Charlotte Bronte and Her Circle
by Clement K. Shorter
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Transcribed from the 1896 Hodder and Stoughton edition by Les Bowler.









It is claimed for the following book of some five hundred pages that the larger part of it is an addition of entirely new material to the romantic story of the Brontes. For this result, but very small credit is due to me; and my very hearty acknowledgments must be made, in the first place, to the Rev. Arthur Bell Nicholls, for whose generous surrender of personal inclination I must ever be grateful. It has been with extreme unwillingness that Mr. Nicholls has broken the silence of forty years, and he would not even now have consented to the publication of certain letters concerning his marriage, had he not been aware that these letters were already privately printed and in the hands of not less than eight or ten people. To Miss Ellen Nussey of Gomersall, I have also to render thanks for having placed the many letters in her possession at my disposal, and for having furnished a great deal of interesting information. Without the letters from Charlotte Bronte to Mr. W. S. Williams, which were kindly lent to me by his son and daughter, Mr. and Mrs. Thornton Williams, my book would have been the poorer. Sir Wemyss Reid, Mr. J. J. Stead, of Heckmondwike, Mr. Butler Wood, of Bradford, Mr. W. W. Yates, of Dewsbury, Mr. Erskine Stuart, Mr. Buxton Forman, and Mr. Thomas J. Wise are among the many Bronte specialists who have helped me with advice or with the loan of material. Mr. Wise, in particular, has lent me many valuable manuscripts. Finally, I have to thank my friend Dr. Robertson Nicoll for the kindly pressure which has practically compelled me to prepare this little volume amid a multitude of journalistic duties.

CLEMENT K. SHORTER. 198 STRAND, LONDON, September 1st, 1896.






Patrick Bronte born 17 March 1777 Maria Bronte born 1783 Patrick leaves Ireland for Cambridge 1802 Degree of A.B. 1806 Curacy at Wetherfield, Essex 1806 ,, Dewsbury Yorks 1809 ,, Hartshead-cum-Clifton 1811 Publishes 'Cottage Poems' (Halifax) 1811 Married to Maria Branwell 18 Dec. 1812 First Child, Maria, born 1813 Publishes 'The Rural Minstrel' 1813 Elizabeth born 1814 Publishes 'The Cottage in the Wood' 1815 Curacy at Thornton 1816 Charlotte Bronte born at Thornton 21 April 1816 Patrick Branwell Bronte born 1817 Emily Jane Bronte born 1818 'The Maid of Killarney' published 1818 Anne Bronte born 1819 Removal to Incumbency of Haworth February 1820 Mrs. Bronte died 15 September 1821 Maria and Elizabeth Bronte at Cowan Bridge July 1824 Charlotte and Emily ,, ,, September 1824 Leave Cowan Bridge 1825 Maria Bronte died 6 May 1825 Elizabeth Bronte died 15 June 1825 Charlotte Bronte at School, January 1831 Roe Head Leaves Roe Head School 1832 First Visit to Ellen Nussey at The Rydings September 1832 Returns to Roe Head as governess 29 July 1835 Branwell visits London 1835 Emily spends three months at Roe Head, when Anne 1835 takes her place and she returns home Ellen Nussey visits Haworth in Holidays July 1836 Miss Wooler's School removed to Dewsbury Moor 1836 Emily at a School at Halifax for six months 1836 (Miss Patchet of Law Hill) First Proposal of Marriage (Henry Nussey) March 1839 Anne Bronte becomes governess at Blake Hall, April 1839 (Mrs. Ingham's) Charlotte governess at Mrs. Sidgwick's at Stonegappe, 1839 and at Swarcliffe, Harrogate Second Proposal of Marriage (Mr. Price) 1839 Charlotte and Emily at Haworth, 1840 Anne at Blake Hall Charlotte's second situation as governess with March 1841 Mrs. White, Upperwood House, Rawdon Charlotte and Emily go to School at Brussels February 1842 Miss Branwell died at Haworth 29 Oct. 1842 Charlotte and Emily return to Haworth Nov. 1842 Charlotte returns to Brussels Jan. 1843 Returns to Haworth Jan. 1844 Anne and Branwell at Thorp Green 1845 Charlotte visits Mary Taylor at Hounsden 1845 Visits Miss Nussey at Brookroyd 1845 Publication of Poems by Currer, 1846 Ellis and Acton Bell Charlotte Bronte visits Manchester with her father for Aug. 1846 him to see an Oculist 'Jane Eyre' published (Smith & Elder) Oct. 1847 'Wuthering Heights' and 'Agnes Grey', (Newby) Dec. 1847 Charlotte and Emily visit London June 1848 'Tenant of Wildfell Hall' 1848 Branwell died 24 Sept. 1848 Emily died 19 Dec. 1848 Anne Bronte died at Scarborough 28 May 1849 'Shirley' published 1849 Visit to London, first meeting with Thackeray Nov. 1849 Visit to London, sits for Portrait to Richmond 1850 Third Offer of Marriage (James Taylor) 1851 Visit to London for Exhibition 1851 'Villette' published 1852 Visit to London 1853 Visit to Manchester to Mrs. Gaskell 1853 Marriage 29 June 1854 Death 31 March 1855 Patrick Bronte died 7 June 1861


In the whole of English biographical literature there is no book that can compare in widespread interest with the Life of Charlotte Bronte by Mrs. Gaskell. It has held a position of singular popularity for forty years; and while biography after biography has come and gone, it still commands a place side by side with Boswell's Johnson and Lockhart's Scott. As far as mere readers are concerned, it may indeed claim its hundreds as against the tens of intrinsically more important rivals. There are obvious reasons for this success. Mrs. Gaskell was herself a popular novelist, who commanded a very wide audience, and Cranford, at least, has taken a place among the classics of our literature. She brought to bear upon the biography of Charlotte Bronte all those literary gifts which had made the charm of her seven volumes of romance. And these gifts were employed upon a romance of real life, not less fascinating than anything which imagination could have furnished. Charlotte Bronte's success as an author turned the eyes of the world upon her. Thackeray had sent her his Vanity Fair before he knew her name or sex. The precious volume lies before me—

[Picture: First Thackeray Inscription]

And Thackeray did not send many inscribed copies of his books even to successful authors. Speculation concerning the author of Jane Eyre was sufficiently rife during those seven sad years of literary renown to make a biography imperative when death came to Charlotte Bronte in 1855. All the world had heard something of the three marvellous sisters, daughters of a poor parson in Yorkshire, going one after another to their death with such melancholy swiftness, but leaving—two of them, at least—imperishable work behind them. The old blind father and the bereaved husband read the confused eulogy and criticism, sometimes with a sad pleasure at the praise, oftener with a sadder pain at the grotesque inaccuracy. Small wonder that it became impressed upon Mr. Bronte's mind that an authoritative biography was desirable. His son-in-law, Mr. Arthur Bell Nicholls, who lived with him in the Haworth parsonage during the six weary years which succeeded Mrs. Nicholls's death, was not so readily won to the unveiling of his wife's inner life; and although we, who read Mrs. Gaskell's Memoir, have every reason to be thankful for Mr. Bronte's decision, peace of mind would undoubtedly have been more assured to Charlotte Bronte's surviving relatives had the most rigid silence been maintained. The book, when it appeared in 1857, gave infinite pain to a number of people, including Mr. Bronte and Mr. Nicholls; and Mrs. Gaskell's subsequent experiences had the effect of persuading her that all biographical literature was intolerable and undesirable. She would seem to have given instructions that no biography of herself should be written; and now that thirty years have passed since her death we have no substantial record of one of the most fascinating women of her age. The loss to literature has been forcibly brought home to the present writer, who has in his possession a bundle of letters written by Mrs. Gaskell to numerous friends of Charlotte Bronte during the progress of the biography. They serve, all of them, to impress one with the singular charm of the woman, her humanity and breadth of sympathy. They make us think better of Mrs. Gaskell, as Thackeray's letters to Mrs. Brookfield make us think better of the author of Vanity Fair.

Apart from these letters, a journey in the footsteps, as it were, of Mrs. Gaskell reveals to us the remarkable conscientiousness with which she set about her task. It would have been possible, with so much fame behind her, to have secured an equal success, and certainly an equal pecuniary reward, had she merely written a brief monograph with such material as was voluntarily placed in her hands. Mrs. Gaskell possessed a higher ideal of a biographer's duties. She spared no pains to find out the facts; she visited every spot associated with the name of Charlotte Bronte—Thornton, Haworth, Cowan Bridge, Birstall, Brussels—and she wrote countless letters to the friends of Charlotte Bronte's earlier days.

But why, it may be asked, was Mrs. Gaskell selected as biographer? The choice was made by Mr. Bronte, and not, as has been suggested, by some outside influence. When Mr. Bronte had once decided that there should be an authoritative biography—and he alone was active in the matter—there could be but little doubt upon whom the task would fall. Among all the friends whom fame had brought to Charlotte, Mrs. Gaskell stood prominent for her literary gifts and her large-hearted sympathy. She had made the acquaintance of Miss Bronte when the latter was on a visit to Sir James Kay Shuttleworth, in 1850; and a letter from Charlotte to her father, and others to Mr. W. S. Williams, indicate the beginning of a friendship which was to leave so permanent a record in literary history:—


'20th November, 1849.

'MY DEAR SIR,—You said that if I wished for any copies of Shirley to be sent to individuals I was to name the parties. I have thought of one person to whom I should much like a copy to be offered—Harriet Martineau. For her character—as revealed in her works—I have a lively admiration, a deep esteem. Will you inclose with the volume the accompanying note?

'The letter you forwarded this morning was from Mrs. Gaskell, authoress of Mary Barton; she said I was not to answer it, but I cannot help doing so. The note brought the tears to my eyes. She is a good, she is a great woman. Proud am I that I can touch a chord of sympathy in souls so noble. In Mrs. Gaskell's nature it mournfully pleases me to fancy a remote affinity to my sister Emily. In Miss Martineau's mind I have always felt the same, though there are wide differences. Both these ladies are above me—certainly far my superiors in attainments and experience. I think I could look up to them if I knew them.—I am, dear sir, yours sincerely,



'November 29th, 1849.

'DEAR SIR,—I inclose two notes for postage. The note you sent yesterday was from Harriet Martineau; its contents were more than gratifying. I ought to be thankful, and I trust I am, for such testimonies of sympathy from the first order of minds. When Mrs. Gaskell tells me she shall keep my works as a treasure for her daughters, and when Harriet Martineau testifies affectionate approbation, I feel the sting taken from the strictures of another class of critics. My resolution of seclusion withholds me from communicating further with these ladies at present, but I now know how they are inclined to me—I know how my writings have affected their wise and pure minds. The knowledge is present support and, perhaps, may be future armour.

'I trust Mrs. Williams's health and, consequently, your spirits are by this time quite restored. If all be well, perhaps I shall see you next week.—Yours sincerely,



'January 1st, 1850.

'MY DEAR SIR,—May I beg that a copy of Wuthering Heights may be sent to Mrs. Gaskell; her present address is 3 Sussex Place, Regent's Park. She has just sent me the Moorland Cottage. I felt disappointed about the publication of that book, having hoped it would be offered to Smith, Elder & Co.; but it seems she had no alternative, as it was Mr. Chapman himself who asked her to write a Christmas book. On my return home yesterday I found two packets from Cornhill directed in two well-known hands waiting for me. You are all very very good.

'I trust to have derived benefit from my visit to Miss Martineau. A visit more interesting I certainly never paid. If self-sustaining strength can be acquired from example, I ought to have got good. But my nature is not hers; I could not make it so though I were to submit it seventy times seven to the furnace of affliction, and discipline it for an age under the hammer and anvil of toil and self-sacrifice. Perhaps if I was like her I should not admire her so much as I do. She is somewhat absolute, though quite unconsciously so; but she is likewise kind, with an affection at once abrupt and constant, whose sincerity you cannot doubt. It was delightful to sit near her in the evenings and hear her converse, myself mute. She speaks with what seems to me a wonderful fluency and eloquence. Her animal spirits are as unflagging as her intellectual powers. I was glad to find her health excellent. I believe neither solitude nor loss of friends would break her down. I saw some faults in her, but somehow I liked them for the sake of her good points. It gave me no pain to feel insignificant, mentally and corporeally, in comparison with her.

'Trusting that you and yours are well, and sincerely wishing you all a happy new year,—I am, my dear sir, yours sincerely,



'THE BRIERY, WINDERMERE, 'August 10th, 1850.

'DEAR PAPA,—I reached this place yesterday evening at eight o'clock, after a safe though rather tedious journey. I had to change carriages three times and to wait an hour and a half at Lancaster. Sir James came to meet me at the station; both he and Lady Shuttleworth gave me a very kind reception. This place is exquisitely beautiful, though the weather is cloudy, misty, and stormy; but the sun bursts out occasionally and shows the hills and the lake. Mrs. Gaskell is coming here this evening, and one or two other people. Miss Martineau, I am sorry to say, I shall not see, as she is already gone from home for the autumn.

'Be kind enough to write by return of post and tell me how you are getting on and how you are. Give my kind regards to Tabby and Martha, and—Believe me, dear papa, your affectionate daughter,


And this is how she writes to a friend from Haworth, on her return, after that first meeting:—

'Lady Shuttleworth never got out, being confined to the house with a cold; but fortunately there was Mrs. Gaskell, the authoress of Mary Barton, who came to the Briery the day after me. I was truly glad of her companionship. She is a woman of the most genuine talent, of cheerful, pleasing, and cordial manners, and, I believe, of a kind and good heart.'


'September 20th, 1850.

'MY DEAR SIR,—I herewith send you a very roughly written copy of what I have to say about my sisters. When you have read it you can better judge whether the word "Notice" or "Memoir" is the most appropriate. I think the former. Memoir seems to me to express a more circumstantial and different sort of account. My aim is to give a just idea of their identity, not to write any narration of their simple, uneventful lives. I depend on you for faithfully pointing out whatever may strike you as faulty. I could not write it in the conventional form—that I found impossible.

'It gives me real pleasure to hear of your son's success. I trust he may persevere and go on improving, and give his parents cause for satisfaction and honest pride.

'I am truly pleased, too, to learn that Miss Kavanagh has managed so well with Mr. Colburn. Her position seems to me one deserving of all sympathy. I often think of her. Will her novel soon be published? Somehow I expect it to be interesting.

'I certainly did hope that Mrs. Gaskell would offer her next work to Smith & Elder. She and I had some conversation about publishers—a comparison of our literary experiences was made. She seemed much struck with the differences between hers and mine, though I did not enter into details or tell her all. Unless I greatly mistake, she and you and Mr. Smith would get on well together; but one does not know what causes there may be to prevent her from doing as she would wish in such a case. I think Mr. Smith will not object to my occasionally sending her any of the Cornhill books that she may like to see. I have already taken the liberty of lending her Wordsworth's Prelude, as she was saying how much she wished to have the opportunity of reading it.

'I do not tack remembrances to Mrs. Williams and your daughters and Miss Kavanagh to all my letters, because that makes an empty form of what should be a sincere wish, but I trust this mark of courtesy and regard, though rarely expressed, is always understood.—Believe me, yours sincerely,


Miss Bronte twice visited Mrs. Gaskell in her Manchester home, first in 1851 and afterwards in 1853, and concerning this latter visit we have the following letter:—


'HAWORTH, April 14th, 1853.

'MY DEAR MRS. GASKELL,—Would it suit you if I were to come next Thursday, the 21st?

'If that day tallies with your convenience, and if my father continues as well as he is now, I know of no engagement on my part which need compel me longer to defer the pleasure of seeing you.

'I should arrive by the train which reaches Manchester at 7 o'clock P.M. That, I think, would be about your tea-time, and, of course, I should dine before leaving home. I always like evening for an arrival; it seems more cosy and pleasant than coming in about the busy middle of the day. I think if I stay a week that will be a very long visit; it will give you time to get well tired of me.

'Remember me very kindly to Mr. Gaskell and Marianna. As to Mesdames Flossy and Julia, those venerable ladies are requested beforehand to make due allowance for the awe with which they will be sure to impress a diffident admirer. I am sorry I shall not see Meta.—Believe me, my dear Mrs. Gaskell, yours affectionately and sincerely,


In the autumn of 1853 Mrs. Gaskell returned Charlotte Bronte's visit at Haworth. She was not, however, at Charlotte's wedding in Haworth Church. {8}


'HAWORTH, September 8th.

'MY DEAR MISS WOOLER,—Your letter was truly kind, and made me warmly wish to join you. My prospects, however, of being able to leave home continue very unsettled. I am expecting Mrs. Gaskell next week or the week after, the day being yet undetermined. She was to have come in June, but then my severe attack of influenza rendered it impossible that I should receive or entertain her. Since that time she has been absent on the Continent with her husband and two eldest girls; and just before I received yours I had a letter from her volunteering a visit at a vague date, which I requested her to fix as soon as possible. My father has been much better during the last three or four days.

'When I know anything certain I will write to you again.—Believe me, my dear Miss Wooler, yours respectfully and affectionately,


But the friendship, which commenced so late in Charlotte Bronte's life, never reached the stage of downright intimacy. Of this there is abundant evidence in the biography; and Mrs. Gaskell was forced to rely upon the correspondence of older friends of Charlotte's. Mr. George Smith, the head of the firm of Smith and Elder, furnished some twenty letters. Mr. W. S. Williams, to whom is due the credit of 'discovering' the author of Jane Eyre, lent others; and another member of Messrs. Smith and Elder's staff, Mr. James Taylor, furnished half-a-dozen more; but the best help came from another quarter.

Of the two schoolfellows with whom Charlotte Bronte regularly corresponded from childhood till death, Mary Taylor and Ellen Nussey, the former had destroyed every letter; and thus it came about that by far the larger part of the correspondence in Mrs. Gaskell's biography was addressed to Miss Ellen Nussey, now as 'My dearest Nell,' now simply as 'E.' The unpublished correspondence in my hands, which refers to the biography, opens with a letter from Mrs. Gaskell to Miss Nussey, dated July 6th, 1855. It relates how, in accordance with a request from Mr. Bronte, she had undertaken to write the work, and had been over to Haworth. There she had made the acquaintance of Mr. Nicholls for the first time. She told Mr. Bronte how much she felt the difficulty of the task she had undertaken. Nevertheless, she sincerely desired to make his daughter's character known to all who took deep interest in her writings. Both Mr. Bronte and Mr. Nicholls agreed to help to the utmost, although Mrs. Gaskell was struck by the fact that it was Mr. Nicholls, and not Mr. Bronte, who was more intellectually alive to the attraction which such a book would have for the public. His feelings were opposed to any biography at all; but he had yielded to Mr. Bronte's 'impetuous wish,' and he brought down all the materials he could find, in the shape of about a dozen letters. Mr. Nicholls, moreover, told Mrs. Gaskell that Miss Nussey was the person of all others to apply to; that she had been the friend of his wife ever since Charlotte was fifteen, and that he was writing to Miss Nussey to beg her to let Mrs. Gaskell see some of the correspondence.

But here is Mr. Nicholls's actual letter, unearthed after forty years, as well as earlier letters from and to Miss Nussey, which would seem to indicate a suggestion upon the part of 'E' that some attempt should be made to furnish a biography of her friend—if only to set at rest, once and for all, the speculations of the gossiping community with whom Charlotte Bronte's personality was still shrouded in mystery; and indeed it is clear from these letters that it is to Miss Nussey that we really owe Mrs. Gaskell's participation in the matter:—


'BROOKROYD, June 6th, 1855.

'DEAR MR. NICHOLLS,—I have been much hurt and pained by the perusal of an article in Sharpe for this month, entitled "A Few Words about Jane Eyre." You will be certain to see the article, and I am sure both you and Mr. Bronte will feel acutely the misrepresentations and the malignant spirit which characterises it. Will you suffer the article to pass current without any refutations? The writer merits the contempt of silence, but there will be readers and believers. Shall such be left to imbibe a tissue of malignant falsehoods, or shall an attempt be made to do justice to one who so highly deserved justice, whose very name those who best knew her but speak with reverence and affection? Should not her aged father be defended from the reproach the writer coarsely attempts to bring upon him?

'I wish Mrs. Gaskell, who is every way capable, would undertake a reply, and would give a sound castigation to the writer. Her personal acquaintance with Haworth, the Parsonage, and its inmates, fits her for the task, and if on other subjects she lacked information I would gladly supply her with facts sufficient to set aside much that is asserted, if you yourself are not provided with all the information that is needed on the subjects produced. Will you ask Mrs. Gaskell to undertake this just and honourable defence? I think she would do it gladly. She valued dear Charlotte, and such an act of friendship, performed with her ability and power, could only add to the laurels she has already won. I hope you and Mr. Bronte are well. My kind regards to both.—Believe me, yours sincerely,



'HAWORTH, June 11th, 1855.

'DEAR MISS NUSSEY,—We had not seen the article in Sharpe, and very possibly should not, if you had not directed our attention to it. We ordered a copy, and have now read the "Few Words about Jane Eyre." The writer has certainly made many mistakes, but apparently not from any unkind motive, as he professes to be an admirer of Charlotte's works, pays a just tribute to her genius, and in common with thousands deplores her untimely death. His design seems rather to be to gratify the curiosity of the multitude in reference to one who had made such a sensation in the literary world. But even if the article had been of a less harmless character, we should not have felt inclined to take any notice of it, as by doing so we should have given it an importance which it would not otherwise have obtained. Charlotte herself would have acted thus; and her character stands too high to be injured by the statements in a magazine of small circulation and little influence—statements which the writer prefaces with the remark that he does not vouch for their accuracy. The many laudatory notices of Charlotte and her works which appeared since her death may well make us indifferent to the detractions of a few envious or malignant persons, as there ever will be such.

'The remarks respecting Mr. Bronte excited in him only amusement—indeed, I have not seen him laugh as much for some months as he did while I was reading the article to him. We are both well in health, but lonely and desolate.

'Mr. Bronte unites with me in kind regards.—Yours sincerely,



'HAWORTH, July 24th, 1855.

'DEAR MISS NUSSEY,—Some other erroneous notices of Charlotte having appeared, Mr. Bronte has deemed it advisable that some authentic statement should be put forth. He has therefore adopted your suggestion and applied to Mrs. Gaskell, who has undertaken to write a life of Charlotte. Mrs. Gaskell came over yesterday and spent a few hours with us. The greatest difficulty seems to be in obtaining materials to show the development of Charlotte's character. For this reason Mrs. Gaskell is anxious to see her letters, especially those of any early date. I think I understood you to say that you had some; if so, we should feel obliged by your letting us have any that you may think proper, not for publication, but merely to give the writer an insight into her mode of thought. Of course they will be returned after a little time.

'I confess that the course most consonant with my own feelings would be to take no steps in the matter, but I do not think it right to offer any opposition to Mr. Bronte's wishes.

'We have the same object in view, but should differ in our mode of proceeding. Mr. Bronte has not been very well. Excitement on Sunday (our Rush-bearing) and Mrs. Gaskell's visit yesterday have been rather much for him.—Believe me, sincerely yours,


Mrs. Gaskell, however, wanted to make Miss Nussey's acquaintance, and asked if she might visit her; and added that she would also like to see Miss Wooler, Charlotte's schoolmistress, if that lady were still alive. To this letter Miss Nussey made the following reply:—


'ILKLEY, July 26th, 1855.

'MY DEAR MADAM,—Owing to my absence from home your letter has only just reached me. I had not heard of Mr. Bronte's request, but I am most heartily glad that he has made it. A letter from Mr. Nicholls was forwarded along with yours, which I opened first, and was thus prepared for your communication, the subject of which is of the deepest interest to me. I will do everything in my power to aid the righteous work you have undertaken, but I feel my powers very limited, and apprehend that you may experience some disappointment that I cannot contribute more largely the information which you desire. I possess a great many letters (for I have destroyed but a small portion of the correspondence), but I fear the early letters are not such as to unfold the character of the writer except in a few points. You perhaps may discover more than is apparent to me. You will read them with a purpose—I perused them only with interests of affection. I will immediately look over the correspondence, and I promise to let you see all that I can confide to your friendly custody. I regret that my absence from home should have made it impossible for me to have the pleasure of seeing you at Brookroyd at the time you propose. I am engaged to stay here till Monday week, and shall be happy to see you any day you name after that date, or, if more convenient to you to come Friday or Saturday in next week, I will gladly return in time to give you the meeting. I am staying with our schoolmistress, Miss Wooler, in this place. I wish her very much to give me leave to ask you here, but she does not yield to my wishes; it would have been pleasanter to me to talk with you among these hills than sitting in my home and thinking of one who had so often been present there.—I am, my dear madam, yours sincerely,


Mrs. Gaskell and Miss Nussey met, and the friendship which ensued was closed only by death; and indeed one of the most beautiful letters in the collection in my hands is one signed 'Meta Gaskell,' and dated January 22, 1866. It tells in detail, with infinite tenderness and pathos, of her mother's last moments. {14} That, however, was ten years later than the period with which we are concerned. In 1856 Mrs. Gaskell was energetically engaged upon a biography of her friend which should lack nothing of thoroughness, as she hoped. She claimed to have visited the scenes of all the incidents in Charlotte's life, 'the two little pieces of private governess-ship excepted.' She went one day with Mr. Smith to the Chapter Coffee House, where the sisters first stayed in London. Another day she is in Yorkshire, where she makes the acquaintance of Miss Wooler, which permitted, as she said, 'a more friendly manner of writing towards Charlotte Bronte's old schoolmistress.' Again she is in Brussels, where Madame Heger refused to see her, although M. Heger was kind and communicative, 'and very much indeed I both like and respect him.' Her countless questions were exceedingly interesting. They covered many pages of note-paper. Did Branwell Bronte know of the publication of Jane Eyre,' she asks, 'and how did he receive the news?' Mrs. Gaskell was persuaded in her own mind that he had never known of its publication, and we shall presently see that she was right. Charlotte had distinctly informed her, she said, that Branwell was not in a fit condition at the time to be told. 'Where did the girls get the books which they read so continually? Did Emily accompany Charlotte as a pupil when the latter went as a teacher to Roe Head? Why did not Branwell go to the Royal Academy in London to learn painting? Did Emily ever go out as a governess? What were Emily's religious opinions? Did she ever make friends?' Such were the questions which came quick and fast to Miss Nussey, and Miss Nussey fortunately kept her replies.


'BROOKROYD, October 22nd, 1856.

'MY DEAR MRS. GASKELL,—If you go to London pray try what may be done with regard to a portrait of dear Charlotte. It would greatly enhance the value and interest of the memoir, and be such a satisfaction to people to see something that would settle their ideas of the personal appearance of the dear departed one. It has been a surprise to every stranger, I think, that she was so gentle and lady-like to look upon.

'Emily Bronte went to Roe Head as pupil when Charlotte went as teacher; she stayed there but two months; she never settled, and was ill from nothing but home-sickness. Anne took her place and remained about two years. Emily was a teacher for one six months in a ladies' school in Halifax or the neighbourhood. I do not know whether it was conduct or want of finances that prevented Branwell from going to the Royal Academy. Probably there were impediments of both kinds.

'I am afraid if you give me my name I shall feel a prominence in the book that I altogether shrink from. My very last wish would be to appear in the book more than is absolutely necessary. If it were possible, I would choose not to be known at all. It is my friend only that I care to see and recognise, though your framing and setting of the picture will very greatly enhance its value.—I am, my dear Mrs. Gaskell, yours very sincerely,


The book was published in two volumes, under the title of The Life of Charlotte Bronte, in the spring of 1857. At first all was well. Mr. Bronte's earliest acknowledgment of the book was one of approbation. Sir James Shuttleworth expressed the hope that Mr. Nicholls would 'rejoice that his wife would be known as a Christian heroine who could bear her cross with the firmness of a martyr saint.' Canon Kingsley wrote a charming letter to Mrs. Gaskell, published in his Life, and more than once reprinted since.

'Let me renew our long interrupted acquaintance,' he writes from St. Leonards, under date May 14th, 1857, '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 misconceptions into print, or recorded my misjudgments of one who is a whole heaven above me.

'Well have you done your work, and given us the picture of a valiant woman made perfect by suffering. I shall now read carefully and lovingly every word she has written, especially those poems, which ought not to have fallen dead as they did, and which seem to be (from a review in the current Fraser) of remarkable strength and purity.'

It was a short-lived triumph, however, and Mrs. Gaskell soon found herself, as she expressed it, 'in a veritable hornet's nest.' Mr. Bronte, to begin with, did not care for the references to himself and the suggestion that he had treated his wife unkindly. Mrs. Gaskell had associated him with numerous eccentricities and ebullitions of temper, which during his later years he always asserted, and undoubtedly with perfect truth, were, at the best, the fabrications of a dismissed servant. Mr. Nicholls had also his grievance. There was just a suspicion implied that he had not been quite the most sympathetic of husbands. The suspicion was absolutely ill-founded, and arose from Mr. Nicholls's intense shyness. But neither Mr. Bronte nor Mr. Nicholls gave Mrs. Gaskell much trouble. They, at any rate, were silent. Trouble, however, came from many quarters. Yorkshire people resented the air of patronage with which, as it seemed to them, a good Lancashire lady had taken their county in hand. They were not quite the backward savages, they retorted, which some of Mrs. Gaskell's descriptions in the beginning of her book would seem to suggest. Between Lancashire and Yorkshire there is always a suspicion of jealousy. It was intensified for the moment by these sombre pictures of 'this lawless, yet not unkindly population.' {17} A son-in-law of Mr. Redhead wrote to deny the account of that clergyman's association with Haworth. 'He gives another as true, in which I don't see any great difference.' Miss Martineau wrote sheet after sheet explanatory of her relations with Charlotte Bronte. 'Two separate householders in London each declares that the first interview between Miss Bronte and Miss Martineau took place at her house.' In one passage Mrs. Gaskell had spoken of wasteful young servants, and the young servants in question came upon Mr. Bronte for the following testimonial:—

'HAWORTH, August 17th, 1857.

'I beg leave to state to all whom it may concern, that Nancy and Sarah Garrs, during the time they were in my service, were kind to my children, and honest, and not wasteful, but sufficiently careful in regard to food, and all other articles committed to their charge.

P. BRONTE, A.B., 'Incumbent of Haworth, Yorkshire.'

Three whole pages were devoted to the dramatic recital of a scandal at Haworth, and this entirely disappears from the third edition. A casual reference to a girl who had been seduced, and had found a friend in Miss Bronte, gave further trouble. 'I have altered the word "seduced" to "betrayed,"' writes Mrs. Gaskell to Martha Brown, 'and I hope that this will satisfy the unhappy girl's friends.' But all these were small matters compared with the Cowan Bridge controversy and the threatened legal proceedings over Branwell Bronte's suggested love affairs. Mrs. Gaskell defended the description in Jane Eyre of Cowan Bridge with peculiar vigour. Mr. Carus Wilson, the Brocklehurst of Jane Eyre, and his friends were furious. They threatened an action. There were letters in the Times and letters in the Daily News. Mr. Nicholls broke silence—the only time in the forty years that he has done so—with two admirable letters to the Halifax Guardian. The Cowan Bridge controversy was a drawn battle, in spite of numerous and glowing testimonials to the virtues of Mr. Carus Wilson. Most people who know anything of the average private schools of half a century ago are satisfied that Charlotte Bronte's description was substantially correct. 'I want to show you many letters,' writes Mrs. Gaskell, 'most of them praising the character of our dear friend as she deserves, and from people whose opinion she would have cared for, such as the Duke of Argyll, Kingsley, Greig, etc. Many abusing me. I should think seven or eight of this kind from the Carus Wilson clique.'

The Branwell matter was more serious. Here Mrs. Gaskell had, indeed, shown a singular recklessness. The lady referred to by Branwell was Mrs. Robinson, the wife of the Rev. Edmund Robinson of Thorp Green, and afterwards Lady Scott. Anne Bronte was governess in her family for two years, and Branwell tutor to the son for a few months. Branwell, under the influence of opium, made certain statements about his relations with Mrs. Robinson which have been effectually disproved, although they were implicitly believed by the Bronte girls, who, womanlike, were naturally ready to regard a woman as the ruin of a beloved brother. The recklessness of Mrs. Gaskell in accepting such inadequate testimony can be explained only on the assumption that she had a novelist's satisfaction in the romance which the 'bad woman' theory supplied. She wasted a considerable amount of rhetoric upon it. 'When the fatal attack came on,' she says, 'his pockets were found filled with old letters from the woman to whom he was attached. He died! she lives still—in May Fair. I see her name in county papers, as one of those who patronise the Christmas balls; and I hear of her in London drawing-rooms'—and so on. There were no love-letters found in Branwell Bronte's pockets. {19} When Mrs. Gaskell's husband came post-haste to Haworth to ask for proofs of Mrs. Robinson's complicity in Branwell's downfall, none were obtainable. I am assured by Mr. Leslie Stephen that his father, Sir James Stephen, was employed at the time to make careful inquiry, and that he and other eminent lawyers came to the conclusion that it was one long tissue of lies or hallucinations. The subject is sufficiently sordid, and indeed almost redundant in any biography of the Brontes; but it is of moment, because Charlotte Bronte and her sisters were so thoroughly persuaded that a woman was at the bottom of their brother's ruin; and this belief Charlotte impressed upon all the friends who were nearest and dearest to her. Her letters at the time of her brother's death are full of censure of the supposed wickedness of another. It was a cruel infamy that the word of this wretched boy should have been so powerful for mischief. Here, at any rate, Mrs. Gaskell did not show the caution which a masculine biographer, less prone to take literally a man's accounts of his amours, would undoubtedly have displayed.

Yet, when all is said, Mrs. Gaskell had done her work thoroughly and well. Lockhart's Scott and Froude's Carlyle are examples of great biographies which called for abundant censure upon their publication; yet both these books will live as classics of their kind. To be interesting, it is perhaps indispensable that the biographer should be indiscreet, and certainly the Branwell incident—a matter of two or three pages—is the only part of Mrs. Gaskell's biography in which indiscretion becomes indefensible. And for this she suffered cruelly. 'I did so try to tell the truth,' she said to a friend, 'and I believe now I hit as near to the truth as any one could do.' 'I weighed every line with my whole power and heart,' she said on another occasion, 'so that every line should go to its great purpose of making her known and valued, as one who had gone through such a terrible life with a brave and faithful heart.' And that clearly Mrs. Gaskell succeeded in doing. It is quite certain that Charlotte Bronte would not stand on so splendid a pedestal to-day but for the single-minded devotion of her accomplished biographer.

It has sometimes been implied that the portrait drawn by Mrs. Gaskell was far too sombre, that there are passages in Charlotte's letters which show that ofttimes her heart was merry and her life sufficiently cheerful. That there were long periods of gaiety for all the three sisters, surely no one ever doubted. To few people, fortunately, is it given to have lives wholly without happiness. And yet, when this is acknowledged, how can one say that the picture was too gloomy? Taken as a whole, the life of Charlotte Bronte was among the saddest in literature. At a miserable school, where she herself was unhappy, she saw her two elder sisters stricken down and carried home to die. In her home was the narrowest poverty. She had, in the years when that was most essential, no mother's care; and perhaps there was a somewhat too rigid disciplinarian in the aunt who took the mother's place. Her second school brought her, indeed, two kind friends; but her shyness made that school-life in itself a prolonged tragedy. Of the two experiences as a private governess I shall have more to say. They were periods of torture to her sensitive nature. The ambition of the three girls to start a school on their own account failed ignominiously. The suppressed vitality of childhood and early womanhood made Charlotte unable to enter with sympathy and toleration into the life of a foreign city, and Brussels was for her a further disaster. Then within two years, just as literary fame was bringing its consolation for the trials of the past, she saw her two beloved sisters taken from her. And, finally, when at last a good man won her love, there were left to her only nine months of happy married life. 'I am not going to die. We have been so happy.' These words to her husband on her death-bed are not the least piteously sad in her tragic story. That her life was a tragedy, was the opinion of the woman friend with whom on the intellectual side she had most in common. Miss Mary Taylor wrote to Mrs. Gaskell the following letter from New Zealand upon receipt of the Life:—

'WELLINGTON, 30th July 1857.

'MY DEAR MRS. GASKELL,—I am unaccountably in receipt by post of two vols. containing the Life of C. Bronte. I have pleasure in attributing this compliment to you; I beg, therefore, to thank you for them. The book is a perfect success, in giving a true picture of a melancholy life, and you have practically answered my puzzle as to how you would give an account of her, not being at liberty to give a true description of those around. Though not so gloomy as the truth, it is perhaps as much so as people will accept without calling it exaggerated, and feeling the desire to doubt and contradict it. I have seen two reviews of it. One of them sums it up as "a life of poverty and self-suppression," the other has nothing to the purpose at all. Neither of them seems to think it a strange or wrong state of things that a woman of first-rate talents, industry, and integrity should live all her life in a walking nightmare of "poverty and self-suppression." I doubt whether any of them will.

'It must upset most people's notions of beauty to be told that the portrait at the beginning is that of an ugly woman. {22} I do not altogether like the idea of publishing a flattered likeness. I had rather the mouth and eyes had been nearer together, and shown the veritable square face and large disproportionate nose.

'I had the impression that Cartwright's mill was burnt in 1820 not in 1812. You give much too favourable an account of the black-coated and Tory savages that kept the people down, and provoked excesses in those days. Old Robertson said he "would wade to the knees in blood rather than the then state of things should be altered,"—a state including Corn law, Test law, and a host of other oppressions.

'Once more I thank you for the book—the first copy, I believe, that arrived in New Zealand.—Sincerely yours,


And in another letter, written a little later (28th January 1858), Miss Mary Taylor writes to Miss Ellen Nussey in similar strain:—

'Your account of Mrs. Gaskell's book was very interesting,' she says. 'She seems a hasty, impulsive person, and the needful drawing back after her warmth gives her an inconsistent look. Yet I doubt not her book will be of great use. You must be aware that many strange notions as to the kind of person Charlotte really was will be done away with by a knowledge of the true facts of her life. I have heard imperfectly of farther printing on the subject. As to the mutilated edition that is to come, I am sorry for it. Libellous or not, the first edition was all true, and except the declamation all, in my opinion, useful to be published. Of course I don't know how far necessity may make Mrs. Gaskell give them up. You know one dare not always say the world moves.'

We who do know the whole story in fullest detail will understand that it was desirable to 'mutilate' the book, and that, indeed, truth did in some measure require it. But with these letters of Mary Taylor's before us, let us not hear again that the story of Charlotte Bronte's life was not, in its main features, accurately and adequately told by her gifted biographer.

Why then, I am naturally asked, add one further book to the Bronte biographical literature? The reply is, I hope, sufficient. Forty years have gone by, and they have been years of growing interest in the subject. In the year 1895 ten thousand people visited the Bronte Museum at Haworth. Interesting books have been written, notably Sir Wemyss Reid's Monograph and Mr. Leyland's Bronte Family, but they have gone out of print. Many new facts have come to light, and many details, moreover, which were too trivial in 1857 are of sufficient importance to-day; and many facts which were rightly suppressed then may honestly and honourably be given to the public at an interval of nearly half a century. Added to all this, fortune has been kind to me.

Some three or four years ago Miss Ellen Nussey placed in my hands a printed volume of some 400 pages, which bore no publisher's name, but contained upon its title-page the statement that it was The Story of Charlotte Bronte's Life, as told through her Letters. These are the Letters—370 in number—which Miss Nussey had lent to Mrs. Gaskell and to Sir Wemyss Reid. Of these letters Mrs. Gaskell published about 100, and Sir Wemyss Reid added as many more as he considered circumstances justified twenty years back.

It was explained to me that the volume had been privately printed under a misconception, and that only some dozen copies were extant. Miss Nussey asked me if I would write something around what might remain of the unpublished letters, and if I saw my way to do anything which would add to the public appreciation of the friend who from early childhood until now has been the most absorbing interest of her life. A careful study of the volume made it perfectly clear that there were still some letters which might with advantage be added to the Bronte story. At the same time arose the possibility of a veto being placed upon their publication. An examination of Charlotte Bronte's will, which was proved at York by her husband in 1855, suggested an easy way out of the difficulty. I made up my mind to try and see Mr. Nicholls. I had heard of his disinclination to be in any way associated with the controversy which had gathered round his wife for all these years; but I wrote to him nevertheless, and received a cordial invitation to visit him in his Irish home.

It was exactly forty years to a day after Charlotte died—March 31st, 1895—when I alighted at the station in a quiet little town in the centre of Ireland, to receive the cordial handclasp of the man into whose keeping Charlotte Bronte had given her life. It was one of many visits, and the beginning of an interesting correspondence. Mr. Nicholls placed all the papers in his possession in my hands. They were more varied and more abundant than I could possibly have anticipated. They included MSS. of childhood, of which so much has been said, and stories of adult life, one fragment indeed being later than the Emma which appeared in the Cornhill Magazine for 1856, with a note by Thackeray. Here were the letters Charlotte Bronte had written to her brother and to her sisters during her second sojourn in Brussels—to 'Dear Branwell' and 'Dear E. J.,' as she calls Emily—letters even to handle will give a thrill to the Bronte enthusiast. Here also were the love-letters of Maria Branwell to her lover Patrick Bronte, which are referred to in Mrs. Gaskell's biography, but have never hitherto been printed.

'The four small scraps of Emily and Anne's manuscript,' writes Mr. Nicholls, 'I found in the small box I send you; the others I found in the bottom of a cupboard tied up in a newspaper, where they had lain for nearly thirty years, and where, had it not been for your visit, they must have remained during my lifetime, and most likely afterwards have been destroyed.'

Some slight extracts from Bronte letters in Macmillan's Magazine, signed 'E. Balmer Williams,' brought me into communication with a gifted daughter of Mr. W. S. Williams. Mrs. Williams and her husband generously placed the whole series of these letters of Charlotte Bronte to their father at my disposal. It was of some of these letters that Mrs. Gaskell wrote in enthusiastic terms when she had read them, and she was only permitted to see a few. Then I have to thank Mr. Joshua Taylor, the nephew of Miss Mary Taylor, for permission to publish his aunt's letters. Mr. James Taylor, again, who wanted to marry Charlotte Bronte, and who died twenty years afterwards in Bombay, left behind him a bundle of letters which I found in the possession of a relative in the north of London. {25} I discovered through a letter addressed to Miss Nussey that the 'Brussels friend' referred to by Mrs. Gaskell was a Miss Laetitia Wheelwright, and I determined to write to all the Wheelwrights in the London Directory. My first effort succeeded, and the Miss Wheelwright kindly lent me all the letters that she had preserved. It is scarcely possible that time will reveal many more unpublished letters from the author of Jane Eyre. Several of those already in print are forgeries, and I have actually seen a letter addressed from Paris, a city which Miss Bronte never visited. I have the assurance of Dr. Heger of Brussels that Miss Bronte's correspondence with his father no longer exists. In any case one may safely send forth this little book with the certainty that it is a fairly complete collection of Charlotte Bronte's correspondence, and that it is altogether a valuable revelation of a singularly interesting personality. Steps will be taken henceforth, it may be added, to vindicate Mr. Nicholls's rights in whatever may still remain of his wife's unpublished correspondence.


It would seem quite clear to any careful investigator that the Reverend Patrick Bronte, Incumbent of Haworth, and the father of three famous daughters, was a much maligned man. We talk of the fierce light which beats upon a throne, but what is that compared to the fierce light which beats upon any man of some measure of individuality who is destined to live out his life in the quiet of a country village—in the very centre, as it were, of 'personal talk' and gossip not always kindly to the stranger within the gate? The view of Mr. Bronte, presented by Mrs. Gaskell in the early editions of her biography of Charlotte Bronte, is that of a severe, ill-tempered, and distinctly disagreeable character. It is the picture of a man who disliked the vanities of life so intensely, that the new shoes of his children and the silk dress of his wife were not spared by him in sudden gusts of passion. A stern old ruffian, one is inclined to consider him. His pistol-shooting rings picturesquely, but not agreeably, through Mrs. Gaskell's memoirs. It has been already explained in more than one quarter that this was not the real Patrick Bronte, and that much of the unfavourable gossip was due to the chatter of a dismissed servant, retailed to Mrs. Gaskell on one of her missions of inquiry in the neighbourhood. The stories of the burnt shoes and the mutilated dress have been relegated to the realm of myth, and the pistol-shooting may now be acknowledged as a harmless pastime not more iniquitous than the golfing or angling of a latter-day clergyman. It is certain, were the matter of much interest to-day, that Mr. Bronte was fond of the use of firearms. The present Incumbent of Haworth will point out to you, on the old tower of Haworth Church, the marks of pistol bullets, which he is assured were made by Mr. Bronte. I have myself handled both the gun and the pistol—this latter a very ornamental weapon, by the way, manufactured at Bradford—which Mr. Bronte possessed during the later years of his life. From both he had obtained much innocent amusement; but his son-in-law, Mr. Nicholls, who, at the distance of forty years still cherishes a reverent and enthusiastic affection for old Mr. Bronte, informs me that the bullet marks upon Haworth Church were the irresponsible frolic of a rather juvenile curate—Mr. Smith. All this is trivial enough in any case, and one turns very readily to more important factors in the life of the father of the Brontes. Patrick Bronte was born at Ahaderg, County Down, in Ireland, on St. Patrick's Day, March 17, 1777. He was one of the ten children of Hugh Brunty, farmer, and his nine brothers and sisters seem all of them to have spent their lives in their Irish home, to have married and been given in marriage, and to have gone to their graves in peace. Patrick alone had ambition, and, one must add, the opportune friend, without whom ambition counts for little in the great struggle of life. At sixteen he was a kind of village schoolmaster, or assistant schoolmaster, and at twenty-five, stirred thereto by the vicar of his parish, Mr. Tighe, he was on his way from Ireland to St. John's College, Cambridge. It was in 1802 that Patrick Bronte went to Cambridge, and entered his name in the college books. There, indeed, we find the name, not of Patrick Bronte, but of Patrick Branty, {28} and this brings us to an interesting point as to the origin of the name. In the register of his birth his name is entered, as are the births of his brothers and sisters, as 'Brunty' and 'Bruntee'; and it can scarcely be doubted that, as Dr. Douglas Hyde has pointed out, the original name was O'Prunty. {29} The Irish, at the beginning of the century, were well-nigh as primitive in some matters as were the English of a century earlier; and one is not surprised to see variations in the spelling of the Bronte name—it being in the case of his brothers and sisters occasionally spelt 'Brontee.' To me it is perfectly clear that for the change of name Lord Nelson was responsible, and that the dukedom of Bronte, which was conferred upon the great sailor in 1799, suggested the more ornamental surname. There were no Irish Brontes in existence before Nelson became Duke of Bronte; but all Patrick's brothers and sisters, with whom, it must be remembered, he was on terms of correspondence his whole life long, gradually, with a true Celtic sense of the picturesqueness of the thing, seized upon the more attractive surname. For this theory there is, of course, not one scrap of evidence; we only know that the register of Patrick's native parish gives us Brunty, and that his signature through his successive curacies is Bronte.

From Cambridge, after taking orders in 1806, Mr. Bronte moved to a curacy at Weatherfield in Essex; and Mr. Augustine Birrell has told us, with that singular literary charm of his, how the good-looking Irish curate made successful love to a young parishioner—Miss Mary Burder. Mary Burder would have married him, it seems, but for an obdurate uncle and guardian. She was spirited away from the neighbourhood, and the lovers never met again. There are doubtful points in Mr. Birrell's story. Mary Burder, as the wife of a Nonconformist minister, died in 1866, in her seventy-seventh year. This lady, from whom doubtless either directly or indirectly the tradition was obtained, may have amplified and exaggerated a very innocent flirtation. One would like further evidence for the statement that when Mr. Bronte lost his wife in 1821 he asked his old sweetheart, Mary Burder, to become the mother of his six children, and that she answered 'no'. In any case, Mr. Bronte left Weatherfield in 1809 for a curacy at Dewsbury, and Dewsbury gossip also had much to say concerning the flirtations of its Irish curate. His next curacy, however, which was obtained in 1811, by a removal to Hartshead, near Huddersfield, brought flirtation for Mr. Bronte to a speedy end. In 1812, when thirty-three years of age, he married Miss Maria Branwell, of Penzance. Miss Branwell had only a few months before left her Cornish home for a visit to an uncle in Yorkshire. This uncle was a Mr. John Fennell, a clergyman of the Church of England, who had been a Methodist minister. To Methodism, indeed, the Cornish Branwells would seem to have been devoted at one time or another, for I have seen a copy of the Imitation inscribed 'M. Branwell, July 1807,' with the following title-page:—


The book was evidently brought by Mrs. Bronte from Penzance, and given by her to her husband or left among her effects. The poor little woman had been in her grave for five or six years when it came into the hands of one of her daughters, as we learn from Charlotte's hand-writing on the fly-leaf:—

'C. Bronte's book. This book was given to me in July 1826. It is not certainly known who is the author, but it is generally supposed that Thomas a Kempis is. I saw a reward of 10,000 pounds offered in the Leeds Mercury to any one who could find out for a certainty who is the author.'

The conjunction of the names of John Wesley, Maria Branwell, and Charlotte Bronte surely gives this little volume, 'price bound 1s.,' a singular interest!

But here I must refer to the letters which Maria Branwell wrote to her lover during the brief courtship. Mrs. Gaskell, it will be remembered, makes but one extract from this correspondence, which was handed to her by Mr. Bronte as part of the material for her memoir. Long years before, the little packet had been taken from Mr. Bronte's desk, for we find Charlotte writing to a friend on February 16th, 1850:—

'A few days since, a little incident happened which curiously touched me. Papa put into my hands a little packet of letters and papers, telling me that they were mamma's, and that I might read them. I did read them, in a frame of mind I cannot describe. The papers were yellow with time, all having been written before I was born. It was strange now to peruse, for the first time, the records of a mind whence my own sprang; and most strange, and at once sad and sweet, to find that mind of a truly fine, pure, and elevated order. They were written to papa before they were married. There is a rectitude, a refinement, a constancy, a modesty, a sense, a gentleness about them indescribable. I wish she had lived, and that I had known her.'

Yet another forty years or so and the little packet is in my possession. Handling, with a full sense of their sacredness, these letters, written more than eighty years ago by a good woman to her lover, one is tempted to hope that there is no breach of the privacy which should, even in our day, guide certain sides of life, in publishing the correspondence in its completeness. With the letters I find a little MS., which is also of pathetic interest. It is entitled 'The Advantages of Poverty in Religious Concerns,' and it is endorsed in the handwriting of Mr. Bronte, written, doubtless, many years afterwards:—

'The above was written by my dear wife, and is for insertion in one of the periodical publications. Keep it as a memorial of her.'

There is no reason to suppose that the MS. was ever published; there is no reason why any editor should have wished to publish it. It abounds in the obvious. At the same time, one notes that from both father and mother alike Charlotte Bronte and her sisters inherited some measure of the literary faculty. It is nothing to say that not one line of the father's or mother's would have been preserved had it not been for their gifted children. It is sufficient that the zest for writing was there, and that the intense passion for handling a pen, which seems to have been singularly strong in Charlotte Bronte, must have come to a great extent from a similar passion alike in father and mother. Mr. Bronte, indeed, may be counted a prolific author. He published, in all, four books, three pamphlets, and two sermons. Of his books, two were in verse and two in prose. Cottage Poems was published in 1811; The Rural Minstrel in 1812, the year of his marriage; The Cottage in the Wood in 1815; and The Maid of Killarney in 1818. After his wife's death he published no more books. Reading over these old-fashioned volumes now, one admits that they possess but little distinction. It has been pointed out, indeed, that one of the strongest lines in Jane Eyre—'To the finest fibre of my nature, sir.'—is culled from Mr. Bronte's verse. It is the one line of his that will live. Like his daughter Charlotte, Mr. Bronte is more interesting in his prose than in his poetry. The Cottage in the Wood; or, the Art of Becoming Rich and Happy, is a kind of religious novel—a spiritual Pamela, in which the reprobate pursuer of an innocent girl ultimately becomes converted and marries her. The Maid of Killarney; or, Albion and Flora is more interesting. Under the guise of a story it has something to say on many questions of importance. We know now why Charlotte never learnt to dance until she went to Brussels, and why children's games were unknown to her, for here are many mild diatribes against dancing and card-playing. The British Constitution and the British and Foreign Bible Society receive a considerable amount of criticism. But in spite of this didactic weakness there are one or two pieces of really picturesque writing, notably a description of an Irish wake, and a forcible account of the defence of a house against some Whiteboys. It is true enough that the books are merely of interest to collectors and that they live only by virtue of Patrick Bronte's remarkable children. But many a prolific writer of the day passes muster as a genius among his contemporaries upon as small a talent; and Mr. Bronte does not seem to have given himself any airs as an author. Thirty years were to elapse before there were to be any more books from this family of writers; but Jane Eyre owes something, we may be sure, to The Maid of Killarney.

Mr. Bronte, as I have said, married Maria Branwell in 1812. She was in her twenty-ninth year, and was one of five children—one son and four daughters—the father of whom, Mr. Thomas Branwell, had died in 1809. By a curious coincidence, another sister, Charlotte, was married in Penzance on the same day—the 18th of December 1812. {33} Before me are a bundle of samplers, worked by three of these Branwell sisters. Maria Branwell 'ended her sampler' April the 15th, 1791, and it is inscribed with the text, Flee from sin as from a serpent, for if thou comest too near to it, it will bite thee. The teeth thereof are as the teeth of a lion to slay the souls of men. Another sampler is by Elizabeth Branwell; another by Margaret, and another by Anne. These, some miniatures, and the book and papers to which I have referred, are all that remain to us as a memento of Mrs. Bronte, apart from the children that she bore to her husband. The miniatures, which are in the possession of Miss Branwell, of Penzance, are of Mr. and Mrs. Thomas Branwell—Charlotte Bronte's maternal grandfather and grandmother—and of Mrs. Bronte and her sister Elizabeth Branwell as children.

To return, however, to our bundle of love-letters. Comment is needless, if indeed comment or elucidation were possible at this distance of time.


'WOOD HOUSE GROVE, August 26th, 1812.

'MY DEAR FRIEND,—This address is sufficient to convince you that I not only permit, but approve of yours to me—I do indeed consider you as my friend; yet, when I consider how short a time I have had the pleasure of knowing you, I start at my own rashness, my heart fails, and did I not think that you would be disappointed and grieved at it, I believe I should be ready to spare myself the task of writing. Do not think that I am so wavering as to repent of what I have already said. No, believe me, this will never be the case, unless you give me cause for it. You need not fear that you have been mistaken in my character. If I know anything of myself, I am incapable of making an ungenerous return to the smallest degree of kindness, much less to you whose attentions and conduct have been so particularly obliging. I will frankly confess that your behaviour and what I have seen and heard of your character has excited my warmest esteem and regard, and be assured you shall never have cause to repent of any confidence you may think proper to place in me, and that it will always be my endeavour to deserve the good opinion which you have formed, although human weakness may in some instances cause me to fall short. In giving you these assurances I do not depend upon my own strength, but I look to Him who has been my unerring guide through life, and in whose continued protection and assistance I confidently trust.

'I thought on you much on Sunday, and feared you would not escape the rain. I hope you do not feel any bad effects from it? My cousin wrote you on Monday and expects this afternoon to be favoured with an answer. Your letter has caused me some foolish embarrassment, tho' in pity to my feelings they have been very sparing of their raillery.

'I will now candidly answer your questions. The politeness of others can never make me forget your kind attentions, neither can I walk our accustomed rounds without thinking on you, and, why should I be ashamed to add, wishing for your presence. If you knew what were my feelings whilst writing this you would pity me. I wish to write the truth and give you satisfaction, yet fear to go too far, and exceed the bounds of propriety. But whatever I may say or write I will never deceive you, or exceed the truth. If you think I have not placed the utmost confidence in you, consider my situation, and ask yourself if I have not confided in you sufficiently, perhaps too much. I am very sorry that you will not have this till after to-morrow, but it was out of my power to write sooner. I rely on your goodness to pardon everything in this which may appear either too free or too stiff; and beg that you will consider me as a warm and faithful friend.

'My uncle, aunt, and cousin unite in kind regards.

'I must now conclude with again declaring myself to be yours sincerely,



'WOOD HOUSE GROVE, September 5th, 1812.

MY DEAREST FRIEND,—I have just received your affectionate and very welcome letter, and although I shall not be able to send this until Monday, yet I cannot deny myself the pleasure of writing a few lines this evening, no longer considering it a task, but a pleasure, next to that of reading yours. I had the pleasure of hearing from Mr. Fennell, who was at Bradford on Thursday afternoon, that you had rested there all night. Had you proceeded, I am sure the walk would have been too much for you; such excessive fatigue, often repeated, must injure the strongest constitution. I am rejoiced to find that our forebodings were without cause. I had yesterday a letter from a very dear friend of mine, and had the satisfaction to learn by it that all at home are well. I feel with you the unspeakable obligations I am under to a merciful Providence—my heart swells with gratitude, and I feel an earnest desire that I may be enabled to make some suitable return to the Author of all my blessings. In general, I think I am enabled to cast my care upon Him, and then I experience a calm and peaceful serenity of mind which few things can destroy. In all my addresses to the throne of grace I never ask a blessing for myself but I beg the same for you, and considering the important station which you are called to fill, my prayers are proportionately fervent that you may be favoured with all the gifts and graces requisite for such calling. O my dear friend, let us pray much that we may live lives holy and useful to each other and all around us!

'Monday morn.—My cousin and I were yesterday at Coverley church, where we heard Mr. Watman preach a very excellent sermon from "learn of Me, for I am meek and lowly of heart." He displayed the character of our Saviour in a most affecting and amiable light. I scarcely ever felt more charmed with his excellencies, more grateful for his condescension, or more abased at my own unworthiness; but I lament that my heart is so little retentive of those pleasing and profitable impressions.

'I pitied you in your solitude, and felt sorry that it was not in my power to enliven it. Have you not been too hasty in informing your friends of a certain event? Why did you not leave them to guess a little longer? I shrink from the idea of its being known to every body. I do, indeed, sometimes think of you, but I will not say how often, lest I raise your vanity; and we sometimes talk of you and the doctor. But I believe I should seldom mention your name myself were it not now and then introduced by my cousin. I have never mentioned a word of what is past to any body. Had I thought this necessary I should have requested you to do it. But I think there is no need, as by some means or other they seem to have a pretty correct notion how matters stand betwixt us; and as their hints, etc., meet with no contradiction from me, my silence passes for confirmation. Mr. Fennell has not neglected to give me some serious and encouraging advice, and my aunt takes frequent opportunities of dropping little sentences which I may turn to some advantage. I have long had reason to know that the present state of things would give pleasure to all parties. Your ludicrous account of the scene at the Hermitage was highly diverting, we laughed heartily at it; but I fear it will not produce all that compassion in Miss Fennell's breast which you seem to wish. I will now tell you what I was thinking about and doing at the time you mention. I was then toiling up the hill with Jane and Mrs. Clapham to take our tea at Mr. Tatham's, thinking on the evening when I first took the same walk with you, and on the change which had taken place in my circumstances and views since then—not wholly without a wish that I had your arm to assist me, and your conversation to shorten the walk. Indeed, all our walks have now an insipidity in them which I never thought they would have possessed. When I work, if I wish to get forward I may be glad that you are at a distance. Jane begs me to assure you of her kind regards. Mr. Morgan is expected to be here this evening. I must assume a bold and steady countenance to meet his attacks!

'I have now written a pretty long letter without reserve or caution, and if all the sentiments of my heart are not laid open to you, believe me it is not because I wish them to be concealed, for I hope there is nothing there that would give you pain or displeasure. My most sincere and earnest wishes are for your happiness and welfare, for this includes my own. Pray much for me that I may be made a blessing and not a hindrance to you. Let me not interrupt your studies nor intrude on that time which ought to be dedicated to better purposes. Forgive my freedom, my dearest friend, and rest assured that you are and ever will be dear to


'Write very soon.'


'WOOD HOUSE GROVE, September 11th, 1812.

'MY DEAREST FRIEND,—Having spent the day yesterday at Miry Shay, a place near Bradford, I had not got your letter till my return in the evening, and consequently have only a short time this morning to write if I send it by this post. You surely do not think you trouble me by writing? No, I think I may venture to say if such were your opinion you would trouble me no more. Be assured, your letters are and I hope always will be received with extreme pleasure and read with delight. May our Gracious Father mercifully grant the fulfilment of your prayers! Whilst we depend entirely on Him for happiness, and receive each other and all our blessings as from His hands, what can harm us or make us miserable? Nothing temporal or spiritual.

'Jane had a note from Mr. Morgan last evening, and she desires me to tell you that the Methodists' service in church hours is to commence next Sunday week. You may expect frowns and hard words from her when you make your appearance here again, for, if you recollect, she gave you a note to carry to the Doctor, and he has never received it. What have you done with it? If you can give a good account of it you may come to see us as soon as you please and be sure of a hearty welcome from all parties. Next Wednesday we have some thoughts, if the weather be fine, of going to Kirkstall Abbey once more, and I suppose your presence will not make the walk less agreeable to any of us.

'The old man is come and waits for my letter. In expectation of seeing you on Monday or Tuesday next,—I remain, yours faithfully and affectionately,

'M. B.'


'WOOD HOUSE GROVE, September 18th, 1812.

'How readily do I comply with my dear Mr. B's request! You see, you have only to express your wishes and as far as my power extends I hesitate not to fulfil them. My heart tells me that it will always be my pride and pleasure to contribute to your happiness, nor do I fear that this will ever be inconsistent with my duty as a Christian. My esteem for you and my confidence in you is so great, that I firmly believe you will never exact anything from me which I could not conscientiously perform. I shall in future look to you for assistance and instruction whenever I may need them, and hope you will never withhold from me any advice or caution you may see necessary.

['For some years I have been perfectly my own mistress, subject to no control whatever—so far from it, that my sisters who are many years older than myself, and even my dear mother, used to consult me in every case of importance, and scarcely ever doubted the propriety of my opinions and actions. Perhaps you will be ready to accuse me of vanity in mentioning this, but you must consider that I do not boast of it, I have many times felt it a disadvantage; and although, I thank God, it never led me into error, yet in circumstances of perplexity and doubt, I have deeply felt the want of a guide and instructor.] {39}

'At such times I have seen and felt the necessity of supernatural aid, and by fervent applications to a throne of grace I have experienced that my heavenly Father is able and willing to supply the place of every earthly friend. I shall now no longer feel this want, this sense of helpless weakness, for I believe a kind Providence has intended that I shall find in you every earthly friend united; nor do I fear to trust myself under your protection, or shrink from your control. It is pleasant to be subject to those we love, especially when they never exert their authority but for the good of the subject. How few would write in this way! But I do not fear that you will make a bad use of it. You tell me to write my thoughts, and thus as they occur I freely let my pen run away with them.

'Sat. morn.—I do not know whether you dare show your face here again or not after the blunder you have committed. When we got to the house on Thursday evening, even before we were within the doors, we found that Mr. and Mrs. Bedford had been there, and that they had requested you to mention their intention of coming—a single hint of which you never gave! Poor I too came in for a share in the hard words which were bestowed upon you, for they all agreed that I was the cause of it. Mr. Fennell said you were certainly mazed, and talked of sending you to York, etc. And even I begin to think that this, together with the note, bears some marks of insanity! However, I shall suspend my judgment until I hear what excuse you can make for yourself, I suppose you will be quite ready to make one of some kind or another.

'Yesterday I performed a difficult and yet a pleasing task in writing to my sisters. I thought I never should accomplish the end for which the letter was designed; but after a good deal of perambulation I gave them to understand the nature of my engagement with you, with the motives and inducements which led me to form such an engagement, and that in consequence of it I should not see them again so soon as I had intended. I concluded by expressing a hope that they would not be less pleased with the information than were my friends here. I think they will not suspect me to have made a wrong step, their partiality for me is so great. And their affection for me will lead them to rejoice in my welfare, even though it should diminish somewhat of their own. I shall think the time tedious till I hear from you, and must beg you will write as soon as possible. Pardon me, my dear friend, if I again caution you against giving way to a weakness of which I have heard you complain. When you find your heart oppressed and your thoughts too much engrossed by one subject, let prayer be your refuge—this you no doubt know by experience to be a sure remedy, and a relief from every care and error. Oh, that we had more of the spirit of prayer! I feel that I need it much.

'Breakfast-time is near, I must bid you farewell for the time, but rest assured you will always share in the prayers and heart of your own


'Mr. Fennell has crossed my letter to my sisters. With his usual goodness he has supplied my deficiencies, and spoken of me in terms of commendation of which I wish I were more worthy. Your character he has likewise displayed in the most favourable light; and I am sure they will not fail to love and esteem you though unknown.

'All here unite in kind regards. Adieu.'


'WOOD HOUSE GROVE, September 23rd, 1812.

'MY DEAREST FRIEND,—Accept of my warmest thanks for your kind affectionate letter, in which you have rated mine so highly that I really blush to read my own praises. Pray that God would enable me to deserve all the kindness you manifest towards me, and to act consistently with the good opinion you entertain of me—then I shall indeed be a helpmeet for you, and to be this shall at all times be the care and study of my future life. We have had to-day a large party of the Bradford folks—the Rands, Fawcets, Dobsons, etc. My thoughts often strayed from the company, and I would have gladly left them to follow my present employment. To write to and receive letters from my friends were always among my chief enjoyments, but none ever gave me so much pleasure as those which I receive from and write to my newly adopted friend. I am by no means sorry you have given up all thought of the house you mentioned. With my cousin's help I have made known your plans to my uncle and aunt. Mr. Fennell immediately coincided with that which respects your present abode, and observed that it had occurred to him before, but that he had not had an opportunity of mentioning it to you. My aunt did not fall in with it so readily, but her objections did not appear to me to be very weighty. For my own part, I feel all the force of your arguments in favour of it, and the objections are so trifling that they can scarcely be called objections. My cousin is of the same opinion. Indeed, you have such a method of considering and digesting a plan before you make it known to your friends, that you run very little risque of incurring their disapprobations, or of having your schemes frustrated. I greatly admire your talents this way—may they never be perverted by being used in a bad cause! And whilst they are exerted for good purposes, may they prove irresistible! If I may judge from your letter, this middle scheme is what would please you best, so that if there should arise no new objection to it, perhaps it will prove the best you can adopt. However, there is yet sufficient time to consider it further. I trust in this and every other circumstance you will be guided by the wisdom that cometh from above—a portion of which I doubt not has guided you hitherto. A belief of this, added to the complete satisfaction with which I read your reasonings on the subject, made me a ready convert to your opinions. I hope nothing will occur to induce you to change your intention of spending the next week at Bradford. Depend on it you shall have letter for letter; but may we not hope to see you here during that time, surely you will not think the way more tedious than usual? I have not heard any particulars respecting the church since you were at Bradford. Mr. Rawson is now there, but Mr. Hardy and his brother are absent, and I understand nothing decisive can be accomplished without them. Jane expects to hear something more to-morrow. Perhaps ere this reaches you, you will have received some intelligence respecting it from Mr. Morgan. If you have no other apology to make for your blunders than that which you have given me, you must not expect to be excused, for I have not mentioned it to any one, so that however it may clear your character in my opinion it is not likely to influence any other person. Little, very little, will induce me to cover your faults with a veil of charity. I already feel a kind of participation in all that concerns you. All praises and censures bestowed on you must equally affect me. Your joys and sorrows must be mine. Thus shall the one be increased and the other diminished. While this is the case we shall, I hope, always find "life's cares" to be "comforts." And may we feel every trial and distress, for such must be our lot at times, bind us nearer to God and to each other! My heart earnestly joins in your comprehensive prayers. I trust they will unitedly ascend to a throne of grace, and through the Redeemer's merits procure for us peace and happiness here and a life of eternal felicity hereafter. Oh, what sacred pleasure there is in the idea of spending an eternity together in perfect and uninterrupted bliss! This should encourage us to the utmost exertion and fortitude. But whilst I write, my own words condemn me—I am ashamed of my own indolence and backwardness to duty. May I be more careful, watchful, and active than I have ever yet been!

'My uncle, aunt, and Jane request me to send their kind regards, and they will be happy to see you any time next week whenever you can conveniently come down from Bradford. Let me hear from you soon—I shall expect a letter on Monday. Farewell, my dearest friend. That you may be happy in yourself and very useful to all around you is the daily earnest prayer of yours truly,



'WOOD HOUSE GROVE, October 3rd, 1812.

'How could my dear friend so cruelly disappoint me? Had he known how much I had set my heart on having a letter this afternoon, and how greatly I felt the disappointment when the bag arrived and I found there was nothing for me, I am sure he would not have permitted a little matter to hinder him. But whatever was the reason of your not writing, I cannot believe it to have been neglect or unkindness, therefore I do not in the least blame you, I only beg that in future you will judge of my feelings by your own, and if possible never let me expect a letter without receiving one. You know in my last which I sent you at Bradford I said it would not be in my power to write the next day, but begged I might be favoured with hearing from you on Saturday, and you will not wonder that I hoped you would have complied with this request. It has just occurred to my mind that it is possible this note was not received; if so, you have felt disappointed likewise; but I think this is not very probable, as the old man is particularly careful, and I never heard of his losing anything committed to his care. The note which I allude to was written on Thursday morning, and you should have received it before you left Bradford. I forget what its contents were, but I know it was written in haste and concluded abruptly. Mr. Fennell talks of visiting Mr. Morgan to-morrow. I cannot lose the opportunity of sending this to the office by him as you will then have it a day sooner, and if you have been daily expecting to hear from me, twenty-four hours are of some importance. I really am concerned to find that this, what many would deem trifling incident, has so much disturbed my mind. I fear I should not have slept in peace to-night if I had been deprived of this opportunity of relieving my mind by scribbling to you, and now I lament that you cannot possibly receive this till Monday. May I hope that there is now some intelligence on the way to me? or must my patience be tried till I see you on Wednesday? But what nonsense am I writing? Surely after this you can have no doubt that you possess all my heart. Two months ago I could not possibly have believed that you would ever engross so much of my thoughts and affections, and far less could I have thought that I should be so forward as to tell you so. I believe I must forbid you to come here again unless you can assure me that you will not steal any more of my regard. Enough of this; I must bring my pen to order, for if I were to suffer myself to revise what I have written I should be tempted to throw it in the fire, but I have determined that you shall see my whole heart. I have not yet informed you that I received your serio-comic note on Thursday afternoon, for which accept my thanks.

'My cousin desires me to say that she expects a long poem on her birthday, when she attains the important age of twenty-one. Mr. Fennell joins with us in requesting that you will not fail to be here on Wednesday, as it is decided that on Thursday we are to go to the Abbey if the weather, etc., permits.

'Sunday morning.—I am not sure if I do right in adding a few lines to-day, but knowing that it will give you pleasure I wish to finish that you may have it to-morrow. I will just say that if my feeble prayers can aught avail, you will find your labours this day both pleasant and profitable, as they concern your own soul and the souls of those to whom you preach. I trust in your hours of retirement you will not forget to pray for me. I assure you I need every assistance to help me forward; I feel that my heart is more ready to attach itself to earth than heaven. I sometimes think there never was a mind so dull and inactive as mine is with regard to spiritual things.

'I must not forget to thank you for the pamphlets and tracts which you sent us from Bradford. I hope we shall make good use of them. I must now take my leave. I believe I need scarcely assure you that I am yours truly and very affectionately,



'WOOD HOUSE GROVE, October 21st 1812.

'With the sincerest pleasure do I retire from company to converse with him whom I love beyond all others. Could my beloved friend see my heart he would then be convinced that the affection I bear him is not at all inferior to that which he feels for me—indeed I sometimes think that in truth and constancy it excels. But do not think from this that I entertain any suspicions of your sincerity—no, I firmly believe you to be sincere and generous, and doubt not in the least that you feel all you express. In return, I entreat that you will do me the justice to believe that you have not only a very large portion of my affection and esteem, but all that I am capable of feeling, and from henceforth measure my feelings by your own. Unless my love for you were very great how could I so contentedly give up my home and all my friends—a home I loved so much that I have often thought nothing could bribe me to renounce it for any great length of time together, and friends with whom I have been so long accustomed to share all the vicissitudes of joy and sorrow? Yet these have lost their weight, and though I cannot always think of them without a sigh, yet the anticipation of sharing with you all the pleasures and pains, the cares and anxieties of life, of contributing to your comfort and becoming the companion of your pilgrimage, is more delightful to me than any other prospect which this world can possibly present. I expected to have heard from you on Saturday last, and can scarcely refrain from thinking you unkind to keep me in suspense two whole days longer than was necessary, but it is well that my patience should be sometimes tried, or I might entirely lose it, and this would be a loss indeed! Lately I have experienced a considerable increase of hopes and fears, which tend to destroy the calm uniformity of my life. These are not unwelcome, as they enable me to discover more of the evils and errors of my heart, and discovering them I hope through grace to be enabled to correct and amend them. I am sorry to say that my cousin has had a very serious cold, but to-day I think she is better; her cough seems less, and I hope we shall be able to come to Bradford on Saturday afternoon, where we intend to stop till Tuesday. You may be sure we shall not soon think of taking such another journey as the last. I look forward with pleasure to Monday, when I hope to meet with you, for as we are no longer twain separation is painful, and to meet must ever be attended with joy.

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