly and careful an interest in 
the welfare of the friend to whom it is addressed, 
even whilst it bears the bitter tidings of a great 
household sorrow : 

July 31, 1845. 

I was glad to get your little packet. It was quite a 
treasure of interest to me. I think the intelligence about 

G is cheering. I have read the lines to Miss . 

They are expressive of the affectionate feelings of his nature, 
and are poetical, insomuch as they are true. Faults in 
expression, rhythm, metre, were of course to be expected. 

All you say about Mr. amused me much. Still, I 

cannot put out of my mind one fear, viz. that you should 
think too mucJi about him. Faulty as he is, and as you 
know him to be, he has still certain qualities which might 
create an interest in your mind before you were aware. He 
has the art of impressing ladies by something involuntary in 



I 

I 



vl] a meeting. 67 

his look and manner, exciting in them the notion that he 
cares for them, while his words and actions are all careless, 
inattentive, and quite uncompromising for himself. It is 
only men who have seen much of life and of the world, 
and who are become in a measure indifferent to female 
attractions, that possess this art. So be on your guard. 
These are not pleasant or flattering words, but they are the 
words of one who has known you long enough to be indif- 
ferent about being temporarily disagreeable, provided she 
can be permanently useful. 

I got home very well. There was a gentleman in the 
railroad carriage whom I recognised by his features imme- 
diately as a foreigner and a Frenchman. So sure was I of 
it that I ventured to say to him, " Monsieur est francais^ 
tiest'Ce pas ?" He gave a start of surprise, and answered 
immediately in his own tongue. He appeared still more 
astonished and even puzzled when, after a few minutes' 
further conversation, I inquired if he had not passed the 
greater part of his life in Germany. He said the surmise 
was correct. I guessed it from his speaking French with 
the German accent. 

It was ten o'clock at night when I got home. I found 
Branwell ill. He is so very often, owing to his own fault. 
I was not therefore shocked at first. But when Anne 
informed me of the immediate cause of his present illness I 
was very greatly shocked. He had last Thursday received 

a note from Mr. sternly dismissing him We 

have had sad work with him since. He thought of nothing 
but stunning or drowning his distressed mind. No one in 
the house could have rest, and at last we have been obliged 
to send him from home for a week with someone to look 
after him. He has written to me this morning, and expresses 
some sense of contrition for his frantic folly. He promises 

F 2 



6S CHARLOTTE BRONT&. [vl 

amendment on his return, but so long as he remains at 
home I scarce dare hope for peace in the house. We must 
all, I fear, prepare for a season of distress and disquietude. 
I cannot now ask Miss or anyone else. 

The gloom in the household deepened ; but Char- 
lotte was still strong enough and brave enough to 
meet the world, to retain her accustomed interest in 
her friends, and to discuss as of yore the characters 
and lives of those around her. Curious are the 
glimpses one gets of her circle of acquaintances at 
this time. Little did many of those with whom she 
was brought in contact think of the keen eyes which 
were gazing out at them from under the prominent 
forehead of the parson's daughter. Yet not the least 
interesting feature of her correspondence is the evi- 
dence it affords that she was gradually gaining that 
knowledge of character which was afterwards to be 
lavished upon her books. A string of extracts from 
letters hitherto unpublished will suffice to show how 
the current of her life and thoughts ran in those days 
of domestic darkness, whilst the dawn of her fame 
was still hidden in the blackest hour of the night : 

I have just read M 's letters. They are very in- 
teresting, and show the original and vigorous cast of her 
mind. There' is but one thing I could wish otherwise in 
them, and that is a certain tendency to Mightiness. It is 
not safe, it is not wise ; and will often cause her to be mis- 
construed. Perhaps flightiness is not the right word ; but 
it is a devil-may-care tone, which I do not like when it 
proceeds from under a hat, and still less from under a bonnet 



ft 



VI.] BRANWELL. €9 

I return you Miss 's notes with thanks. I always 

like to read them. They appear to me so true an index of 
an amiable mind, and one not too conscious of its own 
worth. Beware of awakening in her this consciousness by 
undue praise. It is a privilege of simple-hearted, sensible, 
but not brilliant people that they can be and do good with- 
out comparing their own thoughts and actions too closely 
with those of other people, and thence drawing strong food 
for self-appreciation. Talented people almost always know 

full well the excellence that is in them You ask me 

if we are more comfortable. I wish I could say an3rthing 
favourable ; but how can we be more comfortable so long as 
Branwell stays at home and degenerates instead of im- 
proving ? It has been lately intimated to him that he would 
be received again on the same railroad where he was for- 
merly stationed if he would behave more steadily, but he 
refuses to make an effort. He will not work, and at home 
he is a drain on every resource, an impediment to all happi- 
ness. But there's no use in complaining. 

I thank you again for your last letter, which I found as 
full or fuller of interest than either of the preceding ones — 
it is just written as I wish you to write to me — not a detail 
too much. A correspondence of that sort is the next best 
thing to actual conversation, though it must be allowed that 
between the two there is a wide gulf still. I imagine your 
face, voice, presence very plainly when I read your letters. 
Still imagination is not reality, and when I return them to 
their envelope and put them by in my desk I feel the differ- 
ence sensibly enough. My curiosity is a little piqued about 
that countess you mention. What is her name ? you have 
not yet given it. I cannot decide from what you say 
whether she is really clever or only eccentric The two 
sometimes go together, but are often seen apart. I gene- 



70 CHARLOTTE BRONT&. [vl 



J 



1^ 



rally feel inclined to fight very shy of eccentricity, and have 
no small horror of being thought eccentric myself, by which 
observation I don't mean to insinuate that I class myself 
under the head clever. God knows a more consummate 
ass in sundry important points has seldom browsed the 
green herb of His bounties than I. O Lord, Nell, I'm in 
danger sometimes of falling into self- weariness. I used to 

say and to think in former times that X would certainly 

be married. I am not so sanguine on that point now. It 3 

will neyer suit her to accept a husband she cannot love, or • 

at least respect, and it appears there are many chances 

against her meeting with such a one under favourable ^ 

circumstances ; besides, from all I can hear and see, money ' 

seems to be regarded as almost the Alpha and Omega of ^"^ 

requisites in a wife. Well, if she is destined to be an old 

maid I don't think she will be a repining one. I think she 

will find resources in her own mind and disposition which 

will help her to get on. As to society, I don't understand ; 

much about it, but from the few glimpses I have had of its 

machinery it seems to me to be a very strange, complicated 

affair indeed, wherein nature is turned upside down. Your 

well-bred people appear to me, figuratively speaking, to walk 

on their heads, to see everything the wrong way up — a lie is 

with them truth, truth a lie, eternal and tedious botheration 

is their notion of happiness, sensible pursuits their enfiui. 

But this may be only the view ignorance takes of what it 

cannot understand. I refrain from judging them, therefore, 

but if I were called upon to swop — you know the word, I 

suppose — to swop tastes and ideas and feelings with , 

for instance, I should prefer walking into a good Yorkshire 
kitchen fire and concluding the bargain at once by an act 
of voluntary combustion. 

I shall scribble you a short note about nothing, just to 
have a pretext for screwing a letter out of you in return. I 



I 



^ 



VI.] LETTERS, 71 

was sorry you did not go to W ^ firstly, because you lost 

the pleasure of observation and enjoyment ; and secondly, 
because I lost the second-hand indulgence of hearing your 
account of what you had seen. I laughed at the candour 
with which you give your reason for wishing to be there. 
Thou hast an honest soul as ever animated human carcase, 
and a clean one, for it is not ashamed of showing its inmost 
recesses : only be careful with whom you are frank. Some 
would not rightly appreciate the value of your frankness, 
and never cast pearls before swine. You are quite right in 
wishing to look well in the eyes of those whom you desire 
to please. It is natural to desire to appear to advantage 
(honest not false advantage of course) before people we 
respect. Long may the power and the inclination to do so 
be spared you ; long may you look young and handsome 
enough to dress in white \ and long may you have a right 
to feel the consciousness that you look agreeable. I know 
you have too much judgment to let an over-dose of vanity 
spoil the blessing and turn it into a misfortune. After all 
though, age will come on, and it is well you have something 
better than a nice face for friends to turn to when that is 
changed. I hope this excessively cold weather has not 
harmed you or yours much. It has nipped me severely — 
taken away my appetite for a while, and given me tooth- 
ache ; in short put me in the ailing condition in which I 
have more than once had the honour of making myself such 

a nuisance both at B and . The consequence is 

that at this present speaking I look almost old enough to be 
your mother — ^gray, sunk, and withered. To-day, however, 
it is milder, and I hope soon to feel better ; indeed, I am 
not /// now, and my toothache is quite subsided ; but I ex- 
perience a loss of strength and a deficiency of spirit which 
would make me a sorry companion to you or anyone else. 
I would not be on a visit now for a large sum of monev. 



72 CHARLOTTE BRONT&. [vi. 

June, 1S46. 

I hope all the mournful contingencies of death are 

by this time removed from , and that some little sense 

of relief is beginning to be experienced by its wearied 

inmates. suffered greatly, I make no doubt^ and 

I trust, and even believe, that his long sufferings on earth 
will be taken as sufficient expiation for his errors. One 
shudders for him, but it is his relations — his mother and 
sisters — whom I truly and permanently pity. 

July loth, 1S46. 

Dear Ellen, — ^Who gravely asked you whether Miss 

Bronte was not going to be married to ? I scarcely 

need say that there never was rumour more unfounded. It 
puzzles me to think how it could possibly have originated. 
A cold, far-away sort of civility, are the only terms on which 

I have ever been with Mr. . I could by no means 

think of mentioning such a rumour to him, even as a joke. 
It would make me the laughing-stock of himself and his 
fellow-curates, for half a year to come. They regard me as 
an old maid; and I regard them, one and all, as highly 
uninteresting, narrow, and unattractive specimens of the 
"coarser sex," 



I 



{ 



VII. 

AUTHORSHIP AND BEREAVEMENT. 

The reader has seen that it was not the degrada- 
tion of Branwell Bronte which formed the turning- 
point in Charlotte's life. Mrs. Gaskell, anxious to 
support her own conception of what should have been 
Charlotte's feelings with regard to her brother's ruin, 
has scarcely done justice either to herself or to her 
heroine. Thus she makes use of a passage in one of 
the letters quoted in the foregoing chapter, but in 
doing so omits what are perhaps the most character- 
istic words in it. "He" (Branwell) " has written this 
morning expressing some sense of contrition ; . . . . 
but as long as he remains at home I scarce dare hope 
for peace in the house." This is the form in which 
the passage appears in the " Biography," whereas 
Charlotte had written of her brother's having ex- 
pressed " contrition for his frantic folly," and of his 
having " promised amendment on his return." Mrs. 
Gaskell could not bring herself to speak of such fla- 
grant sins as those of which young Bronte had been 
guilty under the name of " folly," nor could she con- 
ceive that there was any possibility of amendment on 
the part of one who had fallen so low in vice. More- 



74 CHARLOTTE BRONTE. [v"- 



over, one of her objects was to punish those who had 
shared the lad's misconduct, and to whom she openly- 
attributed not only his ruin but the premature deaths 
of his sisters. Thus she felt compelled to take 
throughout her book a far deeper and more tragic 
view of this miserable episode in the Bronte story 
than Charlotte herself took. Having read all her 
letters written at this period of her life to her two 
most confidential friends, I am justified in saying that 
the impression produced on Charlotte by Branwell's 
degrading fall was not so deep as that which was 
produced on Mrs. Gaskell, who nevjer saw young 
Bronte, by the mere recital of the story. Yet 
Charlotte, though too brave, healthy, and reasonable 
in all things to be utterly weighed down by the 
fact that her brother had fallen a victim to loathsome 
vice, was far from being insensible to the sadness and 
shamefulness of his condition. What she thought of 
it she has herself told the world in the story of " The 
Professor" (p. 198) : 

Limited as had yet been my experience of life, I had 
once had the opportunity of contemplating near at hand an 
example of the results produced by a course of interesting 
and romantic domestic treachery. No golden halo of 
fiction was about this example ; I saw it bare and real, and 
it was very loathsome. I saw a mind degraded by the 
practice of mean subterfuge, by the habit of perfidious de- 
ception, and a body depraved by the infectious influence of 
the vice-polluted soul. I had suffered much from the 
forced and prolonged view of this spectacle ; those suffer- 






VII.] THE POEMS. 75 

ings I did not now regret, for their simple recollection acted 
^ as a most wholesome antidote to temptation. They had in- 

scribed on my reason the conviction that unlawful pleasure, 
trenching on another's rights, is delusive and envenomed 
\ pleasure — its hollowness disappoints at the time, its poison 

cruelly tortures afterwards, its effects deprave for ever. 

\ Upon the gentle and sensitive mind of Anne 

Bronte the effect of Branwell's fall was such as Mrs. 

^ Gaskell depicts. She was literally broken down by 

the grief she suffered in seeing her brother's ruin ; but 
Charlotte and Emily were of stronger fibre than their 

' sister, and their predominant feeling, as expressed in 

their letters, is one of sheer disgust at their brother's 
weakness, and of indignation against all who had in 

f any way assisted in his downfall. This may not be 

consistent with the popular conception of Charlotte^s 
character, but it is strictly true. 

• We must then dismiss from our minds the notion 

that the brother's fate exercised that paramount in- 
fluence over the sisters' lives which seems to be be- 
lieved. Yet, as we have seen, there was a very strong 
though hidden influence working in Charlotte during 

t those years in which their home was darkened by 

Branwell's presence. Her yearning for Brussels and 

I the life that now seemed like a vanished dream, con- 

tinued almost as strong as ever. At Haworth every- 

\ thing was dull, commonplace, monotonous. The 

school-keeping scheme had failed ; poverty and 
obscurity seemed henceforth to be the appointed lot 
of all the sisters. Even the source of intercourse 



V 



\ 



76 CHARLOTTE BRONTIl. [vii. 



with friends was almost entirely cut off; for Charlotte 
could not bear the shame of exposing the prodigal 
of the family to the gaze of strangers. It was at 
this time, and in the mood described in the letters 
quoted in the preceding chapter, that she took up her 
pen, and sought to escape from the narrow and sordid 
cares which environed her by a flight into the region 
of poetry. She had been accustomed from childhood 
to write verses, few of which as yet had passed the 
limits of mediocrity. Now, with all that heart-history 
through which she had passed at Brussels weighing 
upon her, she began to write again, moved by a 
stronger impulse, stirred by deeper thoughts than any 
she had known before. In this secret exercise of her 
faculties she found relief and enjoyment ; her letters 
to her friend showed that her mind was regaining its 
tone, and the dreary outlook from " the hills of 
Judaea" at Haworth began to brighten. It was a 
great day in the lives of all the sisters when Charlotte 
accidentally discovered that Emily also had dared to 
" commit her soul to paper." The younger sister was 
keenly troubled when Charlotte made the discovery, 
for her poems had been written in absolute secrecy. 
But mutual confessions hastened her reconcilement. 
Charlotte produced her own poems, and then Anne 
also, blushing as was her wont, poured some hidden 
treasures of the same kind into the eldest sister s lap. 
So it came to pass that in 1846, unknown to their 
nearest friends, they presented to the world — at their 
own cost and risk, poor souls ! — that thin volume of 



VII.] EMILY'S POETRY, 77 



poetry " by Currer, Ellis, and Acton Bell," now almost 
forgotten, the merits of which few readers have recog- 
nised and few critics proclaimed. 

Strong, calm, sincere, most of these poems are ; 
not the spasmodic or frothy outpourings of Byron- 
stricken girls ; not even mere echoes, however skilful, 
of the grand music of the masters. When we dip 
into the pages of the book, we see that these women 
write because they feel. They write because they 
have something to say ; they write not for the world, 
but for themselves, each sister wrapping her own 
secret within her own soul. Strangely enough, it is 
not Charlotte who carries off the palm in these 
poems. Verse seems to have been too narrow for 
the limits of her genius; she could not soar as she 
desired to do within the self-imposed restraints of ' 
rhythm, rhyme, and metre. Here and there, it is 
true, we come upon lines which flash upon us with 
the brilliant light of genius ; but, upon the whole, we 
need not wonder that Currer Bell achieved no re- 
putation as a poet. Nor is Anne to be counted 
among great singers. Sweet, indeed her verses are, 
radiant with the tenderness, resignation, and gentle 
humility which were the prominent features of her 
character. One or two of her little poems are now 
included in popular collections of hymns used in 
Yorkshire churches ; but, as a rule, her compositions 
lack the vigorous life which belongs to those of her 
sisters. It is Emily who takes the first place in 
this volume. Some of her poems have a lyricaJ 



78 CHARLOTTE BRONT^ [vii. 



beauty which haunts the mind ever after it has \ 

become acquainted with them ; others have a pas- 
sionate emphasis, a depth of meaning, an intensity 
and gravity which are startling when we know who 
the singer is, and which furnish a key to many 
passages in " Wuthering Heights " which the world 
shudders at and hastily passes by. Such lines as 1 

these ought to make the name of Emily Bronte far 
more familiar than it is to the students of our modern 
English literature : 

Death ! that struck when I was most confiding 

In my certain faith of joy to be — 
Strike again, Time's withered branch dividing 

From the fresh root of Eternity ! 

Leaves upon Time's branch were growing brightly, 

Full of sap and full of silver dew ; 
Birds beneath its shelter gathered nightly ; 

Daily round its flowers the wild bees flew. 

Sorrow passed, and plucked the golden blossom ; 

Guilt stripped off the foliage in its pride ; 
But within its parent's kindly bosom 

Flowed for ever Life's restoring tide. 

Little mourned I for the parted gladness. 

For the vacant nest and silent song — 
Hope was there, and laughed me out of sadness, 

"Whispering, ** Winter will not linger long ! *' 

And behold ! with tenfold increase blessing, 

Spring adorned the beauty-burdened spray ; 
Wind and rain and fervent heat, caressing. 

Lavished glory on that second May ! 

High it rose — no winged grief could sweep it ; 

Sin was scared to distance by its shine ; 
Love, and its own life, had power to keep it 

From all wrong— from every blight but ihine, 



\ 



VII.] lAMILY CARES, 79 

Cruel Death ! The young leaves droop and languish ; 
Evening's gentle air may still restore — 

No ! the morning sunshine mocks my anguish- 
Time, for me, must never blossom more ! 

Strike it down, that other boughs may flourish 

Where that perished sapling used to be ; 
Thus at least its mouldering corpse will nourish 

That from which it sprung — Eternity. 

The little book was a failure. This first flight 

ended only in discomfiture ; and Currer, Ellis, and 

Acton Bell were once more left to face the realities 

of life in Haworth parsonage, uncheered by literary 

success. This was in the summer and autumn of 

1846; about which time they were compelled to 

think of cares which came even nearer home than 

the failure of their volume of poems. Their father's 

eyesight was now almost gone, and all their thoughts 

were centred upon the operation which was to restore 

it. It was to Manchester that Mr. Bronte was taken 

by his daughters to undergo this operation. Many 

of the letters which were written by Charlotte at this 

period have already been published ; but the two 

which I now quote are new, and they serve to show 

what were the narrow cares and anxieties which 

nipped the sisters at this eventful crisis in their lives : 

September 22nd, 1846. 

Dear Ellen, — I have nothing new to tell you, except 
that papa continues to do well, though the process of 
recovery appears to me very tedious. I daresay it 
will yet be many weeks before his sight is completely 
restored ; yet every time Mr. Wilson comes, he expresses 



8o CHARLOTTE BRONTE. [vii, 

his satisfaction at the perfect success of the operation, 
and assures me papa will, ere long, be able both to 
read ^nd write. He is still a prisoner in his darkened 
room, into which, however, a little more light is admitted 
than formerly. The nurse goes to-day — her departure will 
certainly be a relief, though she is, I daresay, not the worst 
of her class. 

September 29th, 1846. 

Dear Ellen, — ^When I wrote to you last, our return was 
uncertain indeed, but Mr. Wilson was called away to Scotland; 
his absence set us at liberty. I hastened our departure, and 
now we are at home. Papa is daily gaining strength. He 
cannot yet exercise his sight much, but it improves, and I 
have no doubt will continue to do so. I feel truly thankful 
for the good insured and the evil • exempted during our 

absence. What you say about grieves me much, and 

surprises me too. I know well the malaria of , it is 

an abominable smell of gas. I was sick from it ten times 
a day while I stayed there. That they should hesitate to 
leave from scruples about furnishing new houses, provokes 
and amazes me. Is not the furniture they have very 
decent ? The inconsistency of human beings passes belief. 
I wonder what their sister would say to them, if they told 
her that tale ? She sits on a wooden stool without a back, 
in a log-house without a carpet, and neither is degraded nor 
thinks herself degraded by such poor accommodation. 

It was about the time when this journey to Man- 
chester was first projected, and very shortly after 
they had become convinced that their poems were a 
fc^ilure, that the sisters embarked upon another and 
more important literary venture. The pen once taken 



VII.] NOVEL-WRITING BEGUN 8i 



up could not be laid down. By poetry they had only 
lost money ; but the idea had occurred to them that 
by prose-writing money was to be made. At any 
rate, in telling the stories of imaginary people, in 
opening their hearts freely upon all those subjects 
on which they had thought deeply in their secluded 
lives, they would find relief from the solitude of 
Haworth. Each of the three accordingly began to 
write a novel. The stories were commenced simul- 
taneously, after a long consultation, in which the 
outlines of the plots, and even the names of the 
different characters, were settled. How one must 
wish that some record of that strange literary council 
had been preserved ! Charlotte, in after life, spoke 
always tenderly, lovingly, almost reverentially, of the 
days in which she and her well-beloved sisters were 
engaged in settling the plan and style of their re- 
spective romances. That time seemed sacred to her, 
and though she learnt to smile at the illusions under 
which the work was begun, and could see clearly 
enough the errors and crudities of thought and 
method which all three displayed, she never allowed 
any one in her presence to question the genius of 
Emily and Anne, or to ridicule the prosaic and 
business-like fashion in which the novel-writing was 
undertaken by the three sisters. Returning to the 
old customs of their childhood, they sat round the 
table of their sitting-room in the parsonage, each 
busy with her pen. No trace of their occupation at 
this time is to be found in their letters ; and on the 

G 



8j charlotte BRONT&. [vii. 

rare occasions on which the father or the brother 
came into their room, nothing was said as to the 
work that was going on. The novel-writing, like the 
writing and publishing of the poems, was still kept 
profoundly secret. " There is no gentleman of the 
name in this parish," said Mr. Bronte to the village 
postman, when the latter ventured to ask who the 
Mr. Currer Bell could be for whom letters came so 
frequently from London. But every night the three 
sisters, as they paced the barely-furnished room, or 
strained their eyes across the tombstones, to the spot 
where the weather-stained church-tower rose from a 
bank of nettles, told each other what the work of the 
day had been, and criticised each other's labours with 
the freedom of that perfect love which casts out all 
fear of misconception. And here I may interpolate 
two letters written whilst the novel-writing was in 
progress, which are in some respects not altogether 
insignificant : 

Dear Nell, — ^Your last letter both amused and edified 
me exceedingly. I could not but laugh at your account of the 

fall in B , yet I should by no means have liked to have 

made a third party in that exhibition. I have endured one fall 
in your company, and undergone one of your ill-timed laughs, 
and don't wish to repeat my experience. Allow me to com- 
pliment you on the skill with which you can seem to give 
an explanation, without enlightening one one whit on the 
question asked. I know no more about Miss R.'s super- 
stition now, than I did before. What is the superstition ? — 
about a dead body ? And what is the inference drawn ? 



\ 



\ 












•• • • • • 

► Y • • • ••• • • • 



• • 



• • • • • 
• • • •• 



• ' • 



• ••• 



vil] a deserted wife. f^^ 



Do you remember my telling you — or did I ever tell you — 
about that wretched and most criminal Mr. J. S. ? After 
running an infamous career of vice, both in England and 
France, abandoning his wife to disease and total destitution 
in Manchester, with two children and without a farthing, in 
a strange lodging-house ? Yesterday evening Martha came 
upstairs to say that a woman — "rather lady-like," as she 
said — wished to speak to me in the kitchen. I went down. 
There stood Mrs. S., pale and worn, but still interesting- 
looking, and cleanly and neatly dressed, as was her little girl 
who was with her. I kissed her heartily. I could almost 
have cried to see her, for I had pitied her with my whole 
soul when I heard of her undeserved sufferings, agonies, and 
physical degradation. She took tea with us, stayed about 
two hours, and frankly entered into the narrative of her 
appalling distresses. Her constitution has triumphed over 
her illness ; and her excellent sense, her activity, and 
perseverance have enabled her . to regain a decent position 
in society, and to procure a respectable maintenance for 
herself and her children. She keeps a lodging-house in a 

very eligible part of the suburbs of (which I knOw), 

and is doing very well. She does not know where Mr. S. 
is, and of course can never more endure to see him. She 

is now staying a few days at E , with the s, who 

I believe have been all along very kind to her, and the 
circumstance is greatly to their credit. 

I wish to know whether about Whitsuntide would suit 
you for coming to Haworth. We often have fine weather just 
then. At least I remember last year it was very beautiful 
at that season. Winter seems to have returned with severity 
on us at present, consequently we are all in the full enjoy 
ment of a cold. Much blowing of noses is heard, and much 
making of gruel goes on in the house. How are you all ? 

G 2 



84 CHARLOTTE BRONTM. [vii. 

May 12th, 1847. 

Dear Ellen, — ^We shall all be glad to see you on the 
Thursday or Friday of next week, whichever day will suit you 
best. About what time will you be likely to get here, and 
how will you come — by coach to Keighley, or by a gig all the 
way to Haworth? There must be no impediments now. 
I could not do with them ; I want very much to see you. 
I hope you will be decently comfortable while you stay. 
Branwell is quieter now, and for a good reason. He has 
got to the end of a considerable sum of money, of which he 
became possessed in the spring, and consequently is obliged 
to restrict himself in some degree. You must expect to find 
him weaker in mind, and the complete rake in appearance. 
I have no apprehension of his being at all uncivil to you, on 
the contrary he will be as smooth as oil. 

I pray for fine weather, that we may be able to get 
out while you stay. Good-bye for the present. Prepare 
for much dulness and monotony. Give my love to all at 
B . 

Is it needful to tell how the three stories — " The 
Professor," " Wuthering Heights," and " Agnes Grey " 
— are sent forth at last from the little station at 
Keighley, to fare as best they may in that unknown 
London which is still an ideal city to the sisters, 
peopled not with ordinary human beings, but with 
creatures of some strangely-diflferent order ? Can 
any one be ignorant of the weary months which 
passed whilst "The Professor" was going from 
hand to hand, and the stories written by Emily 
and Anne were waiting in a publisher's desk until 



vil] ''JANE EYRE."* 85 

they could be given to the world on the pub- 
lishers own terms ? Charlotte had failed, but the 
brave heart was not to be baffled. No sooner had 
the last page of " The Professor " been finished than 
the first page of "Jane Eyre" was begun. The 
whole of that wondrous story passed through the 
author's busy brain whilst the life around her was 
clad in these sombre hues, and disappointment, 
affliction, and gloomy forebodings were her daily 
companions. The decisive rejection of her first tale 
by Messrs. Smith, Elder, and Co. had been accom- 
panied by some kindly words of advice ; so it is to 
that firm that she now entrusts the completed manu- 
script of "Jane Eyre." The result has already been 
told. On August 24, 1847, the story is sent from 
Leeds to London; and before the year is out, all 
England is ringing with the praises of the novel and 
its author. 

Need I defend the sisters from the charge some- 
times brought against them that they were unfaithful 
to their friends in not taking them into their con- 
fidence ? Surely not. They had pledged themselves 
to each other that the secret should be sternly guarded 
as something sacred, kept even from those of their 
own household. They were not working for fame; 
for again and again they give proof that personal 
fame is the last thing to which they aspire. But they 
had found their true vocation ; the call to work was 
irresistible ; they had obeyed it, and all that they 
sought now was to leave their work to speak for 



86 CHARLOTTE BRONT&. [vh. 

itself, dissevered absolutely from the humble per- 
sonality of the authors. 

In a letter from Anne Bronte, written in January, 
1848, at which time the literary quidnuncs both of 
England and America were eagerly discussing con- 
tradictory theories as to the authorship of "Jane 
Eyre," and of the two other stories which had ap- 
peared from the pens of Ellis and Acton Bell, I 
find the following passage : *' I have no news to tel) 
you, for we have been nowhere, seen no one, and 
done nothing (to speak of) since you were here, and 
yet we contrive to be busy from morning till night." 
The gentle and scrupulously conscientious girl, whilst 
hiding the secret from her friend, cannot violate the 
truth even by a hairbreadth. The italics are her 
own. Nothing tJtat can be spoken of has been done. 
The friend had her own suspicions. Staying in a 
southern house for the winter, the new novel about 
which everybody was talking was produced, fresh 
from town. One of the guests was deputed to read 
it aloud, and before she had proceeded far Charlotte 
Bronte^s schoolfellow had pierced the secret of the 
authorship. Three months before, Charlotte had 

been spending a few days at Miss N *s house, 

and had openly corrected the proof-sheets of the 
story in the presence of her hostess; but she had 
given the latter no encouragement to speak to her 
on the subject, and nothing had been said. Now, 
however, in the surprise of the moment, Miss N 



VII.] GROWTH OF POWER. 87 

told the company that this must have been written 
by Miss Bronte ; and astute friends at once advised 
her not to mention the fact that she knew the author 
of " Jane Eyre " to any one, as her acquaintance with 
such a person would be regarded as a reflection on 
her own character ! When Charlotte was challenged 
by her friend, she uttered stormy denials in general 
terms, which carried a complete confirmation of the 

truth ; and when, in the spring of 1848, Miss N 

visited Haworth, full confession was made, and the 
poems brought forth and shown to her, in addition to 
the stories. 

Those who read Charlotte Bronte's letters will see 
that even before this avowal of her flight in author- 
ship there is a distinct change in their tone. Not 
that she is less affectionate towards her early friend, 
or that she shows the smallest abatement of her 
interest in the fortunes of her old companions. On 
the contrary, it would almost seem as though the 
great event, which had altered the current of her life, 
had only served to bind her more closely than before 
to those whom she had known and loved in her 
obscurity. But there is a perceptible growth of power 
and independence in her mode of handling the topics, 
often trivial enough in themselves, which arise in any 
prolonged correspondence, which shows how much 
her mind had grown, how greatly her views had been 
enlarged, by the intellectual labours through which 
she had passed. The following was the last letter 



88 CHARLOTTE BRONT&. [vii. 

written by her to her schoolfellow whilst the author- 
ship of "Jane Eyre" was still a secret, and it will, I 
think, bear out what I have said : 

April 25th, 1848. 

I was not at all surprised at the contents of your note. 

Indeed, what part of it was new to us ? V has his good 

and bad side, like most others. There is his own original 
nature, and there are the alterations the world has made in 
him. Meantime, why do B and G trouble them- 
selves with matching him ? Let him, in God's name, court 
half the country-side and marry the other half, if such proce- 
dure seem good in his eyes, and let him do it all in quietness. 
He has his own botherations, no doubt ; it does not seem 
to be such very easy work getting married, even for a man, 
since it is necessary to make up to so many ladies. More 
tranquil are those who have settled their bargain with celi- 
bacy. I like Q ^*s letters more and more. Her goodness 

is indeed better than mere talent. I fancy she will never 
be married, but the amiability of her character will give her 
comfort To be sure, one has only her letters to judge 
from, and letters often deceive; but hers seem so artless 
and unaffected. Still, were I in your place I should feel 
uneasy in the midst of this correspondence. Does a doubt 
of mutual s<>tisfaction in case you should one day meet 
never torrnent you? .... Anne says it pleases her to 
think that you have i*»pt her little drawing. She would 
rather Ijpye done it for you than for a stranger. 

Very quietly aqd sedately did " Currer Bell " take 
her sudden change of fortune. She corresponded 
freely with her publishers, and with the critics who 



vn.] BR AN WELLS DEATH. 89 

had written to her concerning her book ; she told her 
father the secret of her authorship, and exhibited to 
him the draft which was the substantial recompense 
of her labours ; but in her letters to her friend no 
difference of tone is to be detected. Success was very- 
sweet to her, as we know ; but she bore her honours 
meekly, betraying nothing of the gratified ambition 
which must have filled her soul. She had not even 
revealed her identity to the publisher till, by an acci- 
dent, she became aware of the rumour that the writer 
had satirised Mr. Thackeray under the character of 
Rochester, and had even obtruded on the sorrows of 
his private life. Shocked at this supposition, she 
went to London by the night train, accompanied by 
Anne, and having breakfasted at the station, walked 
to the establishment in Cornhill, where she had much 
diflSculty in penetrating to the head of the house, 
having stated that he would not know her by her 
name. At last he came into the shop, saying, with 
some annoyance : "Young woman, what can you want 
with me?" "Sir, we have come up from Yorkshire. 
I wish to speak to you privately. I wrote *Jane 
Eyre.*" ''You wrote *Jane Eyre!'" cried the delighted 
publisher ; and taking them into his oflSce, insisted on 
their coming to the house of hi? inother, who would 
take every care of them. Charlotte related afte»-.vards 
the strange contrast be* -en the desolate waiting at 
the station in the early morning, and their loneliness 
in the crowd of. the great city, and finding themselves 
in the evening' seated among the brilliant company 



93 CHARLOTTE BRONTE. [vir. 

at the Opera House, listening to the performance of 
Jenny Lind. 

But her thoughts were soon turned from her 
literary triumphs. Bran well, who had been so long 
the dark shadow in their " humble home," was taken 
from them without any lengthened preliminary warn- 
ing. Sharing to the full the eccentricity of the 
family, he resolved to die as nobody else had ever 
died before ; and when the last agony came on he 
rose to his feet, as though proudly defying death itself 
to do its worst, and expired standing. In the follow- 
ing letter, hitherto unpublished, to one of her friends — 
not to her old schoolfellow — Charlotte thus speaks of 
the last act in the tragedy of her brother's life : 

Haworth, October 14th, 1848. 

The event to which you allude came upon us indeed 
with startling suddenness, and was a severe shock to us all. 
My poor brother has long had a shaken constitution, and 
during the summer his appetite had been diminished and 
he had seemed weaker; but neither we, nor himself, nor 
any medical man who was consulted on his case, thought it 
one of immediate danger : he was out of doors two days 
before his death, and was only confined to bed one single 
day. I thank you for your kind sympathy. Many, under 
the circumstances, would think our loss rather a relief than 
otherwise ; in truth, we must acknowledge, in all humility 
and gratitude, that God has greatly tempered judgment with 
mercy; but yet, as you doubtless know from experience, 
the last earthly separation cannot take place between near 
relations without the keenest pangs on the part of the sur 



VII.] EMILY'S DECLINE. 91 

vivors. Every wrong and sin is forgotten then ; pity and 
grief share the heart and the memory between them. Yet 
we are not without comfort in our affliction. A most pro- 
pitious change marked the few last days of poor BranwelFs 
life ; his demeanour, his language, his sentiments, were all 
singularly altered and softened, and this change could not 
be owing to the fear of death, for within half an hour of his 
decease he seemed unconscious of danger. In God's hands 
we leave him ! He sees not as man sees. Papa, I am 
thankful to say, has borne the event pretty well. His dis- 
tress was great at first. To lose an only son is no ordinary 
trial. But his physical strength has not hitherto failed him, 
and he has now in a great measure recovered his mental 
composure; my dear sisters are pretty well also. Unfor- 
tunately illness attacked me at the crisis, when strength was 
most needed ; I bore up for a day or two, hoping to be 
better, but got worse ; fever, sickness, total loss of appetite 
and internal pain were the symptoms. The doctor pro- 
nounced it to be bilious fever — but I think it must have 
been in a mitigated form ; it yielded to medicine and care 
in a few days ; I was only confined to my bed a week, and 
am, I trust, nearly well now. I felt it a grievous thing to 
be incapacitated from action and effort at a time when 
action and effort were most called for. The past month 
seems an overclouded period in my life. 

Alas ! the brave woman who felt it to be " a 
grievous thing " that she could not bear her full share 
of the family burden, little knew how terribly that 
burden was to be increased, how much heavier and 
blacker were the clouds which awaited her than any 
through which she had yet passed. The storm which 
even then was gathering upon her path was one 



92 CHARLOTTE BRONT&. [vii. 

which no sunshine of fame or prosperity could dis- 
sipate. The one to whom Charlotte's heart had 
always clung most fondly, the sister who had been 
nearest to her in age and nearest to her in affection, 
Emily, the brilliant but ill-fated child of genius, began 
to fade. " She had never," says Charlotte, speaking 
in the solitude of her fame, " lingered over any task 
in her life, and she did not linger now." Yet the 
quick decline of Emily Bronte is one of the saddest of 
all the sad features of the story. I have spoken of 
her reserve. So intense was it that when dying she 
refused to admit even to her own sisters that she was 
ilL They saw her fading before their eyes ; they 
knew that the grave was yawning at her feet ; and 
yet they dared not offer her any attention such as 
an invalid needed, and such as they were longing to 
bestow upon her. It was the cruellest torture of 
Charlotte's life. During the brief period of Emily's 
illness, her sister writes as follows to her friend : 

I mentioned your coming to Emily as a mere suggestion, 
with the faint hope that the prospect might cheer her, as 
she really esteems you perhaps more than any other person 
out of this house. I found, however, it would not do ; any, 
the slightest excitement or putting out of the way, is not to 
be thought of, and indeed I do not think the journey in 
this unsettled weather, with the walk from Keighley and 
back, at all advisable for yourself. Yet I should have liked 
to see you, and so would Anne. Emily continues much 
the same : yesterday I thought her a little better, but to-day 
she is not so well I hope still, for I must hope ; she is as 



vil] EMILTS funeral. 93 



dear to me as life. If I let the faintness of despair reach 
my heart I shall become worthless. The attack was, I 
believe, in the first place, inflammation of the lungs; it 
ought to have been met promptly in time ; but she would 
take no care, use no means, she is too intractable. I do 
wish I knew her state and feelings more clearly. The fever 
is not so high as it was, but the pain in the side, the cough, 
the emaciation are there still. 

The days went by in the parsonage, slov^ly, 
solemnly, each bringing some fresh burden of sorrow 
to the broken hearts of Charlotte and Anne. Emily's 
resolute spirit was unbending to the last. Day after 
day she refused to own that she was ill, refused to take 
rest or medicine or stimulants ; compelled her trembling 
hands to labour as of old. And so came the bitter morn- 
ing in December, the story of which has been told by 
Mrs. Gaskell with simple pathos, when she " arose and 
dressed herself as usual, making many a pause, but 
doing everything for herself," even going on with her 
sewing as at any time during the years past ; until 
suddenly she laid the unfinished work aside, whispered 
faintly to her sister : " If you send for a doctor I will 
see him now," and in two hours passed quietly away. 

The broken father, supported on either side by 
his surviving daughters, followed Emily to her grave 
in the old church. There was one other mourner — 
the fierce old dog whom she had loved better almost 
than any human being. 

Yes — says Charlotte, writing to her friend — there is no 
Emily in time or on earth now. Yesterday we put her poor 



94 CHARLOTTE BRONTA [vii. 

wasted mortal frame quietly under the church pavement. 
We are very calm at present. Why should we be otherwise ? 
The anguish of seeing her suffer is over. We feel she is at 
peace. No need now to tremble for the hard frost and the keen 
wind. Emily does not feel them. She died in a time of 
promise. We saw her taken from life in its prime. But it 
is God's will, and the place where she is gone is better than 
that she has left. 

It was in the very month of December, 1848, when 
Charlotte passed through this fierce ordeal, and wrote 
these tender words of love and resignation, that the 
Quarterly Review denounced her as an improper 
woman, who " for some sulfficient reason " had forfeited 
the society of her sex ! 

Terrible was the storm of death which in three 
short months swept off two of the little household at 
Haworth ; but it had not even yet exhausted all its 
fury. Scarcely had Emily been laid in the grave 
than Anne, the youngest and gentlest of the three 
sisters, began to fade. Very slowly did she droop. 
The winter passed away, and the spring came with a 
glimmer of hope ; but the following unpublished 
letter, written on the i6th of May, shows with what 
fears Charlotte set forth on that visit to Scarborough 
which her sister insisted upon undertaking as a last 
resource : 

Next Wednesday is the day fixed for our departure ; 
Ellen accompanies us at her own kind and friendly wish. 
I would not refuse her society, but dared not urge her to 
go, for I have little hope that the excursion will be one of 



VII.] DEATH OF ANNE. 95 

pleasure or benefit to those engaged in it. Anne is ex- 
tremely weak. She herself has a fixed impression that the 
sea-air will give her a chance of regaining strength. That 
chance therefore she must have. Having resolved to try 
the experiment, misgivings are useless, and yet when I look 
at her misgivings will rise. She is more emaciated than 
Emily was at the very last, her breath scarcely serves her to 
mount the stairs, however slowly. She sleeps very little at 
night, and often passes most of the forenoon in a semi- 
lethargic state. Still she is up all day, and even goes out 
a little when it is fine. Fresh air usually acts as a tem- 
porary stimulus, but its reviving power diminishes. 

I am indebted to the faithful friend and com- 
panion to whom allusion is made above, for the 
following account of the sad journey to Scarborough, 
and of its tragic end : 

On our way to Scarborough we stopped at York, and 
after a rest at the George Hotel, and partaking of dinner, 
which she enjoyed, Anne went out in a bath-chair, and made 
purchases, along with Charlotte, of bonnets and dresses, 
besides visiting the minister. The morning after her arrival 
at Scarborough, she insisted on going to the baths, and 
would be left there with only the attendant in charge. She 
walked back alone to her lodgings, but fell exhausted as she 
reached the garden-gate. She never named this, but it was 
discovered afterwards. The same day she had a drive in a 
donkey carriage, and talked with the boy-driver on kindness 
to animals. On Sunday she wanted again to be left alone, 
and for us to go to church. Finding we would not leave 
her, she begged that she might go out, and we walked down 
towards the saloon, she resting half way, and sending us on 
with the excuse that she wanted us to see the place, this 



96 CHARLOTTE BR0NT£. [vii. 

being our first visit, though not hers. In the evening, after 
again asking us to go to church, she sat by the sitting-room 
window, enjoying a very glorious sunset Next morning 
(the day she died) she rose by seven o'clock and dressed 
herself, refusing all assistance. She was the first of the little 
party to be ready to go downstairs ; but when she reached 
the head of the stairs, she felt fearful of descending. 
Charlotte went to her and discovered this. I fancying there 
was some difficulty, left my room to see what it was, when 
Anne smilingly told me she felt afraid of the steps down- 
ward. I immediately said : " Let me try to carry you ;" she 
looked pleased, but feared for me. Charlotte was angry at 
the idea, and greatly distressed, I could see, at this new 
evidence of Anne's weakness. Charlotte was at last per- 
suaded to go to her room and leave us. I then went a step 
or two below Anne, and begged her to put her arms round 
my neck, and I said : " I will carry you like a baby." She 
still feared, but on my promising to put her down if I could 
not do it, she consented to trust herself to me. Strength 
seemed to be given for the effort, but on reaching the foot 
of the stairs, poor Anne's head fell like a leaden weight upon 
the top of mine. The shock was terrible, for I felt it could 
only be death that was coming. I just managed to bear her 
to the front of her easy-chair and drop her into it, falling 
myself on my knees before her, very miserable at the fact, 
and letting her fall at last, though it was into her chair. She 
was shaken, but she put out her arms to comfort me, and 
said : " You know it could not be helped, you did your best.'' 
After this she sat at the breakfast-table and partook of a 
basin of boiled milk prepared for her. As ii a.m. 
approached, she wondered if she could be conveyed home 
in time to die there. At 2 p.m. death had come, and left 
only her beautiful form in the sweetest peace. 



Yii.] EMILY AND ANNE. 97 

She rendered up her soul with that sweetness and 
resignation of spirit which had adorned her through- 
out her brief life, even in the last hour crying : 
"Take courage, Charlotte, take courage!*' as she bade 
farewell to the sister who was left 

Before me lie the few letters which remain of 
Emily and Anne. There is little in them worth 
preserving. Both make reference to the fact that 
Charlotte is the great correspondent of the family, 
and that their brief and uninteresting epistles can 
have no charm for one who is constantly receiving 
letters from her. Yet that modest reserve which dis- 
tinguished the greatest of the three is plainly visible 
in what little remains of the correspondence of the 
others. They had discovered before their death the 
real power that lay within them ; they had just ex- 
perienced the joy which comes from the exercise of 
this power ; they had looked forward to a future 
which should be sunny and prosperous, as no other 
part of their lives of toil and patient endurance had 
been. Suddenly death had confronted them, and 
they recognised the fact that they must leave their 
work undone. Each faced the dread enemy in her 
own way, but neither shrank even from that blow. 
Emily's proud spirit refused to be conquered, and, as 
we have seen, up to the last agony she carried her- 
self as one sternly indifferent to the weaknesses of 
the flesh, including that final weakness which must 
conquer all of us in the end. Anne found conso- 
lation, pure and deep, in her religious faith, and she 



98 CHARLOTTE BRONTE. [vii. 



died cheerfully in the firm belief that she was but 
entering upon that fuller life which lay beyond the 
grave. The one was defiant, the other resigned ; but 
courage and fortitude were shown by each in accord- 
ance with her own special idiosyncrasy. 



VIIL 

** SHIRLEY." 

Charlotte went back from Scarborough to Haworth 
alone. Her father met her with unwonted demon- 
strations of affection, and she " tried to be glad " that 
she was once more under the familiar roof " But 
this time joy was not to be the sensation." Yet the 
courage which had held her sisters to the end sup- 
ported her amid the pangs of loneliness and bereave- 
ment Even now there was no bitterness, no morbid 
gloom in the heart which had suffered so keenly. 
Quietly but resolutely setting aside her own sorrow, 
refusing all the invitations of her friend to seek 
temporary relief in change of scene, she sat down to 
complete the story which was intended to tell the 
world what the lost Emily had seemed to be in the 
eyes of her fond sister. By herself, in the room in 
which a short year ago three happy sisters had worked 
together, within the walls which could never again 
echo with the old voices, or walking on the moors, 
which would never more be trodden by the firm, 
elastic step of Emily, she composed the brilliant 
story of " Shirley " — the brightest and healthiest of 
her works. As she writes she sometimes sends forth 

U 2 



loo CHARLOTTE BRONTM. [viii. 

messages to those who love her, which tell us of the 
spirit of the hero or the martyr burning within the frail 
frame of the solitary woman. " Submission, courage, 
exertion when practicable — these seem to be the 
weapons with which we must fight life's long battle ;" 
and that these are no mere words she proves with 
all her accustomed honesty and sincerity, by acting up 
to them to the very letter. But at times the burden 
presses upon her till it is almost past endurance. 
Strangely enough, it is a comparative trifle, as the 
world counts it, the illness of a servant, that occasions 
her fiercest outburst of open grief : 

You have to fight your way through labour and difficulty 
at home, it appears, but I am truly glad now you did not 
come to Haworth. As matters have turned out you would 
have found only discomfort and gloom. Both Tabby and 
Martha are at this moment ill in bed. Martha's illness has 
been most serious. She was seized with internal inflam- 
mation ten days ago ; Tabby's • lame leg has broken out, 
she cannot stand or walk. I have one of Martha's sisters 
to help me, and her mother comes up sometimes. There 
was one day last week when I fairly broke down for ten 
minutes, and sat down and cried like a fool. Martha's 
illness was at its height ; a cry from Tabby had called me 
into the kitchen, and I had found her laid on the floor, her 
head under the kitchen-grate. She had fallen from her 
chair in attempting to rise. Papa had just been declaring 
that Martha was in imminent danger; I was myself de- 
pressed with headache and sickness that day \ I hardly 
knew what to do or where to turn. Thank God, Martha is 
now convalescent; Tabby, I trust, will be better soon. 



»* <» 












^ - - -^--^ ^-^ -"^ -. 



VIII.] ''SHIRLEY'' COMPLETED. loi 

Papa is pretty well. I have the satisfaction of knowing that 
my publishers are delighted with what I sent them — this 
supports me, but life is a battle. May we ail be enabled to 
fight it well. 

This letter is dated September 24, 1849, at which 
time " Shirley '* is written, and in the hands of her 
publishers. She has painted the character of Emily 
in that of Shirley herself; and her friend JEllen is 
shadowed forth to the world in the person of Caroline 
Helston. When the book, with its vivid pictures of 
Yorkshire life at the beginning of the century, and its 
masterly sketches of characters as real as those which 
Shakespeare brings upon the stage, is published, there 
is but one outcry of praise, even from the critics who 
were so eager to condemn " Jane Eyre.'* Up to this 
point she had preserved her anonymity, but now she 
is discovered, and her admirers in London persuade 
her at last to visit them, and make acquaintance with 
her peers in the Republic of Letters, the men and 
women whose names were household words in Ha- 
worth Parsonage long before " Currer Bell " had made 
her first modest appeal to the world. 

A passage from one of the following letters, 
written during this first sojourn in London, has 
already been published ; but it will well bear re- 
printing : 

December, 1849. 
I have just remembered that as you do not know my 
address you cannot write to me till you get it. 1 came to 
this big Babylon last Thursday, and have been in wliat 



I * • ' * *• 

• • •« »* 



: •*: • . • • • ••• 



•• • • - • I* •• »MM *■ 



ioa' * * "VirAl^Z^OTTE BRONT&. [viii, 

seems to me a sort of whirl ever since ; for changes, scenes, 
and stimulus, which would be a trifle to others, are much to 

me. I found when I mentioned to Mr. my plan of 

going to Dr. 's it would not do at all. He would have 

been seriously hurt : he made his mother write to me, and 
thus I was persuaded to make my principal stay at his 
house. So far I have found no reason to regret this deci- 
sion. Mrs. received me at first like one who has had 

the strictest orders to be scrupulously attentive. I had fire 
in my bedroom evening and morning, two wax candles, &c., 

and Mrs. and her daughters seemed to look on me 

with a mixture of respect and alarm. But all this is changed; 
that is to say, the attention and politeness continue as great 
as ever, but the alarm and estrangement are quite gone; 
she treats me as if she liked me, and I begin to like her 
much. Kindness is a potent heart-winner. I had not 

judged too favourably of on a first impression — he 

pleases me much : I like him better as a son and brother 

than as a man of business. Mr. W too is really most 

gentlemanly and well-informed ; his weak points he certainly 

has, but these are not seen in society. Mr. X (the 

little man) has again shown his parts. Of him I have not yet 
come to a clear decision. Abilities he has, for he rules his 
firm and keeps forty young men under strict control by his 
iron will. His young superior likes him, which, to speak 
the truth, is more than I do at present. In fact, I suspect 
that he is of the Helston order of men — ^rigid, despotic, and 
self-willed. He tries to be very kind, and even to express 
sympathy sometimes, and he does not manage it. He has 
a determined, dreadful nose in the middle of his face, which, 
when poked into my countenance, cuts into my soul like 
iron. Still he is horribly intelligent, quick, searching, saga- 
cious, and with a memory of relentless tenacity : to turn to 



VIII.] LONDON. 103 



after him is to turn from granite to easy down or warm 



fur. I have seen Thackeray. 

As to being happy, I am under scenes and circumstances 
of excitement, but I suffer acute pain sometimes — mental 
pain, I mean. At the moment Mr. Thackeray presented 
himself I was thoroughly faint from inanition, having eaten 
nothing since a very slight breakfast, and it was then seven 
o'clock in the evening. Excitement and exhaustion together 
made savage work of me that evening. ^Hiat he thought of 
me I cannot tell. This evening I am going to meet Miss 
Martineau ; she has written to me most kindly ; she knows 
me only as Currer Bell \ I am going alone ; how I shall get 

on I do not know. If Mrs. were not kind, I should 

sometimes be miserable ; but she treats me almost affection- 
ately, her attentions never flag. I have seen many things ; 
I hope some day to tell you what. Yesterday I went over 

the new Houses of Parliament with Mr. , An attack 

of rheumatic fever has kept poor Mr. X out of the way 

since I wrote last. I am sorry for his sake. It grows quite 
dark. I must stop. I shall not stay in London a day 
longer than I first intended. On those points I form my 
resolutions, and will not be shaken. The thundering Times 
has attacked me savagely. 

The following letters (with one exception not pre- 
viously published) belong to the spring of 1850, when 
Charlotte was at home again, engaged in attending to 
her father and to the household cares which shared 
her attention with literary work and anxieties. The 
first, which refers exclusively to her visit to London, 
was addressed to one of her old friends in York- 
shire : 



104 CHARLOTTE BRONT&. [viir. 

Ellen it seems told you that I spent a fortnight in 
London last December. They wished me very much to* 
stay a month, alleging that I should in that time be able to 
secure a complete circle of acquaintance, but I found a fort- 
night of such excitement quite enough. The whole day 
was usually devoted to sight-seeiiig, and often the evening 
was spent in society ; it was more than I could bear for any 
length of time. On one occasion I met a party of my 
critics — seven of them. Some of them had been my bitter 
foes in print, but they were prodigiously civil face to face. 
These gentlemen seemed infinitely grander, more pompous, 
dashing, showy, than the few authors I saw. Mr. Thackeray, 
for example, is a man of very quiet, simple demeanour ; he 
is, however, looked upon with some awe and even dis- 
trust. His conversation is very peculiar, too perverse to 
be pleasant. It was proposed to me to see Charles Dickens, 
Lady Morgan, Mesdames Trollope, Gore, and some others ; 
but I was aware these introductions would bring a degree of 
notoriety I was not disposed to encounter ; I declined there- 
fore with thanks. Nothing charmed me more during my 
stay in town than the pictures I saw ; one or two private 
collections of Turner's best water-colours were indeed a 
treat. His later oil paintings are strange things — things that 
baffle description. I have twice seen Macready act ; once 
in "Macbeth," and once in "Othello." I astounded a 
dinner-party by honestly saying I did not like him. It is 
the fashion to rave about his splendid acting; anything 
more false and artificial, less genuinely impressive than his 
whole style, I could scarcely have imagined. The fact is, 
the stage system altogether is hollow nonsense. They act 
farces well enough ; the actors comprehend their parts and 
do them justice. They comprehend nothing about tragedy 
or Shakespeare, and it is a failure. I said so, and by so 



vin.] AUTHORS AND CRITICS. 105 

saying produced a blank silence, a mute consternation. I 
was indeed obliged to dissent on many occasions, and to 
offend by dissenting. It seems now very much the custom 
to admire a certain wordy, intricate, obscure style of poetry, 
such as Elizabeth Barrett Browning writes. Some pieces 
were referred to, about which Currer Bell was expected to 
be very rapturous, and failing in this he disappointed. 
London people strike a provincial as being very much taken 
up with little matters, about which no one out of particular 
town circles cares much. They talk too of persons, literary 
men and women, whose names are scarcely heard in the 
country, and in whom you cannot get up an interest. I 
think I should scarcely like to live in London, and were I 
obliged to live there I should certainly go little into com- 
pany — especially I should eschew the literary critics. 

I have, since you went, Tiad a remarkable epistle from 
Thackeray, long, interesting, characteristic ; but it unfor- 
tunately concludes with the strict injunction, Show this letter 
to no one \ adding that if he thought his letters were seen by 
others, he would either cease to write, or write only what 
was conventional. But for this circumstance I should have 
sent it with the others. I answered it at length. Whether 
my reply will give satisfaction or displeasure remains yet to 
be ascertained. Thax:keray's feelings are not such as can 
be gauged by ordinary calculation : variable weather is what 
I should ever expect from that quarter. Yet in correspond- 
ence, as in verbal intercourse, this would torment me. 

I believe I should have written to you before, but I 
don't know what heaviness of spirit has beset me of late, 
made my faculties dull, made rest weariness, and occupation 
burdensome. Now and then the silence of the house, the 
solitude of the room has pressed on me with a weight I 



io6 CHARLOTTE BR0NT£. [viii. 

found it difficult to bear, and recollection has not failed to 
be as alert, poignant, obtrusive, as other feelings were lan- 
guid. I attribute this state of things partly to the weather. 
Quicksilver invariably falls low in storms and high winds, 
and I have ere this been warned of approaching disturbance 
in the atmosphere by a sense of bodily weakness, and deep, 
heavy mental sadness, which some would call presentiment. 
Presentiment indeed it is, but not at all supernatural. The 
Haworth people have been making great fools of themselves 
about " Shirley ;" they take it in the enthusiastic light. 
When they got the volumes at the Mechanics' Institution, 
all the members wanted them ; they cast lots for the whole 
three, and whoever got a volume was only allowed to keep 
it two days, and to be fined a shilling per dimi for longer 
detention. It would be mere nonsense and vanity to tell 
you what they say. I have had no letters from London for 
a long time, and am very much ashamed of myself to find, 
now that that stimulus is withdrawn, how dependent upon it 
I had become. I cannot help feeling something of the 
excitement of expectation till post-hour comes, and when 
day after day it brings nothing I get low. This is a stupid, 
disgraceful, unmeaning state of things. I feel bitterly enraged 
at my own dependence and folly. It is so bad for the mind 
to be quite alone, to have none with whom to talk over 
little crosses and disappointments, and laugh them away. 
If I could write I daresay I should be better, but I cannot 
write a line. However (d.v.), I shall contend against the 

idiocy. I had rather a foolish letter from Miss the 

other day. Some things in it nettled me, especially an 
unnecessarily earnest assurance that in spite of all I had 
gone and done in the writing line I still retained a place in 
her esteem. My answer took strong and high ground at 
once. I said I had been troubled by no doubts on the 



VIII.] *'JANE EYREP 107 

subject, that I neither did myself nor her the injustice to 
suppose there was anything in what I had written to incur 
the just forfeiture of esteem. I was aware, I intimated, that 
some persons thought proper to take exceptions at " Jane 
Eyre," and that for their own sakes I was sorry, as I inva- 
riably found them individuals in whom the animal largely 
predominated over the intellectual, persons by nature coarse, 
by inclination sensual, whatever they might be by education 
and principle. 

I enclose a slip of newspaper for your amusement. Me 
It both amused and touched, for it alludes to some who are 
in this world no longer. It is an extract from an American 
paper, and is written by an emigrant from Haworth. You 
will find it a curious mixture of truth and inaccuracy. 
Return it when you write again. I also send you for 
perusal an opinion of " Jane E)nre," written by a working 
man in this village ; rather, I should say, a record of the 
feelings the i>ook excited in the poor fellow's mind ; it was 
not written for my inspection, nor does the writer now know 
that his little document has by intricate ways come into my 
possession, and I have forced those who gave it to promise 
that they will never inform him of this circumstance. He 
is a modest, thoughtful, feeling, reading being, to whom 
I have spoken perhaps about three times in the course of 
my life ; his delicate health renders him incapable of hard 
or close labour; he and his family are often under the 
pressure of want. He feared that if Miss Bronte saw what 
he had written she would laugh it to scorn. But Miss Bronte 

' considers it one of the highest, because one of the most 

truthful and artless tributes her work has yet received. You 
must return this likewise, I do you great honour in showing 

i it to you. 



I 



v>S CHARLOTTE BRONTA [viii. 

Once more we can see that the healthy, happy 
interest she takes in the welfare of others is beginning 
to assert itself. For a time, under the keen smart of 
the wounds death had inflicted on her, she had found 
little heart to discuss the affairs of her circle of friends 
in her correspondence ; but now the outer world vin- 
dicates its claim to her renewed attention, and she 
again begins to discuss and analyse the characters of 
her acquaintances with a skill and minuteness which 
make them as interesting even to strangers as any of 
the most closely-studied characters of fiction can be. 

I return Q ^^s letter. The business is a most un- 
pleasant one to be concerned in. It seems to me now 
altogether unworthy in its beginning, progress, and ending. 

Q is the only pure thing about it \ she stands between 

her coarse father and cold, unloving suitor, like innocence 
between a pair of world-hardened knaves. The comparison 

seems rather hard to be applied to V , but as I see him 

now he merits it If V has no means of keeping a wife, 

if he does not possess a sixpence he is sure of, how can he 
think of marrying a woman from whom he cannot expect 
she should work to keep herself? V«— -'s want of candour, 
the twice-falsified account he gave of the matter, tells pain- 
fully and deeply against him. It shows a glimpse of his 
hidden motives such as I refrain from describing in words. 
After all he is perhaps only like the majority of men. 
Certainly those men who lead a gay life in their youth, and 
arrive at middle life with feelings blunted and passions ex- 
hausted, can have but one aim in marriage — the selfish 
advancement of their interest. And to think that such men 
take as wives — as second selves — women young, modest, sin- 



vtii.] IMPORTUNATE CORRESPONDENTS. Io0 

cere, pure in heart and life, with feelings all fresh and emo- 
tions all unworn, and bind such virtue and vitality to their 
own withered existence, such sincerity to their own hoUow- 
ness, such disinterestedness to their own haggard avarice ! 
to think this, troubles the soul to its inmost depths. Nature 
and justice forbid the banns of such wedlock This note 

is written under excitement Q ^'s letter seems to have 

lifted so fraudulent a veil, and to show both father and 
suitor lurking behind in shadow so dark, acting from motives 
so poor and low, so conscious of each other's littleness, and 
consequently so destitute of mutual respect 1 These things 
incense me, but I shall cool down. 

I cannot find your last letter to refer to, and therefore 
this will be no answer to it. You must write again by return 
of post if possible, and let me know how you are progressing. 
What you said in your last confirmed my opinion that your 
late attack had been coming on for a long time. Your wish 
for a cold-water bath, &c., is, I should think, the result of 
fever. Almost everyone has complained lately of some 
tendency to slow fever. I have felt it in frequent thirst and 
in frequent appetite. Papa too, and even Martha, have 
complained. I fear this damp weather will scarcely suit 
you ; but write and say all. Of late I have had many letters 
to answer \ and some very bothering ones from people who 
want opinions about their books, who seek acquaintance, and 
who flatter to get it ; people who utterly mistake all about 
me. They are most difficult to answer, put off, and appease, 
without offending; for such characters are excessively touchy, 
and when affronted turn malignant. Their books are too 
often deplorable. 

In June, 1850, she is induced to pay another visit 
to London, going upon this occasion whilst the season 



no CHARLOTTE BR0NT£. [viil 

is at its height, though she has stipulated before going, 
that she is " not to be lionised." 

I came to London last Thursday. I am staying at 
Here I feel very comfortable. Mrs. treats me 



with a serene, equable kindness which just suits me. Her 
son is as before — genial and friendly. I have seen very few 
persons, and am not likely to see many, as the agreement 
was that I was to be very quiet. We have been to the 
exhibition of the Royal Academy, to the opera, and the 
Zoological Gardens. The weather is splendid. I shall not 
stay longer than a fortnight in London ; the feverishness and 
exhaustion beset me somewhat, but I think not quite so 
badly as before — as indeed I have not yet been so much 
tired. 

I am leaving London if all be well on Tuesday, and 
shall be very glad to come to you for a few days if that 
arrangement still remains convenient to you. My London 
visit has much surpassed my expectations this time. I have 
suffered less, and enjoyed more than before ; rather a trying 

termination yet remains to me. Mrs. ^'s youngest son is 

at school in Scotland, and her eldest is going to fetch him 
home for the vacation. The other evening he announced 
his intention of taking one of his sisters with him, and the 
evening after he further proposed that Miss Bronte should 
go down to Edinburgh and join them there, and see that 
city and its suburbs. I concluded he was joking, laughed 
and declined. However, it seems he was in earnest, and 
being always accustomed to have his will, he brooks opposi- 
tion ill. The thing appearing to me perfectly out of the 

question, I still refused. Mrs. did not at all favour it, 

but her worthy son only waxed more determined. This 
morning she came and entreated me to go ; G wished 



VIII.] A SAFEGUARD. m 

it so much, he had begged her to use her influence, &c. &c 
Now, I believe that he and I understand each other very 
well, and respect each other very sincerely. We both know 
the wide breach time has made between us. We do not 
embarrass each other, or very rarely. My six or eight years 
of seniority, to say nothing of lack of all pretensions to 
beauty, &c, are a perfect safeguard. I should not in the 
least fear to go with him to China. I like to see him 
pleased. I greatly dislike to ruffle and disappoint him ; so 
he shall have his mind, and if all be well I mean to join him 
in Edinburgh, after I have spent a few days with you. With 
his buoyant animal spirits and youthful vigour he will make 
severe demands on my muscles and nerves ; but I daresay 
I shall get through somehow. 



r 



IX. 

LONELINESS AND FAME. 

Charlotte Bronte's letters during 1850 and 185 1 

are among the most valuable illustrations of the true 
character of the woman which we possess. Stricken 
as she had been by successive bereavements, which had 
robbed her of her dearest friends and companions, and 
left her the sole prop of the dull house on the moors 
and of its aged head, she had yet recovered much of 
her peace of mind and even of her vitality and cheerful- 
ness. She had now, also, begun to see something of 
life as it is presented, not to despised governesses, but 
to successful authoresses. Her visits to London had 
brought her into contact with some of the leaders of 
the literary world. Who can have forgotten her inter- 
view with Thackeray, when she was " moved to speak 
to the giant of some of his shortcomings ? " Haworth 
itself had become a point of attraction to curious 
persons, and not a few visitors found their way under 
one pretence or another to the old parsonage, to be 
received with effusive courtesy by Mr. Bronte, and 
with shy indifference by his daughter. Her corre- 
spondence, too, became widely-spread among men 
and women of distinction in the world and in Society. 



IX.] STEADFAST AFFECTION. 113 

Altogether it was a different life upon which she now 
looked out from her remote eyrie among the hills — a 
life with many new interests in it, with much that was 
calculated to awaken chords in her heart hitherto 
untouched, and to bring to light new characteristics of 
her temper and genius. One would fain speculate 
upon what might have been, but for the desolation 
wrought in her home and heart by that tempest of 
death which raged during the autumn of 1848 and the 
spring of 1849. As it was, no novelty could make her 
forget what had been ; no new faces, however wel- 
come, could dim the tender visions of the faces that 
were seen no more, or could weaken in any degree 
the affection with which she still clung to the friend 
of her school-days. Simplicity and sincerity are the 
prevailing features of her letters, during this critical 
time m her life, as during all the years which had 
preceded it They reflect her mind in many moods ; 
they show her in many different situations ; but they 
never fail to give the impression of one whose alle- 
giance to her own conscience and whose reverence for 
truth and purity remain now what they had been in 
her days of happy and unworldly obscurity. The 
letters I now quote are quite new to the public. 

July i8th, 1850. 

You must cheer up, for your letter proves to me that 
you are low-spirited. As for me, what I said is to be taken 
in this sense : that, under the circumstances, it would be 
presumptuous in me to calculate on a long life — a truth 
obvious enough. For the rest, we are all in the hands of 

I 



1 



114 CHARLOTTE BR0NT£. {iX. 



Him who apportions His gifts, health or sickness, length or 

brevity of days, as is best for the receiver: to him who 

has work to do time will be given in which to do it ; for him 

to whom no task is assigned the season of rest will come 

earlier. As to the suffering preceding our last sleep, the 

sickness, decay, the struggle of flesh and spirit, it must come 

sooner or later to all. If, in one point of view, it is sad to 

have few ties in the world, in another point of view it is 

soothing; women who have husbands and children must 

look forward to death with more pain, more fear, than those 

who have none. To dismiss the subject, I wish (without 

cant, and not in any hackneyed sense) that both you and I 

could always say in this matter, the will of God be done. I 

am beginning to get settled at home, but the solitude seems 

heavy as yet. It is a great change, but in looking forward 

I try to hope for the best. So little faith have I in the 

power of any temporary excitement to do real good that I 

put off day by day writing to London to tell them I have 

come home ; and till then it was agreed I should not hear 

from them. It is painful to be dependent on the small 

stimulus letters give. I sometimes think I will renounce it 

altogether, close all correspondence on some quiet pretext, 

and cease to look forward at post-time for any letters but 

yours. 

August 1st, 185a 

My dear E., — I have certainly felt the late wet weather 
a good deal, and been somewhat bothered with frequently- 
returning colds, and so has Papa. About him I have been 
far from happy : every cold seems to make and leave him so 
weak. It is easy to say this world is only a scene of proba- 
tion, but it is a hard thing to. feel. Your friends the s 

seem to be happy just now, and long may they continue to be 
so ! Give C. Bronte's sincere love to R and tell her she 



IX.] HER PORTRAIT. 115 

hopes Mr. will make her a good husband. If he does 

not, woe be to him ! I wish a similar wish for Q ; and 

then I do really think there will be a kind of happiness. 

That proposition about remaining at H sounds like 

beginning Hfe sensibly, with no showy dash — I like it Are 
you comfortable amongst all these turtle-doves? I could 
not maintain your present position for a day ; I should feel 
de tropy as the French say ; that is in the way. But you are 
different to me. My portrait is come from London, and 
the Duke of Wellington's, and kind letters enough. Papa 
thinks the portrait looks older than I do He says the 
features are far from flattered, but acknowledges that the 
expression is wonderfully good and life-like. I left the book 

called " Social Aspects " at B ; accept it from me. I 

may well give it you, for the author has kindly sent me 

another copy You ask for some promise : who that 

does not know the future can make promises ? Not I. 

September 2nd, 185a 

Poor Mrs. A it seems is gone ; I saw her death in 

the papers. It is another lesson on the nature of life, on 
its strange brevity, and in many instances apparent futility. 

V came here on Saturday last ; T j who 

was to have accompanied him, was prevented from executing 
his intention. I regretted his absence, for I by no means 

coveted the long tcte-a-tete with V . However, it passed 

off pretty well. He is satisfied now with his own prospects, 
and this makes him — on the surface — satisfied with other 

things. He spoke of Q with content and approbation. 

He looks forward to marriage as a sort of harbour where he 
is to lay up his now somewhat battered vessel in quiet 
moorings. He has seen all he wants to see of life ; now he 
IS prepared to settle. I listened to all with equanimity and 

I 2 



ii6 CHARLOTTE BRONTE, {i^, 

cheerfulness — not assumed but real — for Papa is now .some- 
what better ; his appetite and spirits are improved, and that 
eases my mind of cankering anxiety. My own health, too, 
is, I think, really benefited by the late changes of air and 
scene; I fancy, at any rate, that I feel stronger. Still I 

mused in my own way on V *s character — ^its depth and 

scope, I believe, are ascertained. 

I saw the governess at ; she looked a little better 

and more cheerful. She was almost as pleased to see me 
as if we had been related ; and when I bid her good-bye 
expressed an earnest hope that I would soon come again. 
The children seem fond of her, and on the whole obedient — 
two great alleviations of the inevitable evils of her position. 
Cheer up, dear Nell, and try not to stagnate ; or, when 
you cannot help it, and when your heart is constricted and 
oppressed, remember what life is and must be to all : some 
moments of sunshine alternating with many of overclouded 
and often tempestuous darkness. Humanity cannot escape 
its fate, which is to drink a mixed cup. Let us believe 
that the gall and the vinegar are salutary. 

Sept. 14th, 1850W 
I wish, dear Ellen, you would tell me what is the 
** twaddle" about my marrying, which you hear. If I knew 
the details I should have a better chance of guessing the 
quarter from which such gossip comes. As it is I am quite 
at a loss. Whom am I to marry ? I think I have scarcely 
seen a single man with whom such a union would be pos- 
sible since I left London. Doubtless there are men whom, 
if I chose to encourage, I might marry. But no matrimonial 
lot is even remotely offered me which seems to me truly 
desirable. And even if that were the case there would be 
many obstacles. The least allusion to such a thing is most 
offensive to Papa. An article entitled " Currer Bell " has 



IX.] A HONEYMOON. 117 

lately appeared in The Palladium y a new periodical pub- 
lished in Edinburgh. It is an eloquent production, and 
one of such warm sympathy and high appreciation as I had 
never expected to see. It makes mistakes about author- 
ship, &c., but those I hope one day to set right. Mr. X 

(the little man) first informed me of this article. I was 
somewhat surprised to receive his letter, having concluded 
nine months ago that there would be no more correspon- 
dence from that quarter. I enclose a note from him received 
subsequently, in answer to my acknowledgment Read it, 
and tell me exactly how it impresses you regarding the 
writer's character, &c. He is deficient neither in spirit nor 
sense. 

October I4tli, 1850. 

I return Q *s letter. She seems quite happy and 

fully satisfied of her husband's affection. Is this the usual 
way of spending the honeymoon ? To me it seems as if 
they overdo it. That travelling, and tugging, and fagging 
about, and getting drenched and muddled, by no means 
harmonises with my notions of happiness. Besides, the two 
meals a day, &c, would do one up. It all reminds me too 

sharply of the few days I spent with V in London 

nearly ten years since, when I was many a time fit to drop 
with the fever and the faintness resulting from long fasting 
and excessive fatigue. However, no doubt a bride can 
bear such things better than others. I smiled to myself at 
some passages. She has wondrous faith in her husband's 

intellectual powers and acquirements. V 's illusions 

will soon be over, but Q 's will not — and therein she is 

happier than he I suppose will probably dis- 
cover that he, too, wants a wife. But I will say no more. 
You know I disapprove of jesting and teasing on these 
matters. Idle words sometimes do unintentional harm. 



ii8 CHARLOTTE BRONT&. [ixi 

December, 1850. 
I got home all right yesterday soon after two o'clock, 
and found Papa, thank God, well and free from cold. To-day 
some amount of sickliness and headache is bothering me, 

but nothing to signify The Christmas books waiting 

for me were, as I expected, from Thackeray, Mrs. Gaskell, 

and Mr. Ruskin. No letter from Mr. W . It is six 

weeks since I heard from him, I feel uneasy, but do not 
like to write. The Examiner is very sore about my Preface, 
because I did not make it a special exception in speaking 
of the mass of critics. The soreness is unfortunate and 
gratuitous, for in my mind I certainly excepted it. •Another 
paper shows painful sensitiveness on the same account ; but 
it does not matter, these things are all transitory. 

The " Preface " to which she alludes in the fore- 
going letter, was that to her collected edition of Emily 
and Anne Bronte^s works, in which she makes allusion 
to the fact that the " critics failed to do justice " to 
" Wuthering Heights ^^ and "Agnes Grey^' when they 
were published. 

Jan. 20th, 185 1. 
Thank you heartily for the two letters I owe you. 
You seem very gay at present, and provided you only take 
care not to catch cold with coming home at night, I am not 
sorry to hear it \ a little movement, cheerfulness, stimulus, is 
not only beneficial, but necessary. Your last letter but one 
made me smile. I think you draw great conclusions from 
small inferences. I think those "fixed intentions" you 
fancy are imaginary. I think the " under-current " amounts 
simply to this, a kind of natural liking and sense of some- 
thing congenial. Were there no vast barrier of age, for 



IX.] CONDITIONS OF MATRIMONY. 119 

tune, &c., there is perhaps enough personal regard to make 
things possible which now are impossible. If men and 
women married because they like each other's temper, look, 
conversation, nature, and so on — and if, besides, years were 
more nearly equal — the chance you allude to might be 
admitted as a chance ; but other reasons regulate matri- 
mony — treasons of convenience, of connection, of money. 
Meantime I am content to know him as a friend, and pray 
God to continue to me the common sense to look on one so 
young, so rising, and so hopeful in no other light. The 
hint about the Rhine disturbs me ; I am not made of stone 
and what is mere excitement to others is fever to me. How- 
ever it is a matter for the future, and long to look forward 
to. As I see it now, the journey is out of the question — 
for many reasons — I rather wonder he should think of it. 
Good-bye. Heaven grant us both some quiet wisdom and 
strength, not merely to bear the trial of pain, but to resist 
the lure of pleasure when it comes in such a shape as our 
better judgment disapproves. 

Feb. 26th, 185 1. 
You ought always to conclude that when I don't write 
it is simply because I have nothing particular to say. Be 
sure that ill news will travel fast enough, and good news too 
when such commodity comes. If I could often be or seem 
in brisk spirits, I might write oftener, knowing that my 
letters would amuse. But as times go, a glimpse of sun- 
shine now and then is as much as one has a right to expect 
However, I get on very decently. I am now and then 
tempted to break through my resolution of not having you 
to come before summer, and to ask you to come to this 
Patmos in a week or two. But it would be dull — ^very dull 

— for you What would you say to coming here the 

week after next to stay only just so long as you could com- 



I20 CHARLOTTE BRONT&, [ix. 

fortably bear the monotony ? If the weather were dry, and 
the moors fine, I should not mind it so much — we could 
walk for change. 

About this time it is clear that Miss Bronte was 
suffering from one of her periodical attacks of nervous 
exhaustion. She makes repeated references in her 
letters to her ailments, attributing them generally to 
her liver, and she also mentions frequently an occur- 
rence which had given her not a little anxiety and 
concern. This was an offer of marriage from a 
business man in a good position, whom she had 
already met in London. The following letters, which 
are inserted here without regard to the precise date, 
and of which Mrs. Gaskell has merely used half-a- 
dozen lines, relate to this subject : 

You are to say no more about " Jupiter " and " Venus." 
What do you mean by such heathen trash ? The fact is no 
fallacy can be wilder, and I won't have it hinted at, even in 
jest, because my common sense laughs it to scorn. The 

idea of X shocks me less ; it would be a more likely 

match, if " matches " were at all in question, which they are 
not He still sends his little newspaper, and the other day 
there came a letter of a bulk, volume, pith, judgment, and 
knowledge, worthy to have been the product of a giant 

X has been, and is gone ; things are just as they 

were. I only know, in addition to the slight information I 
possessed before, that this Australian undertaking is neces- 
sary to the continued prosperity of his firm, that he alone 
was pronounced to possess the power and means to carry it 
^mt *>uccessfully, that mercantile honour, combined with his 



IX.] A PAINFUL' FARTING. 121 

jwn sense of duty, obliged him to accept the post of honour 
and of danger to which he has been appointed, that he goes 
with great personal reluctance, and that he contemplates an 
absence of five years. He looked much thinner and older. 
I saw him very near, and once through my glass. The 
resemblance to Branwell struck me forcibly ; it is marked. 
He is not ugly, but very peculiar. The lines in his face 
show an inflexibility, and, I must add, a hardness of cha- 
racter, which does not attract As he stood near me, as he 
looked at me in his keen way, it was all I could do to stand 
my ground tranquilly and steadily, and not to recoil as 
before. It is no use saying anything if I am not candid. I 
avow then that on this occasion, predisposed as I was to 
regard him very favourably, his manners and his personal 
appearance scarcely pleased me more than at the first inter- 
view. He gave me a book at parting, requesting in his 
brief way that I would keep it for his sake, and adding 
hastily : " I shall hope to hear from you in Australia ; your 
letters have been and will be a greater refreshment than you 
can think or I can telL" And so he is gone, and stem and 
abrupt little man as he is, too often jarring as are his 
manners, his absence and the exclusion of his idea from my 
mind, leave me certainly with less support and in deeper 
solitude than before. You see, dear Nell, we are still pre- 
cisely on the same level. You are not isolated. I feel 
that there is a certain mystery about this transaction yet, 
and whether it will ever be cleared up to me, I do not 
know. However, my plain duty is to wean my mind from 

the subject, and if possible to avoid pondering over it 

I feel that in his way he has a regard for me; a regard 
which I cannot bring myself entirely to reciprocate in kind, 
and yet its withdrawal leaves a painful blank. I have just got 
your note. Above, you have all the account of my visitor. 



122 CHARLOTTE BRONT&. [ix. 

I dare not aver that your kind wish that the visit would 
yield me more pleasure than pain has been fulfilled. Some- 
thing at my heart aches and gnaws drearily. But I must 
cultivate fortitude. 

Thank you for your kind note. It was kind of you to 
write it, though it was your school-day. I never knew you 
to let a slight impediment stand in your way when doing a 
friendly action. Certainly I shall not soon forget last 
Friday, and never, I think, the evening and night succeed- 
ing that morning and afternoon. Evils seldom come singly, 

and soon after X was gone Papa grew much worse. He 

went to bed early. Was sick and ill for an hour, and when 
at last he began to doze and I left him, I came down to the 
dining-room with a sense of weight, fear, and desolation 
hard to express and harder to endure. A wish that you 
were with me did cross my mind \ but I repelled it as 
a most selfish wish. Indeed it was only short-lived \ my 
natural tendency in moments of this sort is to get through 
the struggle alone ; to think that one is burdening others 
makes all worse. You speak to me in soft, consolatory 
accents ; but I hold far sterner language to myself, dear 
Nell. An absence of five years ; a dividing expanse of 
three oceans j the wide difference between a man's active 
career and a woman's passive existence. These things are 
almost equivalent to a life-long separation. But there is 
another thing which forms a barrier more difficult to pass 

than any of these. Would X and I ever suit ? Could 

I ever feel for him enough love to accept of him as a hus- 
band ? 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. I did not want to be proud nor intend 



IX.] IMPORTANT DECISION. 123 

to be proud, but I was forced to be so. Most true is it that 
we are overruled by One above us, that in His hands our 
very will is as clay in the hands of the potter. 

I trust Papa is not worse ; but he varies. He has never 
been down to breakfast but once since you left. The 
circumstance of having him to think about just now is good 
for me in one way ; it keeps my thoughts off other matters 
which have been complete bitterness and ashes ; for I do 
assure you a more entire crumbling away of a seeming foun- 
dation of support and prospect of hope than that which I 
allude to can scarcely be realised. 

I have heard from X to-day, a quiet little note. 

He returned to London a week since on Saturday. He 
leaves England next month. His note concludes with ask- 
ing whether he has any chance of seeing me in London 
before that time. I must tell him that I have already fixed 
June for my visit, and, therefore, in all human probability 
we shall see each other no more. There is still a want of 
plain mutual understanding in this business, and there is 
sadness and pain in more ways than one. My conscience, 
I can truly say, does not now accuse me of having treated 

X with injustice or unkindness. What I once did 

wrong in this way I have endeavoured to remedy both to 
himself and in speaking of him to others. I am sure he 
has estimable and sterling qualities ; but with every disposi- 
tion — with every wish — with every intention even to look 
on him in the most favourable point of view at his last visit, 
it was impossible for me in my inmost heart to think of him 
as one that might one day be acceptable as a husband. 

.... No, if X be the only husband fate offers to me, 

single I must always remain. But yet at times I grieve for 
him ; and perhaps it is superfluous, for I cannot thmk he 






124 CHARLOTTE BRONTE, [ix. 

will suffer much — a hard nature, occupation, change of 
scene will befriend him. 

I have had a long, kind letter from Miss Martineau 
lately. She says she is well and happy. Also I have had a 

very long letter from Mr. , the first for many weeks. 

He speaks of X with much respect and regret, and 

says he will be greatly missed by many friends. I discover 
with some surprise that Papa has taken a decided liking to 

X , The marked kindness of his manner to him when 

he bade him good-bye, exhorting him to be "true to himself, 
his country, and his Gk)d," and wishing him all good wishes, 
struck me with some astonishment at the time ; and when- 
ever he has alluded to him since, it has been with significant 

eulogy You say Papa has penetration. On this 

subject I believe he has indeed. I have told him nothing, 
yet he seems to be au fait to the whole business. I could 
think at some moments his guesses go further than mine. 
I believe he thinks a prospective union, deferred for five 
years, with such a decorous, reliable personage, would be a 
very proper and advisable affair. However I ask no ques- 
tions, and he asks me none ; and if he did I should have 
nothing to tell him. 

The summer following this affair of the heart wit- 
nessed another visit to London, where she heard 
Mr. Thackeray's lectures on the humourists. How 
she enjoyed listening to her idol, in one of his best 
moods, need not be told. Some there are still 
living who remember that first lecture, when all 
London had assembled to listen to the author of 
** Vanity Fair," and the rumour suddenly ran round 
the room that the author of " Jane Eyre " was among 



IX.] MR. THACKERAY'S LECTURES. 125 

the audience. Men and women were at fault at first, 
in their efforts to distinguish " Currer Bell " in that 
brilliant company of literary and social notabilities ; 
but at last she was discovered hiding under the 
motherly wing of a chaperon, timid, blushing, but 
excited and pleased — not at the attention she herself 
attracted, but at the treat she had in prospect. One 
or two gentlemen sought and obtained introduc- 
tions to her — amongst them Lord Carlisle and 
Mr. Monckton Milnes. They were not particularly 
impressed by the appearance or the speech of the 
parson's daughter. Her person was insignificant, her 
dress somewhat rustic, her language quaintly precise 
and formal, her manner odd and constrained. Alto- 
gether this was a woman whom even London could 
not lionise ; somebody outwardly altogether too plain, 
simple, unpretending, to admit of hero-worship. 
Within there was, as we know, something entirely 
exceptional and extraordinary; but, like Lucy Snowe, 
she still kept her real self hidden under a veil which 
no casual friend or chance acquaintance was allowed 
to lift. It was but a brief visit to the " Big Babylon," 
and then back to Haworth, to loneliness and duty ! 
In July, 185 1, she writes from the parsonage to one of 
her friends as follows : 

My first feeling on receiving your note was one of dis- 
appointment, but a little consideration sufficed to show me 
that ** all was for the best." In truth it was a great piece 
of extravagance on my part to ask you and Ellen together ; 
it is much better to divide such good things. To have your 



126 CHARLOTTE BRONTK [ix. 

visit in prospect will console me when hers is in retrospect 
Not that I mean to yield to the weakness of clinging de- 
pendently to the society of friends, however dear ; but still 
as an occasional treat I must value and even seek such 
society as a necessary of life. Let me know then whenever 
it suits your convenience to come to.Haworth, and, unless 
some change I cannot now foresee occurs, a ready and warm 
welcome will await you. Should there be any cause render- 
ing it desirable to defer the visit, I will tell you frankly. 
The pleasures of society I cannot offer you ; nor those of 
fine scenery. But I place very much at your command — 
the moors, some books, a series of quiet "curling-hair- 
times," and an old pupil into the bargain. Ellen may have 
told you that I spent a month in London this summer. 
When you come you shall ask what questions you like on 
that point, and I will answer to the best of my stammering 
ability. Do not press me much on the subject of the 
Crystal Palace. I went there five times, and certainly 
saw some interesting things, and the coup d'^xil is striking 
and bewildering enough. But I never was able to get up 
any raptures on the subject, and each renewed visit was 
made under coercion rather than my own free will It is 
an excessively bustling place ; and after all, its wonders 
appeal too exclusively to the eye, and rarely touch the heart 
or head. I make an exception to the last assertion in 
favour of those who possess a large range of scientific 
knowledge. Once I went with Sir David Brewster, and 
perceived that he looked on objects with other eyes than 
mine. 



^* VILLETTE." 

With the autumn of 1851 another epoch in the life 
of Charlotte Bronte was ushered in. She began to 
write "Villette/* Something has already been said 
of the true character of that marvellous book, in 
which her own deepest experiences and ripest wisdom 
are given to the world. Of the manner in which it 
was written her readers know nothing. Yet this, the 
best-beloved child of her genius, was brought forth 
with a travail so bitter that more than once she was 
tempted to lay aside her pen and hush her voice for 
ever. Every sentence was wrung from her as though 
it had been a drop of blood, and the book was built 
up bit by bit, amid paroxysms of positive anguish, 
occasioned in part by her own physical weakness and 
suffering, but still more by the torture through which 
her mind passed as she depicted scene after scene 
from the darkest chapter in her own life, for the 
benefit of those for whom she wrote. It is from her 
letters that at this time also we get the best indica- 
tions of what she was passing through. Few, perhaps, 
reading these letters would suppose that their writer 
was at that very time engaged in the production of a 



128 CHARLOTTE BE0NT£. [x. 

great masterpiece, destined to hold its own among 
the ripest and finest fruits of English genius. But 
no one can read them without seeing how true the 
woman's soul was, how deep her sympathy with those 
she loved, how keen her criticisms of even the dull 
and commonplace characters around her, how vivid 
and sincere her interest in everything which was pass- 
ing either in the great world which lay afar off, or in 
the little world the drama of which was being enacted 
under her own eyes. Even the ordinary incidents 
mentioned in her letters, the chance expressions which 
drop from her pen, have an interest when we re- 
member who it is that speaks, and at what hour in 
her life this speech falls from her. 

September, 185 1. 

I have mislaid your last letter, and so cannot look it 
over to see what there is in it to answer ; but it is time it 
was answered in some fashion, whether I have anything to 

say or not. Miss *s note is very like her. All that talk 

about "friendship," "mutual friends," "auld lang syne," &c., 

sounds very like palaver. Mrs. wrote to me a week or 

a fortnight since — a well-meaning, amiable note, dwelling a 
good deal, excusably perhaps, on the good time that is 
coming. I mean, to speak plain English, on her expectation 
of soon becoming a mother. No doubt it is very natural 
in her to feel as if no woman had ever been a mother 
before ; but I could not help inditing an answer calculated 
to shak6 her up a bit. A day or two since I had another 
note from her, quite as good as usual, but I think a trifle 
nonplussed by the rather unceremonious fashion in which 
her terrors and the expected personage were handled. . . . 



X.] LETTER FROM AUSTRALIA. 129 

It is useless to tell you how I live. I endure life; but 

whether I enjoy it or not is another question. However, I 

get on. The weather, I think, has not been very good 

latdy j or else the beneficial effects of change of air and 

scene are evaporating. In spite of regular exercise the old 

headaches and starting, wakeful nights are coming upon me 

again. But I do get on, and have neither wish nor right to 

complain. 

October, 185 1. 

I am not at all intending to go from home at present 
I have just refused successively Miss Martineau, Mrs. 
Gaskell, and Mrs. Forster. I could not go if I would. 
One person after another in the house has been ailing for 
the last month and more. First Tabby had the influenza, 
then Martha took it and is ill in bed now, and I grieve to 
say Papa too has taken cold. So far I keep pretty well, and 
am thankful for it, for who else would nurse them all? 
Some painful mental worry I have gone through this 
autumn \ but there is no use in dwelling on all that. At 
present I seem to have some respite. I feel more disin- 
clined than ever for letter-writing. • • • • Life is a struggle. 

November, 185 1. 
Papa, Tabby, and Martha are at present all better, but 
yet none of them well Martha especially looks feeble. I 
wish she had a better constitution. As it is, one is always 
afraid of giving her too much to do ; and yet there are 
many things I cannot undertake myself; and we do not 
like to change when we have had her so long. The other 
day I received the enclosed letter from Australia. I had 
had one before from the same quarter, which is still un- 
answered. I told you I did not expect to hear thence — nor 
did I. The letter is long, but it will be worth your while to 
read it In its way it has merit — ^that cannot be denied — 

K 



\ 



130 CHARLOTTE BRONTA [x. 

abundance of information, talent of a certain kind, alloyed 
(I think) here and there with errors of taste. This little 
man with all his long letters remains as much a conundrum 

to me as ever. Your account of the H ** domestic 

joys " amused me much. The good folks seem very happy ; 
long may they continue so ! It somewhat cheers me to 
know that such happiness does exist on earth. 

November, 185 1. 

All here is pretty much as usual The only 

events of my life consist in that little change occasional 

letters bring. I have had two from Miss W since she 

left Haworth, which touched me much. She seems to 
think so much of a little congenial company, a little atten- 
tion and kindness. She says she has not for many days 
known such enjoyment as she experienced during the ten 
days she stayed here. Yet you know what Haworth is — 

dull enough. Before answering X ^s letter from Australia 

I got up my courage to write to and beg him to give 

me an impartial account of X 's character and disposi- 
tion, owning that I was very much in the dark on these 
points and did not like to continue correspondence without 
further information. I got the answer which I enclose. 

Since receiving it I have replied to X in a calm, civil 

manner. At the earliest I cannot hear from him again 
before the spring. 

December, 1 85 1. 

I hope you have got on this last week welL It has 
been very trying here. Papa so far has borne it unhurt; 
but these winds and changes have given me a bad cold ; 
however, I am better now than I was. Poor old Keeper 
(Emily's dog) died last Monday morning, after being ill one 
night. He went gently to sleep ; we laid his old faithful 
head in the garden. Flossy is dull, and misses hira. 



X.] DEATH OF EMILY'S DOG. 131 

There was something very sad in losing the old dog ; yet I 
am glad he met a natural fate. People kept hinting that he 
ought to be put away, which neither Papa nor I liked to 
think of. If I were near a town, and could get cod-liver 
oil fresh and sweet, I really would most gladly take your 
advice and try it ; but how I could possibly procure it at 
Haworth I do not see. .... You ask about " The Lily 
and the Bee." If you have read it, you have effected an 
exploit beyond me. I glanced at a few pages, and laid it 
down hopeless, nor can I now find courage to resume it. 
But then, I never liked Warren's writings. " Margaret 
Maitland " is a good book, I doubt not. 

At this point the illness of which she makes light 
in these letters increased to such an extent as to 
alarm her father, and at last she consented to lay- 
aside her work and allow herself the pleasure and 
comfort of a visit from her friend. The visit was a 
source of happiness whilst it lasted ; but when it was 
over the depression returned, and there was a serious 
relapse. Something of her sufferings at this time — 
whilst " Villette " was still upon the stocks — ;will be 
gathered from the following letter, dated January 
1852 : 

I wish you could have seen the coolness with which I 
captured your letter on its way to Papa, and at once con- 
jecturing its tenor, made the contents my own. Be quiet. 
Be tranquil It is, dear Nell, my decided intention to come 

to B for a few days when I can come ; but of this 

last I must positively judge for myself, and I must take 
my time. I am better to-day — much better ; but you can 
have little idea of the sort of condition into which mercury 

K 2 



132 CHARLOTTE £R0NT£. [x. 

throws people to ask me to go from home anywhere in 
close or open carriage. And as to talking — four days ago 
I could not well have articulated three sentences. Yet I 
did not need nursing, and I kept out of bed. It was 
enough to burden myself; it would have been misery to me 
to have annoyed another. 

March, 1852. 

The news of E. T.*s death came to me last week in a 

letter from M , a long letter, which wrung my heart so 

hi its simple, strong, truthful emotion, I have only ventured 
to read it once. It ripped up half-scarred wounds with 
terrible force — the death-bed was just the same — ^breath 
failing, &c. She fears she will now in her dreary solitude 
become " a stem, harsh, selfish woman." This fear struck 
home. Again and again I have felt it for myself; and what 

is my position to M ^'s ? I should break out in energetic 

wishes that she would return to England, if reason would 
permit me to believe that prosperity and happiness. would 
there await her. But I see no such prospect. May God 
help her as God only can help ! 

To another friend she writes as follows, in reply 
to an invitation to leave Haworth for a short visit : 

March 12th, 1852. 

Your kind note holds out a strong temptation, but one 
that must be resisted. From home I must not go unless 
health or some cause equally imperative render a change 
necessary. For nearly four months now (/>. since I first 
became ill) I have not put pen to paper; my work has 
been lying untouched, and my faculties have been rusting 
for want of exercise ; further relaxation is out of the 
question, and / will not permit myself to think of it. My 
publisher groans over my long delays; I am sometimes 



x;] VISIT TO SCARBOROUGH. 133 

provoked to Check the expression of his impatience with 
short and crusty answers. Yet the pleasure I now deny 
myself I would fain regard as only deferred. I heard 
something about your purposing to visit Scarborough in the 
course of the summer ; and could I by the close of July 
or August bring my task to a certain point, how glad should 
I be to join you there for a while! .... However, I 
dare not lay plans at this distance of time ; for me so much 
must depend, first, on Papa's health (which throughout the 
winter has been, I am thankful to say, really excellent), 
and, second, on the progress of work — z, matter not 
wholly contingent on wish or will, but lying in a great 
measure beyond the reach of effort, or out of the pale of 
calculation. 

As the summer advanced her sufferings were 
scarcely abated, and at last, in search of some relief, 
she made a sudden visit by herself to Filey, inspired 
in part by her desire to see the memorial-stone 
erected above her sister's grave at Scarborough. 

FUey Bay, June, 1852. 

My dear Miss , — ^Your kind and welcome note 

reached me at this place, where I have been staying three 
weeks quite alone. Change and sea-air had become necessary. 
Distance and other considerations forbade my accompanpng 
Ellen to the South, much as I should have liked it had I felt 
quite free and unfettered. Ellen told me some time ago 
that you were not likely to visit Scarborough till the autumn, 
so I forthwith packed my trunk and betook myself here. The 
first week or ten days I greatly feared the seaside would not 
suit me, for I suffered almost incessantly from headache and 
other harassing ailments ; the weather, too, was dark, stormy, 



134 CHARLOTTE BRONTE. [x. 

and excessively — bitterly — cold. My solitude under such 
circumstances partook of the character of desolation ; I had 
some dreary evening hours and night vigils. However, that 
passed. I think I am now better and stronger for the 
change, and in a day or two hope to return home. Ellen 

told me that Mr. W said people with my tendency to 

congestion of the liver should walk three or four hours 
every day ; accordingly, I have walked as much as I could 
since I came here, and look almost as sunburnt and 
weather-beaten as a fisherman or a bathing-woman, with 
being out in the open air. As to my work, it has stood 
obstinately still for a long while ; certainly a torpid liver 
makes a torpid brain. No spirit moves me. If this state 
of things does not entirely change, my chance of a holiday 
in the autumn is not worth much ; yet I should be very 
sorry not to meet you for a little while at Scarborough. 
The duty to be discharged at Scarborough was the chief 
motive that drew me to the east coast. I have been there, 
visited the churchyard, and seen the stone. There were 
five errors; consequently I had to give directions for its 
being re-faced and re-lettered. 

The sea-air did her good ; but she was still unable 
to carry her great work forward, in spite of the 
urgent pressure put upon her by those who in this 
respect merely expressed the impatience of the 
public. 

Haworth, July, 1852. 

I am again at home, where (thank God) I found all 
well. I certainly feel much better than I did, and would 
fain trust that the improvement may prove permanent. 

The first fortnight I was at Filey I had constantly 

recurring pain in the right side, and sick headache into the 



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135 




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i 

St, 1852. 

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change, af^ ^*^ ' 

told me t^ 

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motive tha- y^ " " 

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X.] SUSPENDED LABOURS 135 

bargain. My spirits at the same time were cruelly depressed 
— prostrated sometimes. I feared the miseries and the 
suffering of last winter were all returning ; consequently I 
am now indeed thankful to find myself so much better. 

You ask about Australia. Let us dismiss the 

subject in a few words, and not recur to it. All is silent as 
the grave. Cornhill is silent too ; there has been bitter 
disappointment there at my having no work ready for this 
season. Ellen, we must not rely upon our fellow-creatures 
— only on ourselves, and on Him who is above both us and 
them. My labours^ as you call them, stand in abeyance, 
and I cannot hurry them. I must take my own time, 
however long that time may be. 

August, 1852. 

I am thankful to say that Papa's convalescence seems 
now to be quite confirmed. There is scarcely any remainder 
of the inflammation in his eyes, and his general health 
progresses satisfactorily. He begins even to look forward 
to resuming his duty ere long, but caution must be observed 
on that head. Martha has been very willing and helpful 
during Papa's illness. Poor Tabby is ill herself at present 
with English cholera, which complaint, together with in- 
fluenza, has lately been almost universally prevalent in this 
district. Of the last I have myself had a touch; but it 
went off" very gently on the whole, affecting my chest and 
liver less than any cold has done for the last three years. 
I write to you about yourself rather under con- 
straint and in the dark ; for your letters, dear Nell, are most 
remarkably oracular, dropping nothing but hints which tie 
my tongue a good deal. What, for instance, can I say to 
your last postscript? It is quite sibylline. I can hardly 
guess what checks you in writing to me. Perhaps you think 
that as / generally write with some reserve, you ought to do 



136 CHARLOTTE BRONTA [x. 

the same. My reserve, however, has its origin not in 
design, but in necessity. I am silent because I have 
literally ttoihing to say, I might, indeed, repeat over and 
over again that my life is a pale blank, and often a very 
weary burden, and that the future sometimes appals 
me ; but what end could be answered by such repetition, 
except to weary you and enervate myself? The evils that 
now and then wring a groan from my heart lie in my 
position — not that I am a single woman and likely to remain 
a single woman, but because I am a lonely woman and 
likely to be lonely. But it cannot be helped, and therefore 
imperatively must be barney and borne, too, with as few words 
about it as may be. I write this just to prove to you that 
whatever you would freely say to me you may just as freely 
write. Understand that I remain just as resolved as ever 
not to allow myself the holiday of a visit from you till / 
have done my work. After labour, pleasure; but while 
work was lying at the wall undone, I never yet could enjoy 
recreation. 

Slowly page after page of *'Villette" was now 
being written. The reader sees from these letters 
that the book was composed in no happy mood. 
Writing to her publisher a few weeks after the date 
of the last letter printed above, she says : " I can 
hardly tell you how I hunger to hear some opinions 
beside my own, and how I have sometimes desponded 
and almost despaired, because there was no one to 
whom to read a line, or of whom to ask a counsel. 
'Jane Eyre' was not written under such circum- 
stances, nor were two-thirds of * Shirley.* I got so 
miserable about it that I could bear no allusion to 



J 



X.] BORROWED PLUMES. 157 

the book. It is not finished yet ; but now I hope." 
But though her work pressed so incessantly upon her, 
and her feverish anxiety to have it done weighed so 
heavily upon her health and spirits, she could still 
find time to answer her friend's letters in a way which 
showed that her interest in the outer world was as 
keen as ever : 

Sq>tember, 1852. 

Thank you for A ^'s notes. I like to read them, they 

are so full of news, but they are illegible. A great many 
words I really cannot make out It is pleasing to hear that 

M is doing so well, and the tidings about seem 

also good. I get a note from every now and then, 

but I fear my last reply has not given much satisfaction. 
It contained a taste of that unpalatable commodity called 
advice— %vs^ advice, too, as might be, and I dare say was, 
construed into faint reproof. I can scarcely tell what there 

is about that, in spite of one's conviction of her 

amiability, in spite of one's sincere wish for her welfare, 
palls upon one, satiates, stirs impatience. She will com- 
placently put forth opinions and tastes as her own which 
are not her own, nor in any sense natural to her. My 
patience can really hardly sustain the test of such a jay in 
borrowed plumes. She prated so much about the fine 
wilful spirit of her child, whom she describes as a hard, 
brown little thing, who will do nothing but what pleases 
himself, that I hit out at last — not very hard, but enough 
to make her think herself ill-used, I doubt not. Can't help 
it. She often says she is not " absorbed in self," but the 
fact is, I have seldom seen anyone more unconsciously, 
thoroughly, and often weakly egotistic. Then, too, she is 
inconsistent. In the same breath she boasts her matri- 



138 CHARLOTTE BRONTE, [x. 

monial happiness and whines for sympathy. Don't under- 
stand it. With a paragon of a husband and child, why that 
whining, craving note ? Either her lot is not all she pro- 
fesses it to be, or she is hard to content 

In October the resolute determination to allow 
herself no relaxation until " Villette " Wc^s finished 
broke down. She was compelled to call for help, 
and to acknowledge herself beaten in her attempt to 
crush out the yearning for company ; 

October, 1852. 

Papa expresses so strong a wish that I should ask you 
to come, and I feel some little refreshment so absolutely 
necessary myself, that I really must beg you to come to 
Haworth for one single week. I thought I would persist in 
denying myself till I had done my work, but I find it won't 
do. The matter refuses to progress, and this excessive 
solitude presses too heavily. So let me see your dear face, 
Nell, just for one reviving week. Could you come on 
Wednesday ? Write to-morrow, and let me know by what 
train you would reach Keighley, that I may send for you. 

The visit was a pleasant one in spite of the 
weariness of body and mind which troubled Charlotte. 
She laid aside her task for that "one little week," 
went out upon the moors with her friend, talked as 
of old, and at last, when she was left alone once 
more, declared that the change had done her "in- 
expressible good." Writing to her friend immediately 
after the latter had left her, she says : 

Your note came only this morning. I had expected it 



X.] COMPLETION OF " VILLETTEJ' 139 

yesterday, and was beginning actually to feel weary — ^like 
you. This won't do. I am afraid of caring for you too 

much. You must have come upon at an unfavourable 

moment, seen it under a cloud. Surely they are not always 
or often thus, or else married life is indeed but a slipshod 
paradise. I only send The Examiner, not having yet read 
The Leader, I was spared the remorse I feared. On 
Saturday I fell to business, and as the welcome mood is 
still decently existent, and my eyes consequently excessively 
tired with scribbling, you must excuse a mere scrawl. Papa 
was glad to hear you had got home well — as well as we. 

I do miss my dear bed-fellow ; no more of that 

calm sleep. 

Her pen now began to move more quickly, and 
the closing chapters of " Villette" were written with 
comparative ease, so that at last she writes thus, on 
November 22nd : 

Monday morning. 

Truly thankful am I to be able to tell you that I 
finished my long task on Saturday, packed and sent off the 
parcel to Comhill. I said my prayers when I had done it. 
Whether it is well or ill done I don't know. D, K, I will 
now try to wait the issue quietly. The book, I think, will 
not be considered pretentious, nor is it of a character to 
excite hostility. As Papa is pretty well, I may, I trust, 
dear Nell, do as you wish me, and come for a few days to 

B . Miss Martineau has also urgently asked me to go 

and see her. I promised, if all were well, to do so at the 
close of November or the commencement of December, so 

that I could go on from B to Westmoreland. Would 

Wednesday suit you? "Esmond" shall cqme with me— 
ue, Thackeray's novel. 



I 



140 CHARLOTTE BRONTJ^. [x. 

Every reader knows in what fashion " Villette ** 
ends, and most persons also know from Mrs. Gaskell 
that the reason why the actual issue is left in some 
uncertainty was the author's filial desire to gratify 
her father. Charlotte herself was firmly resolved that 
she would not make Lucy Snowe the happy wife of 
Paul Emanuel. She never meant to " appoint her lot 
in pleasant places." Lucy was to bear the storm and 
stress of life in the same manner as that in which her 
creator had been compelled to bear it ; and she was 
to be left in the end alone, robbed for ever of the 
hope of spending the happy afternoon of her 
existence in the sunshine of love and congenial 
society. But Mr. Bronte, altogether unconscious of 
that tragedy of heart-sickness and soul-weariness 
which was being enacted under his own roof, and 
which furnished so striking a parallel to the story 
which ran through "Villette," would not brook a 
gloomy ending to the tale, and by protestations and 
entreaties induced his daughter at least so far to alter 
her plan as to leave the issue in doubt 

So "Villette" went its way, as "Jane Eyre" and 
"Shirley" had done before it, from the secluded 
parsonage at Hawortji up to the busy publishing- 
house in Cornhill, and thence out into the world. 
There was some fear on Charlotte's part when the 
MS. had been despatched. She herself was gradually 
forming that which remained the fixed conviction of 
her life — the conviction that in "Villette" she had 
done her best, and that, for good or for ill, by it her 



— ■■'" 



X.] A TEST. X41 

reputation must stand or fall. But she was intensely 
anxious, as we have seen, to have the opinions of 
others upon the story. Nor was it only a general 
verdict on its merits for which she called. She was 
uneasy upon some minor points. According to her 
wont, she had taken most of her characters from life, 
and it was not during her stay at Brussels alone that 
she had studied the models which she employed when 
writing the book. Naturally, she was curious to 
know whether she had painted her portraits too 
literally. So " Villette " was allowed to pass, whilst 
still in MS., into the hands of the original of " Dr. 
John." When that gentleman had read the story, 
and criticised all the characters with the freedom of 
unconsciousness, her mind was set at rest, and she 
knew that she had not transgressed the bounds which 
divide the story-teller from the biographer. 

In the meantime, her work done, she hurried away 
from Haworth to spend a well-earned holiday at 

B with her friend. ** Esmond " accompanied her, 

and the quiet afternoons were spent in reading it 
aloud. On December 9th she writes from Haworth, 
announcing her safe return to her own home : 

I got home safely at five o'clock yesterday afternoon, 
and, I am most thankful to say, found Papa and all the rest 
quite well I did my business satisfactorily in Leeds, 
getting the head-dress rearranged as I wished. It is now a 
very different matter to the bushy, tasteless thing it was 
before. On my arrival I found no proof-sheets, but a letter 
from Mr. S ^ which I would have enclosed, but so many 



^ I 



I 



142 CHARLOTTE BRONT&. [x. 

words are scarce legible you would have no pleasure in 
reading it. He continues to make a mystery of his 
" reason " ; something in the third volume sticks con- 
foundedly in his throat ; and as to the ** female character " 
about which I asked, he responds that ** she is an odd, 
fascinating little puss," but affirms that " he is not in love 
with her." He tells me also that he will answer no more 
questions about " Villette." This morning I have a brief 
note from Mr. Williams, intimating that he has not yet 
been permitted to read the third volume. Also there is a 

note from Mrs. , very kind. I almost wish I could 

still look on that kindness just as I used to do : it was very 
pleasant to me once. Write immediately^ dear Nell, and 
tell me how your mother is. Give my kindest regards to 

her and all others at B . Everybody seemed very good 

to me this last visit. I remember it with corresponding 
pleasure. 

The private reception of " Villette ^' was not- 
altogether that for which its author had hoped. Her 
publisher had objections to urge against certain 
features of the story, and those who saw the book 
in manuscript were not slow to express their own 
disapproval. It was evident that there was dis- 
appointment at Cornhill ; and the proud spirit of 
Miss Bronte was keenly troubled. The letters in 
which she dwells on what was passing at that time 
need not be reproduced here, for their purport is 
sufficiently indicated by that which has just been 
given. But it is worth while to notice the scrupulous 
modesty with which she listened to all that was said 
by those who found fault, her careful anxiety to 



X.] **VILLETTE'' AND THE CRITICS. 143 

understand their objections, such as they were, and 
her perfect readiness to discuss every point raised 
with them. Of irritability under this criticism there 
is no trace, only a certain sadness and sorrow at the 
discovery that she had not succeeded in impressing 
others as she had hoped to do. Yet she is scarcely 
surprised that it is so. Had she not written years 
before, , when " Shirley " was first produced, these 
words ? — 

No matter, whether known or unknown, misjudged or 
the contrary, I am resolved not to write otherwise. I shall 
bend as my powers tend. The two human beings who 
understood me, and whom I understood, are gone. I have 
some that love me yet, and whom I love without expecting, 
or having a right to expect, that they shall perfectly under- 
stand me. I am satisfied, but I must have my own way in 

the matter of writing I am thankful to God who gave 

me the faculty ; and it is for me a part of my religion to 
defend this gift and to profit by its possession. 

So now she is not astonished at finding herself 
misunderstood. Nor is she angry. She is perfectly 
ready to explain her real meaning to those who have 
misjudged her, but she is resolute in abiding by what 
she has written. The work wrung from her during 
those two years of pain and sorrow is not work which 
can be altered at will to please another. Even to 
meet the entreaties of her father she had refused to 
do more than draw a veil over the catastrophe in 
which the plot ends ; and she cannot introduce new 
incidents, or lay on new colours, because the little 



144 CHARLOTTE BRONT&. [x. 

circle of critics sitting in judgment on her manuscript 
have pronounced it to be imperfect " I fear they " 
(the readers) " must be satisfied with what is offered^ 
My palette affords no brighter tints; were I to 
attempt to deepen the reds or burnish the yellows, 
I should but blotch." Yet she admits that those who 
judge the book only from the outside have some 
reason to complain that it is not as other novels are : 

You say that Lucy Snowe may be thought morbid and 
weak, unless the history of her life be more freely given. I 
consider that she is both morbid and weak at times ; her 
character sets up no pretensions to unmixed strength, and 
anybody living her life would necessarily become morbid. 
It was no impetus of healthy feeling which urged her to the 
confessional, for instance; it was the semi-delirium of 
solitary grief and sickness. If, however, the book does not 
express all this, there must be a great fault somewhere. I 
might explain away a few other points, but it would be too 
much like drawing a picture and then writing underneath 
the name of the object intended to be represented. 

Happily, the heart of the great reading world is 
bigger and truer as a whole than any part of it is. 
What those who read the manuscript of "Villette*' 
failed to see at the first glance was seen instantly 
by the public when the book was placed in its hands. 
From critics of every school and degree there came 
j up a cry of wonder and admiration, as men saw out 
' of what simple characters and commonplace incidents 
genius had evoked this striking work of literary art 



X.] REVIEWS. 145 

Popular, perhaps, the book could scarcely hope to be, 
in the vulgar acceptation of the word. The author 
had carefully avoided the " flowery and inviting '* 
course of romance, and had written in silent obedience 
to the stern dictates of an inspiration which, as we 
have seen, only came at intervals, leaving her between 
its visits cruelly depressed and pained, but which 
when it came held her spell-bound and docile. Yet 
out of the dull record of humble woes, marked by no 
startling episodes, adorned by few of the flowers of 
poetry, she had created such a heart-history as 
remains to this day without a rival in the school of 
English fiction to which it belongs. 

I bring together a batch of notes, not all addressed 
to the same person, which give her account of the 
reception and success of the book : 

February nth, 1853. 

Excuse a very brief note, for I have time only to thank 
you for your last kind and welcome letter, and to say that, 
in obedience to your wishes, I send you by this da/s post 
two reviews — The Examiner and The Morning Advertiser — 
which, perhaps, you will kindly return at your leisure. 
Ellen has a third — The Literary Gazette — which she will 
likewise send. The reception of the book has been favour- 
able thus far — for which I am thankful — less, I trust, on my 
own account than for the sake of those few real friends who 
take so sincere an interest in my welfare as to be happy in 
my happiness. 

February I5tb. 

I am very glad to hear that you got home all right, and 
that you managed to execute your commissions in Leeds so 

L 



146 CHARLOTTE BRONT&. [x. 

satisfactorily. You do not say whether you remembered to 
order the Bishop's dessert; I shall know, however, by to- 
morrow morning. I got a budget of no less than seven 
papers yesterday and to-day. The import of all the notices 
is such as to make my heart swell with thankfulness to Him 
who takes note both of suffering and work and motives. 
Papa is pleased too. As to friends in general, I believe I 
can love them still without expecting them to take any 
large share in this sort of gratitication. The longer I live, 
the more plainly I see that gentle must be the strain on 
fragile human nature. It will not bear much. 

I have heard from Mrs. Gaskell. Very kind, panegyrical, 

and so on. Mr. S tells me he has ascertained that 

Miss Martineau did write the notice in The Daily News, 
J. T. offers to give me a regular blowing-up and setting down 
for ;^5, but J tell him The Times will probably let me have 
the same gratis. 

March loth, 1853. 

I only got The Guardian newspaper yesterday morning, 
and have not yet seen either The Critic or Sharpens Magazine, 
The Guardian does not wound me much. I see the 
motive, which, indeed, there is no attempt to disguise. 

Still I think it a choice little morsel for foes (Mr. was 

the first to bring the news of the review to Papa), and a still 
choicer morsel for " friends " who — bless them ! — while 
they would not perhaps positively do one an injury, still 
take a dear delight in dashing with bitterness the too sweet 
cup of success. Is Sharps s small article like a bit of sugar- 
candy, too, Ellen ? or has it the proper wholesome worm- 
wood flavour? Of course I guess it will be like The 
Guardian, My " dear friends " will weary of waiting for 
The Times, " O Sisera ! why tarry the wheels of thy chariot 
so long?" 



3l] unfavourable notices. 147 



March 22nd. 

Thank you for sending ^% notes. Though I have not 

attended to them lately, they always amuse me. I like to read 
them ; one gets from them a clear enough idea of her sort of 

life. 's attempts to improve his good partners mind 

make me smile. I think it all right enough, and doubt not 
they are happy in their way ; only the direction he gives his 
efforts seems of rather problematic wisdom. Algebra and 
optics I Why not enlarge her views by a little well-chosen 
general reading? However, they do right to amuse them- 
selves in their own way. The rather dark view you seem 
to take of the general opinion about " Villette " surprises me 
the less, as only the more unfavourable reviews seem to have 
come in your way. Some reports reach me of a different 
tendency; but no matter; time will show. As to the 
character of Lucy Snowe, my intention from the fi^t was 
Jiat she should not occupy the pedestal to which "Jane 
Ejnre" was raised by some injudicious admirers. She is 
where I meant her to be, and where no charge of self- 
laudation can touch hen 



XI. 

MARRIAGE AND DEATH. 

Every book, as we know, has its secret history, 
hidden from the world which reads only the printed 
pages, but legible enough to the author, who sees 
something more than the words he has set down for 
the public to read. Thackeray tells us how, reading' 
again one of his smaller stories, written at a sad 
period of his own life, he brought back all the scene 
amid which the little tale was composed, and woke 
again to a consciousness of the pangs which tore his 
heart when his pen was busy with the imaginary 
fortunes of the puppets he had placed upon the mimic 
stage. Between the lines he read quite a different 
story from that which was laid before the reader. 
I have tried to show how largely this was the case 
with Charlotte Bronte's novels. Each was a double 
romance, having one meaning for the world, and 
another for the author. Yet she herself, when she 
wrote " Shirley " and " Villette,*' had no conception of 
the strange blending of the secret currents of the two 
books which was in store for her, or of the unexpected 
fate which was to befall the real heroine of her last 
work — to wit, herself. 



XI.] A FORECAST. 149 

I have told how fixed was her belief that " Lucy 
Snowe's " fate was to be a tragic one — a life the 
closing years of which were to be spent in loneliness 
and anguish, and amid the bitterness of withered 
hopes. Very few readers can have forgotten the 
closing passage of " Villette," in which the catastrophe, 
though veiled, can be readily discovered : 

The sun passes the equinox ; the days shorten, the 
leaves grow sere ; but — he is coming. 

Frosts appear at night ; November has sent his fogs in 
advance ; the wind takes its autumn moan ; but — he is 
coming. 

The skies hang full and dark — a rack sails from the 
west ; the clouds cast themselves into strange forms — arches 
and broad radiations; there rise resplendent mornings — 
glorious, royal, purple as a monarch in his state ; the 
heavens are one flame ; so wild are they, they rival battle at 
its thickest — so bloody, they shame Victory in her pride. 
I know some signs of the sky; I have noted them ever 
since childhood. God, watch that sail 1 Oh I guard it ! 

The wind shifts to the west. Peace, peace. Banshee — 
" keening " at every window ! It will rise — it will swell — it 
shrieks out long : wander as I may through the house this 
night, I cannot lull the blast. The advancing hours make 
it strong : by midnight, all sleepless watchers hear and fear 
a wild south-west storm 

Peace, be still ! Oh 1 a thousand weepers, praying in 
agony on waiting shores, listened for that voice, but it was 
not uttered — not uttered till, when the hush came, some 
could not feel it ; till, when the sun returned, his light was 
night to some 1 

In darkness such as here is shadowed forth, 



ISO CHARLOTTE BRONT&. [xi. 



Charlotte Bronte believed that her own life would 
close ; all sunshine gone, all joys swept clean away 
by the bitter blast of death, all hopes withered or up- 
rooted. But the end which she pictured was not to 
be. God was more merciful than her own imaginings ; 
and at eventide there was light and peace upon her j 

troubled path. 

Those who turn to the closing passage of " Shirley" 
will find there reference to " a true Christian gentle- 
man," who had taken the place of the hypocrite 
Mdlone, one of the famous three curates of the story. 
This gentleman, a Mr. McCarthy, was, like the rest, 
no fictitious personage. His original was to be found 
in the person of Mr. NichoUs, who for several years 
had lived a simple, unobtrusive life at Haworth, as 
curate to Mr. Bronte, and whose name often occurs in 
Charlotte's letters to her friend. In none of these 
references to him is there the slightest indication that 
he was more than an honoured friend. Nor was it so. I 

Whilst Mr. Nicholls, dwelling near Miss Bronte, and 
observing her far more closely than any other person 
could do, had formed a deep and abiding attachment | 

for her, she herself was wholly unconscious of the f;^ct. 
Its first revelation came upon her as something like a 
shock ; as something also like a reproach. Whilst 
she had thought herself alone, doomed to a life of 
solitude and pain, a tender yet a manly love had all 
the while been growing round her. 

It is obvious that the letters which she addressed 
at this time (December, 1852) to her friend cannot 






-1 



XI.] MR, J^ICHOLLS, 151 

be printed here. Yet no letters more honourable to 
the woman, the daughter, and the Jover have ever 
been penned. There is no restraint now in the out- 
pourings of her heart. Her friend is taken into her 
full confidence, and every hope and fear and joy is 
spoken out as only women who are pure and truthful 
and entirely noble can venture to speak out. Mrs. 
Gaskell has briefly but distinctly stated the broad 
features of this strange love story, giving such promise 
at the time, so happy and beautiful in its brief fruition, 
so soon to be quenched in the great darkness. Mr. 
Bronte resented the attentions of Mr. Nicholls to his 
daughter in a manner which brought to light all the 
sternness and bitterness of his character. There had 
been of late years a certain mellowing of his dis- 
position, which Charlotte had dwelt upon with hopeful 
joy, as her one comfort in her lonely life at Haworth. 
How much he owed to her none knew but himself. 
When he was sinking under the burden of his son's 
death, she had rescued him ; when, for one dark and 
bitter interval, he had soug^ht refuge from grief and 
remorse in the coward's solace, her brave heart, her 
gentleness, her unyielding courage, had brought him 
back again from evil ways, and sustained and kept 
him in the path of honour ; and now his own ambitions 
were more than satisfied by her success ; he found 
himself shining in the reflected glory of his daughter's 
fame, and sunned himself, poor man, in the light and 
warmth. But all the old jealousy, the intense acerbity 
of his character, broke out when he saw another 



1 52 CHARLOTTE BRONTE, [xl 

person step between himself and her, and that other 
no idol of the great world of London, but simply the 
honest man who had dwelt almost under his own 
roof-tree for years. 

When, having heard with surprise and emotion, 
the story of Mr. Nicholls's attachment, Charlotte 
communicated his offer to her father, " agitation and 
anger disproportionate to the occasion ensued. My 
blood boiled with a sense of injustice. But Papa 
worked himself into a state not to be trifled with. 
The veins on his forehead started up like whipcord, 
and his eyes became suddenly bloodshot. I made 
haste to promise that on the morrow Mr. Nicholls 
should have a distinct refusal." It so happened that 
very soon after this, that is to say when " Villette" was 
published, Miss Martineau caused deep pain to its 
writer by condemning the manner in which " all the 
female characters in all their thoughts and lives " 
were represented as " being full of one thing — love." 
The critic not unjustly pointed out that love was not 
the be-all and the end-all of a woman's life. Per- 
haps her pen would not have been so sharp in touch- 
ing on this subject, had she known with what quiet 
self-sacrifice the author of " Villette " had but a few 
weeks before set aside her own preferences and 
inclinations, and submitted her lot to her father's 
angry will. This truly must be reckoned as another 
illustration of the extent to which the Quarterly 
reviewer of 1848 had formed an accurate conception 
of the character of " Currer Bell." 



< 



XI.] A CRUEL STRUGGLE. 153 



Not only was the struggle which followed sharp 
and painful, it was also stubborn and prolonged. 
Mr. Nicholls resigned the curacy he had held so 
many years, and prepared to leave Haworth. Mr. 
Bronte not only showed no signs of relenting, but 
openly exulted in his departure, and lost no oppor- 
tunity of expressing in bitterly sarcastic language 
his opinion of his colleague's conduct How deeply 
Charlotte suffered at this time is proved by the letters 
before me. Firmly convinced that her first duty was 
to the parent whose only remaining stay she was, she 
never wavered in her determination to sacrifice every 
wish of her own to his comfort. But her heart was 
racked with pity for the man who was suffering 
through his love for her, and her inclignation was 
roused to fever-heat by the gross injustice of her 
father's conduct. 

Compassion or relenting is no more to be looked for 
from Papa than sap from firewood. I never saw a battle 
more sternly fought with the feelings than Mr. N. fights 
with his, and when he yields momentarily, you are almost 
sickened by the sense of the strain upon him. However, 
he is to go, and I cannot speak to him or look at him or 
comfort him a whit — and I must submit Providence is 
over all ; that is the only consolation. 

In all this — she says, after speaking again of the 
severity of the struggle — it is not / who am to be pitied at 
all, and of course nobody pities me. They all think in 
Haworth that I have disdainfully refused him. If pity 
would do him any good he ought to havei and I believe 



1 54 CHARLOTTE BRONTA. [xl 

has, it They may abuse me if they will Whether they 
do or not I can't telL 

I thought of you on New Year's Day, and hope you 
got well over your formidable tea-making. I am busy, too, 
in my little way, preparing to go to London this week — ^a 
matter which necessitates some little application to the 
needle. I find it quite necessary I should go to superin- 
tend the press, as Mr. S seems quite determined not to 

let the printing get on till I come. I have actually only 
received three proof-sheets since I was at Brookroyd. 
Papa wants me to go too, to be out of the way, I 
suppose ; but I am sorry for one other person whom 

nobody pities but me They don't understand the 

nature of his feelings, but I see now what they are. Mr. 

N is one of those who attach themselves to very few, 

whose sensations are close and deep, like an underground 
stream, running strong but in a narrow channel He con- 
tinues restless and ill. He carefully performs the occa- 
sional duty, but does not come near the church, procuring 
a substitute every Sunday. A few days since he wrote to 
Papa requesting permission to withdraw his resignation. 
Papa answered that he should only do so on condition of 
giving his written promise never again to broach the 
obnoxious subject either to him or to me. This he has 
evaded doing, so the matter remains unsettled. I feel 
persuaded the termination will be, his departure for Aus- 
tralia. Dear Nell, without loving him, I don't like to think 
of him suffering in solitude, and wish him anywhere so that 
he were happier. He and Papa have never met or spoken 
yet 

During this crisis in her life, when sufTering had 
come to her in a new and sharp form, but when 



XI.] VISIT TO LONDON. 155 

happily the black doud was lit up on the other side 
by the rays of the sun, she went up to London to 
spend a few weeks. From the letters written during 
her visit I make these extracts : 

January nth, 1853. 

I came here last Wednesday. I had a delightful day for 
my journey, and was kindly received at the close. My time 
has passed pleasantly enough since I came, yet I have not 
much to tell you ; nor is it likely I shall have. I do not 

mean to go out much or see many people. Sir J. S 

wrote to me two or three times before I left home, and 
made me promise to let him know when I should be in 
town, but I reserve to myself the right of deferring the com- 
munication till the latter part of my stay. All in this house 
appear to be pretty much as usual, and yet I see some 

changes. Mrs. and her daughter look well enough ; 

but on Mr. hard work is telling early. Both his 

complexion, his countenance, and the very lines of his 
features are altered. It is rather the remembrance of what 
he was than the fact of what he is which can warrant the 
picture I have been accustomed to give of him. One feels 
pained to see a physical alteration of this kind ; yet I feel 
glad and thankful that it is merely physical. As far as I can 
judge, mind and manners have undergone no deterioration 
— rather, I think, the contrary. 

January 19th, 1853. 

I still continue to get on very comfortably and quietly 
in London, in the way I like, seeing rather things^ than 
persons. Being allowed to have my own choice of sights this 
time I selected the real rather than the decorative side of life. 
I have been over two prisons, ancient and modem, Newgate 
and Pentonville ; also the Bank, the Exchange, the Found- 






156 CHARLOTTE BRONTS. [xu 

ling Hospital ; and to-day, if all be well, I go with Dr. 

Forbes to see Bethlehem Hospital. Mrs. and her 

daughters are, I believe, a little amazed at my gloomy tastes ; 
but I take no notice. Papa, I am glad to say, continues 
well. I enclose portions of two notes of his which will 
show you better than anything I can say how he treats a 
certain subject. My book is to appear at the close of this 
month. Mrs. Gaskell wrote to beg that it should not clash 
with " Ruth," and it was impossible to refuse to defer the 
publication a week or two. 

The visit to London did good ; but it could not 
remove the pain which she suffered during this period 
of conflict. 

Haworth, May 19th, i853« 

It is almost a relief to hear that you only think of 

staying at G a month ; though of course one must not 

be selfish in wishing you to come home soon I can- 
not help feeling satisfaction in finding that the people here 
are getting up a subscription to offer a testimonial of respect 
to Mr. N on his leaving the place. Many are express- 
ing both their commiseration and esteem for him. The 
churchwardens recently put the question to him plainly : 
Why was he going ? Was it Mr. Bronte's fault or his own ? 
His own, he answered. Did he blame Mr. Bronte ? No, 
he did not : if anybody was wrong, it was himself. Was he 
willing to go ? No ; it gave him great pain. Yet he is not 
always right I must be just Papa addressed him at the 
school tea-drinking with constrained civility, but still with 
civility. He did not reply civilly ; he cut short further 
words. This sort of treatment is what Papa never will 
forget or forgive. It inspires him with a silent bitterness 
not to be expressed It is a dismal state of things. 



XI.] DEPARTURE OF MR. NICHOLLS. 15, 

The weather is fine now, dear Nell. We will take these 
sunny days as a good omen for your visit. 

May 27th, 1853. 

You will want to know about the leave-taking. The 
whole matter is but a painful subject, but I must treat it 
briefly, ^he testimonial was presented in a public meeting. 

Mr. F and Mr. G were there. Papa was not very 

well, and I advised him to stay away, which he did. As to 

the last Sunday, it was a cruel struggle. Mr. N ought 

not to have had to take any duty. He left Haworth this 
morning at six o'clock. Yesterday evening he called to 
render into Papa's hands the deeds of the National School, 
and to say good-bye. They were busy cleaning, washing 
the paint, &c., so he did not find me there. I would not 
go into the parlour to speak to him in Papa's presence. 
He went out, thinking he was not to see me ; and indeed till 
the very last moment I thought it best not But perceiving 
that he stayed long before going out at 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. .... Of course I went straight to him. 
Very few words were interchanged ; those few barely articu- 
late : several things I should have liked to ask him were 
swept entirely from my memory. Poor fellow ! but he 
wanted such hope and such encouragement as I could not 
give him. Still I trust he must know now that I am not 
cruelly blind and indifferent to his constancy and grief. 
For a few weeks he goes to the South of England — after- 
wards he takes a curacy somewhere in Yorkshire, but I don't 
know where. Papa has been far from strong lately. I dare 

not mention Mr, N ^'s name to him. He speaks of him 

quietly and without opprobrium to others ; but to me he is 
implacable on the matter. However, he is gone — gone — 



iS8 CHARLOTTE BRONTA [xi. 

and there's an end of it ! I see no chance of hearing a 
word about him in future, unless some stray shred of intelli- 
gence comes through Mr. G or some other second-hand 
source. 

The remainder of the year 1853 was a chequered 
one. Mr. Nicholls left Haworth ; Charlotte remained 
with her father. Those who saw her at this time bear 
testimony to the unfailing, never-flagging devotion 
she displayed towards one who was wounding her 
cruelly. But she bore this sorrow, like those which 
had preceded it, bravely and cheerfully. To her friend 
she opened her heart at times, revealing something of 
what she was suffering ; but to all others she was silent. 

Haworth, April 13th, 1853. 

My dear Miss , — ^Your last kind letter ought to have 

been answered long since, and would have been, did I find 
it practicable to proportion the promptitude of the response 
to the value I place upDn my correspondents and their com- 
munications. You will easily understand, however, that the 
contrary rule often holds good, and that the epistle which 
importunes often takes precedence of that which interests. 
My publishers express entire satisfaction with the reception 
whidi has been accorded to " Villette." And, indeed, the 
majority of the reviews has been favourable enough. You 
will be aware, however, that there is a minority, small in 
character, which views the work with no favourable eye. 
" Currer Bell's " remarks on Romanism have drawn down 
on him the condign displeasure of the High Church party, 
which displeasure has been unequivocally expressed through 
their principal organs, Tke Guardiatiy The English Churchman^ 
and The Christian Remembrancer. I can well understand 



XI.] MISS MARTINEAU. 159 

that some of the charges launched against me by these pub- 
lications will tell heavily to my prejudice in the minds of most 
readers. But this must be borne ; and for my part, I can 
suffer no accusation to oppress me much which is not sup- 
ported by the inward evidence of Conscience and Reason. 
" Extremes meet," says the proverb ; in proof whereof I 
would mention that Miss Martineau finds with "Villette" 
nearly the same fault as the Puseyites. She accuses me 
of attacking Popery " with virulence," of going out of my 
way to assault it " passionately." In other respects she has 
shown, with reference to the work, a spirit so strangely and 
unexpectedly acrimonious, that I have gathered courage to 
tell her that the gulf of mutual difference between her and 
me is so wide and deep, the bridge of union so slight and 
uncertain, I have come to the conclusion that frequent 
intercourse would be most perilous and unadvisable, and 
have begged to adjourn sine die my long-projected visit to 
her. Of course she is now very angry, but it cannot be 
helped. Two or three weeks since I received a long and 

kind letter from Mr. , which I answered a short time 

ago. I believe he thinks me a much better advocate for 
change^ and what is called " political progress," than I am. 
However, in my reply I did not touch on these subjects. 
He intimated a wish to publish some of his own MSS, I 
fear he would hardly like the somewhat dissuasive tendency 
of my answer ; but really, in these days of headlong com- 
petition, it is a great risk to publish. 

April i8th, 1853. 

If all be well, I think of going to Manchester about the 
close of this week. I only intend staying a few days ; but 

I can say nothing about coming back by B , Do not 

expect me ; I would rather see you at Haworth by-and-by. 
Two or three weeks since, Miss Martineau wrote to ask 



i6o CHARLOTTE BRONTE. [xl 

why she did not hear from me, and to press me to go to 
Ambleside. Explanations ensued ; the notes on each side 
were quite civil ; but, having deliberately formed my reso- 
lution on substantial grounds, I adhered to it I have de- 
clined being her visitor, and bid her good-bye. It is best 
so ; the antagonism of our natures and principles was too 
serious to be trifled with. 

This difference with Miss Martineau is not a thing 
to dwell on now. The pity is that two women so 
truthful, so sincere, so bold in their utterances should 
ever have differed. Charlotte Bronte had known how 
to stand bravely by Miss Martineau when she believed 
that the latter was suffering because of her honestly- 
formed opinions ; she had known how to speak on 
her behalf with timely generosity and force. But 
her sensitive nature was wounded to the quick by 
criticisms which she believed to be unjust ; and so 
these two great women parted, and met again no 
mpre. 

To the mental pain which she was now suffering 
from her father's conduct there was added keen 
physical torture. During this summer of 1853 many 
of her letters contain sentences like this : " I have 
been suffering most severely for ten days with con- 
tinued pain in the head — on the nerves it is said to 
be. Blistering at last seems to have done it some 
good ; but I am yet weak and bewildered." A visit 
from Mrs. Gaskell, who came to see how Haworth 
looked in its autumn robe of splendour, did her some 
good ; but still more was gained by a journey to the 



XI.] A TRIP TO SCOTLAND. i6i 

seaside in the company of her old friend and school- 
mistress, Miss Wooler, before which she had addressed 
to her the following letter : 

Haworth, August 30th, 1853. 

My dear Miss W., — I was from home when your 
kind letter came, and, as it was not forwarded, I did not 
get it till my return. All the summer I have felt the 
wish and cherished the intention to join you for a brief 
period at the seaside ; nor do I yet entirely relinquish 
the purpose, though its fulfilment must depend on my 
father's health. At present he complains so much of 
weakness and depressed spirits, that no thoughts of leaving 
him can be entertained. Should he improve, how- 
ever, I would fain come to you before autumn is quite 
gone. 

My late absence was but for a week, when I accompanied 

Mr. and Mrs. and baby on a trip to Scotland. They 

went with the intention of taking up their quarters at 
Kirkcudbright, or some watering-place on the Solway Firth. 
We hardly reached that locality, and had stayed but one 
night, when the baby (that rather despotic member of 
modem households) exhibited some symptoms of indis- 
position. To my unskilled perception its ailments appeared 
very slight, nowise interfering with its appetite or spirits; 
but parental eyes saw the matter in a different light The 
air of Scotland was pronounced unpropitious to the child, 
and consequently we had to retrace our steps. I own I felt 
some little reluctance to leave " bonnie Scotland " so soon 
and so abruptly, but of course I could not say a word, since, 
however strong on my own mind the impression that the 
ailment in question was very trivial and temporary (an 
impression confirmed by the issue), I could not be abso- 



i62 CHARLOTTE BRONTE. [xi. 

lutely certain that such was the case ; and had any evil 
consequences followed a prolonged stay, I should never 
have forgiven myself. 

Ilkley was the next place thought of. We went there, 
but I only remained three days, for, in the hurry of 
changing trains at one of the stations, my box was lost, 
and without clothes I could not stay. I have heard of it 
twice, but have not yet regained it. In all probability it is 
now lying at Kirkcudbright, where it was directed. 

Notwithstanding some minor trials, I greatly enjoyed 
this little excursion. The scenery through which we 
travelled from Dumfries to Kirkcudbright (a distance of 
thirty miles, performed outside a stage-coach) was beautiful, 
though not at all of a peculiarly Scottish character, being 
richly cultivated and well wooded. I liked Ilkley, too, 
exceedingly, and shall long to revisit the place. On the 
whole, I thought it for the best that circumstances obliged 
me to return home so soon, for I found Papa far from well. 
He is something better now, yet I shall not feel it right to 
leave him again till I see a more thorough re-establishment 
of health and strength. 

With some things to regret and smile at, I saw things to 
admire in the small family party with which I travelled. 

Mr. makes a most devoted father and husband. I 

admired his great kindness to his wife ; but I rather groaned 
(inwardly) over the unbounded indulgence of both parents 
towards their only child. The world does not revolve 
round the sun ; that is a mistake. Certain babies, I plainly 
perceive, are the important centre of all things. The papa 
and mamma could only take their meals, rest, and exercise 
at such times and in such manner as the despotic infant 

permitted. While Mrs. eat her dinner, Mr. • 

relieved guard as nurse. A nominal nurse, indeed, accom* 



XI.] ME. BRONT& RELENTS. 163 

panied the party, but her place was a sort of anxious 
waiting sinecure, as the child did not fancy her attendance. 
Tenderness to offspring is a virtue, yet I think I have seen 
mothers who were most tender and thoughtful, yet in very 
love for their children would not permit them to become 
tyrants either over themselves or others, 

I shall be glad and grateful, my dear Miss W., to 
hear from you again whenever you have time or inclination 
to write — though, as I told you before, there is no fear of 
my misunderstanding silence. Should you leave Hornsea 
before winter sets in, I trust you will just come straight to 
Haworth, and pay yoiir long-anticipated visit there before 
you go elsewhere. Papa and the servants send their 
respects. I always duly deliver your kind messages of 
remembrance, because they give pleasure, 

December came, and she writes to this friend 
expressing her wonder as to how she is spending the 
long winter evenings — " alone, probably, like me." 
It was a dreary winter for her ; but the spring was 
at hand. Mr. Bronte, studying his daughter with 
keen eyes, could not hide from himself the fact that 
her health and spirits were drooping now as they had 
never drooped before. All work with the pen was 
laid aside ; and household cares, attendance upon her 
father or on the old servant, who now also needed 
to be waited upon, occupied her time ; but her heart 
was heavy with a burden such as she had never pre- 
viously known. At last the stern nature of the man 
was broken down by his genuine affection for his 
daughter. His opposition to her marriage was sud- 
denly laid aside ; he asked her to recall Mr. NichoUs 

M 2 



i64 CHARLOTTE BRONTE. [xi. 



to Haworth, and with characteristic waywardness he 
now became as anxious that the wedding should take 
place as he had ever been that it should be prevented. 
There was a curious misadventure regarding the 
letter inviting Mr. NichoUs to Haworth, which is 
explained in the first of the letters I now quote. 

Haworth, March 28th, 1854. 

The enclosure in yours of yesterday puzzled me at first, 
for I did not immediately recognise my own handwriting. 
When I did, the sensation was one of consternation and 
vexation, as the letter ought by all means to have gone on 
Friday. It was intended to relieve him from great anxiety. 
However, I trust he will get it to-day ; and, on the whole, 
when I think it over, I can only be thankful that the 
mistake was no worse, and did not throw the letter into the 
hands of some indifferent and unscrupulous person. I 
wrote it after some days of indisposition and uneasiness, 
and when I felt weak and unfit to write. While writing to 
him I was at the same time intending to answer your note ; 
which I suppose accounts for the confusion of ideas shown 
in the mixed and blundering address, 

I wish you could come about Easter rather than at 
another time, for this reason. Mr. NichoUs, if not pre- 
vented, proposes coming over then. I suppose he will be 

staying at Mr. 's, as he has done two or three times 

before ; but he will be frequently coming here, which would 
enliven yoiu: visits a little. Perhaps, too, he might take a 
walk with us occasionally. Altogether, it would be a little 
change for you, such as you know I could not always offer. 
If all be well, he will come under different circumstances to 
any that have attended his visits before. Were it otherwise 



XI.] MR. NICHOLLS RECALLED. 165 



I should not ask you to meet him, for when aspects are 
gloomy and unpropitious, the fewer there are to suffer from 
the cloud, the better. He was here in January, and was 

then received I tmst it will be a little different 

now. Papa has breakfasted in bed to-day, and has not yet 
risen. His bronchitis is still troublesome. I had a bad 
week last week, but am greatly better now, for my mind is 
a Httle relieved, though very sedate, and rising only to 
expectations the most njoderate. Some time, perhaps in 
May, I may be in your neighbourhood, and shall then hope 
to come to B. ; but, as you will understand from what I 
have now stated, I could not come before. Think it over, 
dear £., and come to Haworth if you can, 

April nth, 1854. 

The result of Mr. NichoUs's visit is that Papa's consent 
is gained and his respect won, for Mr. Nicholls has in all 
things proved himself disinterested and forbearing. He has 
shown, too, that, while his feelings are exquisitely keen, he 

can freely forgive In fact, dear Ellen, I am 

engaged. Mr. NichoUs in the course of a few months will 
return to the curacy of Haworth. I stipulated that I would 
not leave Papa, and to Papa himself I proposed a plan of 
residence which should maintain his seclusion and con- 
venience uninvaded, and in a pecuniary sense bring him 
gain instead of loss. What seemed at one time impossible 
is now arranged, and Papa begins really to take a pleasure 

in the prospect. For myself, dear E , while thankful to 

One who seems to have guided me through much difficulty, 
much and deep distress and perplexity of mind, I am still 

very calm What I taste of happiness is of the 

soberest order. Providence offers me this destiny. Doubt- 
less, then, It is the best for me; nor do I shrink from 



i66 CHARLOTTE BRONTA [xi. 

wishing those dear to me one not less happy. It is 
possible that our marriage may take place in the course of 
the summer. Mr. Nicholls wishes it to be in July. He 
spoke of you with great kindness, and said he hoped you 
would be at our wedding. I said I thought of having no 
other bridesmaid. Did I say right ? I mean the marriage 
to be literally as quiet as possible. Do not mention these 
things as yet. Good-bye. There is a strange, half-sad 
feeling in making these announcements. The whole thing 
is something other than the imagination paints it beforehand 
— rcares, fears, come mixed inextricably with hopes. I trust 
yet to talk the matter over with you. 

So at length the day had dawned, and every 

letter now is filled with the hopes and cares of the 

expectant bride. 

April 15th. 

I hope to see you somewhere about the second week in 
May. The Manchester visit is still hanging over my head ; 
I have deferred it and deferred it, but have finally promised 
to go about the beginning of next month. I shall only stay 
about three days ; then I spend two or three days at H., 
then come to B, The three visits must be compressed into 
the space of a fortnight, if possible. I suppose I shall have 
to go to Leeds. My purchases cannot be either expensive 
or extensive. You must just resolve in your head the 
bonnets and dresses : something that can be turned to 
decent use and worn after the wedding-day will be best, I 

think. I wrote immediately to Miss W , and received 

a truly kind letter from her this morning. Papa's mind 
seems wholly changed about this matter ; and he has said, 
both to me and when I was not there, how much happier 
he feels since he allowed all to be settled. It is a wonderful 



XI.] DISAPPOINTED AMBITION, 167 

relief for me to hear him treat the thing rationally, and 
quietly and amicably to talk over with him themes on which 
once I dared not touch. He is rather anxious that things 
should get forward now, and takes quite an interest in the 
arrangenxent of preliminaries. His health improves daily, 
though this east wind still keeps up a slight irritation in the 
throat and chest. The feeling which has been disappointed 
in Papa was ambition — paternal pride — ever a restless 
feeling, as we all know. Now that this unquiet spirit is 
exorcised, justice, which was once quite forgotten, is once 
more listened to, and affection, I hope, resumes some 
power. My hope is that in the end this arrangement will 
turn out more truly to Papa's advantage than any other it 
was in my power to achieve. Mr. N. only in his last letter 
refers touchingly to his earnest desire to prove his gratitude 
to Papa by offering support and consolation to his declining 
age. This will not be mere talk with hioL He is no talker, 
no dealer in mere professions. 

April 28tli. 

Papa, thank God ! continues to improve much. He 
preached twice on Sunday, and again on Wednesday, and 
was not tired. His mind and mood are different to what 
they were ; so much more cheerful and quiet. I trust the 
illusions of ambition are quite dissipated, and that he really 
sees it is better to relieve a suffering and faithful heart, to 
secure in its fidelity a solid good, than unfeelingly to 
abandon one who is truly attached to his interests as well 
as mine, and pursue some vain empty shadow, 

Hemsworth, May 6th. 

I came here on Thursday afternoon. I shall stay over 
Saturday and Sunday, and, if all be well, I hope to come to 
B. on Monday, after dinner, and just in time for tea. 



i68 CHARLOTTE BRONTS. [xl 

leave you to judge by your own feelings whether I long to 

see you or not. tells me you are looking better. She 

tells me also that I am not — rather ugly, as usual. But 
never mind that, dear Nell — as, indeed, you never did. 
On the whole, I foel very decently at present, and within 
the last fortnight have had much respite from headache. 
You are kind in being so much in earnest in wishing for 
Mr. N. to come to B., and I am sorry that circumstances 
do not favour such a step. But, knowing how matters 
stood, I did not repeat the proposal to him, for I thought 
it would be like tempting him to forget duty. 

In the following letters, in addition to the pleasing 
side-lights which they throw upon her life in its new 
aspect, there is another feature which deserves to be 
noticed — ^that is, the exceeding tenderness with which 
the writer watches over her friend. The new love 
entering into her heart has but made the old love 
stronger, and she lavishes upon the sole remaining 
companion of her youth the care and affection which 
can no longer be bestowed upon sisters of her own 
blood. 

Haworth, May 14th. 

I took the time of the Leeds, Keighley, Skipton trains 
from the February time-table, and when I got to Leeds 
found myself all wrong. The trains on that line were 
changed. One had that moment left the station — indeed, 
it was just steaming away ; there was not another till a 
quarter after five o'clock; so I had just four hours to sit 
and twirl my thumbs. I got over the time somehow, but I 
was vexed to think how much more pleasantly I might have 
spent it at B. It was just seven o'clock when I reached 



XI.] ADVICE TO AN INVALID. 169 

home. I found Papa well. It seems he has been par- 
ticularly well during my absence, but to-day he is a little 
sickly, and only preached once. However, he is better 
again this evening. I could not leave you, dear Ellen, with 
a very quiet mind, or take away a satisfied feeling about 
you. Not that I think that bad cough lodged in a 
dangerous quarter ; but it shakes your system, wears you 
out, and makes you look ill. Take care of it, do, dear Ellen, 
Avoid the evening air for a time \ keep in the house when 
the weather is cold. Observe these precautions till the 
cough is quite gone, and you regain strength, and feel better 
able to bear chill and change. Believe me, it does not suit 
you at present to be much exposed to variations of tem- 
perature. I send the mantle with this, but have made up 
my mind not to let you have the cushion now, lest you 
should sit stitching over it too closely. It will do any time, 
and whenever it comes will be your present all the same. 

May 22nd. 

I wonder how you are, and whether that harassing 
cough is better; but I am afraid the variable weather of 
last week will not have been favourable to improvement. 
I will not and do not believe the cough lies on any vital 
organ. Still it is a mark of weakness, and a warning to be 
scrupulously careful about undue exposure. Just now, dear 
Ellen, an hour's inadvertence might derange your whole 
constitution for years to come — might throw you into a 
state of chronic ill-health which would waste, fade, and 
wither you up prematurely. So, once and again, TAKE 

CARE. If you go to , or any other evening party, 

pack yourself in blankets and a feather-bed to come home, 
also fold your boa twice over your mouth, to serve as a 
respirator. Since I came home I have been very busy 



I70 CHARLOTTE BRONT&. [xi. 

sketching. The little new room is got into order now, and 
the green and white curtains are up. They exactly suit the 
papering, and look neat and clean enough. I had a letter 
a day or two since, announcing that Mr. N. comes to- 
morrow. I feel anxious about him, more anxious on one 
point than I dare quite express to myself. It seems he has 
again been suffering sharply from his rheumatic affection. 
I hear this not from himself, but from another quarter. He 
was ill whilst I was at Manchester and B. He uttered no 
complaint to me, dropped no hint on the subject Alas 1 
he was hoping he had got the better of it ; and I know how 
this contradiction of his hopes will Sadden him. For 
tmselfish reasons he did so earnestly wish this complaint 
might not become chronic. I fear — I fear — but, however, 
I mean to stand by him now, whether in weal or woe. 
This liability to rheumatic pain was one of the strong 
arguments used against the marriage. It did not weigh, 
somehow. If he is doomed to suffer, it seems that so 
much the more will he need care and help. And yet the 
ultimate possibilities of such a case are appalling. Well, 
come what may, God help and strengthen both him and me. 
I look forward to to-morrow with a mixture of impatience 
and anxiety. Poor fellow 1 I want to see with my own eyes 
how he is. 

Haworth, June 7th. 

I am very glad and thankful to hear that you continue 
better, though I am afraid your cough will have returned a 
little during the late chilly change in the weather. Are you 
taking proper care of yourself, and either staying in the 
house or going out warmly clad, and with a boa doing duty 
as a respirator ? On this last point I incline particularly to 
insist, for you seemed careless about it, and unconscious 
how much atmospheric harm the fine thick hairs of the fur 






kl] the wedding. XIX 

might ward off. I was very miserable about Papa again 
some days ago. While the weather was so sultry and 
electric, about a week since, he was suddenly attacked with 
deafness, and complained of other symptoms which showed 
the old tendency to the head. His spirits, too, became 
excessively depressed. It was all I could do to keep him 
up, and I own I was sad and depressed myself. However 
he took some medicine, which did him good. The change 
to cooler weather, too, has suited him. The temporary 
deafness has quite disappeared for the present, and his head 
is again clear and cool. I can only earnestly trust he will 

continue better. That unlucky continues his efforts 

•to give what trouble he can, and I am obliged to conceal 
things from Papa's knowledge as well as I can, to spare him 
that anxiety which hurts him so mucli. .... I feel com- 
pelled to throw the burden of the contest upon Mr. Nicholls, 
who is younger and can bear it better. The worst of it is, 
Mr. N. has not Papa's right to speak and act, or he would 
do it to purpose. I should then have to mediate, not rouse ; 
to play the part of 

Feather-bed *twixt castle-wall 
And heavy brunt of cannon-balL 

June l6tli. 

My dear Miss W , — Owing to certain untoward 

proceedings, matters have hitherto been kept in such a 
state of uncertainty that I could not make any approach 
towards fixing the day; and now, if I would avoid incon- 
veniencing Papa, I must hurry. I believe the commence- 
ment of July is the furthest date upon which I can 
calculate; possibly I may be obliged to accept one still 
nearer — the close of June. I cannot quite decide till next 
week. Meantime, will you, my dear Miss W , come 



17J CHARLOTTE BRONTE. [xi 

as soon as you possibly can, and let me know at your 
earliest convenience the day of your arrival. I have 
written to Ellen, begging her to communicate with you. 

Your absence would be a real and grievous 

disappointment. Papa also seems much to wish your 
presence. Mr. NichoUs enters with true kindness into my 
wish to have all done quietly ; and he has made such 
arrangements as will, I trust, secure literal privacy. Your- 
self, Ellen, and Mr. S. will be the only persons present at 
the ceremony. Mr. and Mrs. G. are asked to the breakfast 
afterwards. I know you will kindly excuse this brief note, 
for I am and have been very busy, and must still be busy 
up to the very day. Give my sincere love to all Mr. 

C 's family. I hope Mr. C. and Mr. Nicholls may 

meet some day. . I believe mutual acquaintance would in 
time bring mutual respect ; but one of them, at least, 
requires knowing to be appreciated. And I must say that I 
have not yet found him to lose with closer knowledge. I 
make no grand discoveries, but I occasionally come upon a 
quiet little nook of character which excites esteem. He is 
alvvays reliable, truthful, faithful, affectionate ; a little un- 
bending, perhaps, but still persuadable and open to kind 
influence — a man never, indeed, to be djpiVen, but who may 
be led. 

The marriage took place on June 29th, 1854. A 
neighbouring clergyman read the service ; Charlotte's 
" dear Nell " was the solitary bridesmaid ; her old 
schoolmistress, whose friendship had ever been dear 
to her, Miss Wooler, gave her away ; and visitors to 
Haworth who are shown the marriage register will 
see that these two faithful and trusted friends were 
the only witnesses. Immediately after the marriage 



XI.] THE WEDDING TOUR. 173 

the bride and bridegroom started for Ireland, to visit 
some of the relatives of Mr. NichoIIs. "I trust I 
feel thankful to God for having enabled me to make 
a right choice; and I pray to be enabled to repay as I 
ought the affectionate devotion of a truthful, honour- 
able, unboastful man," are words which appear in the 
first letter written from Ireland. A month later the 
bride writes as follows to her friend : 

Dublin, July 28th, 1854. 

I really cannot rest any longer without writing you a 
line, which I have literally not had time to do during the 
last fortnight We have been travelling about, with only 
just such cessation as enabled me to answer a few of the 
many notes of congratulation forwarded, and which I dared 
not suffer to accumulate till my return, when I know I shall 
be busy enough. We have been to Killarney, Glen Gariffe, 
Tarbert, Tralee, Cork, and are now once more in Dublin 
again on our way home, where we hope to arrive next week. 
I shall make no effort to describe the scenery through which 
we have passed. Some parts have exceeded all I ever 
imagined. Of course, much pleasure has sprung from all 
this, and more, perhaps, from the kind and ceaseless pro- 
tection which has ever surrounded me, and made travelling 
a different matter to me from what it has heretofore been. 
Dear Nell, it is written that there shall be no unmixed 
happiness in this world. Papa has not been well, and I 
have been longing, longing intensely sometimes, to be at 
home. Indeed, I could enjoy and rest no more, and so 
home we are going. 

It was a new life to which she was returning. 
Wedded to one who had proved by years of faithful- 



174 CHARLOTTE BRONTE. [xl 

ness and patience how strong and real was his love 
for her, it seemed as though peace and sunshine, the 
brightness of affection and the pleasures of home, 
were at length about to settle upon her and around 
her. The bare sitting-room in the parsonage, which 
for six years of loneliness and anguish had been 
peopled only by the heart-sick woman and the 
memories of those who had left her, once more re- 
sounded with the voices of the living. The husband's 
strong and upright nature furnished something for 
the wife to lean against ; the painful sense of isolation 
which had so long oppressed her vanished utterly, 
and in its place came that "sweet sense of depending" 
which is the most blessed fruit of a trustful love. A 
great calm seemed to be breathed over the spirit of 
her life after the fitful fever which had raged so long ; 
and her friends saw new shoots of tenderness, new 
blossoms of gentleness and affection, peeping forth 
in nooks of her character which had hitherto been 
barren. Of her letters during these happy months of 
peace and expectation I cannot quote much ; they 
are too closely intertwined with the life of those who 
survive to permit of this being done ; but all of them 
breathe the same spirit. They show that the courage, 
the patience, the cheerfulness with which the rude 
buffetings of fate had been borne in that stormy 
middle-passage of her history, had brought their own 
reward ; and that joy had come at last, not perhaps 
in the shape she had imagined in her early youth, but as 
a substantial reality, and no longer a mocking illusioa 



\ 



XI.] MARRIED LIFE. 175 



August 9th, 1 854, 

will probably end by accepting ; and judging 

from what you say, it seems to me that it would be rational 
to do so. If, indeed, some one else whom she preferred 
wished to have her, and had duly and sincerely come for- 
ward, matters would be different. But this it appears is not 
the case ; and to cherish any unguarded and unsustained 
preference is neither right nor wise. Since I came home 
I have not had one unemployed moment. My life is 
changed indeed ; to be wanted continually, to be constantly 
called for and occupied, seems so strange ; yet it is a mar- 
vellously good thing. As yet I don^t quite understand how 
some wives grow so selfish. As far as my experience of 
matrimony goes, I think it tends to draw you out and away 
from yourself. .... Dear Nell, during the last six weeks 
the colour of my thoughts is a good deal changed. I know 
more of the realities of life than I once did. I think many 
false ideas are propagated, perhaps unintentionally. I think 
those married women who indiscriminately urge their ac- 
quaintance to marry, much to blame. For my part I can 
only say with deeper sincerity and fuller significance, what I 
always said in theory : Wait God's will. Indeed, indeed, 
Nell, it is a solemn and strange and perilous thing for a 
woman to become a wife. Man's lot is far, far different. 
.... Have I told you how much better Mr. NichoUs is ? 
He looks quite strong and hale. To see this improvement 
in him has been a great source of happiness to me ; and, to 
speak truth, a source of wonder too. 

Hawortb, September 7th, 1854. 

I send a French paper to-day. You would almost think 
I had given them up, it is so long since one was despatched. 
The fact is they had accumulated to quite a pile during my 



176 CHARLOTTE BRONT&. [xi 

absence. I wished to look them over before sending them 
off, and as yet I have scarcely found time. That same time 
is an article of which I once had a large stock always on 
hand ; where it is all gone to now it would be difficult to 
say, but my moments are very fully occupied. Take warn- 
ing, Ellen. The married woman can call but a very small 
portion of each day her own. Not that I complain of this 
sort of monopoly as yet, and I hope I never shall incline to 
regard it as a misfortune, but it certainly exists. We were 
both disappointed that you could not come on the day I 
mentioned. I have grudged this splendid weather very 
much. The moors are in their glory ; I never saw them 
fuller of purple bloom ; I wanted you to see them at their best 
They are fast turning now, and in another week, I fear, will 
be faded and sere. As soon as ever you can leave home, 

be sure to write and let me know Papa continues 

greatly better. My husband flourishes ; he begins indeed to 
express some slight alarm at the growing improvement in 
his condition. I think I am decent — better certainly than 
I was two months ago ; but people don't compliment me as 
they do Arthur— excuse the name ; it has grown natural to 
use it now. 

Haworth, September i6th, 1854. 

My dear Miss ^ — You kindly tell me not to write. 

while Ellen is with me ; I am expecting her this week ; 
and as I think it would be wrong long to defer answering 
a letter like yours, I will reduce to practice the maxim : 
"There is no time like the present," and do it at once. 
It grieves me that you should have had any anxiety about 
my health; the cough left me before I quitted Ireland, 
and since my return home I have scarcely had an ailment, 
except occasional headaches. My dear father, too, oon* 



M.J AT HOME. 177 

tinues much better. Dr. B was here on Sunday, 

preaching a sermon for the Jews, and he gratified me much 
by saying that he thought Papa not at all altered since 
he saw him last — nearly a year ago. I am afraid this 
opinion is rather flattering; but still it gave me pleasure, 
for I had feared that he looked undeniably thinner and 
older. You ask what visitors we have had. A good 
many amongst the clergy, &c., in the neighbourhood, but 
none of note from a distance. Haworth is, as you say, a 
very quiet place ; it is also difficult of access, and unless 
under the stimulus of necessity, or that of strong curiosity, 
or finally, that of true and tried friendship, few take courage 
to penetrate to so remote a nook. Besides, now that I am 
married, I do not expect to be an object of much general 
interest. Ladies who have won some prominence (call it 
either notoriety or celebrity) in their single life, often fall 
quite into the background when they change their names. 
But if true domestic happiness replace fame, the change is 
indeed for the better. Yes, I am thankful to say that my 
husband is in improved health and spirits. It makes me 
content and grateful to hear him, from time to time, avow 
his happiness in the brief but plain phrase of sincerity. My 
own life is more occupied than it used to be ; I have not so 
much time for thinking : I am obliged to be more practical, 
for my dear Arthur is a very practical as well as a very 
punctual, methodical man. Every morning he is in the 
national school by nine o'clock j he gives the children re- 
ligious instruction till half-past ten. Almost every afternoon 
he pays visits amongst the poor parishioners. Of course he 
often finds a little work for his wife to do, and I hope she 
is not sorr)H4D help him. I believe it is not bad for me 
that, his bent should be so wholly towards matters of real 
life and active usefulness — so little inclined to the literary 

N 



1^6 CHARLOTTE BR0NT£. [xi, 

and contemplative. As to his continued affection and kind 
attentions, it does not become me to say much of them ; 
but as yet they neither change nor diminish. I wish, my 

dear Miss , you had some kind, faithful companion to 

enliven your solitude at R , some friend to whom to 

communicate your pleasure in the scenery, the fine weather, • 
the pleasant walks. You never complain, never murmur, 
never seem otherwise than thankful ; but I know you must 
miss a privilege none could more keenly appreciate than 
yourself. 

There are other letters like the foregoing, all 
speaking of the constant occupation of time, which 
once hung heavily, all giving evidence that peace and 
love had made their home in her heart, all free from 
that strain of sadness which was so common in other 
years. One only of these letters, that written on the 
morrow of her last Christmas Day, need be quoted, 
however. 

Haworth, December 26th. 

I return Mrs. *s letter : it is as you say, very genuine, 

truthful, affectionate, mcUernal^ without a taint of sham or 
exaggeration. She will love her child without spoiling it, I 
think. She does not make an uproar about her happiness 
either. The longer I live the more I suspect exaggerations. 
I fancy it is sometimes a sort of fashion for each to vie with 
the other in protestations about their wondrous felicity — 
and sometimes they fib ! I am truly glad to hear you are 

all better at B . In the course of three or four weeks 

now I expect to get leave to come to you. I certainly long 
to see you again. One circumstance reconciles me to this 
delay — the weather. I do not know whether it has been 
as bad with you as with us ; but here for three weeks we 



— 1 



XI.] A HUSBAND'S CARE. 179 

have had little else than a succession of hurricanes 

You inquire after Mrs. Gaskell. She has not been here, 
and I think I should not like her to come now till summer. 
She is very busy now with her story of " North and South." 
I must make this note very short. Arthur joins me in 
sincere good wishes for a happy Christmas and many of 
them to you and yours. He is well, thank God, and so am 
I ; and he is " my dear boy " certainly — dearer now than he 
was six months ago. In three days we shall actually have 
been married that length of time. 

There was not much time for literary labours 
during these happy months of married life. The 
wife, new to her duties, was engaged in mastering 
them with all the patience, self-suppression, and 
industry which had characterised her throughout her 
life. Her husband was now her first thought ; and 
he took the time which had formerly been devoted to 
reading, study, thought, and writing. But occasion- 
ally the pressure she was forced to put upon herself 
was very severe. Mr. Nicholls had never been 
attracted towards her by her literary fame ; with 
literary effort, indeed, he had no sympathy, and 
upon the whole he would rather that his wife should 
lay aside her pen entirely than that she should gain 
any fresh triumphs in the world of letters. So she 
submitted, and with cheerful courage repressed that 
" gift " which had been her solace in sorrows deep and 
many. Yet once " the spell " was too strong to be 
resisted, and she hastily wrote a few pages of a new 
story called " Emma," in which once more she pro- 

N a 



^ I 



i8o CHARLOTTE BRONT&. [xL 



posed to deal with her favourite theme — the history 
of a friendless girl. One would fain have seen how 
she would have treated her subject, now that 
" the colour of her thoughts " had been changed, and 
that a happy marriage had introduced her to a new 
phase of that life which she had studied so closely and 
so constantly. But it was not to be. On January 19, 
when she had returned to Haworth, after a visit to 
Sir J. K. Shuttleworth's, she wrote to her friend as 
follows. This letter was the last written in ink to her 
schoolfellow : 

Haworth, January 19th, 1855. 

Since our return from Gawthorpe we have had Mr. B y 

one of Arthur's cousins, staying with us. It was a great 
pleasure. I wish you could have seen him and made his 
acquaintance : a true gentleman by nature and cultivation is 
not, after all, an everyday thing. . . . . ' I very much wish 

to come to B , and I hoped to be able to write with 

certainty and fix Wednesday, the 31st January, as the day; 
but the fact is I am not sure whether I shall be well enough 
to leave home. At present I should be a most tedious 
visitor. My health has really been very good ever since my 
return from Ireland, till about ten days ago. Indigestion 
and continual faint sickness have been my portion ever 
since. I never before felt as I have done lately. I am rather 
mortified to lose my good looks and grow thin as I am doing, 

just when I thought of going to B . Poor J 1 

I still hope he will get better, but A writes grievous 

though not always clear or consistent accounts. Dear 
Ellen, I want to see you, and I hope I shall see you well. 

Those around her were not alarmed at first They 



-n 



XI.] ILLNESS AND DEATH. i8i 

hoped that before long all would be well with her 
again ; they could not believe that the joys of which 
she had just begun to taste were about to be snatched 
away. But her weakness grew apace ; the sickness 
knew no abatement ; and a deadly fear began to 
creep into the hearts of husband and father. She 
was soon so weak that she was compelled to remain 
in bed, and from that " dreary bed " she wrote two or 
three faint pencil notes which still exist — the last 
pathetic chapters in that life-long correspondence 
from which we have gathered so many extracts. In 
one of them, which Mrs. Gaskell has published, she 
says : " I want to give you an assurance which I 
know will comfort you — and that is that I find 
in my husband the tenderest nurse, the kindest 
support, the best earthly comfort that ever woman 
had. His patience never fails, and it is tried by 
sad days and broken nights." In another, the last, 
she says : " I cannot talk — even to my dear, patient, 
constant Arthur I can say but few words at once." 
One dreary March morning, when frost still bound 
the earth and no spring sun had come to gladden the 
hearts of those who watched for summer, her friend 
received another letter, written, not in the neat, 
minute hand of Charlotte Bronte, but in her father's 
tremulous characters : 

Haworth, near Keighley, 
March 30th, 1855. 

My dear Madam, — ^We are all in great trouble, and 
Mr. Nicholls so much so that he is not sufficiently strong 



i8j charlotte BEONTM. [xl 

and composed as to be able to write. I therefore devote 
a few lines to tell you that my dear daughter is very ill, 
and apparently on the verge of the grave. If she could 
speak she would no doubt dictate to us whilst answering 
your kind letter. But we are left to ourselves to give what 
answer we can. The doctors have no hope of her case, 
and fondly as we a long time cherished hope, that hope is 
now gone ; and we have only to look forward to the solemn 
event with prayer to God that He will give us grace and 
strength sufficient unto our day. 

Ever truly and respectfully yours, 

P. Bronte. 

The following day, March 31st, 1855, the blinds 
were drawn once again at Haworth Parsonage ; the 
last and greatest of the children of the house had 
passed away ; and the brilliant name of Charlotte 
Bronte had become a name and nothing more ! 
"We are left to ourselves/' said Mr. Bronte in the 
letter I have just quoted — and so it was. Not the 
glory only, but the light, had fled from the parsonage 
where the childless father and the widowed husband 
sat together beside their dead. Of all the drear and 
desolate spots upon that wild Yorkshire moorland 
there was none now so dreary and so desolate as the 
house which had once been the home of Charlotte 
Bronte. 



XII. 

POSTHUMOUS HONOURS. 

There is a deeper truth in the maxim which bids 
us judge no man happy till his death than most of us 
are apt to perceive. For sometimes the happiness of 
a life is crowned by death itself; and that which to 
the superficial gaze seems but the dreary and tragic 
close of the play, is really the welcome release from 
the burden which had become too heavy to be borne 
longer. But where life and breath fail suddenly in 
the moment of fullest hope, apparently in the mo- 
ment also of greatest bliss, the strain upon our faith 
is almost too severe, and blinded and bewildered, we 
see nothing and feel nothing but the awful stroke of 
fate which has laid the loved one low, and the great 
gap which remains at the table and the hearth. It 
was with such a feeling as this that the outer world 
heard of that Easter-day tragedy which had been 
enacted to the bitter end among the Yorkshire hills. 
Those who knew the little household at Haworth had 
been watching, as has already been told, for that 
fulness of joy which seemed close at hand. They 
had seen the lonely authoress developing into the 
trustful happy wife, and they looked forward to no 



i84 CHARLOTl'E BR0NT£. [xii. 



distant day when children should be gathered at 
her knee, and a new generation, bom amid hap- 
pier circumstances, freed from the strain and 
stress which had been laid upon her, should per- 
petuate a great name, and perhaps something of a 
great genius. 

The announcement that all these hopes had been 
brought to nothing fell upon the world as a blow 
not easily to be borne. When it was made known 
that the author of " Jane Eyre " was dead, there rose 
up even from those who had been her bitter critics 
during her lifetime, a cry of pain and regret which 
would have astonished nobody more than herself had 
she been able to hear it. The genuine unaffected 
modesty which had enabled her to preserve the sim- 
plicity of her character amid all the temptations 
which thronged round her at the height of her fame, 
had prevented her from ever feeling herself to be a 
person of consequence in the world. What she did 
in the way of writing she did because she could not 
escape the commanding authority of her own genius ; 
but the idea that by doing this she had made her- 
self conspicuously great never once occurred to her. 
There is not a letter extant from her which shows 
that she thought anything of the fame or the fortune 
she had acquired. On the contrary everything that 
remains of her inner life proves that to the very last 
she esteemed herself as humbly as ever she did 
during the days of her "governessing" in Yorkshire 
or at Brussels. She knew of course that she attracted 



XII.] HER HUMILITY. 185 

attention wherever she went ; but her own unfeigned 
belief seems to have been that this attention was due 
solely to curiosity, and to curiosity of a not very plea- 
sant or flattering kind. Brought up as she had been 
among those who regarded any literary pursuit, and 
above all the writing of a book, as something beyond 
the proper limits of the rights and duties of her sex, 
she had never quite escaped from the notion that in 
putting pen to paper she was in some vague way 
offending against the proprieties of society. It has 
been shown by an extract from one of her letters, 
how keenly and indignantly she repudiated the 
notion that she had ever written anything of which 
she needed to be ashamed. Her pure heart vindi- 
cated her absolutely upon that point. But, from first 
to last, she seemed during her literary career to feel 
that in writing .novels she had sinned against the 
conventional canons, and that she was in consequence 
looked upon not as a great woman who had taken a 
lofty place in the republic of letters, but as a social 
curiosity who had done something which made her 
for the time-being notorious. How ready she was to 
forget her success as a writer is shown by a thousand 
passages in her correspondence, many of these pas- 
sages being too tender or sacred for quotation. It is 
impossible to read her letters without seeing that, 
with the exception of a solitary friend, the com- 
panions of her daily life in Yorkshire did not feel at 
all drawJi towards her by her literary fame. With 
her accustomed humility she accepted herself at theii 



i86 CHARLOTTE BRONT&. [xil 

valuation, and whilst the nations afar off were 
praising her, she herself was perfectly ready to take a 
humble place in the circle of her friends at home. 
The tastes of her husband had unquestionably some- 
thing to do in maintaining this simple and sincere 
modesty up to the end of her life. He was resolute 
in putting aside all thought of her literary achieve- 
ments ; his whole anxiety — an anxiety arising almost 
entirely from his desire for her happiness — was that 
she should cease entirely to be the author, and should 
become the busy, useful, contented wife of the village 
clergyman. It would be wrong to hide the fact that 
she was compelled to place a severe strain upon her- 
self in order to comply with her husband's wishes ; 
and once, as we have seen, her strength of self-repres- 
sion gave way, and she indulged in the forbidden 
luxury of work with the pen. But it is not surprising 
that, surrounded by those who, loving her very dearly, 
yet withheld from her all recognition of her position 
as one of the great writers of the day, she should 
have accepted their estimate of her place with cha- 
racteristic humility, and believed herself to be of 
little or no account outside the walls of her own 
home. 

In this belief she lived and died. Among the 
letters before me, but from which I must forbear to 
quote, are not a few written during that last sad 
illness when the end began to loom before her vision. 
In these, whilst there are many anxious inquiries 
after the friends of early days, and many remarks 



Xti.] A NATION'S MOURNING. iSr 

upon their varying fortunes, many allusions, too, to 
her husband and father, and to parish work at 
Haworth, there is not a line which speaks of her 
own feelings as an author, or of the work which she 
had accomplished during the brief closing years of 
her life. The novelist has passed entirely out of 
sight, and only the wife, the friend, the expectant 
mother, remains. I know nothing which more touch- 
ingly shows one how small a thing is great fame, 
how little even the most marked and marvellous 
successes can affect the realities of life, than the 
last chapters of Charlotte Bronte's correspondence 
do. Her death, all unknown to the great world 
outside ; her quiet funeral, treated only as the funeral 
of the clergyman's daughter, the curate's wife; the 
modest announcement of her end sent to the local 
papers — all these are in keeping with her own low 
estimate of herself 

But death, the great touchstone of humanity, 
revealed her true position to the world, and to her 
surviving relatives and friends. Copies of the news- 
papers of that sad March week in 1855 lie before me, 
carefully treasured up by loving hands. They speak 
with an eloquence which is not always that of mere 
words, of a nation's mourning for a great soul gone 
prematurely to its account. Of all these tributes of 
loving admiration, there are two which must be 
singled out for special mention. One is Miss 
Martineau's generous though not wholly satisfactory 
notice of " Currer Bell " in TA^ Daily News, and the 



i88 CHARLOTTE BRONT&. [xiL 

other the far more sympathetic article by " Shirley," 
which appeared in Fraser's Magazine a few months 
later. 

Her father, her husband, her life-long friend, were 
wonderfully touched and moved when they found 
how closely the simple, niodest woman, who had 
been so long a sweet and familiar presence to them, 
had wound herself round the great hea^ of the 
reading public. But they were slow to grasp all the 
truth. When it was proposed that some record of 
this noble life should be preserved, and when Mrs. 
Gaskell was named as the fittest among all Charlotte's 
literary acquaintances to undertake the office, there 
was strong and keen opposition on the part of those 
who had been nearest and dearest to her. With a 
natural feeling, to which no word of blame can be 
attached, but which again throws light upon the 
character of her surroundings in life, they objected 
to any revelation to the world of the real character 
and career of the lost member of their household. 
Happily, their scruples were overcome, and the world 
was permitted to read the story of the Brontes as 
told by one who was herself a woman of genius and 
of the highest moral worth. The reader of this 
monograph will not, it is to be hoped, imagine that 
the writer has presumed to set himself up as a rival 
to Mrs. Gaskell. He can no more pretend to equal 
her in the treatment of his subject than in the fresh- 
ness of the interest attaching to it. And if he has 
found himself obliged to differ from her on some 



XII.] MRS. GASKELLS MEMOIR. 189 

points not wholly unimportant, it must be borne in 
mind that the writer of to-day is free from not a few 
of the difficulties and restraints which weighed upon 
the writer of twenty years ago. Mrs. Gaskell had, 
indeed, to labour under serious disadvantages in her 
task. Not only was she unable to obtain full and 
ready access to all the materials which she needed 
to employ, but she was also compelled to introduce 
much irrelevant and even hurtful matter into a 
delightful and beautiful story. When, after gathering 
up the bare outline of the life she proposed to write, 
she complained to Mr. Bronte that there were not 
incidents enough in the history of his daughter to 
make an interesting narrative of the ordinary length, 
his reply was a characteristic one : " If there are not 
facts enough in Charlotte's life to make a book, 
madam, you must invent some.** There is no need to 
say that Mrs. Gaskell declined to follow this advice ; 
but none the less was she hampered all through her 
work by the necessity of introducing topics which 
had but little to do with her main theme ; and we see 
the result in the fact that the plain unadorned tale 
of Charlotte Bronte and her sisters has been inter- 
woven with dismal episodes with which properly it 
had no concern. 

The publication of Mrs. Gaskell's biography came, 
however, as a revelation upon the world. Readers 
everywhere had learned to admire the writings of 
" Currer Bell," and to mourn over the premature 
extinction of her genius, but few of them had 



igo CHARLOTTE BRONTR. [xii. 

imagined that the life and personal character of 
the author of "Jane Eyre" had been what it 
was. 

The following letter from Charles Kingsley to 
Mrs. Gaskell sufficiently indicates the revulsion of 
feeling wrought in many minds by the publication of 
the " Memoir : " 

St Leonards, May 14, 1857. 

Let me renew our long-interrupted acquaintance by 
complimenting you on poor Miss Bronte's "Life." You 
have had a delicate and a great work to do, and you have 
done it admirably. Be sure that the book will do good. It 
will shame literary people into some stronger belief that a 
simple, virtuous, practical home life, is consistent with high 
imaginative genius ; and it will shame, too, the prudery of a 
not over cleanly though carefully white-washed age, into 
believing that purity is now (as in all ages till now) quite 
compatible with the knowledge of evil. I confess that the 
book has made me ashamed of myself "Jane Eyre" I 
hardly looked into, very seldom reading a work of fiction — 
yours, indeed, and Thackeray's, ^are the only ones I care to 
open. " Shirley " disgusted me at the opening, and I gave 
up the writer and her books with a notion that she was a 
person who liked coarseness. How I misjudged her ! and 
how thankful I am that I never put a word of my miscon- 
ceptions into print, or recorded my misjudgments of one 
who is a whole heayen above me. 

Well have you done your work, and given us the picture 
of a valiant woman made perfect by sufferings. I shall now 
read carefully and lovingly every word she has written, espe- 
cially those poems, which ought not to have fallen dead as 



.-• - 






■i J 



XII.] THE HA WORTH SHRINE. 191 

they did, and which seem to be (from a review in the current 
Eraser) of remarkable strength and purity.* 

The effect of the portrait was heightened by the 
admirable skill with which the background was 
drawn ; and the story of the life gained a popularity 
which hardly any other recent English biography has 
attained. Yet, from the first, people were found here 
and there who, whilst acknowledging the skill, the 
sympathy, and the entire sincerity displayed by 
Mrs. Gaskell, yet whispered that the Charlotte Bronte 
of the story was not in all particulars the Charlotte 
Bronte they had known. 

One great change resulted immedi^itely from the 
publication of Mrs. Gaskell's work. Haworth and 
its parsonage became the shrine to which hundreds of 
literary pilgrims from all parts of the globe began to 
find their way. To see the house in which the three 
sisters had spent their lives and done their work, to 
stand at the altar at which Charlotte was married, 
and beneath which her ashes now rest, and to hear 
her aged father preach one of his pithy, sensible, but 
dogmatic sermons, was what all literary lion-hunters 
aspired to do. In Yorkshire, indeed, the stolid people 
of the West Riding were not greatly moved by this 
enthusiasm. Just as Charlotte herself had seemed an 
ordinary and rather obscure person to her Yorkshire 
friends, so Haworth was still regarded as being a very 
dull and dreary village by those who lived near it. 

• " Charles Kingsley : his Letters and Memories of his Life," 
foL ii p. 24. 



I 



IQ2 CHARLOTTE BRONT&. [xii. 



But the empire of genius knows no geographical 
boundaries, and if at her own doors Charlotte Bronte^s 
sway was unrecognised, from far-distant quarters of 
the world there came the free and full acknowledg- 
ment of her power. No other land, however, furnished 
so many eager and enthusiastic visitors to the Bronte 
shrine as the United States, and the number of 
Americans who found their way to Haworth during 
the ten years immediately following the death of 
the author of " Jane Eyre " would, if properly re- 
corded, astonish the world. The bleak and lonely 
house by the side of the moors, with its dismal little 
garden stretching down to the churchyard, where the 
village dead of many a generation rest, and its dreary 
outlook upon the old tower rising from its bank of 
nettles, the squalid houses of the hamlet, and the 
bare moorlands beyond, received almost as many 
visitors from the other side of the Atlantic during 
those years as Abbotsford or Stratford-upon-Avon. 
Mr. Bronte and Mr. Nicholls, though they were anxious 
to avoid the pertinacious intrusion of these curious 
but enthusiastic guests, could not entirely escape from 
meeting them. It followed that many an American 
lady and gentleman wandered through the rooms 
where the three sisters had dwelt together in love and 
unity, and where Charlotte had laboured alone after 
the light of her life had fled from her, and many 
an American magazine and newspaper contained the 
record of the impressions which these visits left upon 
the minds of those who made them. 



XII.] AN AMERICAN VISITOR. 193 



In only one case does it seem necessary to recall 
those impressions. The late Mr. Raymond, for many 
years editor of The New York Times, visited Haworth, 
and wrote an account of his visit, some passages of 
which may well be reproduced here. He tells us how 
on his railway journey to Keighley, at that time the 
nearest railway station to Haworth, he " astonished an 
intelligent, sociable, and very agreeable English lady, 
his sole companion in the railway carriage, by telling 
her the errand which had brought him to Yorkshire, 
She lived in the neighbourhood, had read the * Jane 
Eyre ' novels, and * supposed the girls were clever ; ' 
but * she would not go ten steps to see where they 
lived, nor could she understand how a stranger from 
America should feel any interest in their affairs.'" 
Arrived at Haworth, and having satisfied himself as 
to the appearance of the parsonage and the character 
of the surrounding neighbourhood, Mr. Raymond 
went to the Black Bull Inn to dine and sleep. " As I 
took my candle to go to my chamber, I stepped for a 
moment into the kitchen, where the landlord and 
landlady were having a comfortable chat over pipes 
and ale, with a companionable rustic of the place, 
who proved to be a nephew of the old servant Tabby, 
who lived so long, and at last died in the service of 
the Bronte family. I joined the circle, and sat there 
till long after midnight. Branwell was clearly the 
hero of the village worship. A little red-headed 
fellow, the landlord said, quick, bright, abounding in 
stories, in jokes, and in pleasant talk of every kind ; 

o 



194 CHARLOTTE BR0NT£. [xil 

he was a general favourite in town, and the special 
wonder of the Black Bull circles. Small as he was, 
it was impossible to frighten him. They had seen 
him volunteer during a mill-riot to go in and thrash a 
dozen fellows, any one of whom could have put him 
in his pocket and carried him off at a minute's notice. 
Indeed a characteristic of the whole family seems to 
have been an entire insensibility to danger and to 
fear. Emily and Charlotte, these people told me, 
were one day walking through the street, when their 
great dog, Keeper, engaged in a fight with another 
dog of equal size. Whilst everybody else stood aloof 
and shouted, these girls went in, caught Keeper by 
the neck, and by dint of tugging, and beating him 
over the head, succeeded in dragging him away." I 
extract this passage because of the confirmation 
which it gives, on the authority of one who made 
his inquiries very soon after the death of Charlotte 
Bronte, of the account of some of the family charac- 
teristics which appear in these pages ; nor will the 
story of Mr. Raymond's interview with Mr. Bronte, 
told as it is with American directness, be without its 
interest and its value. 

The next morning I prepared to call at the parsonage. 
I was told that Mr. Bronte and Mr. Nicholls declined to 
receive strangers, having a great aversion to visits of 
curiosity, and being exceedingly retiring and reserved in 
their habits. I sent in my card, however, and was shown 
into the little library at the right of the entrance, where I 
was asked to await Mr. Nicholls's appearance. The room 



XII.] INTERVIEW WITH MR, BRONTA 195 

was small, very plainly furnished, with small bookcases 
round the walls, the one between the windows containing 
copies of the Bronte novels. Mr. Nicholls soon came in 
and made me welcome. To my apologies for my intrusion 
he assured me that while they were under the necessity of 
declining many visits, both he and his father were always 
happy to see their friends, and that the words " New York " 
upon my card were quite sufficient to insure me a welcome. 
Mr. Bronte, he said, was not up when I called, but had 
desired him to detain me until he could dress and come 
down, as he did soon after. I had an exceedingly pleasant 

conversation of half an hour with them both Mr. 

Bronte's personal appearance is striking and peculiar. He 
is tall, thin, and rather muscular, has a quick energetic 
manner, a reflective and by no means unpleasant coun- 
tenance, and a resolute promptness of movement which in- 
dicated marked decision and firmness of character. The 
extraordinary stories told by Mrs. Gaskell of his inflam- 
mable temper, of his burning silk dresses belonging to his 
wife which he did not approve of her wearing, of his sawing 
chairs and tables, and firing off" pistols in the back-yard by 
way of relieving his superfluous anger, find no warrant 
certainly in his present appearance, and are generally 
considered exaggerations. I remarked to him that I had 
been agreeably disappointed in the face of the country and 
the general aspect of the town, that they were less sombre 
and repulsive than Mrs. GaskelFs descriptions led me to 
expect. Mr. Nicholls and Mr. Bronte smiled at each other, 
and the latter remarked : " Well, I think Mrs. Gaskell tried 
to make us all appear as bad as she could." Mr. Bronte 
wears a very wide white neckcloth, and usually sinks his 
chin so that his mouth is barely visible over it This gives 
him rather a singular expression, which is rendered still 

O 2 



196 CHARLOTTE BRONTA. [xil 

more so by spectacles with large round glasses enclosed in 
broad metallic rims. Though over eighty years old and 
somewhat infirm, he preaches once every Sunday in his 

church As I rose to take my leave Mr. NichoUs 

asked me to step into the parlour and look at Charlotte's por- 
trait It is the one from which the engraving in the " Life " 
is made ; but the latter does no justice to the picture, which 
Mr. Nicholls said was a perfect likeness of the original. I 
remarked that the engraving gives to the face, and espe- 
cially to the eyes, a weird, sinister, and unpleasant expres- 
sion which did not appear in the portrait. He said he 
had observed it, and that nothing could be more unjust, 
for Charlotte's eyes were as soft and affectionate in their 
expression as could possibly be conceived. 

Slight as these scraps from the pen of an American 
"interviewer" may seem, they have their value as 
contemporary records of scenes and incidents the 
memory of which is fast fading away. Yet even to- 
day old men and women are to be found in Haworth 
who can regale the curious stranger with many a 
reminiscence, more or less original, of the family 
which has given so great a glory to the place. 

Mr. Bronte lived six years after the death of 
Charlotte. In spite of his great age he preached 
regularly in the church till within a few months of his 
death ; and when at last he took to his bed, he retained 
his active interest in the affairs of the world. The news- 
papers which Charlotte mentions in one of her juvenile 
lucubrations as being regularly "taken in" at the 
patronage — The Leeds Mercury and Tlte Intelligencer 



XII.] MR. BRONTE'S DEATH. 197 

• 

— ^were stiU brought to him, and read aloud. Every 
scrap of political information which he could gather 
up he cherished as a precious morsel ; and any visitor 
who could tell him how the currents of public life 
were moving in the great West Riding towns around 
him, was certain to be welcome. But the chief enjoy- 
ment of his later years was connected with the public 
respect shown for his daughter's memory. The 
tributes to her virtues and her genius which were 
poured from the press after the publication of Mrs. 
Gaskeirs work were valued by him to the latest 
moment of his life ; and in the end he at last 
understood something of the character and the inner 
life of the child who had dwelt so long a stranger 
under her father's roof 

One point I must notice ere I quit the subject of 
Charlotte Bronte's father. Some of those who knew 
him in his later years, including one who is above all 
others entitled to an opinion on the subject, have ob- 
jected to the portrait of him presented in these pages, 
as being over-coloured. So far as his early life and 
manhood are concerned, I cannot admit the force of 
the objection ; for what has been told of Mr. Bronte 
in these pages has been gathered from the best of all 
sources — from the letters of his children and the 
recollections of those who saw much of him during that 
period. But it is perfectly true that in old age, after the 
marriage, and still more after the death of Charlotte, 
he was wonderfully softened in character. The fierce 
outburst of opposition to the engagement between his 



198 CHARLOTTE £R0NT£. [xii. 

daughter and Mr. Nicholls was almpst the last trace 
of that vehement passion which consumed him during 
his earlier years ; and those visitors who, like Mr. 
Raymond, first became acquainted with him in the 
closing days of his life, found it difficult to believe 
that the stories told of his propensities in youth and 
middle-age could possibly be true. Time did its 
work at last, even on his adamantine character, soften- 
ing the asperities, and wearing away the corners of a 
disposition, the angular eccentricities of which had 
long been so noticeable. Nor ought mention of the 
closing scenes of Mr. Bronte's life to be made without 
some reference to the part which Mr. Nicholls played 
at Haworth during those last sad years. The faithful 
husband remained under the parsonage roof in the cha- 
racter of a faithful son. The two men, bound together 
by so tender and sacred a tie, were not lightly to be 
separated, now that the living and visible link had 
been taken away. To some it may seem strange 
that Charlotte Bronte should have given her heart to 
one who was little disposed to sympathise with the 
overmastering passion inspired by her genius. But if 
in her husband she had found one who was not likely 
to have helped her in her literary work, she had also 
found in him a friend whose steadfastness even to the 
death was nobly proved. During all these sad and 
lonely years, whilst the father of the Brontes waited 
for the summons which should call him once more into 
their company, Charlotte's husband lived with him, 
the patient companion of his hours of pain and 



XII.] A TOUCHING TIE. 199 



weariness, the faithful guardian of that living legacy 
which had been bequeathed to him by the woman 
whom he loved. And by this self-sacrificing life he 
did greater honour to the memory of Charlotte 
Bronte than by the most tender and vivid appreciation 
of her intellectual greatness. 

There is a strange sad harmony between the 
closing chapter of the Bronte story and the earlier 
ones. The brightness had fled for ever from the 
parson's house; the gaiety which it had once witnessed 
was gone ; even its fame as the home of one who 
was a living force in English literature had departed ; 
but there still remained one to bear witness in hi? 
own person to the nobleness of that entire devo- 
tion to duty of the necessity of which Charlotte 
was so fully convinced. The friendship by which 
Mr. Nicholls soothed the last days of Mr. Bronte is 
a touching episode in the Haworth story, and it is 
one which cannot be allowed to pass unnoticed. 

When Mr. Bronte died there was a general wish, 
not only among those who were impressed by the 
claims of all connected with his family upon Haworth, 
but by the parishioners themselves, that his son-in- 
law should succeed him, and that the relationship of 
the Brontes to the place where their lives had been 
spent and their work accomplished, should thus not 
be absolutely severed. But the bestowal of church 
patronage is not always influenced by considerations 
of this kind. The incumbency of Haworth was given 
to a stranger ; Mr. Nicholls returned to Ireland ; and 



30O CHARLOTTE B&ONTE. [xil. 

new faces and a new life filled the parsonage-house 
in which " Jane Eyre " and " Wuthering Heights " 
were written. 



Xllt 

THE BRONTE NOVELS. 

The Bronte novels continued to sell largely for 
some time after Charlotte's death. The publication 
of Mrs. GaskelFs " Life " added not a little to the 
sale, and both at home and abroad the fame of the 
three sisters was greatly increased. But in recent 
years the disposition has been almost to ignore these 
books ; and though fresh editions have recently *been 
issued they have had no circulation worthy of being 
compared with that which they maintained between 
1850 and i860. Yet though there has not been the 
same interest in these remarkable performances as 
that which formerly prevailed, they continue from 
time to time to attract the attention of literary critics 
both in this and other countries, the works of " Currer 
Bell " naturally holding the foremost place in the 
critiques upon the writings of the sisters. 

"Wuthering Heights," the solitary prose« work of 
Emily Bronte, is now practically unread. Even those 
who admire the genius of the family, those who have 
the highest opinion of the qualities displayed in 
" Jane Eyre " or " Villette," turn away with something 



202 CHARLOTTE BRONT&, [xiii. 



like a shudder from " that dreadful book/' as one who 
knew the Brontes intimately always calls it But I 
venture to invite the attention of my readers to this 
story, as being in its way as marvellous a tour de force 
as " Jane Eyre " itself It is true that as a novel it is 
repulsive and almost ghastly. As one reads chapter 
after chapter of the horrible chronicles of HeathclifTs 
crimes, the only literary work that can be recalled for 
comparison with it is the gory tragedy of "Titus 
Andronicus." From the first page to the last there is 
hardly a redeeming passage in the book. The atmos- 
phere is lurid and storm-laden throughout, only lighted 
up occasionally by the blaze of passion and madness. 
The hero himself is the most unmitigated villain in 
fiction ; and there is hardly a personage in the story 
who is not in some shape or another the victim of 
mental or moral deformities. Nobody can pretend 
that such a story as this ever ought to have been 
written ; nobody can read it without feeling that its 
author must herself have had a morbid if not a 
diseased mind. Much, however, may be said in de- 
fence of Emily Bronte's conduct in writing " Wuther- 
ing Heights." She was in her twenty-eighth year 
when it was written, and the reader has seen some- 
thing of the circumstances of her life, and the motives 
which led her to take up her peri. The life had been, 
so^far as the outer world could judge, singularly barren 
and unproductive. Its one eventful episode was the 
short visit to Brussels. But Brussels had made no 
such impression upon Emily as it made upon Char* 



xiil] ^'WUTHERING heights/" 203 

lotte. She went back to Haworth quite unchanged ; 
her love for the moors stronger than ever ; her self- 
reserve only strengthened by the assaults to which 
it had been exposed during her residence among 
strangers ; her whole nature still crying out for the 
solitary life of home, and the sustenance which she 
drew from the congenial society of the animals she 
loved and the servants she understood. When, partly 
in the forlorn hope of making money by the use of 
her pen, but still more to give some relief to her 
pent-up feelings, she began to write "Wuthering 
Heights,'* she knew nothing of the world. "I am 
bound to avow," says Charlotte, " that she had scarcely 
more practical knowledge of the peasants amongst 
whom she lived than a nun has of the country people 
who sometimes pass her convent gates." Love, ex- 
cept the love for nature and for her own nearest rela- 
tives, was a passion absolutely unknown to her — ^as any 
one who cares to study the pictures of it in " Wuther- 
ing Heights" may easily perceive. Of harsh and 
brutal, or deliberate crime, she had no personal know- 
ledge. She had before her, it is true, a sad instance 
of the results of vicious self-indulgence, and from that 
she drew materials for some portions of her story. 
But so far as the great movements of human nature 
were concerned — of those movements which are not to 
be mastered by book learning, but which must come 
as the tardy fruits of personal experience — ^she was in 
absolute ignorance. Little as Charlotte herself knew 
at this time of the world, and of men and women, she 



S04 CHARLOTTE BRONTA [xia 



was an accomplished mistress of the secrets of life, in 
comparison with Emily. 

When a woman has lived such a life as that of 
** Ellis Bell," her first literary effort must be regarded 
as the attempt of an innocent and ignorant child. It 
may be full of faults ; all the conditions which should 
govern a work of art may have been neglected ; the 
book itself, so far as story, tone, and execution are 
concerned, may be an entire mistake; but it will 
nevertheless give us far more insight into the real 
character of the author than any more elaborate 
and successful work, constructed after experience has 
taught her what to do and what to avoid in order to 
secure the ear of the public. 

"Wuthering Heights," then, is the work of one 
who, in everything but years, was a mere child, ancf 
its great and glaring faults are to be forgiven as one 
forgives the mistakes of childhood. But how vast was 
the intellectual greatness displayed in this juvenile 
work ! The author seizes the reader at the first 
moment at which they meet, holds him thrilled, 
entranced, terrified perhaps, in a grasp which never 
relaxes, and leaves him at last, after a perusal of the 
story, shaken and exhausted as by some great effort 
of the mind. Surely nowhere in modem English 
fiction can more striking proof be found of the 
possession of " the creative gift " in an extra- 
ordinary degree than is to be obtained in ** Wuther- 
ing Heights." From what unfathomed recesses of 
her intellect did this shy, nervous, untrained girl pro- 






xni.] CHARACTERS OF THE STORY. 205 

duce such characters as those which hold the fore- 
most place in her story? Mrs. Dean, the faithful 
domestic, we can understand ; for her model was at 
Emily's elbow in the kitchen at Haworth. Joseph, 
the quaint High Calvinist, whose fidelity to his creed 
is unredeemed by a single touch of fellow-feeling 
with the human creatures around him, was drawn 
from life ; and vigorous and powerful though his 
portrait is, one can understand it also. But Heath- 
cliff, and the two Catherines, and Hareton Eam- 
shaw — none of these ever came within the ken of 
Emily Bronte. No persons approaching them in 
originality or force of character were to be found in 
her circle of friends. Here and there some psycho- 
logist, learned in the secrets of morbid human nature, 
* may have conceived the existence of such persons — 
evolved them from an inner consciousness which had 
been enlightened by years of studious labour. But 
no ^uch slow and painful process guided the pen of 
Emily Bronte in painting these weird and wonderful 
portraits. They come forth with all the vigour and, 
freshness, the living reality and impressiveness, which 
can belong only to the spontaneous creations of 
genius. They are no copies, indeed, but living 
originals, owing their lives to her own travail and 
suffering. 

Regarded in this light they must, I think, be 
counted among the greatest curiosities of literature. 
Their very repulsiveness adds to their force. I have 
said that Heathcliff is the greatest villain in fiction. 



2o6 CHARLOTTE BRONTR. [xiii.f 

The reader of the story is disposed to echo the 
agonised cry of his wife when she asks : " Is Mr. 
Heathcliff a man ? If so, is he mad ? And if not, 
is he a devil ?" It is not pleasant to see such a cha- 
racter obtruded upon us in a novel ; but I repeat, it 
is far more difficult to paint a consummate villain of 
the Heathcliff type than to draw any of the more 
ordinary types of humanity. The concentration of 
power required in performing the task is enormous. 
At every moment the writer is tempted to turn aside 
and relieve the darkness by some touch of light ; and 
the risk which the artist must encounter if he gives 
way to this temptation is that of destroying the 
whole effect of the picture. Light and shade there 
must be, or the portrait becomes a mere daub of 
blackness ; and the man whom the author has desired 
to create stands forth as a monster, unrecognisable as 
a creature belonging to the same race as ourselves. 
But unless these lighter shades are introduced with 
a tact and a self-command which belong rather to 
genius than to art, there must, as I have said, be 
complete failure. Now, Emily Bronte has not failed 
in her portrait of Heathcliff. He stands, indeed, 
absolutely alone in that great human portrait-gallery 
which forms one of the chambers in the noble edifice 
of English literature. We can compare him to no- 
body else among the creatures of fiction. We cannot 
even trace his literary pedigree. He is a distinct 
being, not less original than he is hateful. But this 
circumstance does not alter the fact that we accept 



XIII.] EMILY'S GENIUS. 207 

him at once as a real being, not a merely grotesque 
monster. He stands as much alone as Frankenstein's 
creature did ; but we recognise within him that subtle 
combination of elements which gives him kinship 
with the human race. Here, then, Emily Bronte has 
succeeded ; and girl as she was when she wrote, she 
has succeeded where some of the most practised writers 
have failed entirely. Compare " Wuthering Heights,*' 
for example, with the fantastic horrors of Lord 
Lytton^s " Strange Story," and you feel at once how 
much more powerful and masterly is the touch of the 
woman. Lord Lytton's villain, though he has been 
drawn with so much care and skill, is often absurd 
and at last entirely wearisome. Emily Bronte's is 
consistent, terrible, fascinating, from beginning to end. 
Then, again, the writer never tries to frighten her 
reader with a bogey. She never hints at the possi- 
bility of supernatural agencies being at work behind 
the scene. Even when she is showing us that Heath- 
cliff is for ever haunted by the dead Catherine, she 
makes it clear by the words she puts into his own 
mouth that his belief on the subject is nothing more 
than the delusion of a disordered brain, worried by a 
guilty conscience. " I knew no living thing in flesh 
and blood was by," says Heathcliff, describing how 
he dug down into Catherine's grave on the night after 
she had been buried ; " but as certainly as you per- 
ceive the approach to some substantial body in the 
dark, so certainly I felt that Cathy was there: not 
under me, but on the earth. A sudden sense of relief 



2o8 CHARLOTTE BRONT&. [xiii. 

flowed from my heart through every limb. I relin- 
quished my labour of agony, and turned consoled at 
once — unspeakably consoled. Her presence was with 
me ; it remained while I refilled the grave and led me 
home. You may laugh if you will ; but I was sure I 
should see her there. I was sure she was with me, 
and I could not help talking to her. Having reached 
the Heights I rushed eagerly to the door. It was 
fastened ; and I remember that accursed Eamshaw 
and my wife opposed my entrance. I remember 
stopping to kick the breath out of him, and then 
hurrying upstairs to my room and hers. I looked 
round impatiently — I felt her by me — I could almost 
see her, and yet I could not I I ought to have sweat 
blood then, from the anguish of my yearning — from 
the fervour of my supplications to have but one 
glimpse ! I had not one. She showed herself, as she 
often was in life, a devil to me. And, since then, 
sometimes more and sometimes less, I've been the 

sport of that intolerable torture When I sat in 

the house with Hareton, it seemed that on going out 
I should meet her ; when I walked on the moors I 
should meet her coming in. When I went from home 
I hastened to return. She must be somewhere at the 
Heights, I was certain ! And when I slept in her 
chamber — I was beaten out of that I couldn't lie 
there; for the moment I closed my eyes, she was either 
outside the window, or sliding back the panels, or 
entering the room, or even resting her darling head 
on the same pillow as she did when a child ; and I 



XII I ] HONEST WORKMANSHIP. 209 

must open my lids to see. And so I opened and 
closed them a hundred times a night — to be always 
disappointed ! " Here is a picture of a man who is 
really haunted. No supernatural agency is invoked ; 
no strain is put upon the reader's credulity. We are 
asked to believe in the suspension of no law of nature. 
In one word, we can all understand how a wicked 
man, whose brain has, as it were, been made drunk 
with the funics of his own wickedness, can be per- 
secuted throughout his whole life by terrors of this 
kind ; and just because we are able to conceive and 
understand it, this haunting of Heathcliff by the 
ghost of his dead mistress is infinitely more terrible 
than if it had been accompanied either by the para- 
phernalia of rococo horrors which Mrs. Radcliffe 
habitually invoked, or by those refined and subtle 
supernatural phenomena which Lord Lytton employs 
in his famous ghost story. 

This strict honesty which refused to allow the 
writer of the weirdest story in the English language 
to avail herself of the easiest of all the modes of 
stimulating a reader's terrors, is shown all through 
the novel. The workmanship is good from beginning 
to end, though the art is crude and clumsy. She 
never allows a date to escape her memory, nor are 
there any of those broken threads which usually 
abound in the works of inexperienced writers. All 
is neatly, clearly, carefully finished off. Every date 
fits into its place, and so does every incident. The 
reader is never allowed to wander into a blind alley. 

p 



} 



aio CHARLOTTE BRONTM. [xiil 



Though at the outset he finds himself in a bewildering 
maze, far too complicated in construction to comply 
with the canons of literary art, he has only to go 
straight on, and in the end he will find everything made 
plain. Emily permits no fact however minute to 
drop from her grasp. Irrelevant though it may seem 
at the moment when the reader meets with it, a place 
has been prepared for it in the edifice which the 
patient hands are rearing, and in the end it will be 
fitted into that place. Thus there is no scamped 
work in the story ; nor any sacrifice of details in 
order to obtain those broad effects in which the tale 
abounds. 

Let the reader turn to " Wuthering Heights," and 
he will find many a simple innocent revelation of the 
character of the author peeping out from its pages in 
unexpected places. We know how the story was 
written, and how day by day it was submitted to the 
revision of Charlotte and Anne. We may be sure 
under these circumstances that Emily did not allow 
too much of her true inner nature to appear in what 
she wrote. Even from her sisters she habitually con- 
cealed some of the strongest and deepest emotions of 
her heart. But such passages as the following, when 
read in the light of her history, as we know it now, 
are of strange and abiding interest : 

He said the pleasantest manner of spending a hot 
July day was lying from morning till evening on a bank of 
heath in the middle of the moors, with the bees humming 
dreamily about among the bloom, and the larks singing high 



XIII.] EMILY'S CREED. an 



up over head, and the blue sky and bright sun shining 
steadily and cloudlessly. That was his most perfect idea of 
heaven's happiness. Mine was rocking in a rustling green 
tree, with a west wind blowing, and bright white clouds 
flitting rapidly above ; and not only larks, but throstles and 
blackbirds and linnets and cuckoos, pouring out music on 
every side, and the moors seen at a distance broken into 
cool dusky dells ; but close by great swells of long grass 
undulating in waves to the breeze ; and woods and sounding 
water, and the whole world awake and wild with joy. He 
wanted all to lie in an ecstasy of peace. I wanted all to 
sparkle and dance in a glorious jubilee. I said his heaven 
would be only half alive ; and he said mine would be drunk. 
I said I should fall asleep in his ; and he said he could not 
breathe in mine. 

For "he,** read "Anne," and accept Emily as 
speaking for herself, and we have in this passage a 
vivid description of the opposing tastes of the two 
sisters. 

The abhorrence which Charlotte felt for the High 
Calvinism, which was the favourite creed around her, 
was felt even more strongly by Emily. Her poems 
throw not a little light upon this feature of her 
character ; but we also gain some from her solitary 
novel. Joseph, the old man-servant, was a study 
from life, and he represented one of a class whom 
the author thoroughly disliked, but for whom at the 
same time she entertained a certain respect. Again 
and again she breaks forth with all the force of 
sarcasm she can command against *^ the wearisomest, 
self-righteous pharisee that ever ransacked a Bible to 

P 2 



2ia CHARLOTTE BRONTE. [xiii. 

rake the promises to himself and fling the curses to 
his neighbours." Yet there is no character in the 
story over whom she lingers more lovingly than 
Joseph, and it is only in painting his portrait that she 
allows herself to be betrayed into the display of any 
of that humour which, according to her sisters, always 
lurked very near the surface of her character, ever 
ready to show itself when no stranger was at hand. 
Few who have read " Wuthering Heights " can have 
forgotten Joseph's quaint remark when the boy Heath- 
cliff has disappeared, and the others are speculating 
on his fate. 

Nay, nay, he's noan at Gimmerton. I's never wonder 
but he's at t' bottom of a bog-boile. This visitation worn't 
for nowt, and I wod hev ye to look out, miss. Yah muh be 
t' next. Thank Hivin for all ! All works togit^er for gooid 
to them as is chozzen, and piked out fro' th' rubbidge. Yah 
knaw whet t' Scripture ses. 

There is one passage in the story which furnishes 
so strange a foreshadowing of Emily *s own death, 
that it is difficult to believe that she did not bear it 
in her mind during those last hours when she faced 
the dread enemy with such unwavering resolution. 
She is writing of the death of Mrs. Earnshaw. 

Poor soul ! till within a week of her death that gay 
heart never failed her ; and her husband persisted doggedly, 
nay furiously, in affirming her health improved every day. 
When Kenneth warned him that his medicines were useless 



xiii.] A PORTENT, 213 

at that stage of the malady, and he needn't put him to 
further expense by attending her, he retorted: 

" I know you need not She's well j she does not want 
any more attendance from you ! She never was in a con- 
sumption. It was a fever, and it is gone : her pulse is as 
slow as mine now, and her cheek as cool ! " 

He told his wife the same story, and she seemed to 
believe him. But one night while leaning on his shoulder, 
in the act of saying she thought she should be able to get 
up to-morrow, a fit of coughing took her — a very slight one 
— he raised her in his arms ; she put her two hands about 
his neck, her face changed, and she was dead. 

Strange and inscrutable, indeed, are the mysteries 
of the human heart! Let the reader turn from 
the passage I have quoted to that letter in which 
Charlotte laments that " Emily is too intractable," 
and let him read how she refused to believe that she 
was ill until death caught her as suddenly as it did 
the wife of Earnshaw. The blindness to the approach 
of danger, which she describes so clearly in her story, 
was but a few months afterwards displayed even more 
fully by herself. In this last quotation, which I ven- 
ture to make from a book now seldom opened, we see 
the author speaking evidently out of the fulness of 
her heart on a subject on which in conversation she 
was specially reserved. 

I don't know if it be a peculiarity in me, but I am 
seldom otherwise than happy when watching in the chamber 
of death, should no frenzied or despairing mourner share 
the duty with me. I see a repose that neither earth nor 



214 CHARLOTTE BRONTE. [xin 

hell can break, and I feel an assurance of the endless and 
shadowless hereafter — the Eternity they have entered — 
where life is boundless in its duration, and love in its sym- 
pathy, and joy in its fulness. I noticed on that occasion 
how much selfishness there is even in a love like Mr. 
Linton's, when he so regretted Catherine's blessed release I 
To be sure, one might have doubted, after the wayward and 
impatient existence she had led, whether she merited a haven 
of peace at last. One might doubt in seasons of cold re- 
flection ; but not then in the presence of her corpse. It 
asserted its own tranquillity, which seemed a pledge of equal 
quiet to its former inhabitant 

Even these fragments, culled from the pages of 
" Wuthering Heights," are sufficient to show how little 
the stoiy has in common with the ordinary novel. 
Differing widely in every respect from " Jane Eyre," 
dealing with characters and circumstances which 
belong to the romance rather than the reality of life, 
it is yet stamped by the same originality, the same 
daring, the same thoughtfulness, and the same intense 
individuality. It is a marvel to all who know any- 
thing of the secrets of literary work, that Haworth 
Parsonage should have produced " Jane Eyre ; " but 
how is the marvel increased, when we know that at 
the same time it produced, from the brain of another 
inmate, the wonderful story of " Wuthering Heights." 
Brimful of faults as it may be, that book is alone 
sufficient to prove that a rare and splendid genius was 
lost to the world when Emily Bronte died. 

All interested in the story of the Brontes must be 



XIII.] MR, BRONTE'S INFLUENCE. 215 

curious to know whence Emily derived the materials 
for this romance. I have said that Heathcliff and the 
other prominent characters of the story are creations 
of her own ; and indeed the book in its originality 
is almost unique. But this does not affect the fact 
that somewhere, and at some period during her life, 
the seed which brought forth this strange fruit must 
have been sown. It has been suggested by some — 
strangely ignorant, surely, of the conditions of West 
Riding life during the present century — that Emily 
obtained the skeleton of her plot from her own obser- 
vation of people around her. But the life round 
Haworth was really tame and commonplace. Josephs 
and Mrs. Deans could be found in and about the village 
in abundance ; but there were no people round whose 
lives hung anything of the mystery which attaches to 
Heathcliff. It was, so far as I can learn, during her 
early girlhood that Emily's mind was filled with those 
grim traditions which she afterwards employed in 
writing "Wuthering Heights." Mr. Bronte, in ad- 
dition to his other gifts, had the faculty of story- 
telling highly developed, and his delight was to use 
this faculty in order to awaken superstitious terrors in 
the hearts of his children. 

Though he habitually took his meals alone, he 
would often appear at the table where his daughters, 
with possibly their one female friend, were break- 
fasting, and, without joining in the repast, would 
entertain the little company of schoolgirls with wild 
legends not only relating to life in Yorkshire during 



2i6 CHARLOTTE BRONTA [xiii. 

the last century, but to that still wilder life which he 
had left behind him in Ireland. A cold smile would 
play round his mouth as he added horror to horror in 
his attempts to move his children ; and his keen eyes 
sparkled with triumph when he found he had suc- 
ceeded in filling them with alarm. Emily listened to 
these 'stories with bated breath, drinking them in 
eagerly. She could repeat them afterwards by the 
hour together to her sisters ; and no better proof of 
the deep root they took in her sensitive nature can be 
desired, than the fact that they led her to write 
"Wuthering Heights.'* Thus the paternal influence, 
strong as it was in the case of all the daughters, was 
peculiarly strong as regarded Emily ; and we can 
gauge the nature of that influence in the weird and 
ghastly story which was brought forth under its 
shadow. 

It is with a feeling of curious disappointment that 
one rises from the perusal of the writings of Anne 
Bronte. She wrote two novels, " Agnes Grey " and 
« The Tenant of Wildfell Hall," neither of which will 
really repay perusal. In the first she sought to set 
forth some of the experiences which had befallen her 
in that patient placid life which she led as a gover- 
ness. They were not ordinarj^ experiences, the reader 
should know. I have resolutely avoided, in writing 
this sketch of Charlotte Bronte and her sisters, all 
unnecessary reference to the tragedy of Branwell 
Bronte's life. But it is a strange sad feature of that 
story, that the pious and gentle youngest sister was 



xiil] ANNE BR0NT£'S NOVELS. 217 

compelled to be a closer and more constant witness of 
his sins and his sufferings than either Charlotte or 
Emily. She was living under the same roof with 
him when he went astray and was thrust out in deep 
disgrace. I have said already that the effect of his 
career upon her own was as strong and deep as Mrs. 
Gaskell represents it to have been. Bran well's fall 
formed the dark turning-point in Anne Bronte's life. 
So it was not unnatural that it should, colour her 
literary labours. Accordingly, whilst " Agnes Grey '* 
gives us some of the scenes of her governess life, 
dressed up in the fashion of the ordinary romances of 
thirty years ago, " The Tenant of Wildfell Hall " pre- 
^sents us with a dreary and repulsive picture of Bran- 
well Bronte's condition after his fall. Charlotte, in 
her brief memoir of her sisters, does bare justice to 
Anne when she speaks in these words upon the 
subject : 

" The Tenant of Wildfell Hall," by " Acton Bell," had 
likewise an unfavourable reception. At this I cannot wonder. 
The choice of subject was an entire mistake. Nothing less 
congruous with the writer's nature could be conceived. 
The motives which dictated this choice were pure, but, I 
think, slightly morbid. She had in the course of her life 
been called on to contemplate, near at hand, and for a long 
time, the terrible effects of talents misused and faculties 
abused; hers was naturally a sensitive, reserved, and de- 
jected nature ; what she saw sank very deeply into her 
mind ; it did her harm. She brooded over it till she be- 
lieved it to be a duty to reproduce every detail (of course 
with fictitious characters, incidents, and situations) as a 



ai8 CHARLOTTE BRONT&. [xiiL 

warning to others. She hated her work, but would pursue 
it. When reasoned with on the subject, she regarded such 
reasonings as a temptation to self-indulgence. She must be 
honest ; she must not varnish, soften, or conceal. This 
well-meant resolution brought on her misconception and 
some abuse, which she bore, as it was her custom to bear 
whatever was unpleasant, w^lh mild steady patience. She 
was a very sincere and practical (]hr^ .ian, but the tinge of 
religious melancholy communicated a sad hue to her brief 
blameless life. 

What a picture one gets of this third and least 
considered of the Bronte sisters in the passage which I 
have quoted ! A lovable, fair-featured girl, leading a 
blameless life, lighted up by few hopes of any brighter 
future — for the one little romance of her own heart 
had been destroyed ere this by the unrelenting hand 
of death — and not inspired as her sisters were by the 
passion of the artist or the creator; a girl whose 
simple faith was still unmoved from its first founda- 
tions ; whose delight was in visiting the poor and 
helping the sick, who had no sustaining conviction of 
her own strength such as maintained Charlotte and 
Emily in their darkest hours, and whose very piety 
was " tinged with melancholy." This is the girl who, 
not from any of the irresistible impulses which attend 
the exercise of the creative faculty, but from a simple 
sense of duty, set herself the hard task of depicting 
in the pages of a novel the consequences of a shocking 
vice with which her brother's degradation had brought 
l:ir into close and abiding contact Of course she 



XIII.] ''THE professor:" 219 

failed. It is not by hands so weak as those of Anne 
Bronte that effective blows are struck at such sins as 
she assailed. But whilst we acknowledge her failure, 
let us do justice both to the self-sacrificing courage 
and the fervent piety which led her to undertake this 
painful work. 

Of Charlotte Bronte's novels, as a whole, I shall 
say nothing at this point ; but something may very 
properly be said here of the story which she wrote at 
the time when her sisters were engaged in writing 
** Wuthering Heights " and " Agnes Grey." It was not 
published until after her death, and after the world 
had learned from Mrs. GaskelFs pages something 
of the truth about her life. Its interest to the ordi- 
nary reader was to a considerable extent discounted 
by the fact that the author had so largely used the 
materials in her last great work, "Villette." But 
even as a mere novel " The Professor " has striking 
merits, and would well repay perusal from that point 
of view alone ; whilst as a means of gaining fresh 
light with regard to the character of the writer, it is 
not less valuable than "Wuthering Heights" itself. 
True, " The Professor " is not really a first attempt. 
" A first attempt it certainly was not," says Charlotte 
in reference to it, "as the pen which wrote it had 
previously been worn a good deal in a practice of 
some years." But the previous writings, of which 
hardly a trace now remains — those early MSS. having 
been carefully destroyed, with the exception of the 
few which Mrs. Gaskell was permitted to see — were 



•20 CHARLOTTE BRONTR. [xiil 

in no respect finished productions, nor had they been 
written with a view to publication. The first occasion 
on which Charlotte Bronte really began a prose work 
which she proposed to commit to the press was on 
that day when, seated by her two sisters, she joined 
them in penning the first page of a new novel. 

To all practical intents, therefore, " The Professor" 
is entitled to be regarded as a first work ; and cer- 
tainly nothing can show Charlotte's peculiar views on 
the subject of novel- writing more clearly or strikingly 
than this book does. The world knows how resolutely 
in all her writings she strove to be true to life as she 
saw it. In "Jane Eyre" there are, indeed, romantic 
incidents and situations, but even in that work there 
is no trespassing beyond the limits always allowed to 
the writer of fiction ; whilst it must not be forgotten 
that "Jane Eyre" was in part a response to the 
direct appeal from the publishers for something 
different in character from " The Professor." In that 
first story, she determined that she would write a 
man's life as men's lives usually are. Her hero was 
." never to get a shilling he had not earned ; " no 
sudden turns of fortune were " to lift him in a 
moment to wealth and high station ; " and he was 
not even to marry " a beautiful girl or a lady of 
rank." "As Adam's son he should share Adam's 
doom, and drain throughout life a mixed and 
moderate cup of enjoyment." 

Very few novel-readers will share this conception 
of what a novel ought to be. The writer of fiction 



xiii.] A MATTER-OF-FACT STORY. S2Z 



is an artist whose accepted duty it is to lift men and 
women out of the cares of ordinary life, out of the 
sordid surroundings which belong to every lot in this 
world, and to show us life under different, perhaps 
under fantastic, conditions : a life which by its con- 
trast to that we ourselves are leading shall furnish 
some relief to our mental vision, wearied and jaded 
by its constant contemplation of the fevers and dis- 
appointments, the crosses and long years of weary 
monotony, which belong to life as it is. We know 
how a great living writer has ventured to protest 
against this theory, and how in her finest works of 
fiction she has shown us life as it is, under the sad 
and bitter conditions of pain, sorrow, and hopeless- 
ness. But Charlotte Bronte wrote "The Professor" 
long before " George Eliot " took up her pen ; and 
she must at least receive credit for having been in 
the field as a reformer of fiction before her fellow- 
labourer was heard of. 

She was true to the conditions she had laid down 
for herself in writing " The Professor." Nothing 
more sober and matter-of-fact than that story is to be 
found in English literature. And yet, though the 
landscape one is invited to view is but a vast plain, 
without even a hillock to give variety to the prospect, 
it has beauties of its own which commend it to our 
admiration. The story, as everybody knows, deals 
with Brussels, from which she had just returned when 
she began to write it. But it is sad to note the 
difference between the spirit of " The Professor " and 



39f CHARLOTTE BRONT&. [xiii. 

that which is exhibited in " Villette." Dealing with 
the same circumstances, and substantially with the 
same story, the author has nevertheless cast each in 
a mould of its own. Nor is the cause of this any 
secret to those who know Charlotte Bronte. When 
she wrote " The Professor," disillusioned though she 
was, she was still young, and still blessed with that 
fervent belief in a better future which the youthful 
heart can never quite cast out, even under the 
heaviest blows of fate. She had come home restless 
and miserable, feeling Haworth to be far too small 
and quiet a place for her ; and her mind could not 
take in the reality that under that modest roof the 
remainder of her life was destined to be spent. 
Suffering and unhappy as she was, she could not 
shut out the hope that brighter days lay before her. 
The fever of life racked her ; but in the very fact 
that it burnt so high there was proof that love and 
hope, the capacity for a large enjoyment of existence, 
still lived within her. So *' The Professor," though a 
sad, monotonous book, has life and hope, and a fair 
faith in the ultimate blessedness of all sorrowful ones, 
shining through all its pages ; and it closes in a scene 
of rest and peace. 

Very different is the case with "Villette.** It was 
written years after the period when "The Professor" 
was composed, when the hard realities of life had 
ceased to be veiled under tender mists of sentiment 
or imagination, and when the lonely present, the 
future, " which often appals me," made the writer too 



xiil] two portraits. ^.ii 

painfully aware that she had drunk the cup of exist- 
ence almost to the dregs. As a piece of workmanship 
there is no comparison between it and the earlier 
story. On every page we see traces of the artist's 
hand. Genius flashes forth from both works it is true, 
but in " Villette " it is genius chastened and restrained 
by a cultivated taste, or working under that high 
pressure which only the trained writer can bring to 
bear upon it. Yet, whilst we must admit the immense 
superiority of the later over the earlier work, we can- 
not turn from the one to the other without being pain- 
fully touched by the sad, strange difference in the 
spirit which animates them. The stories, as I have 
said, are nearly the same. With some curious trans- 
formations, in fact, they are practically identical. But 
they are only the same in the sense in which the por- 
trait of the fair and hopeful girl, with life*s romance 
shining before her eyes, is the same as the portrait of 
the worn and solitary woman for whom the romance 
is at an end. A whole world of suffering, of sorrow, 
of patient endurance, lies between the two. I have 
spoken of the mood in which " The Professor " was 
written — Hope still lingered at that time in the heart, 
breathing its merciful though illusory suggestions of 
something brighter and better in the future. All who 
have passed through the ordeal of a life's sorrow will 
be able to understand the distinction between the 
temperament of the author at that period in her life, 
and her temperament when she composed "Villette." 
For such suffering ones know, how, in the first and 



274 CHARLOTTE BRONT&. [xiiL 

bitterest moment of sorrow, the heart cannot shut out 
the blessed belief that a time of release from the pain 
will come — a time far off, perhaps, but in which a day 
bright as that which has suddenly been eclipsed will 
shine again. It is only as the years go by, and as the 
first ache of intolerable anguish has been lulled into a 
dreary rest by habit, that the faith which gave them 
strength to bear the keenest smart, takes flight, and 
leaves them to the pale monotony of a twilight which 
can know no dawn. It was in this later and saddest 
stage of endurance that " Villette " was written. The 
sharpest pangs of the heart-experiences at Brussels 
had vanished. The author, no longer full of the self- 
consciousness of the girl, could even treat her own 
story, her own sorrows of that period, with a lighter 
hand, a more artistic touch, than when she first wrote 
of them; but through all her work there ran the 
dreary conviction that in those days of mingled joy 
and suffering she had tasted life at its best, and that 
in the future which lay before her there could be 
nothing which should renew either the strong delights 
or keen anguish of that time. So the book is pitched, 
as we know, in a key of almost absolute hopelessness. 
Nothing but the genius of Charlotte Bronte could 
have saved such a work from sinking under its own 
burden of gloom. That this intense and tragic study 
of a soul should have had power to fascinate, not the 
psychologist alone, but the vast masses of the reading 
world, is a triumph which can hardly be paralleled in 
recent literary efforts. In "The Professor" we movQ 



XIII.] THE CLOG OF MORTALITY. 225 

among the same scenes, almost among the same cha- 
racters and incidents, but the whole atmosphere is 
a different one. It is a dull, cold atmosphere, if you 
will, but one feels that behind the clouds the sun is 
shining, and that sooner or later the hero and heroine 
will be allowed to bask in his reviving rays. Set the 
two stories together, and read them in the light of all 
that passed between the years in which they were 
written — the death of Branwell, of Emily, and of Anne, 
the utter shattering of some fair illusions which buoyed 
up Charlotte's heart in the first years of her literary 
triumph, the apparent extinction of all hope as to 
future happiness — and you will get from them a truer 
knowledge of the author's soul than any critic or 
biographer could convey to you. 

Ere I part from " The Professor," which, naturally 
enough, never gained much attention from the public, 
I must extract from it one passage, a parallel to which 
may be found in many of Charlotte Bronte s letters. 
It describes, as none but one who had suffered could 
do, one of those seasons of mental depression, arising 
from bodily illness, by which she was visited at 
intervals, and under the influence of which not a little 
of her work was done. Reading it, we get some idea 
of the true origin of much in her character that was 
supposed to be morbid and unnatural : 

Man is ever clogged with his mortality, and it was my 
mortal nature which now faltered and plained , my nerves 
which jarred and gave a false sound, because the soul, of 
late rushing headlong to an aim, had overstrained the 

Q 



226 CHARLOTTE BRONTA [xiii. 



body's comparative weakness. A horror of great darkness 
fell upon me; I felt my chamber invaded by one I had 
known formerly but had thought for ever departed. I was 
temporarily a prey to hypochondria. She had been my 
acquaintance, nay, my guest, once before in boyhood; I 
had entertained her at bed and board for a year ; for that 
space of time I had her to myself in secret ; she lay wich 
me, she ate with me, she walked out with me, showing me 
nooks in woods, hollows in hi Ms, where we could sit together, 
and where she could drop her drear veil over me, and so 
hide sky and sun, grass and green tree ; taking me entirely 
to her death-cold bosom and holding me with arms of bone. 
What tales she would tell me at such hours ! What songs 
she would recite in my ears ! How she would discourse to 
me of her own country — the grave — and again and again 
promise to conduct me there ere long ; and drawing me to 
the very brink of a black sullen river, show me on the other 
side shores unequal with mound, monument, and tablet, 
standing up in a glimmer more hoary than moonlight 
" NecropoHs I" she would whisper, pointing to the pale piles, 
and add, " it contains a mansion prepared for you." But 
my boyhood was lonely, parentless ; uncheered by brother 
or sister ; and there was no marvel that, just as I rose to 
youth, a sorceress, finding me lost in vague mental wander- 
ings, with many affections and few objects, glowing aspi- 
rations and gloomy prospects, strong desires and tender 
hopes, should lift up her illusive lamp to me in the distance, 
and lure me to her vaulted home of horrors. 

It was when, under the influence of occasional 
spells of physical suffering such as she here describes, 
that Miss Bronte gave those who saw her the impres- 



XIII.] MORBID INFLUENCES, 227 

sion that her mind was naturally a morbid one ; and, 
as I have said before, the same influence is at times 
perceptible in her writings. One of the purposes with 
which this little book has been written is to show the 
world how much of the gloom and depression which 
are now associated with her story, must be attributed 
to purely physical or accidental causes. 



XIV. 

CONCLUSION. 

No apology need be offered for any single feature 
of Charlotte Bronte's life or character. She was 
what God made her in the furnace of sore afflictions 
and yet more sore temptations ; her life, instinct with 
its extraordinary individuality, was, notwithstanding, 
always subject to exterior influences for the existence 
of which she was not responsible, and which more 
than once threatened to change the whole nature and 
purpose of her being; her genius, which brought 
forth its first-fruits under the cold shade of obscurity 
and adversity, was developed far more largely by 
sorrow, loneliness, and pain, than by the success 
which she gained in so abundant a degree. There 
are features of her character which we can scarcely 
comprehend, for the existence of which we are unable 
to account ; and there are features of her genius which 
jar upon our sympathies and ruffle our conventional 
ideas ; but for neither will one word of apology or 
excuse be offered by any who really know and love 
this great woman. 

The fashion which exalted her to such a pinnacle 
of fame, like many another fashion, has lost its 



XIV.] ALLEGED COARSENESS. 229 



vogue ; and the present generation, wrapped in ad- 
miration of another school of fiction, has consigned 
the works of ** Currer Bell " to a premature sepulchre. 
But her friends need not despair ; for from that dreary 
tomb of neglect an hour of resurrection must come, 
and the woman who has given us three of the most 
masterful books of the century, will again assert her 
true position in the literature of her country. We 
hear nothing now of the " immorality " of her writings. 
Younger people, if they turn from the sparkling or 
didactic pages of the most popular of recent stories to 
"Jane Eyre" or "Villette," in the hope of finding 
there some stimulant which may have power to tickle 
their jaded palates, will search in vain for anything 
that even borders upon impropriety — as we understand 
the word in these enlightened days — and they will 
form a strange conception of the generation of critics 
which denounced " Currer Bell " as the writer of im- 
moral works of fiction. But it is said that there is 
coarseness in her stories, " otherwise so entirely 
noble.'* Even Mrs. Gaskell has assented to the 
charge ; and it is generally believed that Charlotte 
Bronte, as a writer, though not immoral in tone, was 
rude in language and coarse in thought. The truth, 
I maintain, is, that this so-called coarseness is nothing 
more than the simplicity and purity, the straight- 
forwardness and unconsciousness which an unspotted 
heart naturally displays in dealing with those great 
problems of life which, alas ! none who have drunk 
deep of the waters of good and evil can ever handle 



230 . CHARLOTTE BRONTE. [xiv. 

with entire freedom from embarrassment. An Ame- 
rican writer* has spoken of Charlotte Bronte as " the 
great pre-Raphaelite among women, who was not 
ashamed or afraid to utter what God had shown 
V her, and was too single-hearted of aim to swerve 
one hairbreadth in duplicating nature's outlines/* 
She was more than this however ; she was bold 
enough to set up a standard of right of her own ; 
and when still the unknown daughter of the humble 
Yorkshire parson, she could stir the hearts of readers 
throughout the world with the trumpet-note of such a 
declaration as this : " Conventionality is not morality ; 
self-righteousness is not religion ; to pluck the mask 
from the face of the Pharisee is not to lift an impious 
hand to the Crown of Thorns." Let it be remembered 
that these words were written nearly thirty years ago, 
when conventionalism was still a potent influence in 
checking the free utterance of our inmost opinions ; 
and let us be thankful that in that heroic band to 
whom we owe the emancipation of English thought, a 
woman holds an honourable place. 

Writing of her life just after it had closed, her 
friend Miss Martineau said of her : " In her vocation 
she had, in addition to the deep intuitions of a gifted 
woman, the strength of a man, the patience of a hero, 
and the conscientiousness of a saint." Those who 
know her best will apply to her personal character the 
epithets which Miss Martineau reserved for her career 
as an author. It has been my object in these pages 

* Harper's New Monthly Magazine^ February, 1866. 



XIV.] MENTAL CONSTITUTION. 231 

to supplement the picture painted in Mrs. Gaskell^s 
admirable biography by the addition of one or two 
features, slight in themselves perhaps, and yet not un- 
important when the effect of the whole -as a faithful 
portrait is considered. Charlotte Bronte was not 
naturally a morbid person ; in youth she was happy 
and high-spirited ; and up to the last moment of her 
life she had a serene strength and cheerfulness which 
seldom deserted her, except when acute physical 
suffering was added to her mental pangs. If her 
mind could have been freed from the depressing 
influences exerted on it by her frail and suffering 
body, it would have been one of the healthiest and 
most equable minds of our age. As it was, it showed 
itself able to meet the rude buffetings of fate without 
shrinking and without bravado ; and the woman who 
is to this day regarded by the world at large as a 
marvel of self-conscious genius and of unchecked 
morbidness, was able to her dying hour to take the 
keenest, liveliest interest in the welfare of her friends, 
to pour out all her sympathy wherever she believed it 
was needed and deserved, and to lighten the grim 
parsonage of Haworth by a presence which, in the 
sacred recesses of her home, was bright and cheerful, 
as well as steadfast and calm. 

"Do not underrate her oddity," said a gifted 
friend who knew her during her heyday of fame, 
while these pages were being written. Her oddity, it 
must be owned, was extreme — so far as the world 
could judge. But I have striven to show how much 



23* CHARLOTTE BRONTM. [xm 

this eccentricity was outward and superficial only, due 
in part to the peculiar conditions of her early life, but 
chiefly to the excessive shyness in the presence of 
strangers which she shared with her sisters. At 
heart, as som€ of these letters will show, she was one 
of the truest women who ever breathed ; and her own 
heart-history was by no means so exceptional, so far 
removed from the heart-history of most women> as the 
public believes. 

The key to her character was simple and unflinch- 
ing devotion to duty. Once she failed,* or rather, 
once she allowed inclination to blind her as to the 
true direction of the path of duty, and that single 
failure coloured the whole of her subsequent life. 
But her own condemnation of herself was more sharp 
and bitter than any which could have been passed 
upon her by the world, and from that one venial 
error she drew lessons which enabled her hencefor- 
ward to live with a steady, constant power of self- 
sacrifice at her command such as distinguishes saints 
and heroes rather than ordinary men and women. 
Hot, impulsive, and tenacious in her afi*ections, she 
suffered those whom she loved the most dearly to be 
torn from her without losing faith in herself or in 
God ; tenderly sensitive as to the treatment which her 
friends received, she repaid the cruelty and injustice 
of her father towards the man whose heart she had 

* I ought perhaps to point out, as this passage may otherwise be 
open to misconception, that the failure to which I refer is that confessed 
by herself in a letter I have quoted on page 59. 



XIV.] DEVOTION TO STUDY. 233 

won, by a depth of devotion and self-sacrifice which 
can only be fully estimated by those who know 
under what bitter conditions it was lavished upon 
an unworthy parent ; bound, as all the children of 
genius are, by the spell of her own imagination, she 
was yet able during the closing months of her life to 
lay aside her pen, and give herself up wholly, at the 
desire of her husband, to those parish duties which 
had such slight attractions for her. Those who, 
knowing these facts, still venture to assert that the 
virtues which distinguished " Currer Bell " the author 
were lacking in Charlotte Bronte the woman, must 
have minds warped by deep-rooted and unworthy 
prejudices. 

I have expressed my conviction that the compara- 
tive neglect from which "Jane Eyre" and its sister- 
works now suffer is only temporary. It is true that in 
some respects these books are not attractive. Though 
they are written with a terse vigour which must 
make them grateful to all whose palates are cloyed 
by the pretty writing of the present generation, they 
undoubtedly err on the side of a lack of literary 
polish. And though the portraits presented to us in 
their pages are wonderful as works of art, unsurpassed 
as studies of character, the range of the artist is a 
limited one, and, as a rule, the subjects chosen are 
not the most pleasing that could have been conceived. 
Yet one great and striking merit belongs to this 
masterly painter of men and women, which is lacking 
in some who, treading to a certain extent in her foot- 

R 



«34 CHARLOTTE BRONT&. [xiv. 



steps, have achieved even a wider and more brilliant 
reputation. There is no taint of the dissecting-room 
about her books ; we are never invited to admire 
the supreme cleverness of the operator who, with un- 
sparing knife, lays bare before us the whole cunning 
mechanism of the soul which is stretched under the 
scalpel ; nor are we bidden to pause and listen to 
those didactic moralisings which belong rather to the 
preacher or the lecturer than the novelist. It is the 
artist, not the anatomist who is instructing us ; and 
after all, we may derive a more accurate knowledge of 
men and women as they are from the cartoons of a 
Raphael than from the most elaborate diagrams or 
sections of the most eminent of physiologists. 

Perhaps no merit is more conspicuous in Charlotte 
Bronte's writings than their unswerving honesty. 
Writing always " under the spell," at the dictation, as 
it were, of an invisible and superior spirit, she would 
never write save when " the fit was upon her " and 
she had something to say. " I have been silent lately 
because I have accumulated nothing since I wrote 
last," is a phrase which fell from her on one occasion. 
Save when she believed that she had accumulated 
something, some truth which she was bound to 
convey to the world, she would not touch her pen. 
She had every temptation to write fast and freely. 
Money was needed at home, and money was to be 
had by the mere production of novels which, whether 
good, bad, or indifferent, were certain to sell. But 
she withstood the temptation bravely, withstood it 



XIV.] LITERARY HONESTY. 235 

even when it came strengthened by the supplications 
of her friends ; and from first to last she gave the 
world nothing but her best. This honesty — rare 
enough unfortunately among those whose painful lot 
it is to coin their brains into money — was carried far 
beyond these limits. When in writing she found that 
any character had escaped from her hands — and 
every writer of fiction knows how easily this may 
happen — she made no attempt to finish the portrait 
according to the canons of literary art. She waited 
patiently for fresh light ; studying deeply in her 
waking hours, dreaming constantly of her task during 
her uneasy slumbers, until perchance the light she 
needed came and she could go on. But if it came 
not she never pretended to supply the place of this 
inspiration of genius by any clever trick of literary 
workmanship. The picture was left unfinished — 
perfect so far as it went, but broken off at the point 
at which the author's keen intuitions had failed or 
fled from her. Nor when her work was done would 
she consent to alter or amend at the bidding of 
others ; for the sake of no applause, of no success, 
would she change the fate of any of her characters as 
they had been fixed in the crucible of her genius. 
Even when her father exerted all his authority to 
secure another ending to the tale of "Villette," he 
could only, as we have seen, persuade his daughter to 
veil the catastrophe. The hero was doomed ; and 
Charlotte, whatever might be her own incHnation, 
could not save him from his fate. Books so true, so 



236 CHARLOTTE BRONT&. [xiv. 

honest, so simple, so thorough as these, depend for 
their ultimate fate upon no transitions of fashion, no 
caprices of the public taste. They will hold their 
own as the slow-born fruits of a great genius, long 
after the productions of a score of facile pens now 
able to secure the world's attention have been utterly- 
forgotten. The daring and passion of "Jane Eyre," 
the broad human sympathies, sparkling humour, and 
graphic portraiture of "Shirley," and the steady, 
patient, unsurpassed concentration of power which 
distinguishes "Villette," can hardly cease to com- 
mand admiration whilst the literature of this century 
is remembered and studied. 

But when we turn from the author to the woman, 
from the written pages to the writer, and when, 
forgetting the features and fortunes of those who 
appear in the romances of "Currer Bell," we recall 
that touching story which will for ever be associated 
with Haworth Parsonage and with the great family 
of the Brontes, we see that the artist is greater than 
her works, that the woman is nobler and purer than 
the writer, and that by her life, even more than by 
her labours, the author of " Jane Eyre " must always 
teach us those lessons of courage, self-sacrifice, and 
patient endurance of which our poor humanity stands 
in such pressing and constant need 

THE END. 



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• * Will be heartily welcomed by the public. . . . This estimate of him will probably be 
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From the British Quarterly Review. 

'*Mrs. Kingsley has edited these memorials of her distinguished husband with good taste and 
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