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A NOTE 



ON 



CHARLOTTE BRONTE 






WORKS BY MR. SWINBURNE. 



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CHATTO & WINDUS, Piccadilly, W. 



A NOTE 



ON 



CHARLOTTE BRONTE 



BY 



ALGERNON CHARLES SWINBURNE 




JTrntbou 

CHATTO & WINDUS, PICCADILLY 

1877 



All rights reserved 



LONDON t PRINTED BY 

SrOTTISWOODE AND CO., NEW-STREET SQUARE 

AND PARLIAMENT STREET 



TO 

Sft^p f ricnb 
THEODORE WATTS 

I dedicate this study ; an inadequate acknowledgment 
of much personal obligation, and an imperfect expression 
of fellow-feeling on the subject here imperfectly and in- 
adequately handled. 

A. C. S. 



A NOTE 



ON 



CHARLOTTE BRONTE, 



The priceless contribution to our know- 
ledge of one of the greatest among women, 
for which the thanks of all students who 
have at heart the honour of English litera- 
ture are due to Mr. Wemyss Reid, had on 
its first appearance the singular good fortune 
to evoke from a weekly paper of much lite- 
rary and philosophic pretension one of the 
most profound and memorable remarks ever 

hj~ b 



CHARLOTTE BRONTE. 



put forth even in the columns of the con- 
temporary Spectator. On the nth of No- 
vember, 1876, there appeared in that quarter 
a written assurance that its literary critic 
did actually ' agree with this biographer ' in 
thinking that the works of Charlotte Bronte 
' will one day again be regarded as evidences 
of exceptional intellectual power/ The pre- 
sent writer for once feels himself emboldened 
to express in his turn his own agreement 
with this critic in the opinion that they not 
impossibly may; he will even venture to 
avow his humble conviction that they may 
with no great show of unreason be expected 
to outlive the works of some few at least 
among the female immortals of whom the 
happy present hour is so more than season- 
ably prolific ; to be read with delight and 



CHARLOTTE BRONTE. 



wonder, and re-read with reverence and ad- 
miration, when darkness everlasting has 
long since fallen upon all human memory of 
their cheap scientific, their vulgar erotic, and 
their voluminous domestic schools ; when 
even 'Daniel Deronda' has gone the way of 
all waxwork, when even Miss Broughton 
no longer cometh up as a flower, and even 
Mrs. Oliphant is at length cut down like the 
grass. It is under the rash and reckless im- 
pulse of this unfashionable belief that I would 
offer a superfluous word or two of remark 
on the twin-born genius of the less mortal 
sisters who left with us for ever the legacies 
of ' Jane Eyre ' and ' Wuthering Heights/ 

The one sovereign quality common alike 
to the spirit and the work of these two great 

B 2 



CHARLOTTE BRONTE. 



women, whose names make up with Mrs. 
Browning's the perfect trinity for England of 
highest female fame, is one which even the 
prodigal Genius or God who presided at her 
birth could not or would not accord to the 
passionate and lyric-minded poetess. It is 
possibly the very rarest of all powers or 
faculties of imagination applied to actual 
life and individual character; I can trace it 
in no living English authoress one half so 
strongly or so clearly marked as in the 
work of the illustrious and honoured lady 
— honoured scarcely more by admiration 
from some quarters than by obloquy from 
others — to whom we owe the over-true 
story of ' Joshua Davidson,' and the wor- 
thiest tribute ever yet paid to the me- 
mory of Walter Savage Landor. But in 



CHARLOTTE BRONTE. 



Charlotte and Emily Bronte this innate 
personal quality was manifested, as far as 
my knowledge or power of comparison ex- 
tends, at a quite incomparable degree of 
excellence ; of perfection, I would have writ- 
ten, but for the fear of giving too Irish a 
turn to the parting phrase of my sentence. 
It is a quality as hard to define as impos- 
sible to mistake ; even the static and dynamic 
terms of definition so freely and scientifically 
misused in the latest school of feminine 
romance would scarcely help us much to- 
wards an adequate apprehension or expression 
of it. But its absence or its presence is or 
should be anywhere and always recognisable 
at a glance, whether dynamic or merely static, 
of a skilful or unskilful eye to discern the 
systole from the diastole of human com- 



CHARLOTTE BRONTE. 



panionship — or even of inhuman jargon. 
The crudest as the most refined pedantry 
of semi-science, tricked out at second hand 
in the freshest or the stalest phrases of 
archaic schoolmen or neologic lecturers that 
may be swept up from the dustiest boards 
or picked up under the daintiest platforms 
irradiated or obfuscated by new lamps or 
old, will avail nothing to guide any possible 
seeker on the path towards an exploration 
by physical analysis or metaphysical syn- 
thesis of the source or the process, the 
fountain or the channel or the issue, of 
this subtle and infallible force of nature — the 
progress from the root into the fruit of this 
direct creative instinct. Yet thus far, per- 
haps, we may reasonably attempt some in- 
dication of the difference which divides pure 



CHARLOTTE BRONTE. 



genius from mere intellect as by a great 
gulf fixed ; the quality of the latter, we 
may say, is constructive, the property of the 
former is creative. Adam Bede, for instance, 
or even Tito Melema, is an example of con- 
struction — and the latter is one of the finest 
in literature ; Edward Rochester and Paul 
Emanuel are creations. And the inevi- 
table test or touchstone of this indefinable 
difference is the immediate and enduring 
impression set at once and engraved for 
ever on the simplest or the subtlest mind 
of the most careless or the most careful 
student. In every work of pure genius 
we feel while it is yet before us — and if we 
cease for a little to feel when out of sight 
of it for awhile, we surely feel afresh each 
time our sight of it is renewed — the sense 



CHARLOTTE BRONTE. 



of something inevitable, some quality incor- 
porate and innate, which determines that 
it shall be thus and not otherwise ; and we 
need not the ' illative sense ' of Dr. New- 
man's invention to teach us ' the grammar 
of assent ' to the matter proposed to us as 
subject or as object for our imaginative 
belief. Belief, and not assent, it is that we 
give to the highest. 

There is no surer test as there can be no 
higher evidence than this of that imperative 
and primary genius which holds its power in 
fee of no other mind, which derives of no 
foreign stream through the conduit of no 
alien channel. Perhaps we may reasonably 
divide all imaginative work into three classes ; 
the lowest, which leaves us in a complacent 



CHARLOTTE BRONTE. 



mood of acquiescence with the graceful or 
natural inventions and fancies of an honest 
and ingenious workman, and in no mind to 
question or dispute the accuracy of his tran- 
script from life or the fidelity of his design 
to the modesty and the likelihood of nature ; 
the second, of high enough quality to engage 
our judgment in its service, and make direct 
demand on our grave attention for deliberate 
assent or dissent ; the third, which in the 
exercise of its highest faculties at their best 
neither solicits nor seduces nor provokes us 
to acquiescence or demur, but compels us 
without question to positive acceptance and 
belief. Of the first class it would be super- 
fluous to cite instances from among writers 
of our own day, not undeserving of serious 
respect and of genuine gratitude for much 



CHARLOTTE BRONTE. 



honest work done and honest pleasure con- 
ferred on us. Of the second order our lite- 
rature has no more apt and brilliant examples 
than George Eliot and George Meredith. 
Of the third, if in such a matter as this I 
may trust my own instinct — that last resource 
and ultimate reason of all critics in every 
case and on every question — there is no 
clearer and more positive instance in the 
whole world of letters than that supplied 
by the genius of Charlotte Bronte. 

I do not mean that such an instance is 
to be found in the treatment of each figure 
in each of her great three books. If this 
could accurately be said, it could not reason- 
ably be denied that she might justly claim 
and must naturally assume that seat by the 



CHARLOTTE BRONTE. u 

side of Shakespeare which certain critics of 
the hour are prompt alike to assign alter- 
nately to the author of ' Adam Bede ' and to 
the author of ' Queen Mary.' Only in the 
eyes of such critics as these, or in the glassy 
substitutes which serve their singular kind 
as proxies for a human squint, will it seem 
to imply a want of serious interest and 
respect in the former direction, of loyal and 
grateful admiration in the latter, if I confess 
that to my unaided organs and limited 
capacities of sight the one comparison ap- 
pears as portentously farcical as the other 
in its superhuman or subsimious absurdity ; 
that I should find it as hard an article of 
religion to digest and assimilate into the 
body of a living faith, which bade me be- 
lieve in the assumption of the goddess as 



12 CHARLOTTE BRONTE. 

that which bade me believe in the ascension 
of the god to complete the co-eternal and 
co-equal personality of English genius at its 
highest apogee, in its triune and bisexual 
apotheosis. But, without putting in a claim 
for the author of ' Jane Eyre ' as qualified 
to ascend the height on which a minority of 
not overwise admirers would fain enthrone a 
demigoddess of more dubious divinity than 
hers, I must take leave to reiterate my convic- 
tion that no living English or female writer 
can rationally be held her equal in what I 
cannot but regard as the highest and the 
rarest quality which supplies the hardest 
and the surest proof of a great and absolute 
genius for the painting and the handling 
of human characters in mutual relation and 
reaction. Even the glorious mistress of all 



CHARLOTTE BRONTE. 13 

forms and powers of imaginative prose, who 
has lately left France afresh in mourning — 
even George Sand herself had not this gift 
in like measure with those great twin sisters 
in genius who were born to the stern and 
strong-hearted old Rector of Haworth. 

The gift of which I would speak is 
that of a power to make us feel in every 
nerve, at every step forward which our 
imagination is compelled to take under the 
guidance of another's, that thus and not 
otherwise, but in all things altogether even 
as we are told and shown, it was and it 
must have been with the human figures set 
before us in their action and their suffering ; 
that thus and not otherwise they absolutely 
must and would have felt and thought and 



14 CHARLOTTE BRONTE. 

spoken under the proposed conditions. It 
is something for a writer to have achieved 
if he has made it worth our fancy's while 
to consider by the light of imaginative 
reason whether the creatures of his own 
fancy would in actual fact and life have 
done as he has made them do or not ; it 
is something, and by comparison it is much. 
But no definite terms of comparison will 
suffice to express how much more than 
this it is to have done what the youngest 
of capable readers must feel on first open- 
ing ' Jane Eyre ' that the writer of its very 
first pages has shown herself competent to 
do. In almost all other great works of its 
kind, in almost all the sovereign master- 
pieces even of Fielding, of Thackeray, of 
the royal and imperial master, Sir Walter 



CHARLOTTE BRONTE. 15 

Scott himself — to whose glorious memory I 
need offer no apology for the attribution of 
epithets which I cannot but regret to re- 
member that even in their vulgar sense 
he would not have regarded as other than 
terms of honour — even in the best and 
greatest works of these our best and 
greatest we do not find this one great 
good quality so innate, so immanent as in 
hers. At most we find the combination of 
event with character, the coincidence of 
action with disposition, the coherence of 
consequences with emotions, to be rationally 
credible and acceptable to the natural sense 
of a reasonable faith. We rarely or never 
feel that, given the characters, the incidents 
become inevitable ; that such passion must 
needs bring forth none other than such 



CHARLOTTE BRONTE. 



action, such emotions cannot choose but find 
their only issue in such events. And cer- 
tainly we do not feel, what it seems to me 
the highest triumph of inspired intelligence 
and creative instinct to succeed in making 
us feel, that the mainspring of all, the cen- 
tral relation of the whole, 'the very pulse 
of the machine,' has in it this occult inex- 
plicable force of nature. But when Cathe- 
rine Earnshaw says to Nelly Dean, ' I am 
Heathcliff!' and when Jane Eyre answers 
Edward Rochester's question, whether she 
feels in him the absolute sense of fitness 
and correspondence to herself which he 
feels to himself in her, with the words 
which close and crown the history of their 
twin-born spirits — ' To the finest fibre of 
my nature, sir' — we feel to the finest fibre 



CHARLOTTE BRONTE. 17 

of our own that these are no mere words. 
On this ground at least it might for once 
be not unpardonable to borrow their stand- 
ing reference or illustration from that com- 
parative school of critics whose habit of 
comparison we have treated with something 
less than respect, and say, as was said on 
another score of Emily Bronte in particular 
by Sydney Dobell, in an admirable paper 
which we miss with regret and with sur- 
prise from among the costly relics of his 
genius, so lovingly set in order and so ably 

lighted up by the faithful friendship and 
1 

the loyal intelligence of Professor Nichol 
— that either sister in this single point ' has 
done no less ' than Shakespeare. As easily 
might we imagine a change of the mutual 
relations between the characters of Shake- 
c 



CHARLOTTE BRONTE. 



speare as a corresponding revolution or re- 
versal of conditions among theirs. 

If I turn again for contrast or com- 
parison with their works to the work of 
George Eliot, it will be attributed by no 
one above the spiritual rank and type of 
Pope's representative dunces to irreverence 
or ingratitude for the large and liberal 
beneficence of her genius at its best. But 
she alone among our living writers is gene- 
rally admitted or assumed as the rightful 
occupant, or at least as the legitimate 
claimant, of that foremost place in the 
front rank of artists in this kind which 
none can hold or claim without challenging 
such comparison or such contrast. And in 
some points it is undeniable that she may 



CHARLOTTE BRONTE. 19 

claim precedence, not of these alone, but 
of all other illustrious women. Such wealth 
and depth of thoughtful and fruitful humour, 
of vital and various intelligence, no woman 
has ever shown — no woman perhaps has 
ever shown a tithe of it. In knowledge, 
in culture, perhaps in capacity for know- 
ledge and for culture, Charlotte Bronte was 
no more comparable to George Eliot than 
George Eliot is comparable to Charlotte 
Bronte in purity of passion, in depth and 
ardour of feeling, in spiritual force and fer- 
vour of forthright inspiration. It would 
be rather a rough and sweeping than a 
loose or inaccurate division which should 
define the one as a type of genius distin- 
guished from intellect, the other of intellect 
as opposed to genius. But it would, as I 
c 2 



20 CHARLOTTE BRONTE. 

venture to think, be little or nothing more 
or less than accurate to recognise in George 
Eliot a type of intelligence vivified and 
coloured by a vein of genius, in Charlotte 
Bronte a type of genius directed and 
moulded by the touch of intelligence. No 
better test of this distinction could be de- 
sired than a comparison of their respective 
shortcomings or failures. These will serve, 
by their difference in kind and import, in 
quality and in weight, to show the depth 
and width of the great gulf between pure 
genius and pure intellect, even better than 
a comparison of their highest merits and 
achievements. 

That great genius is liable to great error 
the world has ever been willing, if not more 



CHARLOTTE BRONTE. 21 

than willing, to admit ; that great genius not 
equally balanced by great intellect is not one 
half as liable to go one half as wrong as in- 
tellect unequally counterpoised by genius, is a 
truth less popular and less familiar, but neither 
less important nor less indisputable. That 
Charlotte Bronte, a woman of the first order 
of genius, could go very wrong indeed, there 
are whole scenes and entire characters in her 
work which afford more than ample proof. 
But George Eliot, a woman of the first order 
of intellect, has once and again shown how 
much further and more steadily and more 
hopelessly and more irretrievably and more 
intolerably wrong it is possible for mere intel- 
lect to go than it ever can be possible for 
mere genius. Having no taste for the dis- 
section of dolls, I shall leave Daniel Deronda 



CHARLOTTE BRONTE. 



in his natural place above the ragshop door ; 
and having no ear for the melodies of a Jew's 
harp, I shall leave the Spanish Gipsy to per- 
form on that instrument to such audience 
as she may collect. It would be unjust and 
impertinent to dwell much on Charlotte 
Bronte's brief and modest attempts in verse ; 
but it would be unmanly and unkindly to 
touch at all on George Eliot's ; except indeed 
to remark in passing that they are about 
equally commendable for the one and for 
the other of those negative good qualities 
which I have commended in Miss Bronte's. 
And from this point of difference, if from no 
other point here discernible, those who will 
or who can learn anything may learn a lesson 
in criticism which may perhaps be worth 
laying to heart : that genius, though it can 



CHARLOTTE BRONTE. 23 

put forth no better claim than intellect may- 
assert for itself to share the papal gift of in- 
fallibility, is naturally the swifter of the two 
to perceive and to retrieve its errors. Where 
genius takes one false step in the twilight 
and draws back by instinct, intelligence once 
misguided will take a thousand without the 
slightest diffidence ; will put its best foot fore- 
most in the pitchy darkness, step out gallantly 
through all brakes and quagmires till stuck 
fast up to the middle, and higher yet, in some 
blind Serbonian bog of blundering presump- 
tion, and thence will not improbably strike up 
a psalm of hoarse thanksgiving or shrill 
self-gratulation, to be echoed from afar by 
the thousand marshy throats of a Maeotian 
or Boeotian frog concert, for the grace here 
given it to have set a triumphant foot on the 



24 CHARLOTTE BRONTE. 

solid rock, and planted a steady flagstaff on 
the splendid summits of supreme and un- 
surpassable success. 

But we will follow neither the brief 
excursions of tentative and self-distrustful 
genius, nor the long aberrations of belated 
and self-confident intelligence, across any 
line of country never made for them to 
traverse and return with any trophies of the 
chase. Britomartis or Bradamante, on her 
most desperate and forlorn adventure, has 
a claim at least on the compassionate for- 
bearance of every good knight-errant who 
may have ridden on the like or any such 
other quest ; and even the felon Sir Breuse 
Sans Pitie might be moved by some mo- 
mentary throb of chivalrous condolence at 



CHARLOTTE BRONTE. 25 

the pitiful and unseemly spectacle of an 
Amazon thrown sprawling over the crupper 
of her spavined and spur-galled Pegasus. It 
is on ground proper to either or common 
to both that we will compare the pace and 
action, the blood and the wind and the staying 
power, of either steed entered for this race. 
And first we will examine, dropping our 
equine metaphor before we have ridden it 
to death, what may be the very gravest flaws 
or shortcomings perceptible in the work of 
Charlotte Bronte. So doing, I believe that 
any loyal and capable critic will as surely 
find as he will joyfully admit that her failures 
never affect the central and radical quality 
of that work. The heart of it is always 
whole ; its outskirts or extremities alone, 
perhaps only its dress and decorations, are 



26 CHARLOTTE BRONTE. 

in any degree impaired. Take the first work 
of her genius in its ripe fullness and fresh- 
ness of new fruit ; a twig or two is twisted 
or blighted of the noble tree, a bud or so 
has been nipped or cankered by adverse 
winds or frost ; but root and branch and 
bole are all straight and strong and solid 
and sound in grain. Whatever in 'Jane 
Eyre ' is other than good is also less than 
important. The accident which brings a 
famished wanderer to the door of unknown 
kinsfolk might be a damning flaw in a novel 
of mere incident ; but incident is not the 
keystone and commonplace is not the touch- 
stone of this. The vulgar insolence and 
brutish malignity of the well-born guests at 
Thornfield Hall are grotesque and incredible 
in speakers of their imputed station ; these 



CHARLOTTE BRONTE. 27 

are the natural properties of that class of 
persons which then supplied, as it yet sup- 
plies, the writers of such articles as one of 
memorable infamy and imbecility on 'Jane 
Eyre ' to the artistic and literary depart- 
ment of the ' Quarterly Review.' So gross 
and grievous a blunder would entail no less 
than ruin on a mere novel of manners ; but 
accuracy in the distinction and reproduction 
of social characteristics is not the test of 
capacity for such work as this. That test 
is only to be found in the grasp and ma- 
nipulation of manly and womanly character. 
And, to my mind, the figure of Edward 
Rochester in this book remains, and seems 
like to remain, one of the only two male 
figures of wholly truthful workmanship and 
vitally heroic mould ever carved and coloured 



28 CHARLOTTE BRONTE. 

by a woman's hand. The other it is super- 
fluous to mention ; all possible readers will 
have uttered before I can transcribe the 
name of Paul Emanuel. 

And now we must regretfully and re- 
spectfully consider of what quality and what 
kind may be the faults which deform the best 
and ripest work of Charlotte Bronte's chosen 
rival. Few or none, I should suppose, of 
her most passionate and intelligent admirers 
would refuse to accept ' The Mill on the Floss ' 
as on the whole at once the highest and the 
purest and the fullest example of her magnifi- 
cent and matchless powers — for matchless 
altogether, as I have already insisted, they 
undoubtedly are in their own wide and fruit 
ful field of work. The first two-thirds of the 



CHARLOTTE BRONTE. 29 

book suffice to compose perhaps the very 
noblest of tragic as well as of humorous prose 
idyls in the language; comprising, as they like- 
wise do, one of the sweetest as well as saddest 
and tenderest as well as subtlest examples of 
dramatic analysis — a study in that kind as soft 
and true as Rousseau's, as keen and true as 
Browning's, as full as either's of the fine and 
bitter sweetness of a pungent and fiery fide- 
lity. But who can forget the horror of inward 
collapse, the sickness of spiritual reaction, the 
reluctant incredulous rage of disenchantment 
and disgust, with which he first came upon 
the thrice unhappy third part ? The two 
first volumes have all the intensity and all 
the perfection of George Sand's best work, 
tempered by all the simple purity and in- 
terfused with all the stainless pathos of Mrs. 



30 CHARLOTTE BRONTE. 

Gaskell's ; they carry such affluent weight of 
thought and shine with such warm radiance 
of humour as invigorates and illuminates the 
work of no other famous woman ; they have 
the fiery clarity of crystal or of lightning ; 
they go near to prove a higher claim and 
attest a clearer right on the part of their 
author than that of George Sand herself to 
the crowning crown of praise conferred on 
her by the hand of a woman even greater 
and more glorious than either in her sovereign 
gift of lyric genius, to the salutation given 
as by an angel indeed from heaven, of 
' large -brained woman and large-hearted 
man.' And the fuller and deeper tone of 
colour combined with greater sharpness 
and precision of outline may be allowed 
to excuse the apparent amount of obliga- 



CHARLOTTE BRONTE. 31 

tion — though we may hardly see hpw this 
can be admitted to explain the remarkable 
reticence which reserves all acknowledg- 
ment and dissembles all consciousness of 
that sufficiently palpable and weighty and 
direct obligation — to Mrs. Gaskell's beautiful 
story of ' The Moorland Cottage ' ; in which 
not the identity of name alone, nor only 
their common singleness of heart and sim- 
plicity of spirit, must naturally recall the 
gentler memory of the less high-thoughted 
and high-reaching heroine to the warmest 
and the worthiest admirers of the later-born 
and loftier-minded Maggie ; though the 
hardness and brutality of the baser brother 
through whom she suffers be the outcome 
in manhood as in childhood of mere greedy 
instinct and vulgar egotism, while the full 



32 CHARLOTTE BRONTE. 

eventual efflorescence of the same gracious 
qualities in Tom Tulliver is tracked with 
incomparable skill and unquestionable cer- 
titude of touch to the far other root of 
sharp narrow self-devotion and honest harsh 
self-reliance. 

1 So far, all honour ; ' as Phraxanor says 
of Joseph in the noble poem of Mr. Wells. 
But what shall any one say of the upshot ? 
If we are really to take it on trust, to con- 
front it as a contingent or conceivable 
possibility, resting our reluctant faith on 
the authority of so great a female writer, 
that a woman of Maggie Tulliver's kind 
can be. moved to any sense but that of 
bitter disgust and sickening disdain by a 
thing — I will not write, a man — of Stephen 



CHARLOTTE BRONTE. 33 

Guest's ; if we are to accept as truth and 
fact, however astonishing and revolting, so 
shameful an avowal, so vile a revelation 
as this ; in that ugly and lamentable case, 
our only remark, as our only comfort, must 
be that now at least the last word of 
realism has surely been spoken, the last 
abyss of cynicism has surely been sounded 
and laid bare. The three master cynics 
of French romance are eclipsed and dis- 
tanced and extinguished, passed over and 
run down and snuffed out on their own 
boards. To the rosy innocence of Laclos, to 
the cordial optimism of Stendhal, to the 
trustful tenderness of Merimee, no such 
degradation of female character seems ever 
to have suggested itself as imaginable. 
Iago never flung such an imputation on 

D 



34 CHARLOTTE BRONTE. 

all womanhood ; Madame de Merteuil 
would never have believed it. For a 
higher view and a more cheering aspect of 
the sex, we must turn back to these gentler 
teachers, these more flattering painters of 
our own ; we must take up ' La Double 
Meprise ' — or ' Le Rouge et le Noir ' — or 
1 Les Liaisons Dangereuses.' 

But I for one am not prepared or will- 
ing to embrace a belief so much too de- 
grading and depressing for the conception 
of those pure and childlike souls. My faith 
will not digest at once the first two vo- 
lumes and the third volume of ' The Mill 
on the Floss ' ; my conscience or credulity 
has not gorge enough for such a gulp. 
Whatever capacity for belief is in me I 



CHARLOTTE BRONTE. 35 

find here impaled once more as on the 
horns of that old divine's dilemma between 
the irreconcilable attributes of goodness and 
omnipotence in the supposed Creator of 
suffering and of sin. If the one quality be 
predicable, the other quality cannot be pre- 
dicate of the same subject. As between 
xMT) and 7roivri, we must choose. Lady 
Percy on the lap of Falstaff, bidding him 
patch up his old body for heaven ; Miranda 
nestling in the arms of Trinculo ; Virgilia 
seeking consolation for her husband's exile 
in the rival devotion of Brutus and Sici- 
nius ; Desdemona finding refuge from her 
troubles on the bosom of Roderigo — could 
no longer pretend to be the widow of Hot- 
spur, the bride of Ferdinand, the wife of 
the noblest Roman, the fellow-martyr of the 

D 2 



36 CHARLOTTE BRONTE. 

nobler Moor. No higher tribute can be 
claimed and no deeper condemnation can 
be incurred by perverse or intermittent 
genius than is conveyed or implied in such 
comparisons as these. The hideous trans- 
formation by which Maggie is debased — 
were it but for an hour — into the willing 
or yielding companion of Stephen's flight 
would probably and deservedly have been 
resented as a brutal and vulgar outrage on 
the part of a male novelist. But the man 
never lived, I do believe, who could have 
done such a thing as this : as the man, I 
should suppose, does not exist who could 
make for the first time the acquaintance of 
Mr. Stephen Guest with no incipient sense 
of a twitching in his fingers and a tin- 
gling in his toes at the notion of any con- 



CHARLOTTE BRONTE. yj 

tact between Maggie Tulliver and a cur 
so far beneath the chance of promotion to 
the notice of his horsewhip, or elevation 
to the level of his boot. 

Here then is the patent flaw, here too 
plainly is the flagrant blemish, which defaces 
and degrades the very crown and flower of 
George Eliot's wonderful and most noble 
work ; no rent or splash on the raiment, no 
speck or scar on the skin of it, but a cancer 
in the very bosom, a gangrene in the very 
flesh. It is a radical and mortal plague-spot, 
corrosive and incurable ; in the apt and 
accurate phrase of Rabelais, 'an enormous 
solution of continuity,' The book is not the 
same before it and after. No washing or 
trimming, no pruning or purging, could eradi- 
cate or efface it ; it could only be removable 



38 CHARLOTTE BRONTE. 

by amputation and remediable by cautery. 
It is even a worse offence against ethics, a 
more grievous insult to the moral senti- 
ment or sense, because more deliberate and 
elaborate, than the two actual and unpar- 
donable sins of Shakespeare : the menace 
of unnatural marriage between Oliver and 
Celia, and again between Isabella and her 
' old fantastical duke of dark corners.' 
Scandalous and injurious as these vile 
suggestions are, they are yet but as hasty 
blots dropped by an impatient hand, as 
crude excrescences which may be pared and 
leave no scar, as broken hints of a bad 
dream which the waking memory may be 
fain and able to forget, to shake off it and 
be clean again ; retaining no thought of 
Rosalind's cousin but as she first came into 



CHARLOTTE BRONTE. 39 

the forest of Arden, of Claudio's sister but 
as she first was enrolled among the vo- 
tarists of St. Clare. 

Far otherwise it is with the poor noble 
heroine so strangely disgraced and dis- 
crowned of natural honour by the strong 
and cruel hand which created her ; and which 
could not redeem or raise her again, even 
by the fittest and noblest of all deaths con- 
ceivable, from the mire of ignominy into 
which it had been pleased to cast her down 
or bid her slip at the beck and call of a 
counter-jumping Antinous, a Lauzun of the 
counting-house, as vulgar as Vivien and as 
mean as the fellow who could gloat on the 
prospective degradation and anticipated un- 
happiness of a woman he forsooth had loved, 



40 CHARLOTTE BRONTE. 

under the wholly impossible condition of 
an utterly unimaginable hypothesis that the 
unfortunate young lady, who had at least 
the good fortune to escape the miserable 
ignominy of union with such a kinsman, 
might have declined* on a range of lower 
feelings and a narrower heart than his ; a 
supposition, as most men would think, be- 
yond the power of omnipotence itself to 
realise. Surely our world would seem in 
danger of forgetting, under the guidance 
and example of its most brilliant literary 
chiefs, that there are characters and emo- 
tions which may not lie beyond the limits 
of degraded nature, but do assuredly grovel 
beneath the notice of undegenerate art ; and 
that of such, most unquestionably, — if any 
such there be — are the characters and emo- 



CHARLOTTE BRONTE. 41 

tions of such reptile amorists as debase by 
the indecent exposure of their dastardly and 
rancorous egotism the moral value of such 
otherwise admirable masterpieces as ' Locks- 
ley Hall ' and  The Mill on the Floss.' An 
eminent historian, notable alike as a reviler 
of Frenchmen and a champion of Bulgarians, 
has written a paper to show that the law 
of honour as understood by our forefathers 
is an obsolete and artificial invention of 
depraved or barbarous times ; an opinion 
which may help to explain, if not to justify, 
his national antipathies and sympathies ; and 
some at least among our living elders in 
the field of imaginative letters would seem 
to have adopted, with more than historic 
ardour, a creed which nullifies the foolish 
traditions and explodes the simple doctrines 



42 CHARLOTTE BRONTE. 

of superstitious chivalry. Yet I for one, 
though not like to feel personally aggrieved 
or even ungratified by the most extravagant 
of English compliments addressed to France, 
should be sorry to suppose that it was even 
yet a taste exclusively reserved for men 
with French blood in their veins or French 
sympathies in their hearts, to prefer the old- 
world principle of mere chivalrous loyalty, 
of passion self-sacrificed and self-forgetting 
woman-worship, of knightly folly and faith 
shown even in the service of a lawless love 
— or lawless but for the law of honour, that 
worn-out spiritual mainspring and worthless 
moral motive of ' art with poisonous honey 
stolen from France' — to all the home-made 
treacle of the Laureate's morality. Poi- 
sonous as to certain tastes may be the 



CHARLOTTE BRONTE. 43 

natural passions condoned or consecrated 
by chivalry, and preposterous in certain 
eyes as are the conventional principles es- 
tablished or confirmed by its law, I am not 
reluctant, on behalf of the nation and its 
creed, to admit that it would be no less 
difficult to derive from a French origin or 
refer to a French example the taint of such 
a distemper as is implied by this distaste, 
than to inoculate with its infection the spirit 
of a Frenchman or a gentleman. 

No outrage of this kind on womanly loyalty 
and manly instinct was among the possible 
errors of Charlotte Bronte's heroic soul. To 
errors of some gravity that great spirit was 
indeed liable on more lines than one ; her 
critical judgment, for instance, on Mr. Tenny- 



44 CHARLOTTE BRONTE. 

son's ' In Memoriam' was almost as grotesque 
in its ineptitude as that of M. Taine's very 
self ; and under the gigantic shadow of Bal- 
zac's many-featured and colossal empire she 
would seem, like many if not most English- 
women, to have come in as it were on the 

* 
wrong side. The critical faculty in a woman 

of genius, if not well trained and cultivated 
with much labour of spiritual husbandry, 
seems naturally more prone to such flaws and 
lapses than the learned judgment of an in- 
telligence duly warmed by the suns and 
watered by the streams of wide and fertilising 
study can ever claim the slightest excuse 
or plead the slightest apology for having 
shown itself at any time to be. Nor can 
we say that Miss Bronte's more proper and 
natural faculty of creative imagination was 



CHARLOTTE BRONTE. 45 

exempt from its own special chances of 
error, its own peculiar liabilities to wrong. 
But from any such error and from any such 
collapse as those on which we have re- 
marked in others — from all such disloyalty 
to clear moral law, from all such debase- 
ment or degradation of high personal in- 
stinct — from all malevolence, from all brutality, 
from all selfish and vindictive cowardice — 
from any taint of vile or vulgar or ignoble 
sympathies, no human spirit was ever more 
triumphantly delivered — was ever more glo- 
riously free. 

Another not insignificant point of diffe- 
rence, though less notable than this, we 
find in the broad sharp contrast offered by 
the singular perfection of George Eliot's 



46 CHARLOTTE BRONTE. 

earliest imaginative work, with its gracious 
union of ease and strength, its fullness and 
purity of outline, its clearness and accuracy 
of touch, its wise and tender equity, its 
radiant and temperate humour, its harmony 
and sincerity of tone, to the doubtful, heavy- 
gaited, floundering tread of Charlotte Bronte's 
immature and tentative genius, at its first 
start on the road to so triumphal a goal as 
lay ahead of it. No reader of average ca- 
pacity could so far have failed to appreciate 
the delicate and subtle strength of hand 
put forth in the ' Scenes of Clerical Life ' 
as to feel any wonder mingling with his 
sense of admiration when the same fine and 
potent hand had gathered its latter laurels 
in a wider field of work ; but even the wise 
and cordial judgment which had discerned 



CHARLOTTE BRONTE. 47 

the note of power and sincerity perceptible 
in the crude coarse outlines of ' The Pro- 
fessor' may well have been startled and 
shaken out of all judicial balance and cri- 
tical reserve at sight of the sudden sunrise 
which followed so fast on that diffident 
uncertain dawn. One of the two only 
women among their contemporaries, who for 
absolute inspiration of positive genius may 
without absurdity of anticlimax be named 
beside Charlotte Bronte and her sister, has 
told how sudden and how perfect was the 
conversion wrought by a first reading of 
the manuscript of \ Indiana ' on the grim 
and truculent amity of her first literary 
tutor and censor, the Rhadamanthine author 
of  Fragoletta ' ; who certainly, to judge by 
his own examples of construction, had some 



48 CHARLOTTE BRONTE. 

right to pronounce with authority how a 
novel ought not to be written. But the 
transfiguration of spirit and power revealed 
by the marvellous advent of the English 
masterpiece has in it a more splendid sign 
of miracle than the fiery daybreak of George 
Sand's. 

There is yet a third point of contrast 
which could not be passed over without such 
gross and grievous injustice to the very 
loveliest quality of George Eliot's work as 
might deservedly expose me to the disgrace- 
ful danger of a niche in the temple of ill-fame 
by the side of those reserved for the repre- 
sentative successors of Messrs. Gifford and 
Croker. No man or woman, as far as I 
can recollect, outside the order of poets, has 
ever written of children with such adorable 



CHARLOTTE BRONTE. 49 

fidelity of affection as the spiritual mother 
of Totty, of Eppie, and of Lillo. The fiery- 
hearted Vestal of Haworth had no room re- 
served in the palace of her passionate and 
high-minded imagination as a nursery for 
inmates of such divine and delicious quality. 
There is a certain charm of attraction as well 
as compassion wrought upon us by the tragic 
childhood of Jane Eyre ; and no study can 
exceed for exquisite veracity and pathos the 
subtle and faultless portrait of the child 
Paulina in the opening chapters of ' Villette ' ; 
but the attraction of these is not wholly or 
mainly the charm of infancy, as felt either in 
actual fleshly life or in simple reflection from 
the flawless mirror of loving and adoring 
genius ; it comes rather from the latent sug- 
gestion or refraction of the woman yet to be, 

E 



50 CHARLOTTE BRONTE. 

struck sharply back or dimly shaded out from 
the deep glass held up to us of a passionate 
and visionary childhood. We begin at once 
to consider how the children in Charlotte 
Bronte's books will gtow up ; it is too evident 
that they are not there for their own childish 
sake — a fatal and infallible note of inferiority 
from the baby-worshippers point of view. 
What thickest-headed quarterly section or 
subdivision cf a human dullard ever vexed his 
pitifully scant quarter of an average allow- 
ance of brains with the question how Totty 
would grow up, and whether or not into a 
modified likeness of her mother ? She is 
Totty for ever and ever, a doubly immortal 
little child, set in the lap of our love for the 
kisses and the laughter of all time, to the last 
generation of possible human readers. But 



CHARLOTTE BRONTE. .51 

of Paulina we cannot choose but take thought 
with Lucy Snowe how such ' a very unique 
child ' will grow up, and what brighter or 
darker chances may then bring out in full her 
terrible incalculable capacity of suffering and 
of love. And, hard though it may be to de- 
termine as with legal precision what strange 
shape and colour may not be taken by human 
affections under the pressure of circumstance 
or the strain of suffering, it is yet so difficult 
to believe, for instance, in the dread and re- 
pulsion felt by a forsaken wife and tortured 
mother for the very beauty and dainty sweet- 
ness of her only new-born child, as recalling 
the cruel sleek charm of the human tiger 
who had begotten it, that we are wellnigh 
moved to think one of the most powerfully 
and exquisitely written chapters in ' Shirley ' 

E 2 



52 CHARLOTTE BRONTE. 

a chapter which could hardly have been 
written at all by a woman, or for that matter 
by a man, of however kindly and noble a 
nature, in whom the instinct or nerve or 
organ of love for children was even of average 
natural strength and sensibility. Milton might 
have conceived such a thing, but certainly 
not Shakespeare ; or Corneille, but assuredly 
not Hugo. Motherhood to Charlotte Bronte 
must have been a more vague and dim ab- 
straction than his camel to the mythical sage 
of Germany or his seaport to the nautical 
king of Bohemia. In George Eliot it is the 
most vivid and vital impulse which lends to 
her large intelligence the utmost it ever has of 
the spiritual breath and living blood of genius; 
and never had any such a gift more plainly and 
immediately as from the very heart of heaven. 



CHARLOTTE BRONTE. 53 

Most of her men may have been overpraised 
by her blatant and loose-tongued outriders 
or pursuivants in the world of letters ; and 
some also of her women may have been 
praised at least up to the mark of their 
deserts ; not one of her little children even 
can be. They are good enough to play with 
the little people of the greatest among poets, 
from Astyanax down to Mamillius, and on- 
wards again even to that poor ' Petit Paul ' 
but now baptized as in the tears — ' tears such 
as angels weep' — of our mighty and most 
loving Master. None among the many and 
truly great qualities of their illustrious mother 
seems to me so precious as this one ; so wholly 
worthy of the more tender tribute paid by 
men's loving thanks to something other if not 
lovelier, and sweeter if less rare, than genius. 



54 CHARLOTTE BRONTE. 

But saving for her 'plentiful lack' of 
inborn baby- worship I cannot think of any 
great good quality most proper to the most 
noble among women which was not eminent 
in the genius as in the nature of Charlotte 
Bronte. Take for example neither of her 
great two masterpieces, but the most un- 
equal and least fortunate of her three great 
books. Weakest on that very side where the 
others are strongest, ' Shirley ' is doubtless a 
notable example of failure in the central and 
crucial point of masculine character. Robert 
Moore is rather dubious than damnable as a 
study from the male ; but for his brother the 
most fervent of special pleaders can hardly 
find much to say on that score. No quainter 
example of a woman of genius in breeches — 
and very badly fashioned and badly fitting 



CHARLOTTE BRONTE. 55 

breeches too — was ever exhibited by George 
Sand's very self, in the days when she refused 
or accorded the gift of a memorial button off 
her own to the soft petition of the suppliant 
Heine. Assuredly ' Louis Moore ' would 
never have passed muster with the very sto- 
lidest of all Swiss as the one unmistakable 
young man in a masquerading party of ques- 
tionably mingled sexes — as I suppose we are 
bound to take her word for it that the author of 
1 Lettres d'un Voyageur ' did actually succeed 
in passing. Glorious words are given him to 
utter, but they come as from under a mask 
without eyesight or feature or native organ 
of speech. Miss Bronte has written nothing 
finer, nothing of more vivid and exquisite elo- 
quence, than the best passages of his diary ; 
than the sweet and sublime rhapsody on a 



56 CHARLOTTE BRONTE. 

windy moonlit vigil, where the words have in 
them the very breath and magic and riotous 
radiance, the utter rapture and passion and 
splendour of the high sonorous night. No 
other woman that I know of, not George Sand 
herself, could have written a prose sentence of 
such exalted and perfect poetry as this : — 
' The moon reigns glorious, glad of the gale ; 
as glad as if she gave herself to its fierce 
caress with love.' Nothing can beat that ; no 
one can match it : it is the first and last abso- 
lute and sufficient and triumphant word ever 
to be said on the subject. It paints wind like 
David Cox, and light like Turner. To find 
anything like it in verse we must go to the 
highest springs of all ; to Pindar or to Shelley 
or to Hugo. And these, in the famous phrase 
of Brummeirs valet — these are her failures. 



CHARLOTTE BRONTE. 57 

But what shall be said of her successes ? 
Let us again take a single instance in wit- 
ness of what one woman, and one only in all 
time, has done for proof of what the greatest 
of her kind can do in the loftiest- way of 
moral insight and dramatic imagination. 
Cervantes alone among all men has done the 
like ; for Sterne has not ; for Thackeray has 
not. There is no first sense of weakness 
or faultiness or moral grotesque on his 
part, of pity or question or amusement but 
half compatible with reverence and tender 
respect on our own, to overcome in the case 
of Uncle Toby ; if from the first we have to 
smile at him, we never from the first have to 
wince or start as at something incongruous 
with the qualities which evoke our general 
and affectionate regard. And in the case of 



58 CHARLOTTE BRONTE. 

Colonel Newcome our sense of his intellec- 
tual infirmity and imperfection is never quite 
overcome or transfigured by our sense of his 
moral and chivalrous excellence ; if indeed 
it will ever quite allow us to shake or drive 
off the lurking or recurring impression that 
in the authors mind the very idea of good- 
ness was inseparably inwoven and inwound 
with the thought of some qualifying defor- 
mity or characteristic debility, of something 
in the very essence of its composition inferior 
and infirm ; some weakness or malformation 
of mind, some sprawling or splay-footed 
imbecility corresponding to the physical dis- 
figurement of Major Dobbin. One reason 
or explanation not visibly inapt or inade- 
quate to account for this ungracious im- 
pression and the inevitable discomfort or 



CHARLOTTE BRONTE. 59 

disrelish left by it on the reader's taste may 
perhaps be found to lie in the curiously 
undisguised and exuberant admiration with 
which his creator dilates and expatiates on 
the charm and perfection of the good 
Colonel's unquestionable goodness ; display- 
ing as it were with insistent ostentation a 
frankness of sympathy and irrepressible effu- 
sion of demonstrative esteem for magnanimity 
and virtue, which in time of afterthought 
may or may not make us like all the better 
and respect all the more the personality and 
manhood of the workman, but which in 
either case must needs to some extent impair 
rather than enhance the actual and present 
impression of his work. 

For the creator of Don Quixote we need 
make no such allowance ; we need make no 



60 CHARLOTTE BRONTE. 

such reservation on her behalf whose crown- 
ing title to men's honour is that she was the 
creator of Paul Emanuel. Had she none 
other than this only, yet this alone would 
place her among the highest of human rulers 
in ' the brightest heaven of invention ' — 

XdfiTrpovg Ivvcmttclq efXTrpiirovra^ aWept. 

Most children, I suppose, who are at 
once given to dreaming and capable of devo- 
tion, must know the mood of loyal fancy and 
tender ardour so perfectly expressed in the 
wish of Mrs. Gaskell's little Maggie that she 
could have waited as a servant on Don 
Quixote ; and the feeling is akin to this with 
which at a later age any one of kindred 
nature, on their first intimate acquaintance, 
and in a great degree ever after, is certain to 
regard M. Paul. Supreme as is the spiritual 



CHARLOTTE BRONTE. 61 

triumph of Cervantes in the person of his 
perfect knight over all insult and mockery of 
brutal chance and ruffianly realities, all cud- 
gels and all cheats and all contumely, it is 
hardly a more marvellous or a completer 
example of imaginative and moral mastery 
than the triumph of Charlotte Bronte in the 
quaint person of her grim little Professor 
over his own eccentric infirmities of habit 
and temper, more hazardous to our sense of 
respect than any outward risk or infliction of 
alien violence or mockery from duchesses or 
muleteers ; a triumph so naturally drawn out 
and delicately displayed in the swift steady 
gradations of change and development, now 
ludicrous and now attractive, and wellnigh 
adorable at last, through which the figure of 
M. Paul seems to pass as under summer 



62 CHARLOTTE BRONTE. 

lights and shadows, till it gradually opens 
upon us in human fullness of self-unconscious 
charm and almost sacred beauty — yet 
always with the sense of some latent infu- 
sion, some tender native admixture of a 
quality at once loveable and laughable ; with 
something indeed of that quaint sweet kind 
of earnest affection and half-smiling venera- 
tion which all men fit to read him feel to 
their ' heart's root  for the person even more 
than for the writings of Charles Lamb. 
That our smile should in no wise impair for 
one instant our reverence, that our reverence 
should in no wise make us abashed or 
ashamed for one moment at the recollection 
of our smile — this is the final test and triumph 
of a genius to which we find no likeness out- 
side the very highest rank of creators in the 



CHARLOTTE BRONTE. 63 

sphere of spiritual invention or of moral 
imagination. 

All who have ever read it will remember 

the exquisite saying of Chateaubriand so 

exquisitely rendered by Mr. Arnold : — ' The 

true tears are those which are called forth by 

the beauty of poetry ; there must be as much 

admiration in them as sorrow.' The true 

tears are also those of a yet rarer kind, which 

are called up at least, if not called forth, by 

the beauty of goodness ; and in such unshed 

tears as these are the thoughts as it were 

baptised, which attend upon our memory of 

some few among the imperishable shadows 

of men created by man's genius ; phantoms 

more actual and vital than the creators they 

outlive, as mankind outlives the gods of its 



64 CHARLOTTE BRONTE. 

own creation. There is or should be for all 
men such consecration in a great man's tears 
as cannot but glorify the source and embalm 
the subject of their flow. We may even, and 
not unreasonably, suspect and fear that it 
must be through some defect or default in 
ourselves if we cannot feel as they do the 
force or charm of that which touches others, 
and these our betters as often as our equals, 
so nearly ; if we cannot, for example, — as I 
may regretfully confess that I never could — 
feel adequately or in full the bitter sweetness 
that so many thousands — and most notably 
among them all a better man by far and a far 
worthier judge than I — have tasted in those 
pages of Dickens which hold the story of 
Little Nell ; a story in which all the elabo- 
rate accumulation of pathetic incident and 



CHARLOTTE BRONTE. 65 

interest, so tenderly and studiously built up, 
has never, to speak truth, given me one 
passing thrill — in the exquisitely fit and 
faithful phrase of a great living poet, one 
'sweet possessive pang' — of the tender 
delight and pity requickened wellnigh to 
tears at every fresh reperusal or chance 
recollection of that one simpler page in 
1 Bleak House ' which describes the baby 
household tended by the little sister who 
leaves her lesser charges locked up while she 
goes out charing ; a page which I can 
imagine that many a man unused to the 
melting mood would not undertake to read 
out aloud without a break. But this in- 
ability to feel with those who have been 
most deeply moved by the earlier design of 
the same great master — sovereign over all 

F 



66 CHARLOTTE BRONTE. 

competitors of his country and his day in the 
conterminous provinces of laughter and of 
tears — this incompetence or obduracy of 
temper is anything but a source of self-com- 
placent satisfaction when I remember that 
foremost among these was the illustrious 
man of lion-hearted genius who but thirteen 
years since was still our greatest country- 
man surviving from an age of godlike 
giants and gods as yet but half divine; the 
Roman who best knew Greece, the English- 
man who best loved England ; the friend of 
Pericles and of Chatham, the associate of 
Sophocles and of Shakespeare ; the heroic 
poet who retained at the age of Nestor what- 
ever qualities were noblest in the nature of 
Achilles — all the lightnings of his mortal 
wrath, and all the tenderness of his immortal 
tears. 



CHARLOTTE BRONTE. 67 

It is certainly no subject for a boast — per- 
haps it properly should rather be matter for a 
blush — that Landor's little favourite among 
all the deathless children begotten by the 
genius of Dickens should never have had 
power to work such transformation on my 
eyes as many a line of his own in verse or 
prose has wrought so many a time upon 
them : for if ever that sovereign power of 
perfection was made manifest in human 
words, such words assuredly were his, 
whether English or Latin, who wrote that 
epitaph on the martyred patriots of Spain, as 
far exceeding in its majesty of beauty the 
famous inscription for the Spartan three 
hundred as the law of the love of liberty 
exceeds all human laws of mere obedience ; 
who gave back Iphigenia to Agamemnon for 

F 2 



68 CHARLOTTE BRONTE. 

ever, and Vipsania for an hour to Tiberius. 
Before the breath of such a spirit as speaks 
in his transcendent words, the spirit of a loyal- 
minded man is bowed down as it were at a 
touch and melted into burning tears, to be 
again raised up by it and filled and kindled 
and expanded into something — or he dreams 
so — of a likeness for the moment to itself. 

Some portion of a faculty such as this, 
some touch of the same godlike and wonder- 
working might of imperious moral quality, 
some flush of the same divine and plenary 
inspiration, there was likewise in the noble 
genius and heroic instinct of Charlotte 
Bronte. Some part of the power denied to 
many a writer of more keen and rare intel- 
ligence than even hers we feel ' to the finest 
fibre of our nature ' at the slight strong touch 



CHARLOTTE BRONTE. 69 

of her magnetic hand. The phrase of 
' passionate perfection,' devised by Mr. 
Tennyson to describe the rarest type of 
highest human character, is admirably appli- 
cable to her special style at its best. The 
figure of the young missionary St. John 
Rivers is by no means to be rated as one of 
her great unsurpassable successes in spiritual 
portraiture ; the central mainspring of his 
hard fanatic heroism is never quite adequately 
touched ; her own apparent lack of sympathy 
with this white marble clergyman (counter- 
part, as it were, of the ' black marble ' Brockle- 
hurst, who chills and darkens the dreary 
dawn of the story) seems here and there as 
though it scarcely could be held down by 
force of artistic conscience from passing into 
actual and avowed aversion ; but the im- 



70 CHARLOTTE BRONTE. 

perishable passion and perfection of the 
words describing the moorland scene of 
which his eyes at parting take their long 
last look must have drawn the tears to 
many another man's that his own were not 
soft enough to shed. 

This instinct (if I may so call it) for 
the tragic use of landscape was wellnigh 
even more potent and conspicuous in Emily 
than in Charlotte. Little need was there 
for the survivor to tell us in such earnest 
and tender words of memorial record how 
' my sister Emily loved the moors ' : that 
love exhales, as a fresh wild odour from 
a bleak shrewd soil, from every storm-swept 
page of ' Wuthering Heights.' All the heart 
of the league-long billows of rolling and 
breathing and brightening heather is blown 



CHARLOTTE BRONTE. 



with the breath of it on our faces as we read ; 
all the wind and all the sound and all the 
fragrance and freedom and gloom and glory 
of the high north moorland — ' in winter 
nothing more dreary, in summer nothing 
more divine.' Even in Charlotte Bronte's 
highest work I find no touches of such ex- 
quisite strength and triumphant simplicity as 
here. There is nothing known to me in any 
book of quite equal or similar effect to that 
conveyed by one or two of these. Take for 
instance that marvellous note of landscape 
struck as it seems unconsciously by the 
heaven-born instinct of a supreme artist in 
composition and colour, in tones and shades 
and minor notes of tragic and magic sweet- 
ness, which serves as overture to the last 
fierce rapturous passage of raging love and 



72 CHARLOTTE BRONTE. 

mad recrimination between Heathcliff and 
the dying Catherine ; the mention of the 
church-bell that in winter could just be heard 
ringing right across the naked little glen, 
but in summer the sound was lost, muffled 
by the murmur of blowing foliage and 
branches full of birds. The one thing I 
know or can remember as in some sort com- 
parable in its effect to this passage is of 
course that notice of the temple-haunting 
martlet and its loved mansionry which serves 
as prelude to the entrance of Lady Macbeth 
from under the buttresses where its pendant 
bed and procreant cradle bore witness to the 
delicate air in which incarnate murder also 
was now to breed and haunt. Even more 
wonderful perhaps in serene perfection of 
subdued and sovereign power is the last 



CHARLOTTE BRONTE'. 73 

brief paragraph of that stormy and fiery tale. 
There was a dark unconscious instinct as of 
primitive nature-worship in the passionate 
great genius of Emily Bronte, which found 
no corresponding quality in her sister's. It 
is into the lips of her representative Shirley 
Keeldar that Charlotte puts the fervent 
\ pagan ' hymn of visionary praise to her 
mother nature — Hertha, Demeter, 'ladeesse 
des dieux,' which follows on her fearless 
indignant repudiation of Milton and his Eve. 
Nor had Charlotte's less old-world and 
Titanic soul any touch of the self-dependent 
solitary contempt for all outward objects of 
faith and hope, for all aspiration after a 
changed heart or a contrite spirit or a con- 
verted mind, which speaks in the plain-song 
note of Emily's clear stern verse with such 



74 CHARLOTTE BRONTE. 

grandeur of antichristian fortitude and self- 
controlling self-reliance, that the ' halting 
slave ' of Epaphroditus might have owned for 
his spiritual sister the English girl whose 
only prayer for herself, ' in life and death' — a 
self-sufficing prayer, self-answered, and ful- 
filled even in the utterance — was for ' a 
chainless soul, with courage to endure.' Not 
often probably has such a petition gone up 
from within the walls of a country parsonage 

as this : — 

And if I pray, the only prayer 

That moves my lips for me, 
Is — Leave the heart that now I bear, 

And give me liberty ! 

That word which is above every word might 
surely have been found written on that 
heart. Her love of earth for earth's sake, 
her tender loyalty and passionate reverence 



CHARLOTTE BRONTE. 75 

for the All-mother, bring to mind the words 
of her sister's friend, and the first eloquent 
champion of her own genius : — 

I praise thee, mother earth ! oh earth, my mother ! 
Oh earth, sweet mother ! gentle mother earth ! 
Whence thou receivest what thou givest I 
Ask not as a child asketh not his mother, 
Oh earth, my mother ! 

No other poet's imagination could have con- 
ceived that agony of the girl who dreams 
she is in heaven, and weeps so bitterly for 
the loss of earth that the angels cast her out 
in anger, and she finds herself fallen on the 
moss and heather of the mid moor-head, 
and wakes herself with sobbing for joy. It 
is possible that to take full delight in Emily 
Bronte's book one must have something 
by natural inheritance of her instinct and 
something by earliest association of her 



76 CHARLOTTE BRONTE. 

love for the same special points of earth — 
the same lights and sounds and colours 
and odours and sights and shapes of the 
same fierce free landscape of tenantless and 
fruitless and fenceless moor ; but however 
that may be, it was assuredly with no less 
justice of insight and accuracy of judgment 
than humility of self-knowledge and fide- 
lity of love that Charlotte in her day of 
solitary fame assigned to her dead sister 
the crown of poetic honour which she as 
rightfully disclaimed for herself. Full of 
poetic quality as her own work is through- 
out, that quality is never condensed or 
crystallised into the proper and final form 
of verse. But the pure note of absolutely 
right expression for things inexpressible in 
full by prose at its highest point of ade- 



CHARLOTTE BRONTE. 77 

quacy — the formal inspiration of sound which 
at once reveals itself, and which can fully 
reveal itself by metrical embodiment alone, 
in the symphonies and antiphonies of regu- 
lar word-music and definite instinctive modu- 
lation of corresponsive tones — this is what 
Emily had for her birthright as certainly as 
Charlotte had it not. Here are a few lines to 
give evidence for themselves on that score. 

He comes with western winds, with evening's wander- 
ing airs, 

With that clear dusk of heaven that brings the thickest 
stars. 

Winds take a pensive tone, and stars a tender fire, 

And visions rise, and change, that kill me with desire. 

Desire for nothing known in my maturer years, 
When Joy grew mad with awe, at counting future tears. 

****** 
Oh, dreadful is the check — intense the agony — 
When the ear begins to hear, and the eye begins to 

see; 
When the pulse begins to throb, the brain to think 

again, 
The soul to feel the flesh, and the flesh to feel the chain. 



78 CHARLOTTE BRONTE. 

If here is not the pure distinctive note of 
song as opposed to speech — the ' lyrical cry,' 
as Mr. Arnold calls it — I know not where 
to seek it in English verse since Shelley. 
Another such unmistakable note is struck 
in the verses headed ' Remembrance,' where 
the deep sense of division wellnigh melts 
and dies into a dream of reunion and re- 
vival by the might of memories 'that are 
most dearly sweet and bitter.' Here too is 
the same profound perception of an abiding 
power, but little less if surely less than 
omnipotence, in the old dumb divinities of 
Earth and Time — gods only not yet found 
strong enough to divide long love from 

death ; 

Severed at last by Time's all-severing wave. 

All these samples are from the little 



CHARLOTTE BRONTE. 79 

triune publication of 1846; which gave also 
some witness of the latent and labouring 
powers, as yet unsure of aim and outlet, 
but feeling their unquiet way to right and 
left in the deep underworld of Charlotte 
Brontes growing genius. But the final ex- 
pression in verse of Emily's passionate and 
inspired intelligence was to be uttered from 
lips already whitened though not yet chilled 
by the present shadow of unterrifying death. 
No last words of poet or hero or sage or 
saint were ever worthy of longer and more 
reverent remembrance than that appeal 
which is so far above and beyond a prayer 
to the indestructible God within herself; 
a psalm of trust so strangely (as it seems) 
compounded of personal and pantheistic faith, 
at once fiery and solemn, full alike of re- 



80 CHARLOTTE BRONTE. 

signation and of rapture, far alike from the 
conventions of vulgar piety and the com- 
placencies of scientific limitation ; as utterly 
disdainful of doctrine as of doubt, as con- 
temptuous of hearsay as reverent of itself, 
as wholly stripped and cleared and lightened 
from all burdens and all bandages and all 
incrustations of creed as it is utterly per- 
vaded and possessed by the sublime and 
irrefutable passion of belief. 

The praise of Emily Bronte can be no 
alien or discursive episode in the briefest and 
most cursory notice, the least adequate or ex- 
haustive panegyric of her sister ; and far less 
would it have seemed less than indispensable 
to that most faithful and devoted spirit of 
indomitable love which kept such constant 



CHARLOTTE BRONTE. 81 

watch over her memory, and fought so good 
a fight for her fame. There is no more sig- 
nificant or memorable touch of nature in the 
records of her noble soul and unalterable 
heart than we find in her instant and her life- 
long thankfulness for the fervent tribute of 
Mr. Dobell to the profound and subtle genius, 
then already fallen still and silent, which had 
moved as a wind upon the tragic and perilous 
waters of passion overtopped by the shadow 
of ' Wuthering Heights.' Those who would 
understand Charlotte, even more than those 
who would understand Emily, should study 
the difference of tenderness between the 
touch that drew Shirley Keeldar and the 
touch that drew Lucy Snowe. This latter 
figure, as Mr. Wemyss Reid has observed 
with indisputable accuracy of insight, was 
G 



82 CHARLOTTE BRONTE. 

doubtless, if never meant to win liking or 
made to find favour in the general reader's 
eyes, yet none the less evidently on that ac- 
count the faithful likeness of Charlotte Bronte, 
studied from the life, and painted by her own 
hand with the sharp austere precision of a 
photograph rather than a portrait. But it is 
herself with the consolation and support of 
her genius withdrawn, with the strength of 
her spiritual arm immeasurably shortened, the 
cunning of her right hand comparatively can- 
celled ; and this it is that makes the main un- 
dertone and ultimate result of the book some- 
what mournfuller even than the literal record 
of her mournful and glorious life. In the 
house where I now write this there is a picture 
which I have known through all the years 
I can remember — a landscape by Crome ; 



CHARLOTTE BRONTE. 83 

showing just a wild sad track of shoreward 
brushwood and chill fen, blasted and wasted 
by the bitter breath of the east wind blowing 
off the eastward sea, shrivelled and subdued 
and resigned as it were with a sort of grim 
submission to the dumb dark tyranny of a full- 
charged thunder-cloud which masks the mid 
heaven of midnoon with the heavy muffler of 
midnight, and leaves but here and there a 
dull fierce gleam of discomfortable and 
deadened sunlight along the haggard sky-line 
or below it. As with all this it is yet always 
a pleasure to look upon so beautiful and noble 
a study of so sad and harsh-featured an out- 
lying byway through the weariest waste 
places of the world, so is it in its kind a per- 
petual pleasure to revisit the wellnigh sunless 
landscape of Lucy Snowe's sad, passionate, 
g 2 



84 CHARLOTTE BRONTE. 

and valiant life. But to us, knowing what 
we all now know of the designer, there seems 
a touch of pathos beyond all articulate ex- 
pression in the contrast, when we turn from 
this to the ideal decoration of Shirley 
Keeldar's, and remember that here is the 
vision of the life she would fain have realized 
for her dead and best beloved and most dearly 
honoured sister ; who had had in the days of 
her actual life as harsh and strange a time of 
it as her own. From the character of Shirley, 
as from the character of Lucy Snowe, the 
artist has naturally as of necessity withdrawn 
the component element that in its effect and 
result at least was or is for us now the 
dominant and distinctive quality of Emily 
Bronte as of Charlotte — the special gift and 
application of her creative genius ; and on the 



CHARLOTTE BRONTE. 85 

other hand we can barely imagine that 
austere and fiery poetess, a creature so ad- 
mirably and terribly compounded of tragic 
genius and Stoic heroism, a jester of plea- 
santry so bitter and so grim in those brief 
bleak flashes of northern humour that 
lighten across the byways of her book from 
the rigid old lips of the Calvinist farm-servant 
— we can barely, I say, conceive of her as ex- 
changing such rapid passes of light bright 
fence in a laughing war of words with the 
reverend and gallant old Cossack Helstoneas 
sharpen and quicken the dialogue and action 
of the most gracious and joyous interlude in 
' Shirley.' Yet surely Charlotte should have 
known as well as she loved her sister ; 
and therefore we may more reasonably and 
more confidently infer that but for the 



86 CHARLOTTE BRONTE. 

brilliant study of Shirley Keeldar we should 
never have seen with the eye of our imagina- 
tion any other than a misconceived and 
mutilated portrait, a disfigured and disco- 
loured likeness of Emily Bronte ; one cur- 
tailed of the fair proportions, if not diminished 
from the natural stature of her spirit ; 
discrowned and disinherited of its livelier 
and gentler charm of living feature, though 
not degraded or dethroned from the august 
succession to their strength for endurance or 
rebellion most beseeming a lineal daughter 
of the earth-born giants, more ancient in 
their godlike lineage than all modern reign- 
ing gods. 

The habit of direct study from life which 
has given us, among its finest and most pre- 
cious results, these two contrasted figures of 



CHARLOTTE BRONTE. 87 

Shirley Keeldar and Lucy Snowe, affords 
yet another point of contrast or distinction 
between the manner and motive of work 
respectively perceptible in the design ot 
either sister. Emily Bronte, like William 
Blake, would probably have said, or at least 
would presumably have felt, that such study 
after the model was to her impossible — an 
attempt but too certain to diminish her 
imaginative insight and disable her crea- 
tive hand ; while Charlotte evidently never 
worked so well as 'when painting more or 
less directly from nature. Almost the only 
apparent exception, as far as we — the run of 
her readers — know, is the wonderful and 
incomparable figure of Rochester. For M. 
Paul she must have had some kind of model, 
however transfigured and dilated by the 



88 CHARLOTTE BRONTE. 

splendid influence of her own genius ; for 
such studies as Madame Beck and Miss 
Fanshawe she doubtless had the sitters in 
her mind's eye as clearly and as close as 
under the lens of a photographic machine ; 
but how she came first to conceive and 
finally to fashion that perfect study of noble 
and faultful and suffering manhood remains 
one of the most insoluble riddles ever set by 
genius as a snare or planned as a maze for 
the judgment of any lesser intelligence than 
its own. There in any case is the result — 
alive at all events, and deathless ; defiant alike 
of explanation or reproduction by any critic 
or copyist. The incredible absurdity and 
the ineffable impertinence of one solution 
proposed at the time, which sought in the 
dedication of the book for a hint at the ori- 



CHARLOTTE BRONTE. 89 

ginal of the hero, were worthy of the flat- 
headed and fork-tongued generation which 
could produce a notorious comment on 
1 Jane Eyre,' to the effect that its author must 
be a woman who long since had deservedly 
forfeited the society of her own sex. It is 
of infinitely small moment that we know 
only by its offence the obscene animal now 
nailed up for this offence by the ear, though 
not by name — its particular name being as 
undiscoverable as its generic designation is 
unmistakable — to the undecaying gibbet of 
immemorial contempt. When a farmer used 
to nail a dead polecat on the outside of his 
barndoor, it was surely less from any specific 
personal rancour of retaliatory animosity to- 
wards that particular creature than by way 
of judicial admonition to the tribe as yet 



9o CHARLOTTE BRONTE. 

untrapped, the horde as yet unhanged, which 
might survive to lament, if not to succeed, the 
malodorous malefactor. No mortal can now 
be curious to verify the name as well as the 
nature of the typical specimen which then 
emitted in one spasm of sub-human spite at 
once the snarl and the stench proper to its 
place and kind. But we know that from the 
earlier days of Shelley onwards to these later 
days of Tennyson, whatsoever things are 
true, whatsoever things are honest, whatso- 
ever things are just, whatsoever things are 
pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatso- 
ever things are of good report, become untrue, 
dishonest, unjust, impure, unlovely, and ill- 
famed, when passed through the critical 
crucible of the Quarterly Review. 

For many among the minor types in 



CHARLOTTE BRONTE. 91 

Charlotte Bronte's works it was seemingly 
somewhat easier than perhaps it should have 
been at the time of their appearance to 
detect the living and not always other than 
unoffending antitypes. If the immortal three 
curates of  Shirley ' did indeed admit their 
respective likenesses, and accept for each 
other and themselves the names by which 
they were rebaptized in such bitter waters of 
ridicule — a font filled rather from the springs 
of Marah than the stream of Jordan, which 
served Chateaubriand's purpose so much 
better than the upshot of the ceremony would 
seem to have served his prince — it must in 
common justice be owned that the admirable 
candour and good humour of her models 
should have touched their satirist with a sense 
of something keener than compunction ; for 



92 CHARLOTTE BRONTE. 

such simple honesty and hearty courtesy as 
must have been more than needed to make 
the very dullest and most impervious of 
reverend or irreverend gentlemen continue 
to bear themselves with the frank civility of 
kindly custom towards the solitary and 
sorrowful woman whose scornful genius had 
done its worst on them — and that worst, even 
to a thick-headed and thick-skinned victim, 
how terrible ! — must surely also have been 
more than sufficient to disprove the full 
justice of the caricature, and impeach the 
accuracy of whatever was most offensive in 
her design or injurious in her imputations. 
To the vivid yet temperate fidelity of the 
Yorke family group we have the witness of 
a member offered to the photographer of that 
singular and sharply outlined circle. In most 



CHARLOTTE BRONTE. 93 

cases probably the design begun by means 
of the camera was transferred for comple- 
tion to the canvass. The likeness of Mr. 
Helstone to Mr. Bronte, for example, was 
thus at once enlarged and subdued, 
heightened and modified, by the skilful and 
noble instinct which kept it always within 
the gracious and natural bounds prescribed 
and maintained by the fine tact of filial 
respect. No more lifelike or memorable 
portrait was ever wrought into the com- 
position of an ideal or historic picture by the 
loftiest art of any Venetian painter. The 
man's hard, rigid, contemptuous, yet never 
quite unkindly or unrighteous force of cha- 
racter — his keen enjoyment of action and 
struggle, his fierce imperious relish of resist- 
ance — the fine soldierly quality of spirit, 



94 CHARLOTTE BRONTE. 

somewhat too generally mistimed or mis- 
placed, for lack of fit or full occasion to call 
it forth, which makes him always less ready 
to ' go with sir priest than sir knight —all 
these points are relieved and combined with 
a skill and strength of touch, perhaps incom- 
parable in the work of any other woman. 

But time and cunning would fail us to 
discover, as art and eloquence would fail us 
to commend, a tithe of the examples that 
might and should be cited in evidence of that 
noble and fruitful genius which found in the 
frail temple of her mortal life a minister so 
high and pure of spirit, so faithful and heroic 
of heart. Nowhere is its peculiar gift of 
subtle and pathetic veracity more notable 
than in the brief last pages written between 
the too closely neighbouring dates of her 



. CHARLOTTE BRONTE. 95 

marriage and her death ; a precious fragment 
to which the few and fine words of introduc- 
tion prefixed by the illustrious writer who 
had been the peculiar god of her inmost 
idolatry have always seemed to me worthy 
of special remembrance among the truest and 
the noblest, the manliest and the kindliest 
lines that ever came from the pen of Mr. 
Thackeray. It is a coincidence as memor- 
able as it is deplorable that so many of the 
best and greatest who have died within the 
reach of our recollection should have left, 
like these, some splendid and broken sample 
of their highest workmanship unfinished for 
the admiration and the craving and the 
fruitless passionate regret of aftertime ; even 
as Shakespeare himself left behind him the 
two colossal fragments that a hand in the one 



96 CHARLOTTE BRONTE. 

case only lesser than his own, in the other 
case as impotent and impertinent as the hand 
of his very worst and latest commentator, 
ventured to rehandle and recast into the 
shapes under which we know them as 
* Timon of Athens ' and ' The Two Noble 
Kinsmen/ Too soon after he had ' taken to 
foster' Charlotte Bronte's little orphan tale of 
' Emma,' Mr. Thackeray had in turn to leave 
half unshapen, and recognisable only by grand 
rough indications of its giant parentage, what 
should have been the stateliest and most 
stalwart offspring of his latter years — born to 
disprove the premature charge of compara- 
tive decadence and debility not unjustly 
incurred by its more immediate predecessors ; 
then the great man so improperly rated as 
his rival passed also away in the mid heat of 



CHARLOTTE BRONTE. 97 

work, leaving again but a bright fragment of 
perplexing shape and splendour ; and now 
but lately the biographer of Dickens likewise 
has left us cheated of the ardent and grateful 
hopes that were fixed on the completion of 
the first adequate or trustworthy Life of 
Swift. Not one of these nor of all their 
generation has left or yet will leave a nobler 
memory, and it may well be that in the eyes 
of Englishmen yet unborn not one will be 
found to have left a nobler memorial, than 
the unforgotten life and the imperishable 
works of Charlotte Bronte. 

THE END. 



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28 



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Oakshott Castle. 



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It is Never Too Late to Mend 
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32 



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Griffith Gaunt. 
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The Double Marriage. 
Love Me Little, Love Me Long. 
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Like Ships upon the Sea. 
Anne Furness. 
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What She Came Through. 
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Land at Last. 

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Why Paul Ferroll Killed his Wife. 

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Kathleen Mavourneen. By Author 

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Lindsay's Luck. By the Author of 

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Pretty Polly Pemberton. By the 

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Trooping with Crows. By Mrs. 

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The Professor's Wife. By Leonard 

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A Double Bond. By Linda Villari. 
Esther's Glove. By R. E. Francillon. 
The Garden that Paid the Rent. 

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