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Title: Charlotte Brontë - A Monograph
Author: Reid, T. Wemyss
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Charlotte Brontë - A Monograph" ***

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[Illustration: REV. PATRICK BRONTË.]


CHARLOTTE BRONTË.

A Monograph.


BY
T. WEMYSS REID.


_WITH ILLUSTRATIONS._


London:
MACMILLAN AND CO.
1877.

[_All Rights Reserved._]


_THIRD EDITION._

CHARLES DICKENS AND EVANS, CRYSTAL PALACE PRESS.



TO THE RIGHT HONOURABLE
THE LORD HOUGHTON, D.C.L. F.R.S. &c.
THIS MEMORIAL OF A LIFE
WHICH HAS ADDED A NEW GLORY TO THE
LITERARY HISTORY OF YORKSHIRE
IS RESPECTFULLY INSCRIBED BY HIS GRATEFUL FRIEND
THE AUTHOR.



PREFACE.


I have spoken so freely in the opening chapter of this Monograph of
the circumstances under which it has been written, that very little
need be said by way of introduction here. This attempt to throw some
fresh light upon the character of one of the most remarkable women of
our age has not been a task lightly taken up, or hastily performed.
The life and genius of Charlotte Brontë had long engaged my attention
before I undertook, at the request of the lady to whom I am indebted
for most of the original materials I have employed in these pages, the
work which I have now completed. In executing that work I have had
ample reason to feel and acknowledge my own deficiencies. With the
knowledge that I was treading in the footsteps of so consummate a
literary artist as Mrs. Gaskell, I have been compelled to refrain from
writing not a few of the chapters in Charlotte Brontë's life which are
necessary to a complete acquaintance with her character, simply
because they had been written so well already. And whilst I
necessarily shrink from any appearance of rivalry with Charlotte
Brontë's original biographer, I have been additionally oppressed by
the feeling that the pen which can do full justice to one of the most
moving and noble stories in English literature has not yet been found.
But I have been sustained both by the sympathy of many friends, known
and unknown, who share my feelings with regard to the Brontës, and by
the invaluable assistance rendered to me by those who were intimately
acquainted with the household at Haworth Parsonage. Foremost among
these must be mentioned Miss Ellen Nussey, the schoolfellow and
life-long friend of Charlotte Brontë, who has freely placed at my
disposal all the letters and other materials she possessed from which
any light could be thrown upon the career of her old companion, and
who has in addition aided me with much valuable counsel and advice
in the decision of many difficult points. Miss Wooler, who was
Charlotte's attached teacher, and who still happily survives in a
green old age, has also placed me under obligations by her readiness
to supply me with her pupil's letters to herself. Nor must I omit
to mention my indebtedness to Lord Houghton for information upon
questions which could only be decided by those who met "Currer Bell"
during her brief visits to London at a time when she was one of the
literary lions of society.

The additions made in this volume to the Monograph as it originally
appeared in _Macmillan's Magazine_ are numerous and considerable.
It should be mentioned that a few of the letters now published (about
twenty) were printed some years ago in an American magazine now
extinct. The remainder, and by far the larger portion, will be
entirely new to readers alike in England and the United States.

HEADINGLEY HILL, LEEDS,
_February, 1877_.

[Illustration:

In Memory of

Maria, wife of the Rev'd P. Brontë. A.B., Minister of Haworth. She
died Sept'r 15th, 1821, in the 59th year of her age. Also of Maria,
their daughter; who died May 6th, 1825, in the 12th year of her age.
Also of Elizabeth, their Daughter; who died June 15th, 1825, in the
11th year of her age. Also of Patrick Branwell, their son; who died
Sept'r 24th, 1848, aged 31 years. Also of Emily Jane, their daughter;
who died Dec'r 19th, 1848, aged 30 years. Also of Anne, their
daughter; who died May 28th, 1849, aged 29 years. She was buried at
the Old Church, Scarborough. Also of Charlotte, their daughter; wife
of the Rev'd A. B. Nicolls, B.A. She died March 31st, 1855, in the
39th year of her age. Also of the aforementioned Rev'd P. Brontë,
A.B., who died June 7th, 1861, in the 85th year of his age; having
been Incumbent of Haworth for upwards of 41 years.

"_The sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law;
but thanks be to God which giveth us the victory through our Lord
Jesus Christ._" 1 Cor. xv. 56, 57.

THE NEW BRONTË TABLET.]



CONTENTS.


                                                                 PAGE

CHAPTER I.

INTRODUCTORY                                                        1

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

CHAPTER II.

THE STORY OF "JANE EYRE"                                            7

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

CHAPTER III.

EARLY HISTORY OF THE BRONTËS                                       14

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

CHAPTER IV.

THE FAMILY AT HAWORTH                                              29

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

CHAPTER V.

LIFE AS A GOVERNESS                                                45

Governess Life--A Mental Struggle--First offer of Marriage--Sympathy
with others--Trials of her own Life.

CHAPTER VI.

THE TURNING-POINT                                                  57

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

CHAPTER VII.

AUTHORSHIP AND BEREAVEMENT                                         73

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

CHAPTER VIII.

"SHIRLEY"                                                          99

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

CHAPTER IX.

LONELINESS AND FAME                                               112

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

CHAPTER X.

"VILLETTE"                                                        127

"Villette" begun--Life and Letters whilst writing it--Great
Depression of Spirits--Difficulty in writing--"Lucy Snowe"--
"Villette" finished: its Private Reception; the Public Verdict:
Waiting for _The Times_.

CHAPTER XI.

MARRIAGE AND DEATH                                                148

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

CHAPTER XII.

POSTHUMOUS HONOURS                                                183

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

CHAPTER XIII.

THE BRONTË NOVELS                                                 201

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

CHAPTER XIV.

CONCLUSION                                                        228

Charlotte's Character--Sufferings and Work.



LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS.


REV. PATRICK BRONTË                                     _Frontispiece_

                                                                 PAGE

THE NEW BRONTË TABLET                                               x

HAWORTH VILLAGE                                          _Facing_  18

THE HOUSE THAT CHARLOTTE VISITED                                   44

THE ROE HEAD SCHOOL                                      _Facing_  46

HAWORTH PARSONAGE AND GRAVEYARD                             "      82

THE "FIELD HEAD" OF SHIRLEY                                 "     101

THE "BRIARFIELD" CHURCH OF SHIRLEY                          "     106

FAC-SIMILE LETTER OF CHARLOTTE BRONTË                       "     134

HAWORTH CHURCH                                              "     172

INTERIOR OF HAWORTH CHURCH                                  "     191

ORGAN LOFT OVER THE BRONTË TABLET AND PEW                         200



To the Memory of the Author of "Jane Eyre."


    Beside her sisters lay her down to rest,
    By the lone church that stands amid the moors;
    And let her grave be wet with moorland showers;
    Let moorland larks sing o'er her mouldering breast!
    Hers was the keen true spirit, that confest
    That she was nurtured in no garden bowers,
    Nor taught to deck her brow with cultured flowers,
    Nor by the soft and summer wind carest.
    Her words came o'er us, as in harvest-tide
    Come the swift rain-clouds o'er her native skies,
    Scattering the thin sheaves by the heather's side;
    So fared it with our tame hypocrisies:
    But lo! the clouds are past, and far and wide
    The purple ridges glow beneath our eyes.

W. H. CHARLTON.

_Hesleyside, 1855._



CHARLOTTE BRONTË.



I.

INTRODUCTORY.


It is just twenty years since one of the most fascinating and artistic
biographies in the English language was given to the world. Mrs.
Gaskell's "Life of Charlotte Brontë" no sooner appeared than it took
firm possession of the public mind; and it has ever since retained its
hold upon all who take an interest in the career of one who has been
called, in language which is far less extravagant in reality than in
appearance, "the foremost woman of her age." Written with admirable
skill, in a style at once powerful and picturesque, and with a
sympathy such as only one artist could feel for another, it richly
merited the popularity which it gained and has kept. Mrs. Gaskell,
however, laboured under one serious disadvantage, which no longer
exists in anything like the same degree in which it did twenty years
ago. Writing but a few months after Charlotte Brontë had been laid in
her grave, and whilst the father to whom she was indebted for so much
that was characteristic in her life and genius was still living, Mrs.
Gaskell had necessarily to deal with many circumstances which affected
living persons too closely to be handled in detail. Even as it was she
involved herself in serious embarrassment by some of her allusions to
incidents connected more or less nearly with the life of Charlotte
Brontë; corrections and retractations were forced upon her, the later
editions of the book differed considerably from the first, and at last
she was compelled to announce that any further correspondence
concerning it must be conducted through her solicitors. Thus she was
crippled in her attempt to paint a full-length picture of a remarkable
life, and her story was what Mr. Thackeray called it, "necessarily
incomplete, though most touching and admirable."

There was, moreover, another matter in which Mrs. Gaskell was at
fault. She seems to have set out with the determination that her work
should be pitched in a particular key. She had formed her own
conception of Charlotte Brontë's character, and with the passion of
the true artist and the ability of the practised writer she made
everything bend to that conception. The result was that whilst she
produced a singularly striking and effective portrait of her heroine,
it was not one which was absolutely satisfactory to those who were the
oldest and closest friends of Charlotte Brontë. If the truth must be
told, the life of the author of "Jane Eyre" was by no means so joyless
as the world now believes it to have been. That during the later years
in which this wonderful woman produced the works by which she has made
her name famous, her career was clouded by sorrow and oppressed by
anguish both mental and physical, is perfectly true. That she was made
what she was in the furnace of affliction cannot be doubted; but it is
not true that she was throughout her whole life the victim of that
extreme depression of spirits which afflicted her at rare intervals,
and which Mrs. Gaskell has presented to us with so much vividness and
emphasis. On the contrary, her letters show that at any rate up to the
time of her leaving for Brussels, she was a happy and high-spirited
girl, and that even to the very last she had the faculty of overcoming
her sorrows by means of that steadfast courage which was her most
precious possession, and to which she was so much indebted for her
successive victories over trials and disappointments of no ordinary
character. Those who imagine that Charlotte Brontë's spirit was in any
degree a morbid or melancholy one do her a singular injustice.
Intensely reserved in her converse with all save the members of her
own household, and the solitary friend to whom she clung with such
passionate affection throughout her life, she revealed to these

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

which were and have remained hidden from the world, but which must be
seen by those who would know what Charlotte Brontë really was as a
woman. Alas! those who knew her and her sisters well during their
brief lives are few in number now. The Brontës who plucked the flower
of fame out of the thorny waste in which their lots were cast survive
in their books and in Mrs. Gaskell's biography. But the Brontës, the
women who lived and suffered thirty years ago, and whose characters
were instinct with so rare and lofty a nobility, so keen a
sensitiveness, so pure a nobility, are known no longer.

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

These letters lie before me as I write. Here are the faded sheets of
1832, written in the school-girl's hand, filled with the school-girl's
extravagant terms of endearment, yet enriched here and there by
sentences which are worthy to live--some of which have already,
indeed, taken their place in the literature of England; and here is
the faint pencil note written to "my own dear Nell" out of the
writer's "dreary sick-bed," which was so soon to be the bed of death!
Between the first letter and that last sad note what outpourings of
the mind of Charlotte Brontë are embodied in this precious pile of
cherished manuscript! Over five-and-twenty years of a blameless life
this artless record stretches. So far as Charlotte Brontë's history as
a woman, and the history of her family are concerned, it is complete
for the whole of that period, the only breaks in the story being those
which occurred when she and her friend were together. Of her early
literary ventures we find little here, for even to her friend she did
not dare in the first instance to betray the novel joys which filled
her soul when she at last discovered her true vocation, and spoke to a
listening world; but of her later life as an author, of her labours
from the day when she owned "Jane Eyre" as the child of her brain,
there are constant and abundant traces. Here, too, we read all her
secret sorrows, her hopes, her fears, her communings with her own
heart. Many things there are in this record too sacred to be given to
the world. Even now it is with a tender and a reverent hand that one
must touch these "noble letters of the dead;" but those who are
allowed to see them, to read them and ponder over them, must feel as I
do, that the soul of Charlotte Brontë stands revealed in these
unpublished pages, and that only here can we see what manner of woman
this really was who in the solitude and obscurity of the Yorkshire
hill-parsonage built up for herself an imperishable name, enriched the
literature of England with treasures of priceless value, and withal
led for nearly forty years a life that was made sacred and noble by
the self-repression and patient endurance which were its most marked
characteristics.

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



II.

THE STORY OF "JANE EYRE."


In the late autumn of 1847 the reading public of London suddenly found
itself called to admire and wonder at a novel which, without
preliminary puff of any kind, had been placed in its hands. "'Jane
Eyre,' by Currer Bell," became the theme of every tongue, and society
exhausted itself in conjectures as to the identity of the author, and
the real meaning of the book. It was no ordinary book, and it produced
no ordinary sensation. Disfigured here and there by certain crudities
of thought and by a clumsiness of expression which betrayed the hand
of a novice, it was nevertheless lit up from the first page to the
last by the fire of a genius the depth and power of which none but the
dullest could deny. The hand of its author seized upon the public mind
whether it would or no, and society was led captive, in the main
against its will, by one who had little of the prevailing spirit of
the age, and who either knew nothing of conventionalism, or despised
it with heart and soul. Fierce was the revolt against the influence of
this new-comer in the wide arena of letters, who had stolen in, as it
were in the night, and taken the citadel by surprise. But for the
moment all opposition was beaten down by sheer force of genius, and
"Jane Eyre" made her way, compelling recognition, wherever men and
women were capable of seeing and admitting a rare and extraordinary
intellectual supremacy. "How well I remember," says Mr. Thackeray,
"the delight and wonder and pleasure with which I read 'Jane Eyre,'
sent to me by an author whose name and sex were then alike unknown to
me; and how with my own work pressing upon me, I could not, having
taken the volumes up, lay them down until they were read through." It
was the same everywhere. Even those who saw nothing to commend in the
story, those who revolted against its free employment of great
passions and great griefs, and those who were elaborately critical
upon its author's ignorance of the ways of polite society, had to
confess themselves bound by the spell of the magician. "Jane Eyre"
gathered admirers fast; and for every admirer she had a score of
readers.

Those who remember that winter of nine-and-twenty years ago know how
something like a "Jane Eyre" fever raged among us. The story which had
suddenly discovered a glory in uncomeliness, a grandeur in
overmastering passion, moulded the fashion of the hour, and "Rochester
airs" and "Jane Eyre graces" became the rage. The book, and its fame
and influence, travelled beyond the seas with a speed which in those
days was marvellous. In sedate New England homes the history of the
English governess was read with an avidity which was not surpassed in
London itself, and within a few months of the publication of the novel
it was famous throughout two continents. No such triumph has been
achieved in our time by any other English author; nor can it be said,
upon the whole, that many triumphs have been better merited. It
happened that this anonymous story, bearing the unmistakable marks of
an unpractised hand, was put before the world at the very moment when
another great masterpiece of fiction was just beginning to gain the
ear of the English public. But at the moment of publication "Jane
Eyre" swept past "Vanity Fair" with a marvellous and impetuous speed
which left Thackeray's work in the distant background; and its unknown
author in a few weeks gained a wider reputation than that which one of
the master minds of the century had been engaged for long years in
building up.

The reaction from this exaggerated fame, of course, set in, and it was
sharp and severe. The blots in the book were easily hit; its author's
unfamiliarity with the stage business of the play was evident
enough--even to dunces; so it was a simple matter to write smart
articles at the expense of a novelist who laid himself open to the
whole battery of conventional criticism. In "Jane Eyre" there was much
painting of souls in their naked reality; the writer had gauged depths
which the plummet of the common story-teller could never have sounded,
and conflicting passions were marshalled on the stage with a masterful
daring which Shakespeare might have envied; but the costumes, the
conventional by-play, the scenery, even the wording of the dialogue,
were poor enough in all conscience. The merest playwright or reviewer
could have done better in these matters--as the unknown author was
soon made to understand. Additional piquancy was given to the attack
by the appearance, at the very time when the "Jane Eyre" fever was at
its height, of two other novels, written by persons whose sexless
names proclaimed them the brothers or the sisters of Currer Bell.
Human nature is not so much changed from what it was in 1847 that one
need apologise for the readiness with which the reading world in
general, and the critical world in particular, adopted the theory that
"Wuthering Heights" and "Agnes Grey" were earlier works from the pen
which had given them "Jane Eyre." In "Wuthering Heights" some of the
faults of the other book were carried to an extreme, and some of its
conspicuous merits were distorted and exaggerated until they became
positive blemishes; whilst "Agnes Grey" was a feeble and commonplace
tale which it was easy to condemn. So the author of "Jane Eyre" was
compelled to bear not only her own burden, but that of the two stories
which had followed the successful novel; and the reviewers--ignorant
of the fact that they were killing three birds at a single
shot--rejoiced in the larger scope which was thus afforded to their
critical energy.

Here and there, indeed, a manful fight on behalf of Currer Bell was
made by writers who knew nothing but the name and the book. "It is soul
speaking to soul," cried _Fraser's Magazine_ in December, 1847; "it is
not a book for prudes," added _Blackwood_, a few months later; "it is
not a book for effeminate and tasteless men; it is for the enjoyment of
a feeling heart and critical understanding." But in the main the
verdict of the critics was adverse. It was discovered that the story
was improper and immoral; it was said to be filled with descriptions of
"courtship after the manner of kangaroos," and to be impregnated with a
"heathenish doctrine of religion;" whilst there went up a perfect
chorus of reprobation directed against its "coarseness of language,"
"laxity of tone," "horrid taste," and "sheer rudeness and vulgarity."
From the book to the author was of course an easy transition. London
had been bewildered, and its literary quidnuncs utterly puzzled, when
such a story first came forth inscribed with an unknown name. Many had
been the rumours eagerly passed from mouth to mouth as to the real
identity of Currer Bell. Upon one point there had, indeed, been
something like unanimity among the critics, and the story of "Jane
Eyre" had been accepted as something more than a romance, as a genuine
autobiography in which real and sorrowful experiences were related.
Even the most hostile critic of the book had acknowledged that "it
contained the story of struggles with such intense suffering and
sorrow, as it was sufficient misery to know that any one had conceived,
far less passed through." Where then was this wonderful governess to be
found? In what obscure hiding-place could the forlorn soul, whose cry
of agony had stirred the hearts of readers everywhere, be discovered?
We may smile now, with more of sadness than of bitterness, at the base
calumnies of the hour, put forth in mere wantonness and levity by a
people ever seeking to know some new thing, and to taste some new
sensation. The favourite theory of the day--a theory duly elaborated
and discussed in the most orthodox and respectable of the reviews--was
that Jane Eyre and Becky Sharp were merely different portraits of the
same character; and that their original was to be found in the person
of a discarded mistress of Mr. Thackeray, who had furnished the great
author with a model for the heroine of "Vanity Fair," and had revenged
herself upon him by painting him as the Rochester of "Jane Eyre!" It
was after dwelling upon this marvellous theory of the authorship of the
story that the _Quarterly Review_, with Pecksniffian charity, calmly
summed up its conclusions in these memorable words: "If we ascribe the
book to a woman at all, we have no alternative but to ascribe it to one
who has for some sufficient reason long forfeited the society of her
own sex."

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

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



III.

EARLY HISTORY OF THE BRONTËS.


There is a striking passage in Mr. Greg's "Enigmas of Life," in which
the influence of external circumstances upon the inner lives of men
and women is dwelt upon somewhat minutely, and, by way of example, the
connection between religious "conviction" and an imperfect digestion
is carefully traced out. That we are the creatures of circumstance can
hardly be doubted, nor that our destinies are moulded, just as the
coral reefs are built, by the action of innumerable influences, each
in itself apparently trivial and insignificant. But the habit which
leads men to find a full explanation of the lives of those who have
attained exceptional distinction in the circumstances amid which their
lot has been cast cannot be said to be a very wholesome or happy one.
Few have suffered more cruelly from this trick than the Brontë family.
Graphic pictures have been presented to the world of their home among
the hills, and of their surroundings in their early years; whilst the
public have been asked to believe that some great shadow of gloom
rested over their lives from their birth, and that to this fact, and
to the influence of the moors, must be attributed, not only the
peculiar bent of their genius, but the whole colour and shape of their
lives. Those who are thus determined to account for everything that
lies out of the range of common experience would do well, before they
attempt to analyse the great mystery of genius, to reveal to us the
true cause of the superlative excellence of this or that rare _cru_,
the secret which gives Johannisberg or Château d'Yquem its glory in
the eyes of connoisseurs. Circumstances apparently have little to do
with the production of the fragrance and bouquet of these famous
wines; for we know that grapes growing close at hand on similar vines
and seemingly under precisely similar conditions, warmed by the same
sun, refreshed by the same showers, fanned by the same breezes,
produce a wine which is comparatively worthless. When the world has
expounded this riddle, it will be time enough to deal with that deeper
problem of genius on which we are now too apt to lay presumptuous and
even violent hands.

The Brontës have suffered grievously from this fashion, inasmuch as
their picturesque and striking surroundings have been allowed to
obscure our view of the women themselves. We have made a picture of
their lives, and have filled in the mere accessories with such
pre-Raphaelite minuteness that the distinct individuality of the
heroines has been blurred and confused amid the general blaze of vivid
colour, the crowd of "telling" points. No individual is to be blamed
for this fact. The world, as we have seen, was first introduced to
"Currer Bell" and her sisters under romantic circumstances; the lives
of those simple, sternly-honest women were enveloped from the moment
when the public made their acquaintance in a certain haze of romantic
mystery; and when all had passed away, and the time came for the
"many-headed beast" to demand the full satisfaction of its curiosity,
it would have nothing but the completion of that romance which from
the first it had figured in outline for itself.

Who then does not know the salient points of that strange and touching
story which tells us how the author of "Jane Eyre" lived and died? Who
is not acquainted with that grim parsonage among the hills, where the
sisters dwelt amidst such uncongenial and even weird influences;
living like recluses in the house of a Protestant pastor; associated
with sorrow and suffering, and terrible pictures of degrading vice,
during their blameless maidenhood; constructing an ideal world of
their own, and dwelling in it heedless of the real world which was in
motion all around them? Who has not been amused and interested by
those graphic pictures of Yorkshire life in the last century, in which
the local flavour is so intense and piquant, and which are hardly the
less interesting because they relate to an order of things which had
passed away entirely long before the Brontës appeared upon the stage?
And who has not been moved by the dark tragedy of Branwell Brontë's
life, hinted at rather than explicitly stated, in Mrs. Gaskell's
story, but yet standing out in such prominence that those who know no
better may be forgiven if they regard it as having been the powerful
and all-pervading influence which made the career of the sisters what
it was? The true charm of the history of the Brontës, however, does
not lie in these things. It is not to be found in the surroundings of
their lives, remarkable and romantic as they were, but in the women
themselves, and in those characteristics of their hearts and their
intellects which were independent of the accidents of condition.
Charlotte herself would have been the first to repudiate the notion
that there was anything strikingly exceptional in their outward
circumstances. With a horror of being considered eccentric that
amounted to a passion, she united an almost morbid dread of the notice
of strangers. If she could ever have imagined that readers throughout
the world would come to associate her name, and still more the names
of her idolised sisters, with the ruder features of the Yorkshire
character, or with such a domestic tragedy as that amid which her
unhappy brother's life terminated, her spirit would have arisen in
indignant revolt against that which she would have regarded almost in
the light of a personal outrage.

[Illustration: HAWORTH VILLAGE.]

And yet if their surroundings at Haworth had comparatively little to
do with the development of the genius of the three sisters, it cannot
be doubted that two influences which Mrs. Gaskell has rightly made
prominent in her book did affect their characters, one in a minor, and
the other in a very marked degree. The influence of the moors is to be
traced both in their lives and their works; whilst far more distinctly
is to be traced the influence of their father. As to the first there
is little to be said in addition to that which all know already. There
is a railway station now at Haworth, and all the world therefore can
get to the place without difficulty or inconvenience. Yet even to-day,
when the engine goes, shrieking past it many times between sunrise and
sunset, Haworth is not as other places are. A little manufacturing
village, sheltered in a nook among the hills and moors which stretch
from the heart of Yorkshire into the heart of Lancashire, it bears the
vivid impress of its situation. The moors which lie around it for
miles on every side are superb during the summer and autumn months.
Then Haworth is in its glory; a gray stone hamlet set in the midst of
a vast sea of odorous purple, and swept by breezes which bear into its
winding street the hum of the bees and the fragrance of the heather.
But it is in the drear, leaden days of winter, when the moors are
covered with snow, that we see what Haworth really is. Then we know
that this is a place apart from the outer world; even the railway
seems to have failed to bring it into the midst of that great West
Riding which lies close at hand with its busy mills and multitudes;
and the dullest therefore can understand that in the days when the
railway was not, and Haworth lay quite by itself, neglected and unseen
in its upland valley, its people must have been blessed by some at
least of those insular peculiarities which distinguished the villagers
of Zermatt and Pontresina before the flood of summer tourists had
swept into those comparatively remote crannies of the Alps. Nurtured
among these lonely moors, and accustomed, as all dwellers on
thinly-peopled hillsides are, to study the skies and the weather, as
the inhabitants of towns and plains study the faces of men and women,
the Brontës unquestionably drew their love of nature, their affection
for tempestuous winds and warring clouds, from their residence at
Haworth.

But this influence was trivial compared with the hereditary influences
of their father's character. Few more remarkable personalities than
that of the Rev. Patrick Brontë have obtruded themselves upon the
smooth uniformity of modern society. The readers of Mrs. Gaskell's
biography know that the incumbent of Haworth was an eccentric man, but
the full measure of his eccentricity and waywardness has never yet
been revealed to the world. He was an Irishman by birth, but when
still a young man he had gone to Yorkshire as a curate, and in
Yorkshire he remained to the end of his days. His real name was not
Brontë--regarding the origin of which word there was so much
unnecessary mystery when his daughter became famous--but Prunty. Born
of humble parentage in the parish of Ahaderg, County Down, he was one
of a large family, all of whom were said to be remarkable for their
physical strength and personal beauty. Patrick Prunty was the most
remarkable member of the family, and his talents were early recognised
by Mr. Tighe, the rector of Drumgooland. This gentleman undertook part
at least of the cost of his education, which was completed at St.
John's College, Cambridge. As to the change of name from Prunty to
Brontë, many fantastic stories have been told. Amongst them is one
which represents the Brontës as having derived their name from that of
the Bronterres, an ancient Irish family with which they were
connected. The connection may possibly have existed, but there is no
doubt upon one point. The incumbent of Haworth in early life bore the
name of Prunty, and it was not until very shortly, before he left
Ireland for England that he changed it, at the request of his patron,
Mr. Tighe, for the more euphonious appellation of Brontë. He appears
to have been a strange compound of good and evil. That he was not
without some good is acknowledged by all who knew him. He had kindly
feelings towards most people, and he delighted in the stern rectitude
which distinguished many of his Yorkshire flock. When his daughter
became famous, no one was better pleased at the circumstance than he
was. He cut out of every newspaper every scrap which referred to her;
he was proud of her achievements, proud of her intellect, and jealous
for her reputation. But throughout his whole life there was but one
person with whom he had any real sympathy, and that person was
himself. Passionate, self-willed, vain, habitually cold and distant
in his demeanour towards those of his own household, he exhibited in a
marked degree many of the characteristics which Charlotte Brontë
afterwards sketched in the portrait of the Mr. Helston of "Shirley."
The stranger who encountered him found a scrupulously polite gentleman
of the old school, who was garrulous about his past life, and who
needed nothing more than the stimulus of a glass of wine to become
talkative on the subject of his conquests over the hearts of the
ladies of his acquaintance. As you listened to the quaintly-attired
old man who chatted on with inexhaustible volubility, you possibly
conceived the idea that he was a mere fribble, gay, conceited,
harmless; but at odd times a searching glance from the keen, deep-sunk
eyes warned you that you also were being weighed in the balance by
your companion, and that this assumption of light-hearted vanity was
far from revealing the real man to you. Only those who dwelt under the
same roof knew him as he really was. Among the many stories told of
him by his children, there is one relating to the meek and gentle
woman who was his wife, and whose lot it was to submit to persistent
coldness and neglect. Somebody had given Mrs. Brontë a very pretty
dress, and her husband, who was as proud as he was self-willed, had
taken offence at the gift. A word to his wife, who lived in habitual
dread of her lordly master, would have secured all he wanted; but in
his passionate determination that she should not wear the obnoxious
garment, he deliberately cut it to pieces, and presented her with the
tattered fragments. Even during his wife's lifetime he formed the
habit of taking his meals alone; he constantly carried loaded pistols
in his pockets, and when excited he would fire these at the doors of
the outhouses, so that the villagers were quite accustomed to the
sound of pistol-shots at any hour of the day in their pastor's house.
It would be a mistake to suppose that violence was one of the weapons
to which Mr. Brontë habitually resorted. However stern and peremptory
might be his dealings with his wife (who soon left him to spend the
remainder of his life in a dreary widowhood), his general policy was
to secure his end by craft rather than by force. A profound belief in
his own superior wisdom was conspicuous among his characteristics, and
he felt convinced that no one was too clever to be outwitted by his
diplomacy. He had also an amazing persistency, which led him to pursue
any course on which he had embarked with dogged determination. It
happened in later years, when his strength was failing, and when at
last he began to see his daughter in her true light, that he
quarrelled with her regarding the character of one of their friends.
The daughter, always dutiful and respectful, found that any effort to
stem the torrent of his bitter and unjust wrath when he spoke of the
friend who had offended him, was attended by consequences which were
positively dangerous. The veins of his forehead swelled, his eyes
glared, his voice shook, and she was fain to submit lest her father's
passion should prove fatal to him. But when, wounded beyond endurance
by his violence and injustice, she withdrew for a few days from her
home, and told her father that she would receive no letters from him
in which this friend's name was mentioned, the old man's cunning took
the place of passion. He wrote long and affectionate letters to her on
general subjects; but accompanying each letter was a little slip of
paper, which professed to be a note from Charlotte's dog Flossy to his
"much-respected and beloved mistress," in which the dog, declaring
that he saw "a good deal of human nature that was hid from those who
had the gift of language," was made to repeat the attacks upon the
obnoxious person which Mr. Brontë dared no longer make in his own
character.

It was to the care of such a father as this, in the midst of the rude
and uncongenial society of the lonely manufacturing village, that six
motherless children, five daughters and one son, were left in the year
1821. The parson's children were not allowed to associate with their
little neighbours in the hamlet; their aunt, who came to the parsonage
after their mother's death, had scarcely more sympathy with them than
their father himself; their only friend was the rough but kindly
servant Tabby, who pitied the bairns without understanding them, and
whose acts of graciousness were too often of such a character as to
give them more pain than pleasure. So they grew up strange, lonely,
old-fashioned children, with absolutely no knowledge of the world
outside; so quiet and demure in their habits that, years afterwards,
when they invited some of their Sunday scholars up to the parsonage,
and wished to amuse them, they found that they had to ask the scholars
to teach them how to play--they had never learned. Carefully secluded
from the rest of the world, the little Brontë children found out
fashions of their own in the way of amusement, and curious fashions
they were. Whilst they were still in the nursery, when the oldest of
the family, Maria, was barely nine years old, and Charlotte, the
third, was just six, they had begun to take a quaint interest in
literature and politics. Heaven knows who it was who first told these
wonderful pigmies of the great deeds of a Wellington or the crimes of
a Bonaparte; but at an age when other children are generally busy with
their bricks or their dolls, and when all life's interests are
confined for them within the walls of a nursery, these marvellous
Brontës were discussing the life of the Great Duke, and maintaining
the Tory cause as ardently as the oldest and sturdiest of the village
politicians in the neighbouring inn.

There is a touching story of Charlotte at six years old, which gives
us some notion of the ideal life led by the forlorn little girl at
this time, when, her two elder sisters having been sent to school, she
found herself living at home, the eldest of the motherless brood. She
had read "The Pilgrim's Progress," and had been fascinated, young as
she was, by that wondrous allegory. Everything in it was to her true
and real; her little heart had gone forth with Christian on his
pilgrimage to the Golden City, her bright young mind had been fired by
the Bedford tinker's description of the glories of the Celestial
Place; and she made up her mind that she too would escape from the
City of Destruction, and gain the haven towards which the weary
spirits of every age have turned with eager longing. But where was
this glittering city, with its streets of gold, its gates of pearl,
its walls of precious stones, its streams of life and throne of light?
Poor little girl! The only place which seemed to her to answer
Bunyan's description of the celestial town was one which she had heard
the servants discussing with enthusiasm in the kitchen, and its name
was Bradford! So to Bradford little Charlotte Brontë, escaping from
that Haworth Parsonage which she believed to be a doomed spot, set off
one day in 1822. Ingenious persons may speculate if they please upon
the sore disappointment which awaited her when, like older people,
reaching the place which she had imagined to be Heaven, she found that
it was only Bradford. But she never even reached her imaginary Golden
City. When her tender feet had carried her a mile along the road, she
came to a spot where overhanging trees made the highway dark and
gloomy; she imagined that she had come to the Valley of the Shadow of
Death, and, fearing to go forward, was presently discovered by her
nurse cowering by the roadside.

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

Charlotte was now the head of the little family; the remaining members
of which were her brother Branwell and her sisters Emily and Anne.
Mrs. Gaskell has given the world a vivid picture of the life which
these four survivors from the hardships of Cowan Bridge led between
the years 1825 and 1831. They spent those years at Haworth, almost
without care or sympathy. Their father saw little in their lot to
interest him, nothing to drag him out of his selfish absorption in his
own pursuits; their aunt, a permanent invalid, conceived that her duty
was accomplished when she had taught them a few lessons and insisted
on their doing a certain amount of needlework every day. For the rest
they were left to themselves, and thus early they showed the bent of
their genius by spending their time in writing novels.

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

Only one specimen of these earliest writings of the Brontës can be
quoted here: it is that to which I have already referred, the play of
"The Islanders:"

    June the 31st, 1829.

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

    _Tabby._ Wha, ya may go t' bed.

    _Branwell._ I'd rather do anything than that.

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

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

    _Charlotte._ And I would choose the Isle of Wight.

    _Emily._ The Isle of Arran for me.

    _Anne._ And mine shall be Guernsey.

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



IV.

THE FAMILY AT HAWORTH.


The years have slipped away, and the Brontës are no longer children.
They have passed out of that strange condition of premature activity
in which their brains were so busy, their lives so much at variance
with the lives of others of their age; they have even "finished" their
education, according to the foolish phrase of the world, and, having
made some acquaintances and a couple of friends at good Miss Wooler's
school at Roehead, Charlotte is again at home, young, hopeful, and in
her own way merry, waiting with her brother and her sisters till that
mystery of life which seems filled with hidden charms to those who
still have it all before them shall be revealed.

One bright June morning in 1833, a handsome carriage and pair is
standing opposite the Devonshire Arms at Bolton Bridge, the spot loved
by all anglers and artists who know anything of the scenery of the
Wharfe. In the carriage with some companions is a young girl, whose
face, figure, and manner may be conjured up by all who have read
"Shirley," for this pleasant, comely Yorkshire maiden, as we see her
on this particular morning, is identical with the Caroline Helston who
figures in the pages of that novel. Miss N---- is waiting for her
quondam schoolfellow and present bosom friend, Charlotte Brontë, who
is coming with her brother and sisters to join in an excursion to the
enchanted site of Bolton Abbey hard by. Presently, on the steep road
which stretches across the moors to Keighley, the sound of wheels is
heard, mingled with the merry speech and merrier laughter of fresh
young voices. Shall we go forward unseen, and study the approaching
travellers whilst they are still upon the road? Their conveyance is no
handsome carriage, but a rickety dogcart, unmistakably betraying its
neighbourship to the carts and ploughs of some rural farmyard. The
horse, freshly taken from the fields, is driven by a youth who, in
spite of his countrified dress, is no mere bumpkin. His shock of red
hair hangs down in somewhat ragged locks behind his ears, for Branwell
Brontë esteems himself a genius and a poet, and, following the fashion
of the times, has that abhorrence of the barber's shears which genius
is supposed to affect. But the lad's face is a handsome and a striking
one, full of Celtic fire and humour, untouched by the slightest shade
of care, giving one the impression of somebody altogether hopeful,
promising, even brilliant. How gaily he jokes with his three sisters;
with what inexhaustible volubility he pours out quotations from his
favourite poets, applying them to the lovely scene around him; and
with what a mischievous delight, in his superior nerve and mettle, he
attempts feats of charioteering which fill the timid heart of the
youngest of the party with sudden terrors! Beside him, in a dress of
marvellous plainness and ugliness, stamped with the brand "home-made"
in characters which none can mistake, is the eldest of the sisters.
Charlotte is talking too; there are bright smiles upon her face; she
is enjoying everything around her, the splendid morning, the charms of
leafy trees and budding roses, and the ever-musical stream; most of
all, perhaps, the charm of her brother's society, and the expectation
of that coming meeting with her friend, which is so near at hand.
Behind sit a pretty little girl, with fine complexion and delicate
regular features, whom the stranger would at once pick out as the
beauty of the company, and a tall, rather angular figure, clad in a
dress exactly resembling Charlotte's. Emily Brontë does not talk so
much as the rest of the party, but her wonderful eyes, brilliant and
unfathomable as the pool at the foot of a waterfall, but radiant also
with a wealth of tenderness and warmth, show how her soul is expanding
under the influences of the scene; how quick she is to note the least
prominent of the beauties around her, how intense is her enjoyment of
the songs of the birds, the brilliancy of the sunshine, the rich scent
of the flower-bespangled hedgerows. If she does not, like Charlotte
and Anne, meet her brother's ceaseless flood of sparkling words with
opposing currents of speech, she utters at times a strange, deep
guttural sound which those who know her best interpret as the language
of a joy too deep for articulate expression. Gaze at them as they pass
you in the quiet road, and acknowledge that, in spite of their rough
and even uncouth exteriors, a happier four could hardly be met with in
this favourite haunt of pleasure-seekers during a long summer's day.

Suddenly the dogcart rattles noisily into the open space in front of
the Devonshire Arms, and the Brontës see the carriage and its
occupants. In an instant there is silence; Branwell contrasts his
humble equipage with that which already stands at the inn door, and a
flush of mortified pride colours his face; the sisters scarcely note
this contrast, but to their dismay they see that their friend is not
alone, and each draws a long deep breath, and prepares for that
fiercest of all the ordeals they know, a meeting with entire
strangers. The laughter is stilled; even Branwell's volubility is at
an end; the glad light dies out of their eyes, and when they alight
and submit to the process of being introduced to Miss N----'s
companions, their faces are as dull and commonplace as their dresses.
It is no imaginary scene we have been watching. Miss N---- still
recalls that painful moment when the merry talk and laughter of her
friends were quenched at sight of the company awaiting them, and when
throughout a day to which all had looked forward with anticipations of
delight, the three Brontës clung to each other or to their friend,
scarcely venturing to speak above a whisper, and betraying in every
look and word the positive agony which filled their hearts when a
stranger approached them. It was this excessive shyness in the company
of those who were unfamiliar to them which was the most marked
characteristic of the sisters. The weakness was as much physical as
moral; and those who suppose that it was accompanied by any morbid
depression of spirits, or any lack of vigour and liveliness when the
incubus of a stranger's presence was removed, entirely mistake their
true character. Unhappily, first impressions are always strongest, and
running through the whole of Mrs. Gaskell's story, may be seen the
impression produced at her first meeting with Charlotte Brontë by her
nervous shrinking and awkwardness in the midst of unknown faces.

It was not thus with those who, brought into the closest of all
fellowship with her, the fellowship of school society, knew the
secrets of her heart far better than did any who became acquainted
with her in after life. To such the real Charlotte Brontë, who knew no
timidity in their presence, was a bold, clever, outspoken and
impulsive girl; ready to laugh with the merriest, and not even
indisposed to join in practical jokes with the rest of her
schoolfellows. The picture we get in the "Life" is that of a victim to
secret terrors and superstitious fancies. The real Charlotte Brontë,
when stories were current as to the presence of a ghost in the upper
chambers of the old school-house at Roehead, did not hesitate to go up
to these rooms alone and in the darkness of a winter's night, leaving
her companions shivering in terror round the fire downstairs. When she
had left school, and began that correspondence with Miss N---- which
is the great source of our knowledge, not merely of the course of her
life, but of the secrets of her heart, it must not be supposed that
she wrote always in that serious spirit which pervades most of the
letters quoted by Mrs. Gaskell. On the contrary, those who have access
to the letters will find that even some of the passages given in the
"Life" are allied to sentences showing that the frame of mind in which
they were written was very different from that which it appears to
have been. The following letter, written from Haworth in the beginning
of 1835, is an example:

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

    What do you think of the course politics are taking? I make this
    inquiry because I now think you have a wholesome interest in the
    matter; formerly you did not care greatly about it. B----, you see,
    is triumphant. Wretch! I am a hearty hater, and if there is any one
    I thoroughly abhor it is that man. But the Opposition is divided.
    Red-hots and lukewarms; and the Duke (_par excellence the_ Duke)
    and Sir Robert Peel show no signs of insecurity, although they have
    been twice beat. So "_courage, mon amie!_" Heaven defend the right!
    as the old Cavaliers used to say before they joined battle. Now,
    Ellen, laugh heartily at all that rodomontade. But you have brought
    it on yourself. Don't you remember telling me to write such letters
    to you as I wrote to Mary? There's a specimen! Hereafter should
    follow a long disquisition on books; but I'll spare you that.

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

    Last Saturday afternoon, being in one of my sentimental humours, I
    sat down and wrote to you such a note as I ought to have written
    to none but M----, who is nearly as mad as myself; to-day, when I
    glanced it over, it occurred to me that Ellen's calm eye would
    look at this with scorn, so I determined to concoct some
    production more fit for the inspection of common sense. I will not
    tell you all I think and feel about you, Ellen. I will preserve
    unbroken that reserve which alone enables me to maintain a decent
    character for judgment; but for that I should long ago have been
    set down by all who know me as a Frenchified fool. You have been
    very kind to me of late, and gentle; and you have spared me those
    little sallies of ridicule which, owing to my miserable and
    wretched touchiness of character, used formerly to make me wince
    as if I had been touched with a hot iron; things that nobody else
    cares for enter into my mind and rankle there like venom. I know
    these feelings are absurd, and therefore I try to hide them; but
    they only sting the deeper for concealment, and I'm an idiot.
    Ellen, I wish I could live with you always, I begin to cling to
    you more fondly than ever I did. If we had but a cottage and a
    competency of our own, I do think we might live and love on till
    death, without being dependent on any third person for happiness.

Mrs. Gaskell has made a very partial and imperfect use of this letter,
by quoting merely from the words "You have been very kind to me of
late," down to "they only sting the deeper for concealment." Thus it
will be seen that an importance is given to an evanescent mood which
it was far from meriting, and that lighter side to Charlotte's
character which was prominent enough to her nearest and dearest
friends is entirely concealed from the outer world. Again, I say, we
must not blame Mrs. Gaskell. Such sentences as those which she omitted
from the letter I have just given are not only entirely inconsistent
with that ideal portrait of "Currer Bell" which the world had formed
for itself out of the bare materials in existence during the author's
lifetime, but are also utterly at variance with Mrs. Gaskell's
personal conception of Charlotte Brontë's character, founded upon her
brief acquaintance with her during her years of loneliness and fame.

The quick transitions which marked her moods in converse with her
friends may be traced all through her letters to Miss N----. The
quotations I have already made show how suddenly on the same page she
passes from gaiety to sadness; and so her letters, dealing as they do
with an endless variety of topics, reflect only the mood of the writer
at the moment that she penned them, and it is only by reading and
studying the whole, not by selecting those which reflect a particular
phase of her character, that we can complete the portrait we would
fain produce.

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

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

    I am really very much obliged to you--she writes in September,
    1832--for your well-filled and _very_ interesting letter. It
    forms a striking contrast to my brief meagre epistles; but I know
    you will excuse the utter dearth of news visible in them when you
    consider the situation in which I am placed, quite out of the
    reach of all intelligence except what I obtain through the medium
    of the newspapers, and I believe you would not find much to
    interest you in a political discussion, or a summary of the
    accidents of the week.... I am sorry, very sorry, that Miss ----
    has turned out to be so different from what you thought her; but,
    my dearest Ellen, you must never expect perfection in this world;
    and I know your naturally confiding and affectionate disposition
    has led you to imagine that Miss ---- was almost faultless.... I
    think, dearest Ellen, our friendship is destined to form an
    exception to the general rule regarding school friendships. At
    least I know that absence has not in the least abated the sisterly
    affection which I feel towards you.


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


    I write a hasty line to assure you we shall be happy to see you on
    the day you mention. As you are now acquainted with the
    neighbourhood and its total want of society, and with our plain,
    monotonous mode of life, I do not fear so much as I used to do,
    that you will be disappointed with the dulness and sameness of
    your visit. One thing, however, will make the daily routine more
    unvaried than ever. Branwell, who used to enliven us, is to leave
    us in a few days, and enter the situation of a private tutor in
    the neighbourhood of U----. How he will like to settle remains yet
    to be seen. At present he is full of hope and resolution. I, who
    know his variable nature and his strong turn for active life, dare
    not be too sanguine. We are as busy as possible in preparing for
    his departure, and shirt-making and collar-stitching fully occupy
    our time.


    April, 1835.

    The election! the election! that cry has rung even among our
    lonely hills like the blast of a trumpet. How has it been round
    the populous neighbourhood of B----? Under what banner have your
    brothers ranged themselves? the Blue or the Yellow? Use your
    influence with them; entreat them, if it be necessary on your
    knees, to stand by their country and religion in this day of
    danger!... Stuart Wortley, the son of the most patriotic patrician
    Yorkshire owns, must be elected the representative of his native
    province. Lord Morpeth was at Haworth last week, and I saw him. My
    opinion of his lordship is recorded in a letter I wrote yesterday
    to Mary. It is not worth writing over again, so I will not trouble
    you with it here.

Even these brief extracts will show that Charlotte Brontë's life at
this time was not a morbid one. These years between 1832 and 1835 must
be counted among the happiest of her life--of all the lives of the
little household at Haworth, in fact. The young people were accustomed
to their father's coldness and eccentricity, and to their aunt's
dainty distaste for all Northern customs and Northern people,
themselves included. Shy they were and peculiar, alike in their modes
of life and their modes of thought; but there was a wholesome, healthy
happiness about all of them that gave promise of peaceful lives
hereafter. Some literary efforts of a humble kind brightened their
hopes at this time. Charlotte had written some juvenile poems (not now
worth reprinting), and she sought the opinion of Southey upon them.
The poet laureate gave her a kindly and considerate answer, which did
not encourage her to persevere in these efforts; nor was an attempt by
Branwell to secure the patronage of Wordsworth for some productions of
his own more successful. Had anybody ventured into the wilds of
Haworth parish at this new year of 1835, and made acquaintance with
the parson's family, it is easy to say upon whom the attention of the
stranger would have been riveted. Branwell Brontë, of whom casual
mention is made in one of the foregoing letters, was the hope and
pride of the little household. All who knew him at this time bear
testimony to his remarkable talents, his striking graces. Small in
stature like Charlotte herself, he was endowed with a rare personal
beauty. But it was in his intellectual gifts that his chief charm was
found. Even his father's dull parishioners recognised the fire of
genius in the lad; and any one who cares to go to Haworth now and
inquire into the story of the Brontës, will find that the most vivid
reminiscences, the fondest memories of the older people in the
village, centre in this hapless youth. Ambitious and clever, he seemed
destined to play a considerable part in the world. His conversational
powers were remarkable; he gave promise of more than ordinary ability
as an artist, and he had even as a boy written verses of no common
power. Among other accomplishments, more curious than useful, of which
he could boast, was the ability to write two letters simultaneously.
It is but a small trait in the history of this remarkable family, yet
it deserves to be noticed, that its least successful member excelled
Napoleon himself in one respect. The great conqueror could dictate
half-a-dozen letters concurrently to his secretaries. Branwell Brontë
could do more than this. With a pen in each hand, he could write two
different letters at the same moment.

Charlotte was Branwell's senior by one year. In 1835, when in her
nineteenth year, she was by no means the unattractive person she has
been represented as being. There is a little caricature sketched by
herself lying before me as I write. In it all the more awkward of her
physical points are ingeniously exaggerated. The prominent forehead
bulges out in an aggressive manner, suggestive of hydrocephalus, the
nose, "tip-tilted like the petal of a flower," and the mouth are made
unnecessarily large; whilst the little figure is clumsy and ungainly.
But though she could never pretend to beauty, she had redeeming
features, her eyes, hair, and massive forehead all being attractive
points. Emily, who was two years her junior, had, like Charlotte, a
bad complexion; but she was tall and well-formed, whilst her eyes were
of remarkable beauty. All through her life her temperament was more
than merely peculiar. She inherited not a little of her father's
eccentricity, untempered by her father's _savoir faire_. Her aversion
to strangers has been already mentioned. When the curates, who formed
the only society of Haworth, found their way to the parsonage, she
avoided them as though they had brought the pestilence in their train.
On the rare occasions when she went out into the world, she would sit
absolutely silent in the company of those who were unfamiliar to her.
So intense was this reserve that even in her own family, where alone
she was at ease, something like dread was mingled with the affection
felt towards her. On one occasion, whilst Charlotte's friend was
visiting the parsonage, Charlotte herself was unable through illness to
take any walks with her. To the amazement of the household, Emily
volunteered to accompany Miss N---- on a ramble over the moors. They
set off together, and the girl threw aside her reserve, and talked with
a freedom and vigour which gave evidence of the real strength of her
character. Her companion was charmed with her intelligence and
geniality. But on returning to the parsonage Charlotte was found
awaiting them, and, as soon as she had a chance of doing so, she
anxiously put to Miss N---- the question, "How did Emily behave
herself?" It was the first time she had ever been known to invite the
company of any one outside the narrow limits of the family circle. Her
chief delight was to roam on the moors, followed by her dogs, to whom
she would whistle in masculine fashion. Her heart, indeed, was given to
these dumb creatures of the earth. She never forgave those who
ill-treated them, nor trusted those whom they disliked. One is reminded
of Shelley's "Sensitive Plant" by some traits of Emily Brontë:

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

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

    ----the poor banished insects, whose intent,
    Although they did ill, was innocent.

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

Anne, the youngest of the family, had beauty in addition to her other
gifts. Intellectually she was greatly inferior to her sisters; but her
mildness and sweetness of temperament won the affections of many who
were repelled by the harsher exteriors of Charlotte and Emily.

This was the family which lived happily and quietly among the hills
during those years when life with its vicissitudes still lay in the
distance. Gay their existence could not be called; but their letters
show that it was unquestionably peaceful, happy, and wholesome.

[Illustration: THE HOUSE THAT CHARLOTTE VISITED.]



V.

LIFE AS A GOVERNESS.


Moved by the hope of lightening the family expenses and enabling
Branwell to get a thorough artistic training at the Royal Academy,
Charlotte resolved to go out as a governess. Her first "place" was at
her old school at Roehead, where she was with her friend, Miss Wooler,
and where she was also very near the home of her confidante, Miss
N----. Emily went with her for a time, but she soon sickened and pined
for the moors, and after a trial of but a few months she returned to
Haworth. A great deal of sympathy has been bestowed upon the Brontës
in connection with their lives as governesses; nor am I prepared to
say that this sympathy is wholly misplaced. Their reserve, their
affection for each other, their ignorance of the world, combined
to make "the cup of life as it is mixed for the class termed
governesses"--to use Charlotte's own phrase--particularly distasteful
to them. But it is a mistake to suppose that they were treated with
harshness during their governess life, or that Charlotte, at least,
felt her trials to be at all unbearable. It was decidedly unpleasant
to sacrifice the independence and the family companionship of Haworth
for drudgery and loneliness in the household of a stranger; but it was
a duty, and as such it was accepted without repining by two, at least,
of the sisters. Emily's peculiar temperament made her quite unfitted
for life among strangers; she made many attempts to overcome her
reserve, but all were unavailing; and after a brief experience in one
or two families in different parts of Yorkshire, she returned to
Haworth to reside there permanently as her father's housekeeper. There
is no need to dwell upon this episode in the lives of the Brontës.
They were living among unfamiliar faces, and had little temptation to
display themselves in their true characters, but extracts from a few
of Charlotte's letters to her friends will show something of the
course of her thought at this time. With the exception of a detached
sentence or two these letters will be quite new to the readers of Mrs.
Gaskell's "Life:"

    I have been waiting for an opportunity of sending a letter to you
    as you wished; but as no such opportunity offers itself, I have at
    length determined to write to you by post, fearing that if I
    delayed any longer you would attribute my tardiness to
    indifference. I can scarcely realise the distance that lies between
    us, or the length of time which may elapse before we meet again.
    Now, Ellen, I have no news to tell you, no changes to communicate.
    My life since I saw you last has passed away as monotonously and
    unvaryingly as ever--nothing but teach, teach, teach, from morning
    till night. The greatest variety I ever have is afforded by a
    letter from you, a call from the T----s, or by meeting with a
    pleasant new book. The "Life of Oberlin," and Legh Richmond's
    "Domestic Portraiture," are the last of this description I have
    perused. The latter work strongly attracted and strangely
    fascinated my attention. Beg, borrow, or steal it without delay,
    and read the "Memoir of Richmond." That short record of a brief and
    uneventful life I shall never forget. It is beautiful, not on
    account of the language in which it is written, not on account of
    the incidents it details, but because of the simple narration it
    gives of the life and death of a young, talented, sincere
    Christian. Get the book, Ellen (I wish I had it to give you), read
    it, and tell me what you think of it. Yesterday I heard that you
    had been ill since you were in London. I hope you are better now.
    Are you any happier than you were? Try to reconcile your mind to
    circumstances, and exert the quiet fortitude of which I know you
    are not destitute. Your absence leaves a sort of vacancy in my
    feelings which nothing has as yet offered of sufficient interest to
    supply. I do not forget ten o'clock. I remember it every night, and
    if a sincere petition for your welfare will do you any good you
    will be benefited. I know the Bible says: "The prayer of the
    _righteous_ availeth much," and I am _not righteous_. Nevertheless
    I believe God despises no application that is uttered in sincerity.
    My own dear E----, good-bye. I can write no more, for I am called
    to a less pleasant avocation.


    Dewsbury Moor, Oct. 2, 1836.

    I should have written to you a week ago, but my time has of late
    been so wholly taken up that till now I have really not had an
    opportunity of answering your last letter. I assure you I feel the
    kindness of so early a reply to my tardy correspondence. It gave
    me a sting of self-reproach.... My sister Emily is gone into a
    situation as teacher in a large school of near forty pupils, near
    Halifax. I have had one letter from her since her departure. It
    gives an appalling account of her duties. Hard labour from six in
    the morning till near eleven at night, with only one half-hour of
    exercise between. This is slavery. I fear she will never stand it.
    It gives me sincere pleasure, my dear Ellen, to learn that you
    have at last found a few associates of congenial minds. I cannot
    conceive a life more dreary than that passed amidst sights,
    sounds, and companions all alien to the nature within us. From the
    tenor of your letters it seems that your mind remains fixed as it
    ever was, in no wise dazzled by novelty or warped by evil example.
    I am thankful for it. I could not help smiling at the paragraphs
    which related to ----. There was in them a touch of the genuine
    unworldly simplicity which forms part of your character. Ellen,
    depend upon it, all people have their dark side. Though some
    possess the power of throwing a fair veil over the defects, close
    acquaintance slowly removes the screen, and one by one the blots
    appear; till at last we see the pattern of perfection all slurred
    over with stains which even affection cannot efface.

The affectionate commendations of her friend are constantly
accompanied by references of a very different character to herself.

    If I like people--she says in one of her letters--it is my nature
    to tell them so, and I am not afraid of offering incense to your
    vanity. It is from religion that you derive your chief charm, and
    may its influence always preserve you as pure, as unassuming, and
    as benevolent in thought and deed as you are now. What am I
    compared to you? I feel my own utter worthlessness when I make the
    comparison. I'm a very coarse, commonplace wretch! I have some
    qualities that make me very miserable, some feelings that you can
    have no participation in--that few, very few people in the world
    can at all understand. I don't pride myself on these
    peculiarities. I strive to conceal and suppress them as much as I
    can, but they burst out sometimes, and then those who see the
    explosion despise me, and I hate myself for days afterwards.

    All my notes to you, Ellen, are written in a hurry. I am now
    snatching an opportunity. Mr. J---- is here; by his means it will
    be transmitted to Miss E----, by her means to X----, by his means
    to you. I do not blame you for not coming to see me. I am sure you
    have been prevented by sufficient reasons; but I do long to see
    you, and I hope I shall be gratified momentarily, at least, ere
    long. Next Friday, if all be well, I shall go to G----. On Sunday
    I hope I shall at least catch a glimpse of you. Week after week I
    have lived on the expectation of your coming. Week after week I
    have been disappointed. I have not regretted what I said in my
    last note to you. The confession was wrung from me by sympathy and
    kindness, such as I can never be sufficiently thankful for. I feel
    in a strange state of mind; still gloomy, but not despairing. I
    keep trying to do right, checking wrong feelings; repressing wrong
    thoughts--but still, every instant I find myself going astray. I
    have a constant tendency to scorn people who are far better than I
    am. A horror at the idea of becoming one of a certain set--a dread
    lest if I made the slightest profession I should sink at once into
    Phariseeism, merge wholly in the ranks of the self-righteous. In
    writing at this moment I feel an irksome disgust at the idea of
    using a single phrase that sounds like religious cant. I abhor
    myself; I despise myself. If the doctrine of Calvin be true, I am
    already an outcast. You cannot imagine how hard, rebellious, and
    intractable all my feelings are. When I begin to study on the
    subject I almost grow blasphemous, atheistical in my sentiments.
    Don't desert me--don't be horrified at me. You know what I am. I
    wish I could see you, my darling. I have lavished the warmest
    affections of a very hot, tenacious heart upon you. If you grow
    cold it is over.

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

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

[Illustration: THE ROE HEAD SCHOOL.]

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

    You ask me whether I have received a letter from T----. I have
    about a week since. The contents I confess did a little surprise
    me; but I kept them to myself, and unless you had questioned me on
    the subject I would never have adverted to it. T---- says he is
    comfortably settled at ----, and that his health is much improved.
    He then intimates that in due time he will want a wife, and
    frankly asks me to be that wife. Altogether the letter is written
    without cant or flattery, and in common-sense style which does
    credit to his judgment. Now there were in this proposal some
    things that might have proved a strong temptation. I thought if I
    were to marry so ---- could live with me, and how happy I should
    be. But again I asked myself two questions: Do I love T---- as
    much as a woman ought to love her husband? Am I the person best
    qualified to make him happy? Alas! my conscience answered "No" to
    both these questions. I felt that though I esteemed T----, though
    I had a kindly leaning towards him, because he is an amiable,
    well-disposed man, yet I had not and never could have that intense
    attachment which would make me willing to die for him--and if ever
    I marry it must be in that light of adoration that I will regard
    my husband. Ten to one I shall never have the chance again; but
    _n'importe_. Moreover, I was aware he knew so little of me he could
    hardly be conscious to whom he was writing. Why, it would startle
    him to see me in my natural home character. He would think I was a
    wild, romantic enthusiast indeed. I could not sit all day long
    making a grave face before my husband. I would laugh and satirise,
    and say whatever came into my head first; and if he were a clever
    man and loved me, the whole world weighed in the balance against
    his smallest wish would be light as air. Could I, knowing my mind
    to be such as that, conscientiously say that I would take a grave,
    quiet young man like T----? No; it would have been deceiving him,
    and deception of that sort is beneath me. So I wrote a long letter
    back in which I expressed my refusal as gently as I could, and also
    candidly avowed my reasons for that refusal. I described to him,
    too, the sort of character I thought would suit him for a wife.

The girl who could thus calmly decline a more than merely "eligible"
offer, and thus honestly state her reasons for doing so to the friend
she trusted, was strangely different from the author of "Jane Eyre"
pictured by the critics and the public. Perhaps the full cost of the
refusal related in the foregoing letter is only made clear when it is
brought into contrast with such a confession as the following, made
very soon afterwards:

    I am miserable when I allow myself to dwell on the necessity of
    spending my life as a governess. The chief requisite for that
    station seems to me to be the power of taking things easily when
    they come, and of making oneself comfortable and at home wherever
    one may chance to be--qualities in which all our family are
    singularly deficient. I know I cannot live with a person like Mrs.
    ----; but I hope all women are not like her, and my motto is "Try
    again."

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

    1838.

    We were at breakfast when your note reached me, and I consequently
    write in great hurry. Your trials seem to thicken. I trust God
    will either remove them or give you strength to bear them. If I
    could but come to you and offer you all the little assistance
    either my head or hands could afford! But that is impossible. I
    scarcely dare offer to comfort you about ---- lest my consolation
    should seem like mockery. I know that in cases of sickness
    strangers cannot measure what relations feel. One thing, however, I
    need not remind _you_ of. You will have repeated it over and over
    to yourself before now: God does all for the best; and even should
    the worst happen, and Death seem finally to destroy hope, remember
    that this will be but a practical test of the strong faith and calm
    devotion which have marked you a Christian so long. I would hope,
    however, that the time for this test is not yet come, that your
    brother may recover, and all be well. It grieves me to hear that
    your own health is so indifferent. Once more I wish I were with
    you to lighten at least by sympathy the burden that seems so
    unsparingly laid upon you. Let me thank you for remembering me in
    the midst of such hurry and affliction. We are all apt to grow
    selfish in distress. This, so far as I have found, is not your
    case. _When_ shall I see you again? The uncertainty in which the
    answer to that question must be involved gives me a bitter feeling.
    Through all changes, through all chances, I trust I shall love you
    as I do now. We can pray for each other and think of each other.
    Distance is no bar to recollection. You have promised to write to
    me, and I do not doubt that you will keep your word. Give my love
    to M---- and your mother. Take with you my blessing and affection,
    and all the warmest wishes of a warm heart for your welfare.

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

    It is twelve o'clock at night; but I must just write you a word
    before I go to bed. If you think I'm going to refuse your
    invitation, or if you sent it me with that idea, you're mistaken.
    As soon as I had read your shabby little note, I gathered up my
    spirits directly, walked on the impulse of the moment into Mrs.
    ----'s presence, popped the question, and for two minutes received
    no answer. "Will she refuse me when I work so hard for her?"
    thought I. "Ye--e--es," drawled madam in a reluctant, cold tone.
    "Thank you, madam!" said I with extreme cordiality, and was
    marching from the room when she recalled me with "You'd better go
    on Saturday afternoon, then, when the children have holiday, and
    if you return in time for them to have all their lessons on Monday
    morning, I don't see that much will be lost." You _are_ a
    genuine Turk, thought I; but again I assented, and so the bargain
    was struck. Saturday after next, then, is the day appointed. I'll
    come, God knows, with a thankful and joyful heart, glad of a day's
    reprieve from labour. If you don't send the gig I'll walk. I am
    coming to taste the pleasure of liberty; a bit of pleasant
    congenial talk, and a sight of two or three faces I like. God
    bless you! I want to see you again. Huzza for Saturday afternoon
    after next! Good-night, my lass!


    During the last three weeks that hideous operation called "a
    thorough clean" has been going on in the house. It is now nearly
    completed, for which I thank my stars, as during its progress I
    have fulfilled the double character of nurse and governess, while
    the nurse has been transmuted into cook and housemaid. That nurse,
    by-the-bye, is the prettiest lass you ever saw.... I was beginning
    to think Mrs. ---- a good sort of body in spite of her bouncing
    and toasting, her bad grammar and worse orthography; but I have
    had experience of one little trait in her character which condemns
    her a long way with me. After treating a person on the most
    familiar terms of equality for a long time, if any little thing
    goes wrong, she does not scruple to give way to anger in a very
    coarse, unladylike manner, though in justice no blame could be
    attached where she ascribed it all. I think passion is the true
    test of vulgarity or refinement. This place looks exquisitely
    beautiful just now. The grounds are certainly lovely, and all as
    green as an emerald. I wish you would just come and look at it.



VI.

THE TURNING-POINT.


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

It is not so. There may be disappointment among those who have been
nurtured on the traditions of the Brontë romance when they find that
the reality is different from what they supposed it to be; some
shallow judges may even assume that Charlotte herself loses in moral
stature when it is shown that it was not her horror at her brother's
fall which drove her to find relief in literary speech. But the truth
must be told; and for my part I see nothing in that truth which
affects, even in an infinitesimal degree, the fame and the honour of
the woman of whom I write.

It was Charlotte's visit to Brussels, then, first as pupil and
afterwards as teacher in the school of Madame Héger, which was the
turning-point in her life, which changed its currents, and gave to it
a new purpose and a new meaning. Up to the moment of that visit she
had been the simple, kindly, truthful Yorkshire girl, endowed with
strange faculties, carried away at times by burning impulses, moved
often by emotions the nature of which she could not fathom, but always
hemmed in by her narrow experiences, her limited knowledge of life and
the world. Until she went to Belgium, her sorest troubles had been
associated with her dislike to the society of strangers, her heaviest
burden had been the necessity under which she lay of tasting that "cup
of life as it is mixed for governesses" which she detested so
heartily. Under the belief that they could qualify themselves to keep
a school of their own if they had once mastered the delicacies of the
French and German languages, she and Emily set off for this sojourn in
Brussels.

One may be forgiven for speculating as to her future lot had she
accepted the offer of marriage she received in her early governess
days, and settled down as the faithful wife of a sober English
gentleman. In that case "Shirley" perhaps might have been written, but
"Jane Eyre" and "Villette" never. She learnt much during her two
years' sojourn in the Belgian capital; but the greatest of all the
lessons she mastered whilst there was that self-knowledge the taste of
which is so bitter to the mouth, though so wholesome to the life. Mrs.
Gaskell has made such ample use of the letters she penned during the
long months which she spent as an exile from England, that there is
comparatively little left to cull from them. Everybody knows the
outward circumstances of her story at this time. For a brief period
she had the company of Emily; and the two sisters, working together
with the unremitting zeal of those who have learned that time is
money, were happy and hopeful, enjoying the novel sights of the gay
foreign capital, gathering fresh experiences every day, and looking
forward to the moment when they would return to familiar Haworth, and
realise the dream of their lives by opening a school of their own
within the walls of the parsonage. But then Emily left, and Charlotte,
after a brief holiday at home, returned alone. Years after, writing to
her friend, she speaks of her return in these words: "I returned to
Brussels after aunt's death against my conscience, prompted by what
then seemed an irresistible impulse. I was punished for my selfish
folly by a total withdrawal for more than two years of happiness and
peace of mind." Why did she thus go back "against her conscience?" Her
friends declared that her future husband dwelt somewhere within sound
of the chimes of St. Gudule, and that she insisted upon returning to
Brussels because she was about to be married there. We know now how
different was the reality. The husband who awaited her was even then
about to begin his long apprenticeship of love at Haworth. Yet none
the less had her spirit, if not her heart, been captured and held
captive in the Belgian city. It is not in her letters that we find the
truth regarding her life at this time. The truth indeed is there, but
not all the truth. "In catalepsy and dread trance," says Lucy Snowe,
"I studiously held the quick of my nature.... It is on the surface
only the common gaze will fall." The secrets of her inner life could
not be trusted to paper, even though the lines were intended for no
eyes but those of her friend and confidante. There are some things, as
we know well, that the heart hides as by instinct, and which even
frank and open natures only reveal under compulsion. Writing to her
friend from Brussels in October, 1843, she says: "I have much to say,
Ellen; many little odd things, queer and puzzling enough, which I do
not like to trust to a letter, but which one day, perhaps, or rather
one evening, if ever we should find ourselves again by the fireside at
Haworth, or at B----, with our feet on the fender, curling our hair, I
may communicate to you." One of the hardest features of the last year
she spent at Brussels was the necessity she was under of locking all
the deepest emotions of her life within her own breast, of preserving
the calm and even cold exterior, which should tell nothing to the
common gaze, above the troubled, fevered heart that beat within.

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

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

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

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

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

    You are a very good girl indeed to send me such a long and
    interesting letter. In all that account of the young lady and
    gentleman in the railway carriage I recognise your faculty for
    observation, which is a rarer gift than you imagine. You ought to
    be thankful for it. I never yet met with an individual devoid of
    observation whose conversation was interesting, nor with one
    possessed of that power in whose society I could not manage to
    pass a pleasant hour. I was amused with your allusions to
    individuals at ----. I have little doubt of the truth of the
    report you mention about Mr. Z---- paying assiduous attention to
    ----. Whether it will ever come to a match is another thing.
    _Money_ would decide that point, as it does most others of a
    similar nature. You are perfectly right in saying that Mr. Z----
    is more influenced by opinion than he himself suspects. I saw his
    lordship in a new light last time I was at ----. Sometimes I could
    scarcely believe my ears when I heard the stress he laid on
    wealth, appearance, family, and all those advantages which are the
    idols of the world. His conversation on marriage (and he talked
    much about it) differed in no degree from that of any hackneyed
    fortune-hunter, except that with his own peculiar and native
    audacity he avowed views and principles which more timid
    individuals conceal. Of course I raised no argument against
    anything he said. I listened, and laughed inwardly to think how
    indignant I should have been eight years since if anyone had
    accused Z---- of being a worshipper of Mammon and of Interest.
    Indeed, I still believe that the Z---- of ten years ago is not the
    Z---- of to-day. The world, with its hardness and selfishness, has
    utterly changed him. He thinks himself grown wiser than the
    wisest. In a worldly sense he is wise. His feelings have gone
    through a process of petrifaction which will prevent them from
    ever warring against his interest; but Ichabod! all glory of
    principle, and much elevation of character are gone! I learnt
    another thing. Fear the smooth side of Z----'s tongue more than
    the rough side. He has the art of paying peppery little
    compliments, which he seems to bring out with a sort of
    difficulty, as if he were not used to that kind of thing, and did
    it rather against his will than otherwise. These compliments you
    feel disposed to value on account of their seeming rarity. Fudge!
    They are at any one's disposal, and are confessedly hollow
    blarney.

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

    July 31, 1845.

    I was glad to get your little packet. It was quite a treasure of
    interest to me. I think the intelligence about G---- is cheering.
    I have read the lines to Miss ----. They are expressive of the
    affectionate feelings of his nature, and are poetical, insomuch as
    they are true. Faults in expression, rhythm, metre, were of course
    to be expected. All you say about Mr. ---- amused me much. Still,
    I cannot put out of my mind one fear, viz. that you should think
    too much about him. Faulty as he is, and as you know him to be, he
    has still certain qualities which might create an interest in your
    mind before you were aware. He has the art of impressing ladies by
    something involuntary in his look and manner, exciting in them the
    notion that he cares for them, while his words and actions are all
    careless, inattentive, and quite uncompromising for himself. It is
    only men who have seen much of life and of the world, and who are
    become in a measure indifferent to female attractions, that
    possess this art. So be on your guard. These are not pleasant or
    flattering words, but they are the words of one who has known you
    long enough to be indifferent about being temporarily disagreeable,
    provided she can be permanently useful.

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

    It was ten o'clock at night when I got home. I found Branwell ill.
    He is so very often, owing to his own fault. I was not therefore
    shocked at first. But when Anne informed me of the immediate cause
    of his present illness I was very greatly shocked. He had last
    Thursday received a note from Mr. ---- sternly dismissing him....
     We have had sad work with him since. He thought of nothing but
    stunning or drowning his distressed mind. No one in the house
    could have rest, and at last we have been obliged to send him from
    home for a week with someone to look after him. He has written to
    me this morning, and expresses some sense of contrition for his
    frantic folly. He promises amendment on his return, but so long
    as he remains at home I scarce dare hope for peace in the house.
    We must all, I fear, prepare for a season of distress and
    disquietude. I cannot now ask Miss ---- or anyone else.

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

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

    I return you Miss ----'s notes with thanks. I always like to read
    them. They appear to me so true an index of an amiable mind, and
    one not too conscious of its own worth. Beware of awakening in
    her this consciousness by undue praise. It is a privilege of
    simple-hearted, sensible, but not brilliant people that they can
    _be_ and _do_ good without comparing their own thoughts and
    actions too closely with those of other people, and thence drawing
    strong food for self-appreciation. Talented people almost always
    know full well the excellence that is in them.... You ask me if we
    are more comfortable. I wish I could say anything favourable; but
    how can we be more comfortable so long as Branwell stays at home
    and degenerates instead of improving? It has been lately intimated
    to him that he would be received again on the same railroad where
    he was formerly stationed if he would behave more steadily, but he
    refuses to make an effort. He will not work, and at home he is a
    drain on every resource, an impediment to all happiness. But
    there's no use in complaining.

    I thank you again for your last letter, which I found as full or
    fuller of interest than either of the preceding ones--it is just
    written as I wish you to write to me--not a detail too much. A
    correspondence of that sort is the next best thing to actual
    conversation, though it must be allowed that between the two there
    is a wide gulf still. I imagine your face, voice, presence very
    plainly when I read your letters. Still imagination is not
    reality, and when I return them to their envelope and put them by
    in my desk I feel the difference sensibly enough. My curiosity is
    a little piqued about that countess you mention. What is her name?
    you have not yet given it. I cannot decide from what you say
    whether she is really clever or only eccentric. The two sometimes
    go together, but are often seen apart. I generally feel inclined
    to fight very shy of eccentricity, and have no small horror of
    being thought eccentric myself, by which observation I don't mean
    to insinuate that I class myself under the head clever. God knows
    a more consummate ass in sundry important points has seldom
    browsed the green herb of His bounties than I. O Lord, Nell, I'm
    in danger sometimes of falling into self-weariness. I used to say
    and to think in former times that X---- would certainly be
    married. I am not so sanguine on that point now. It will never
    suit her to accept a husband she cannot love, or at least respect,
    and it appears there are many chances against her meeting with
    such a one under favourable circumstances; besides, from all I can
    hear and see, money seems to be regarded as almost the Alpha and
    Omega of requisites in a wife. Well, if she is destined to be an
    old maid I don't think she will be a repining one. I think she
    will find resources in her own mind and disposition which will
    help her to get on. As to society, I don't understand much about
    it, but from the few glimpses I have had of its machinery it seems
    to me to be a very strange, complicated affair indeed, wherein
    nature is turned upside down. Your well-bred people appear to me,
    figuratively speaking, to walk on their heads, to see everything
    the wrong way up--a lie is with them truth, truth a lie, eternal
    and tedious botheration is their notion of happiness, sensible
    pursuits their _ennui_. But this may be only the view ignorance
    takes of what it cannot understand. I refrain from judging them,
    therefore, but if I were called upon to _swop_--you know the word,
    I suppose--to swop tastes and ideas and feelings with ----, for
    instance, I should prefer walking into a good Yorkshire kitchen
    fire and concluding the bargain at once by an act of voluntary
    combustion.

    I shall scribble you a short note about nothing, just to have a
    pretext for screwing a letter out of you in return. I was sorry
    you did not go to W----, firstly, because you lost the pleasure of
    observation and enjoyment; and secondly, because I lost the
    second-hand indulgence of hearing your account of what you had
    seen. I laughed at the candour with which you give your reason for
    wishing to be there. Thou hast an honest soul as ever animated
    human carcase, and a clean one, for it is not ashamed of showing
    its inmost recesses: only be careful with whom you are frank. Some
    would not rightly appreciate the value of your frankness, and
    never cast pearls before swine. You are quite right in wishing to
    look well in the eyes of those whom you desire to please. It is
    natural to desire to appear to advantage (_honest_ not _false_
    advantage of course) before people we respect. Long may the power
    and the inclination to do so be spared you; long may you look
    young and handsome enough to dress in white; and long may you have
    a right to feel the consciousness that you look agreeable. I know
    you have too much judgment to let an over-dose of vanity spoil the
    blessing and turn it into a misfortune. After all though, age will
    come on, and it is well you have something better than a nice
    face for friends to turn to when that is changed. I hope this
    excessively cold weather has not harmed you or _yours_ much. It
    has nipped me severely--taken away my appetite for a while, and
    given me toothache; in short put me in the ailing condition in
    which I have more than once had the honour of making myself such a
    nuisance both at B---- and ----. The consequence is that at this
    present speaking I look almost old enough to be your mother--gray,
    sunk, and withered. To-day, however, it is milder, and I hope soon
    to feel better; indeed, I am not _ill_ now, and my toothache is
    quite subsided; but I experience a loss of strength and a
    deficiency of spirit which would make me a sorry companion to you
    or anyone else. I would not be on a visit now for a large sum of
    money.


    June, 1846.

    I hope all the mournful contingencies of death are by this time
    removed from ----, and that some little sense of relief is
    beginning to be experienced by its wearied inmates. ---- suffered
    greatly, I make no doubt; and I trust, and even believe, that his
    long sufferings on earth will be taken as sufficient expiation for
    his errors. One shudders for him, but it is his relations--his
    mother and sisters--whom I truly and permanently pity.


    July 10th, 1846.

    DEAR ELLEN,--Who gravely asked you whether Miss Brontë was not
    going to be married to ----? I scarcely need say that there never
    was rumour more unfounded. It puzzles me to think how it could
    possibly have originated. A cold, far-away sort of civility, are
    the only terms on which I have ever been with Mr. ----. I could
    by no means think of mentioning such a rumour to him, even as a
    joke. It would make me the laughing-stock of himself and his
    fellow-curates, for half a year to come. They regard me as an old
    maid; and I regard them, one and all, as highly uninteresting,
    narrow, and unattractive specimens of the "coarser sex."



VII.

AUTHORSHIP AND BEREAVEMENT.


The reader has seen that it was not the degradation of Branwell Brontë
which formed the turning-point in Charlotte's life. Mrs. Gaskell,
anxious to support her own conception of what _should have been_
Charlotte's feelings with regard to her brother's ruin, has scarcely
done justice either to herself or to her heroine. Thus she makes use
of a passage in one of the letters quoted in the foregoing chapter,
but in doing so omits what are perhaps the most characteristic words
in it. "He" (Branwell) "has written this morning expressing some sense
of contrition; ... but as long as he remains at home I scarce dare
hope for peace in the house." This is the form in which the passage
appears in the "Biography," whereas Charlotte had written of her
brother's having expressed "contrition for his frantic folly," and of
his having "promised amendment on his return." Mrs. Gaskell could not
bring herself to speak of such flagrant sins as those of which young
Brontë had been guilty under the name of "folly," nor could she
conceive that there was any possibility of amendment on the part of
one who had fallen so low in vice. Moreover, one of her objects was to
punish those who had shared the lad's misconduct, and to whom she
openly attributed not only his ruin but the premature deaths of his
sisters. Thus she felt compelled to take throughout her book a far
deeper and more tragic view of this miserable episode in the Brontë
story than Charlotte herself took. Having read all her letters written
at this period of her life to her two most confidential friends, I am
justified in saying that the impression produced on Charlotte by
Branwell's degrading fall was not so deep as that which was produced
on Mrs. Gaskell, who never saw young Brontë, by the mere recital of
the story. Yet Charlotte, though too brave, healthy, and reasonable in
all things to be utterly weighed down by the fact that her brother had
fallen a victim to loathsome vice, was far from being insensible to
the sadness and shamefulness of his condition. What she thought of it
she has herself told the world in the story of "The Professor" (p.
198):

    Limited as had yet been my experience of life, I had once had the
    opportunity of contemplating near at hand an example of the
    results produced by a course of interesting and romantic domestic
    treachery. No golden halo of fiction was about this example; I saw
    it bare and real, and it was very loathsome. I saw a mind degraded
    by the practice of mean subterfuge, by the habit of perfidious
    deception, and a body depraved by the infectious influence of the
    vice-polluted soul. I had suffered much from the forced and
    prolonged view of this spectacle; those sufferings I did not now
    regret, for their simple recollection acted as a most wholesome
    antidote to temptation. They had inscribed on my reason the
    conviction that unlawful pleasure, trenching on another's rights,
    is delusive and envenomed pleasure--its hollowness disappoints at
    the time, its poison cruelly tortures afterwards, its effects
    deprave for ever.

Upon the gentle and sensitive mind of Anne Brontë the effect of
Branwell's fall was such as Mrs. Gaskell depicts. She was literally
broken down by the grief she suffered in seeing her brother's ruin;
but Charlotte and Emily were of stronger fibre than their sister, and
their predominant feeling, as expressed in their letters, is one of
sheer disgust at their brother's weakness, and of indignation against
all who had in any way assisted in his downfall. This may not be
consistent with the popular conception of Charlotte's character, but
it is strictly true.

We must then dismiss from our minds the notion that the brother's fate
exercised that paramount influence over the sisters' lives which seems
to be believed. Yet, as we have seen, there was a very strong though
hidden influence working in Charlotte during those years in which
their home was darkened by Branwell's presence. Her yearning for
Brussels and the life that now seemed like a vanished dream, continued
almost as strong as ever. At Haworth everything was dull, commonplace,
monotonous. The school-keeping scheme had failed; poverty and
obscurity seemed henceforth to be the appointed lot of all the
sisters. Even the source of intercourse with friends was almost
entirely cut off; for Charlotte could not bear the shame of exposing
the prodigal of the family to the gaze of strangers. It was at this
time, and in the mood described in the letters quoted in the preceding
chapter, that she took up her pen, and sought to escape from the
narrow and sordid cares which environed her by a flight into the
region of poetry. She had been accustomed from childhood to write
verses, few of which as yet had passed the limits of mediocrity. Now,
with all that heart-history through which she had passed at Brussels
weighing upon her, she began to write again, moved by a stronger
impulse, stirred by deeper thoughts than any she had known before. In
this secret exercise of her faculties she found relief and enjoyment;
her letters to her friend showed that her mind was regaining its tone,
and the dreary out-look from "the hills of Judæa" at Haworth began to
brighten. It was a great day in the lives of all the sisters when
Charlotte accidentally discovered that Emily also had dared to "commit
her soul to paper." The younger sister was keenly troubled when
Charlotte made the discovery, for her poems had been written in
absolute secrecy. But mutual confessions hastened her reconcilement.
Charlotte produced her own poems, and then Anne also, blushing as was
her wont, poured some hidden treasures of the same kind into the
eldest sister's lap. So it came to pass that in 1846, unknown to their
nearest friends, they presented to the world--at their own cost and
risk, poor souls!--that thin volume of poetry "by Currer, Ellis, and
Acton Bell," now almost forgotten, the merits of which few readers
have recognised and few critics proclaimed.

Strong, calm, sincere, most of these poems are; not the spasmodic or
frothy outpourings of Byron-stricken girls; not even mere echoes,
however skilful, of the grand music of the masters. When we dip into
the pages of the book, we see that these women write because they
feel. They write because they have something to say; they write not
for the world, but for themselves, each sister wrapping her own secret
within her own soul. Strangely enough, it is not Charlotte who carries
off the palm in these poems. Verse seems to have been too narrow for
the limits of her genius; she could not soar as she desired to do
within the self-imposed restraints of rhythm, rhyme, and metre. Here
and there, it is true, we come upon lines which flash upon us with the
brilliant light of genius; but, upon the whole, we need not wonder
that Currer Bell achieved no reputation as a poet. Nor is Anne to be
counted among great singers. Sweet, indeed her verses are, radiant
with the tenderness, resignation, and gentle humility which were the
prominent features of her character. One or two of her little poems
are now included in popular collections of hymns used in Yorkshire
churches; but, as a rule, her compositions lack the vigorous life
which belongs to those of her sisters. It is Emily who takes the first
place in this volume. Some of her poems have a lyrical beauty which
haunts the mind ever after it has become acquainted with them; others
have a passionate emphasis, a depth of meaning, an intensity and
gravity which are startling when we know who the singer is, and which
furnish a key to many passages in "Wuthering Heights" which the world
shudders at and hastily passes by. Such lines as these ought to make
the name of Emily Brontë far more familiar than it is to the students
of our modern English literature:

    Death! that struck when I was most confiding
      In my certain faith of joy to be--
    Strike again, Time's withered branch dividing
      From the fresh root of Eternity!

    Leaves upon Time's branch were growing brightly,
      Full of sap and full of silver dew;
    Birds beneath its shelter gathered nightly;
      Daily round its flowers the wild bees flew.

    Sorrow passed, and plucked the golden blossom;
      Guilt stripped off the foliage in its pride;
    But within its parent's kindly bosom
      Flowed for ever Life's restoring tide.

    Little mourned I for the parted gladness,
      For the vacant nest and silent song--
    Hope was there, and laughed me out of sadness,
      Whispering, "Winter will not linger long!"

    And behold! with tenfold increase blessing,
      Spring adorned the beauty-burdened spray;
    Wind and rain and fervent heat, caressing,
      Lavished glory on that second May!

    High it rose--no winged grief could sweep it;
      Sin was scared to distance by its shine;
    Love, and its own life, had power to keep it
      From all wrong--from every blight but thine,

    Cruel Death! The young leaves droop and languish;
      Evening's gentle air may still restore--
    No! the morning sunshine mocks my anguish--
      Time, for me, must never blossom more!

    Strike it down, that other boughs may flourish
      Where that perished sapling used to be;
    Thus at least its mouldering corpse will nourish
      That from which it sprung--Eternity.

The little book was a failure. This first flight ended only in
discomfiture; and Currer, Ellis, and Acton Bell were once more left to
face the realities of life in Haworth parsonage, uncheered by literary
success. This was in the summer and autumn of 1846; about which time
they were compelled to think of cares which came even nearer home than
the failure of their volume of poems. Their father's eyesight was now
almost gone, and all their thoughts were centred upon the operation
which was to restore it. It was to Manchester that Mr. Brontë was
taken by his daughters to undergo this operation. Many of the letters
which were written by Charlotte at this period have already been
published; but the two which I now quote are new, and they serve to
show what were the narrow cares and anxieties which nipped the sisters
at this eventful crisis in their lives:

    September 22nd, 1846.

    DEAR ELLEN,--I have nothing new to tell you, except that papa
    continues to do well, though the process of recovery appears to me
    very tedious. I daresay it will yet be many weeks before his sight
    is completely restored; yet every time Mr. Wilson comes, he
    expresses his satisfaction at the perfect success of the operation,
    and assures me papa will, ere long, be able both to read and write.
    He is still a prisoner in his darkened room, into which, however,
    a little more light is admitted than formerly. The nurse goes
    to-day--her departure will certainly be a relief, though she is, I
    daresay, not the worst of her class.


    September 29th, 1846.

    DEAR ELLEN,--When I wrote to you last, our return was uncertain
    indeed, but Mr. Wilson was called away to Scotland; his absence set
    us at liberty. I hastened our departure, and now we are at home.
    Papa is daily gaining strength. He cannot yet exercise his sight
    much, but it improves, and I have no doubt will continue to do so.
    I feel truly thankful for the good insured and the evil exempted
    during our absence. What you say about ---- grieves me much, and
    surprises me too. I know well the malaria of ----, it is an
    abominable smell of gas. I was sick from it ten times a day while I
    stayed there. That they should hesitate to leave from scruples
    about furnishing new houses, provokes and amazes me. Is not the
    furniture they have very decent? The inconsistency of human beings
    passes belief. I wonder what their sister would say to them, if
    they told her that tale? She sits on a wooden stool without a back,
    in a log-house without a carpet, and neither is degraded nor thinks
    herself degraded by such poor accommodation.

[Illustration: HAWORTH PARSONAGE AND GRAVEYARD.]

It was about the time when this journey to Manchester was first
projected, and very shortly after they had become convinced that their
poems were a failure, that the sisters embarked upon another and more
important literary venture. The pen once taken up could not be laid
down. By poetry they had only lost money; but the idea had occurred to
them that by prose-writing money was to be made. At any rate, in
telling the stories of imaginary people, in opening their hearts
freely upon all those subjects on which they had thought deeply in
their secluded lives, they would find relief from the solitude of
Haworth. Each of the three accordingly began to write a novel. The
stories were commenced simultaneously, after a long consultation, in
which the outlines of the plots, and even the names of the different
characters, were settled. How one must wish that some record of that
strange literary council had been preserved! Charlotte, in after life,
spoke always tenderly, lovingly, almost reverentially, of the days in
which she and her well-beloved sisters were engaged in settling the
plan and style of their respective romances. That time seemed sacred
to her, and though she learnt to smile at the illusions under which
the work was begun, and could see clearly enough the errors and
crudities of thought and method which all three displayed, she never
allowed any one in her presence to question the genius of Emily and
Anne, or to ridicule the prosaic and business-like fashion in which
the novel-writing was undertaken by the three sisters. Returning to
the old customs of their childhood, they sat round the table of their
sitting-room in the parsonage, each busy with her pen. No trace of
their occupation at this time is to be found in their letters; and on
the rare occasions on which the father or the brother came into their
room, nothing was said as to the work that was going on. The
novel-writing, like the writing and publishing of the poems, was still
kept profoundly secret. "There is no gentleman of the name in this
parish," said Mr. Brontë to the village postman, when the latter
ventured to ask who the Mr. Currer Bell could be for whom letters came
so frequently from London. But every night the three sisters, as they
paced the barely-furnished room, or strained their eyes across the
tombstones, to the spot where the weather-stained church-tower rose
from a bank of nettles, told each other what the work of the day had
been, and criticised each other's labours with the freedom of that
perfect love which casts out all fear of misconception. And here I may
interpolate two letters written whilst the novel-writing was in
progress, which are in some respects not altogether insignificant:

    DEAR NELL,--Your last letter both amused and edified me
    exceedingly. I could not but laugh at your account of the fall in
    B----, yet I should by no means have liked to have made a third
    party in that exhibition. I have endured one fall in your company,
    and undergone one of your ill-timed laughs, and don't wish to
    repeat my experience. Allow me to compliment you on the skill with
    which you can seem to give an explanation, without enlightening one
    one whit on the question asked. I know no more about Miss R.'s
    superstition now, than I did before. What is the superstition?--about
    a dead body? And what is the inference drawn? Do you remember my
    telling you--or did I ever tell you--about that wretched and most
    criminal Mr. J. S.? After running an infamous career of vice, both
    in England and France, abandoning his wife to disease and total
    destitution in Manchester, with two children and without a
    farthing, in a strange lodging-house? Yesterday evening Martha
    came upstairs to say that a woman--"rather lady-like," as she
    said--wished to speak to me in the kitchen. I went down. There
    stood Mrs. S., pale and worn, but still interesting-looking, and
    cleanly and neatly dressed, as was her little girl who was with
    her. I kissed her heartily. I could almost have cried to see her,
    for I had pitied her with my whole soul when I heard of her
    undeserved sufferings, agonies, and physical degradation. She took
    tea with us, stayed about two hours, and frankly entered into the
    narrative of her appalling distresses. Her constitution has
    triumphed over her illness; and her excellent sense, her activity,
    and perseverance have enabled her to regain a decent position in
    society, and to procure a respectable maintenance for herself and
    her children. She keeps a lodging-house in a very eligible part of
    the suburbs of ---- (which I know), and is doing very well. She
    does not know where Mr. S. is, and of course can never more endure
    to see him. She is now staying a few days at E----, with the ----s,
    who I believe have been all along very kind to her, and the
    circumstance is greatly to their credit.

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


    May 12th, 1847.

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

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

Is it needful to tell how the three stories--"The Professor,"
"Wuthering Heights," and "Agnes Grey"--are sent forth at last from the
little station at Keighley, to fare as best they may in that unknown
London which is still an ideal city to the sisters, peopled not with
ordinary human beings, but with creatures of some strangely-different
order? Can any one be ignorant of the weary months which passed whilst
"The Professor" was going from hand to hand, and the stories written
by Emily and Anne were waiting in a publisher's desk until they could
be given to the world on the publisher's own terms? Charlotte had
failed, but the brave heart was not to be baffled. No sooner had the
last page of "The Professor" been finished than the first page of
"Jane Eyre" was begun. The whole of that wondrous story passed through
the author's busy brain whilst the life around her was clad in these
sombre hues, and disappointment, affliction, and gloomy forebodings
were her daily companions. The decisive rejection of her first tale by
Messrs. Smith, Elder, and Co. had been accompanied by some kindly
words of advice; so it is to that firm that she now entrusts the
completed manuscript of "Jane Eyre." The result has already been told.
On August 24, 1847, the story is sent from Leeds to London; and before
the year is out, all England is ringing with the praises of the novel
and its author.

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

In a letter from Anne Brontë, written in January, 1848, at which time
the literary quidnuncs both of England and America were eagerly
discussing contradictory theories as to the authorship of "Jane Eyre,"
and of the two other stories which had appeared from the pens of Ellis
and Acton Bell, I find the following passage: "I have no news to tell
you, for we have been nowhere, seen no one, and done nothing (to
_speak_ of) since you were here, and yet we contrive to be busy
from morning till night." The gentle and scrupulously conscientious
girl, whilst hiding the secret from her friend, cannot violate the
truth even by a hairbreadth. The italics are her own. Nothing _that
can be spoken of_ has been done. The friend had her own suspicions.
Staying in a southern house for the winter, the new novel about which
everybody was talking was produced, fresh from town. One of the guests
was deputed to read it aloud, and before she had proceeded far
Charlotte Brontë's schoolfellow had pierced the secret of the
authorship. Three months before, Charlotte had been spending a few
days at Miss N----'s house, and had openly corrected the proof-sheets
of the story in the presence of her hostess; but she had given the
latter no encouragement to speak to her on the subject, and nothing
had been said. Now, however, in the surprise of the moment, Miss N----
told the company that this must have been written by Miss Brontë; and
astute friends at once advised her not to mention the fact that she
knew the author of "Jane Eyre" to any one, as her acquaintance with
such a person would be regarded as a reflection on her own character!
When Charlotte was challenged by her friend, she uttered stormy
denials in general terms, which carried a complete confirmation of the
truth; and when, in the spring of 1848, Miss N---- visited Haworth,
full confession was made, and the poems brought forth and shown to
her, in addition to the stories.

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

    April 25th, 1848.

    I was not at all surprised at the contents of your note. Indeed,
    what part of it was new to us? V---- has his good and bad side,
    like most others. There is his own original nature, and there are
    the alterations the world has made in him. Meantime, why do B----
    and G---- trouble themselves with matching him? Let him, in God's
    name, court half the country-side and marry the other half, if
    such procedure seem good in his eyes, and let him do it all in
    quietness. He has his own botherations, no doubt; it does not seem
    to be such very easy work getting married, even for a man, since
    it is necessary to make up to so many ladies. More tranquil are
    those who have settled their bargain with celibacy. I like Q----'s
    letters more and more. Her goodness is indeed better than mere
    talent. I fancy she will never be married, but the amiability of
    her character will give her comfort. To be sure, one has only her
    letters to judge from, and letters often deceive; but hers seem so
    artless and unaffected. Still, were I in your place I should feel
    uneasy in the midst of this correspondence. Does a doubt of mutual
    satisfaction in case you should one day meet never torment you?...
    Anne says it pleases her to think that you have kept her little
    drawing. She would rather have done it for you than for a
    stranger.

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

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

    Haworth, October 14th, 1848.

    The event to which you allude came upon us indeed with startling
    suddenness, and was a severe shock to us all. My poor brother has
    long had a shaken constitution, and during the summer his appetite
    had been diminished and he had seemed weaker; but neither we, nor
    himself, nor any medical man who was consulted on his case,
    thought it one of immediate danger: he was out of doors two days
    before his death, and was only confined to bed one single day. I
    thank you for your kind sympathy. Many, under the circumstances,
    would think our loss rather a relief than otherwise; in truth, we
    must acknowledge, in all humility and gratitude, that God has
    greatly tempered judgment with mercy; but yet, as you doubtless
    know from experience, the last earthly separation cannot take
    place between near relations without the keenest pangs on the part
    of the survivors. Every wrong and sin is forgotten then; pity and
    grief share the heart and the memory between them. Yet we are not
    without comfort in our affliction. A most propitious change marked
    the few last days of poor Branwell's life; his demeanour, his
    language, his sentiments, were all singularly altered and
    softened, and this change could not be owing to the fear of death,
    for within half an hour of his decease he seemed unconscious of
    danger. In God's hands we leave him! He sees not as man sees.
    Papa, I am thankful to say, has borne the event pretty well. His
    distress was great at first. To lose an only son is no ordinary
    trial. But his physical strength has not hitherto failed him, and
    he has now in a great measure recovered his mental composure; my
    dear sisters are pretty well also. Unfortunately illness attacked
    me at the crisis, when strength was most needed; I bore up for a
    day or two, hoping to be better, but got worse; fever, sickness,
    total loss of appetite and internal pain were the symptoms. The
    doctor pronounced it to be bilious fever--but I think it must have
    been in a mitigated form; it yielded to medicine and care in a few
    days; I was only confined to my bed a week, and am, I trust,
    nearly well now. I felt it a grievous thing to be incapacitated
    from action and effort at a time when action and effort were most
    called for. The past month seems an overclouded period in my life.

Alas! the brave woman who felt it to be "a grievous thing" that she
could not bear her full share of the family burden, little knew how
terribly that burden was to be increased, how much heavier and blacker
were the clouds which awaited her than any through which she had yet
passed. The storm which even then was gathering upon her path was one
which no sunshine of fame or prosperity could dissipate. The one to
whom Charlotte's heart had always clung most fondly, the sister who
had been nearest to her in age and nearest to her in affection, Emily,
the brilliant but ill-fated child of genius, began to fade. "She had
never," says Charlotte, speaking in the solitude of her fame,
"lingered over any task in her life, and she did not linger now." Yet
the quick decline of Emily Brontë is one of the saddest of all the sad
features of the story. I have spoken of her reserve. So intense was it
that when dying she refused to admit even to her own sisters that she
was ill. They saw her fading before their eyes; they knew that the
grave was yawning at her feet; and yet they dared not offer her any
attention such as an invalid needed, and such as they were longing to
bestow upon her. It was the cruellest torture of Charlotte's life.
During the brief period of Emily's illness, her sister writes as
follows to her friend:

    I mentioned your coming to Emily as a mere suggestion, with the
    faint hope that the prospect might cheer her, as she really
    esteems you perhaps more than any other person out of this house.
    I found, however, it would not do; any, the slightest excitement
    or putting out of the way, is not to be thought of, and indeed I
    do not think the journey in this unsettled weather, with the walk
    from Keighley and back, at all advisable for yourself. Yet I
    should have liked to see you, and so would Anne. Emily continues
    much the same: yesterday I thought her a little better, but to-day
    she is not so well. I hope still, for I _must_ hope; she is as dear
    to me as life. If I let the faintness of despair reach my heart I
    shall become worthless. The attack was, I believe, in the first
    place, inflammation of the lungs; it ought to have been met
    promptly in time; but she would take no care, use no means, she
    is too intractable. I _our_ wish I knew her state and feelings
    more clearly. The fever is not so high as it was, but the pain in
    the side, the cough, the emaciation are there still.

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

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

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

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

Terrible was the storm of death which in three short months swept off
two of the little household at Haworth; but it had not even yet
exhausted all its fury. Scarcely had Emily been laid in the grave than
Anne, the youngest and gentlest of the three sisters, began to fade.
Very slowly did she droop. The winter passed away, and the spring came
with a glimmer of hope; but the following unpublished letter, written
on the 16th of May, shows with what fears Charlotte set forth on that
visit to Scarborough which her sister insisted upon undertaking as a
last resource:

    Next Wednesday is the day fixed for our departure; Ellen
    accompanies us at her own kind and friendly wish. I would not
    refuse her society, but dared not urge her to go, for I have
    little hope that the excursion will be one of pleasure or benefit
    to those engaged in it. Anne is extremely weak. She herself has a
    fixed impression that the sea-air will give her a chance of
    regaining strength. That chance therefore she must have. Having
    resolved to try the experiment, misgivings are useless, and yet
    when I look at her misgivings will rise. She is more emaciated
    than Emily was at the very last, her breath scarcely serves her to
    mount the stairs, however slowly. She sleeps very little at night,
    and often passes most of the forenoon in a semi-lethargic state.
    Still she is up all day, and even goes out a little when it is
    fine. Fresh air usually acts as a temporary stimulus, but its
    reviving power diminishes.

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

    On our way to Scarborough we stopped at York, and after a rest at
    the George Hotel, and partaking of dinner, which she enjoyed, Anne
    went out in a bath-chair, and made purchases, along with
    Charlotte, of bonnets and dresses, besides visiting the minister.
    The morning after her arrival at Scarborough, she insisted on
    going to the baths, and would be left there with only the
    attendant in charge. She walked back alone to her lodgings, but
    fell exhausted as she reached the garden-gate. She never named
    this, but it was discovered afterwards. The same day she had a
    drive in a donkey carriage, and talked with the boy-driver on
    kindness to animals. On Sunday she wanted again to be left alone,
    and for us to go to church. Finding we would not leave her, she
    begged that she might go out, and we walked down towards the
    saloon, she resting half way, and sending us on with the excuse
    that she wanted us to see the place, this being _our_ first
    visit, though not hers. In the evening, after again asking us to
    go to church, she sat by the sitting-room window, enjoying a very
    glorious sunset. Next morning (the day she died) she rose by seven
    o'clock and dressed herself, refusing all assistance. She was the
    first of the little party to be ready to go downstairs; but when
    she reached the head of the stairs, she felt fearful of
    descending. Charlotte went to her and discovered this. I fancying
    there was some difficulty, left my room to see what it was, when
    Anne smilingly told me she felt afraid of the steps downward. I
    immediately said: "Let me try to carry you;" she looked pleased,
    but feared for me. Charlotte was angry at the idea, and greatly
    distressed, I could see, at this new evidence of Anne's weakness.
    Charlotte was at last persuaded to go to her room and leave us. I
    then went a step or two below Anne, and begged her to put her arms
    round my neck, and I said: "I will carry you like a baby." She
    still feared, but on my promising to put her down if I could not
    do it, she consented to trust herself to me. Strength seemed to be
    given for the effort, but on reaching the foot of the stairs, poor
    Anne's head fell like a leaden weight upon the top of mine. The
    shock was terrible, for I felt it could only be death that was
    coming. I just managed to bear her to the front of her easy-chair
    and drop her into it, falling myself on my knees before her, very
    miserable at the fact, and letting her fall at last, though it
    was into her chair. She was shaken, but she put out her arms to
    comfort me, and said: "You know it could not be helped, you did
    your best." After this she sat at the breakfast-table and partook
    of a basin of boiled milk prepared for her. As 11 A.M. approached,
    she wondered if she could be conveyed home in time to die there. At
    2 P.M. death had come, and left only her beautiful form in the
    sweetest peace.

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

    Before me lie the few letters which remain of Emily and Anne.
    There is little in them worth preserving. Both make reference to
    the fact that Charlotte is the great correspondent of the family,
    and that their brief and uninteresting epistles can have no charm
    for one who is constantly receiving letters from her. Yet that
    modest reserve which distinguished the greatest of the three is
    plainly visible in what little remains of the correspondence of
    the others. They had discovered before their death the real power
    that lay within them; they had just experienced the joy which
    comes from the exercise of this power; they had looked forward to
    a future which should be sunny and prosperous, as no other part of
    their lives of toil and patient endurance had been. Suddenly death
    had confronted them, and they recognised the fact that they must
    leave their work undone. Each faced the dread enemy in her own
    way, but neither shrank even from that blow. Emily's proud spirit
    refused to be conquered, and, as we have seen, up to the last
    agony she carried herself as one sternly indifferent to the
    weaknesses of the flesh, including that final weakness which must
    conquer all of us in the end. Anne found consolation, pure and
    deep, in her religious faith, and she died cheerfully in the firm
    belief that she was but entering upon that fuller life which lay
    beyond the grave. The one was defiant, the other resigned; but
    courage and fortitude were shown by each in accordance with her
    own special idiosyncrasy.



VIII.

"SHIRLEY."


Charlotte went back from Scarborough to Haworth alone. Her father met
her with unwonted demonstrations of affection, and she "tried to be
glad" that she was once more under the familiar roof. "But this time
joy was not to be the sensation." Yet the courage which had held her
sisters to the end supported her amid the pangs of loneliness and
bereavement. Even now there was no bitterness, no morbid gloom in the
heart which had suffered so keenly. Quietly but resolutely setting
aside her own sorrow, refusing all the invitations of her friend to
seek temporary relief in change of scene, she sat down to complete the
story which was intended to tell the world what the lost Emily had
seemed to be in the eyes of her fond sister. By herself, in the room
in which a short year ago three happy sisters had worked together,
within the walls which could never again echo with the old voices, or
walking on the moors, which would never more be trodden by the firm,
elastic step of Emily, she composed the brilliant story of
"Shirley"--the brightest and healthiest of her works. As she writes
she sometimes sends forth messages to those who love her, which tell
us of the spirit of the hero or the martyr burning within the frail
frame of the solitary woman. "Submission, courage, exertion when
practicable--these seem to be the weapons with which we must fight
life's long battle;" and that these are no mere words she proves with
all her accustomed honesty and sincerity, by acting up to them to the
very letter. But at times the burden presses upon her till it is
almost past endurance. Strangely enough, it is a comparative trifle,
as the world counts it, the illness of a servant, that occasions her
fiercest outburst of open grief:

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

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

[Illustration: THE "FIELD HEAD" OF SHIRLEY.]

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

    December, 1849.

    I have just remembered that as you do not know my address you
    cannot write to me till you get it. I came to this big Babylon
    last Thursday, and have been in what seems to me a sort of whirl
    ever since; for changes, scenes, and stimulus, which would be a
    trifle to others, are much to me. I found when I mentioned to Mr.
    ---- my plan of going to Dr. ----'s it would not do at all. He
    would have been seriously hurt: he made his mother write to me,
    and thus I was persuaded to make my principal stay at his house.
    So far I have found no reason to regret this decision. Mrs. ----
    received me at first like one who has had the strictest orders to
    be scrupulously attentive. I had fire in my bedroom evening and
    morning, two wax candles, &c., and Mrs. ---- and her daughters
    seemed to look on me with a mixture of respect and alarm. But all
    this is changed; that is to say, the attention and politeness
    continue as great as ever, but the alarm and estrangement are
    quite gone; she treats me as if she liked me, and I begin to like
    her much. Kindness is a potent heart-winner. I had not judged too
    favourably of ---- on a first impression--he pleases me much: I
    like him better as a son and brother than as a man of business.
    Mr. W---- too is really most gentlemanly and well-informed; his
    weak points he certainly has, but these are not seen in society.
    Mr. X---- (the little man) has again shown his parts. Of him I
    have not yet come to a clear decision. Abilities he has, for he
    rules his firm and keeps forty young men under strict control by
    his iron will. His young superior likes him, which, to speak the
    truth, is more than I do at present. In fact, I suspect that he is
    of the Helston order of men--rigid, despotic, and self-willed. He
    tries to be very kind, and even to express sympathy sometimes, and
    he does not manage it. He has a determined, dreadful nose in the
    middle of his face, which, when poked into my countenance, cuts
    into my soul like iron. Still he is horribly intelligent, quick,
    searching, sagacious, and with a memory of relentless tenacity: to
    turn to--after him is to turn from granite to easy down or warm
    fur. I have seen Thackeray.

    As to being happy, I am under scenes and circumstances of
    excitement, but I suffer acute pain sometimes--mental pain, I
    mean. At the moment Mr. Thackeray presented himself I was
    thoroughly faint from inanition, having eaten nothing since a very
    slight breakfast, and it was then seven o'clock in the evening.
    Excitement and exhaustion together made savage work of me that
    evening. What he thought of me I cannot tell. This evening I am
    going to meet Miss Martineau; she has written to me most kindly;
    she knows me only as Currer Bell; I am going alone; how I shall
    get on I do not know. If Mrs. ---- were not kind, I should
    sometimes be miserable; but she treats me almost affectionately,
    her attentions never flag. I have seen many things; I hope some
    day to tell you what. Yesterday I went over the new Houses of
    Parliament with Mr. ----. An attack of rheumatic fever has kept
    poor Mr. X---- out of the way since I wrote last. I am sorry for
    _his_ sake. It grows quite dark. I must stop. I shall not stay in
    London a day longer than I first intended. On those points I form
    my resolutions, and will not be shaken. The thundering _Times_ has
    attacked me savagely.

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

    Ellen it seems told you that I spent a fortnight in London last
    December. They wished me very much to stay a month, alleging that
    I should in that time be able to secure a complete circle of
    acquaintance, but I found a fortnight of such excitement quite
    enough. The whole day was usually devoted to sight-seeing, and
    often the evening was spent in society; it was more than I could
    bear for any length of time. On one occasion I met a party of my
    critics--seven of them. Some of them had been my bitter foes in
    print, but they were prodigiously civil face to face. These
    gentlemen seemed infinitely grander, more pompous, dashing, showy,
    than the few authors I saw. Mr. Thackeray, for example, is a man
    of very quiet, simple demeanour; he is, however, looked upon with
    some awe and even distrust. His conversation is very peculiar, too
    perverse to be pleasant. It was proposed to me to see Charles
    Dickens, Lady Morgan, Mesdames Trollope, Gore, and some others;
    but I was aware these introductions would bring a degree of
    notoriety I was not disposed to encounter; I declined therefore
    with thanks. Nothing charmed me more during my stay in town than
    the pictures I saw; one or two private collections of Turner's
    best water-colours were indeed a treat. His later oil paintings
    are strange things--things that baffle description. I have twice
    seen Macready act; once in "Macbeth," and once in "Othello." I
    astounded a dinner-party by honestly saying I did not like him. It
    is the fashion to rave about his splendid acting; anything more
    false and artificial, less genuinely impressive than his whole
    style, I could scarcely have imagined. The fact is, the stage
    system altogether is hollow nonsense. They act farces well enough;
    the actors comprehend their parts and do them justice. They
    comprehend nothing about tragedy or Shakespeare, and it is a
    failure. I said so, and by so saying produced a blank silence, a
    mute consternation. I was indeed obliged to dissent on many
    occasions, and to offend by dissenting. It seems now very much the
    custom to admire a certain wordy, intricate, obscure style of
    poetry, such as Elizabeth Barrett Browning writes. Some pieces
    were referred to, about which Currer Bell was expected to be very
    rapturous, and failing in this he disappointed. London people
    strike a provincial as being very much taken up with little
    matters, about which no one out of particular town circles cares
    much. They talk too of persons, literary men and women, whose
    names are scarcely heard in the country, and in whom you cannot
    get up an interest. I think I should scarcely like to live in
    London, and were I obliged to live there I should certainly go
    little into company--especially I should eschew the literary
    critics.


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

[Illustration: THE "BRIARFIELD" CHURCH OF SHIRLEY.]

    I believe I should have written to you before, but I don't know
    what heaviness of spirit has beset me of late, made my faculties
    dull, made rest weariness, and occupation burdensome. Now and then
    the silence of the house, the solitude of the room has pressed on
    me with a weight I found it difficult to bear, and recollection
    has not failed to be as alert, poignant, obtrusive, as other
    feelings were languid. I attribute this state of things partly to
    the weather. Quicksilver invariably falls low in storms and high
    winds, and I have ere this been warned of approaching disturbance
    in the atmosphere by a sense of bodily weakness, and deep, heavy
    mental sadness, which some would call _presentiment_. Presentiment
    indeed it is, but not at all supernatural. The Haworth people have
    been making great fools of themselves about "Shirley;" they take it
    in the enthusiastic light. When they got the volumes at the
    Mechanics' Institution, all the members wanted them; they cast lots
    for the whole three, and whoever got a volume was only allowed to
    keep it two days, and to be fined a shilling _per diem_ for longer
    detention. It would be mere nonsense and vanity to tell you what
    they say. I have had no letters from London for a long time, and am
    very much ashamed of myself to find, now that that stimulus is
    withdrawn, how dependent upon it I had become. I cannot help
    feeling something of the excitement of expectation till post-hour
    comes, and when day after day it brings nothing I get low. This is
    a stupid, disgraceful, unmeaning state of things. I feel bitterly
    enraged at my own dependence and folly. It is so bad for the mind
    to be quite alone, to have none with whom to talk over little
    crosses and disappointments, and laugh them away. If I could write
    I daresay I should be better, but I cannot write a line. However
    (D. V.), I shall contend against the idiocy. I had rather a foolish
    letter from Miss ---- the other day. Some things in it nettled me,
    especially an unnecessarily earnest assurance that in spite of all
    I had gone and done in the writing line I still retained a place in
    her esteem. My answer took strong and high ground at once. I said I
    had been troubled by no doubts on the subject, that I neither did
    myself nor her the injustice to suppose there was anything in what
    I had written to incur the just forfeiture of esteem. I was aware,
    I intimated, that some persons thought proper to take exceptions at
    "Jane Eyre," and that for their own sakes I was sorry, as I
    invariably found them individuals in whom the animal largely
    predominated over the intellectual, persons by nature coarse, by
    inclination sensual, whatever they might be by education and
    principle.


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

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

    I return Q----'s letter. The business is a most unpleasant one to
    be concerned in. It seems to me _now_ altogether unworthy in its
    beginning, progress, and ending. Q---- is the only pure thing about
    it; she stands between her coarse father and cold, unloving suitor,
    like innocence between a pair of world-hardened knaves. The
    comparison seems rather hard to be applied to V----, but as I see
    him now he merits it. If V---- has no means of keeping a wife, if
    he does not possess a sixpence he is sure of, how can he think of
    marrying a woman from whom he cannot expect she should work to keep
    herself? V----'s want of candour, the twice-falsified account he
    gave of the matter, tells painfully and deeply against him. It
    shows a glimpse of his hidden motives such as I refrain from
    describing in words. After all he is perhaps only like the majority
    of men. Certainly those men who lead a gay life in their youth, and
    arrive at middle life with feelings blunted and passions exhausted,
    can have but one aim in marriage--the selfish advancement of their
    interest. And to think that such men take as wives--as second
    selves--women young, modest, sincere, pure in heart and life, with
    feelings all fresh and emotions all unworn, and bind such virtue
    and vitality to their own withered existence, such sincerity to
    their own hollowness, such disinterestedness to their own haggard
    avarice! to think this, troubles the soul to its inmost depths.
    Nature and justice forbid the banns of such wedlock. This note is
    written under excitement. Q----'s letter seems to have lifted so
    fraudulent a veil, and to show both father and suitor lurking
    behind in shadow so dark, acting from motives so poor and low, so
    conscious of each other's littleness, and consequently so destitute
    of mutual respect! These things incense me, but I shall cool down.


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

In June, 1850, she is induced to pay another visit to London, going
upon this occasion whilst the season is at its height, though she has
stipulated before going that she is "not to be lionised."

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


    I am leaving London if all be well on Tuesday, and shall be very
    glad to come to you for a few days if that arrangement still
    remains convenient to you. My London visit has much surpassed my
    expectations this time. I have suffered less, and enjoyed more
    than before; rather a trying termination yet remains to me. Mrs.
    ----'s youngest son is at school in Scotland, and her eldest is
    going to fetch him home for the vacation. The other evening he
    announced his intention of taking one of his sisters with him, and
    the evening after he further proposed that Miss Brontë should go
    down to Edinburgh and join them there, and see that city and its
    suburbs. I concluded he was joking, laughed and declined. However,
    it seems he was in earnest, and being always accustomed to have
    his will, he brooks opposition ill. The thing appearing to me
    perfectly out of the question, I still refused. Mrs. ---- did not
    at all favour it, but her worthy son only waxed more determined.
    This morning she came and entreated me to go; G---- wished it so
    much, he had begged her to use her influence, &c. &c. Now, I
    believe that he and I understand each other very well, and respect
    each other very sincerely. We both know the wide breach time has
    made between us. We do not embarrass each other, or very rarely.
    My six or eight years of seniority, to say nothing of lack of all
    pretensions to beauty, &c, are a perfect safeguard. I should not
    in the least fear to go with him to China. I like to see him
    pleased. I greatly _dis_like to ruffle and disappoint him; so
    he shall have his mind, and if all be well I mean to join him in
    Edinburgh, after I have spent a few days with you. With his
    buoyant animal spirits and youthful vigour he will make severe
    demands on my muscles and nerves; but I daresay I shall get
    through somehow.



IX.

LONELINESS AND FAME.


Charlotte Brontë's letters during 1850 and 1851 are among the most
valuable illustrations of the true character of the woman which we
possess. Stricken as she had been by successive bereavements, which
had robbed her of her dearest friends and companions, and left her the
sole prop of the dull house on the moors and of its aged head, she had
yet recovered much of her peace of mind and even of her vitality and
cheerfulness. She had now, also, begun to see something of life as it
is presented, not to despised governesses, but to successful
authoresses. Her visits to London had brought her into contact with
some of the leaders of the literary world. Who can have forgotten her
interview with Thackeray, when she was "moved to speak to the giant of
some of his shortcomings?" Haworth itself had become a point of
attraction to curious persons, and not a few visitors found their way
under one pretence or another to the old parsonage, to be received
with effusive courtesy by Mr. Brontë, and with shy indifference by his
daughter. Her correspondence, too, became widely-spread among men and
women of distinction in the world and in Society. Altogether it was a
different life upon which she now looked out from her remote eyrie
among the hills--a life with many new interests in it, with much that
was calculated to awaken chords in her heart hitherto untouched, and
to bring to light new characteristics of her temper and genius. One
would fain speculate upon what might have been, but for the desolation
wrought in her home and heart by that tempest of death which raged
during the autumn of 1848 and the spring of 1849. As it was, no
novelty could make her forget what had been; no new faces, however
welcome, could dim the tender visions of the faces that were seen no
more, or could weaken in any degree the affection with which she still
clung to the friend of her school-days. Simplicity and sincerity are
the prevailing features of her letters, during this critical time in
her life, as during all the years which had preceded it. They reflect
her mind in many moods; they show her in many different situations;
but they never fail to give the impression of one whose allegiance to
her own conscience and whose reverence for truth and purity remain now
what they had been in her days of happy and unworldly obscurity. The
letters I now quote are quite new to the public.

    July 18th, 1850.

    You must cheer up, for your letter proves to me that you are
    low-spirited. As for me, what I said is to be taken in this sense:
    that, under the circumstances, it would be presumptuous in me to
    calculate on a long life--a truth obvious enough. For the rest, we
    are all in the hands of Him who apportions His gifts, health or
    sickness, length or brevity of days, as is best for the receiver:
    to him who has work to do time will be given in which to do it;
    for him to whom no task is assigned the season of rest will come
    earlier. As to the suffering preceding our last sleep, the
    sickness, decay, the struggle of flesh and spirit, it _must_
    come sooner or later to all. If, in one point of view, it is sad
    to have few ties in the world, in another point of view it is
    soothing; women who have husbands and children must look forward
    to death with more pain, more fear, than those who have none. To
    dismiss the subject, I wish (without cant, and not in any
    hackneyed sense) that both you and I could always say in this
    matter, the will of God be done. I am beginning to get settled at
    home, but the solitude seems heavy as yet. It is a great change,
    but in looking forward I try to hope for the best. So little faith
    have I in the power of any temporary excitement to do real good
    that I put off day by day writing to London to tell them I have
    come home; and till then it was agreed I should not hear from
    them. It is painful to be dependent on the small stimulus letters
    give. I sometimes think I will renounce it altogether, close all
    correspondence on some quiet pretext, and cease to look forward at
    post-time for any letters but yours.


    August 1st, 1850.

    MY DEAR E.,--I have certainly felt the late wet weather a good
    deal, and been somewhat bothered with frequently-returning colds,
    and so has Papa. About him I have been far from happy: every cold
    seems to make and leave him so weak. It is easy to say this world
    is only a scene of probation, but it is a hard thing to feel. Your
    friends the ----s seem to be happy just now, and long may they
    continue to be so! Give C. Brontë's sincere love to R---- and tell
    her she hopes Mr. ---- will make her a good husband. If he does
    not, woe be to him! I wish a similar wish for Q----; and then I do
    really think there will be a kind of happiness. That proposition
    about remaining at H---- sounds like beginning life sensibly, with
    no showy dash--I like it. Are you comfortable amongst all these
    turtle-doves? I could not maintain your present position for a day;
    I should feel _de trop_, as the French say; that is in the way. But
    you are different to me. My portrait is come from London, and the
    Duke of Wellington's, and kind letters enough. Papa thinks the
    portrait looks older than I do. He says the features are far from
    flattered, but acknowledges that the expression is wonderfully good
    and life-like. I left the book called "Social Aspects" at B----;
    accept it from me. I may well give it you, for the author has
    kindly sent me another copy.... You ask for some promise: who that
    does not know the future can make promises? Not I.


    September 2nd, 1850.

    Poor Mrs. A---- it seems is gone; I saw her death in the papers.
    It is another lesson on the nature of life, on its strange
    brevity, and in many instances apparent futility.... V---- came
    here on Saturday last; T----, who was to have accompanied him, was
    prevented from executing his intention. I regretted his absence,
    for I by no means coveted the long _tête-à-tête_ with V----.
    However, it passed off pretty well. He is satisfied now with his
    own prospects, and this makes him--on the surface--satisfied with
    other things. He spoke of Q---- with content and approbation. He
    looks forward to marriage as a sort of harbour where he is to lay
    up his now somewhat battered vessel in quiet moorings. He has seen
    all he wants to see of life; now he is prepared to settle. I
    listened to all with equanimity and cheerfulness--not assumed but
    real--for Papa is now somewhat better; his appetite and spirits
    are improved, and that eases my mind of cankering anxiety. My own
    health, too, is, I think, really benefited by the late changes of
    air and scene; I fancy, at any rate, that I feel stronger. Still I
    mused in my own way on V----'s character--its depth and scope, I
    believe, are ascertained.

    I saw the governess at ----; she looked a little better and more
    cheerful. She was almost as pleased to see me as if we had been
    related; and when I bid her good-bye expressed an earnest hope
    that I would soon come again. The children seem fond of her, and
    on the whole obedient--two great alleviations of the inevitable
    evils of her position.

    Cheer up, dear Nell, and try not to stagnate; or, when you cannot
    help it, and when your heart is constricted and oppressed,
    remember what life is and must be to all: some moments of sunshine
    alternating with many of overclouded and often tempestuous
    darkness. Humanity cannot escape its fate, which is to drink a
    mixed cup. Let us believe that the gall and the vinegar are
    salutary.


    Sept. 14th, 1850.

    I wish, dear Ellen, you would tell me what is the "twaddle" about
    my marrying, which you hear. If I knew the details I should have a
    better chance of guessing the quarter from which such gossip
    comes. As it is I am quite at a loss. Whom am I to marry? I think
    I have scarcely seen a single man with whom such a union would be
    possible since I left London. Doubtless there are men whom, if I
    chose to encourage, I might marry. But no matrimonial lot is even
    remotely offered me which seems to me truly desirable. And even if
    that were the case there would be many obstacles. The least
    allusion to such a thing is most offensive to Papa. An article
    entitled "Currer Bell" has lately appeared in _The Palladium_,
    a new periodical published in Edinburgh. It is an eloquent
    production, and one of such warm sympathy and high appreciation as
    I had never expected to see. It makes mistakes about authorship,
    &c, but those I hope one day to set right. Mr. X---- (the little
    man) first informed me of this article. I was somewhat surprised to
    receive his letter, having concluded nine months ago that there
    would be no more correspondence from that quarter. I enclose a note
    from him received subsequently, in answer to my acknowledgment.
    Read it, and tell me exactly how it impresses you regarding the
    writer's character, &c. He is deficient neither in spirit nor
    sense.


    October 14th, 1850.

    I return Q----'s letter. She seems quite happy and fully satisfied
    of her husband's affection. Is this the usual way of spending the
    honeymoon? To me it seems as if they overdo it. That travelling,
    and tugging, and fagging about, and getting drenched and muddled,
    by no means harmonises with my notions of happiness. Besides, the
    two meals a day, &c, would do one up. It all reminds me too
    sharply of the few days I spent with V---- in London nearly ten
    years since, when I was many a time fit to drop with the fever and
    the faintness resulting from long fasting and excessive fatigue.
    However, no doubt a bride can bear such things better than others.
    I smiled to myself at some passages. She has wondrous faith in her
    husband's intellectual powers and acquirements. V----'s illusions
    will soon be over, but Q----'s will not--and therein she is
    happier than he.... I suppose ---- will probably discover that
    he, too, wants a wife. But I will say no more. You know I
    disapprove of jesting and teasing on these matters. Idle words
    sometimes do unintentional harm.


    December, 1850.

    I got home all right yesterday soon after two o'clock, and found
    Papa, thank God, well and free from cold. To-day some amount of
    sickliness and headache is bothering me, but nothing to
    signify.... The Christmas books waiting for me were, as I
    expected, from Thackeray, Mrs. Gaskell, and Mr. Ruskin. No letter
    from Mr. W----. It is six weeks since I heard from him. I feel
    uneasy, but do not like to write. _The Examiner_ is very sore
    about my Preface, because I did not make it a special exception in
    speaking of the mass of critics. The soreness is unfortunate and
    gratuitous, for in my mind I certainly excepted it. Another paper
    shows painful sensitiveness on the same account; but it does not
    matter, these things are all transitory.

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

    Jan. 20th, 1851.

    Thank you heartily for the two letters I owe you. You seem very
    gay at present, and provided you only take care not to catch cold
    with coming home at night, I am not sorry to hear it; a little
    movement, cheerfulness, stimulus, is not only beneficial, but
    necessary. Your last letter but one made me smile. I think you
    draw great conclusions from small inferences. I think those "fixed
    intentions" you fancy are imaginary. I think the "under-current"
    amounts simply to this, a kind of natural liking and sense of
    something congenial. Were there no vast barrier of age, fortune,
    &c, there is perhaps enough personal regard to make things
    possible which now are impossible. If men and women married
    because they like each other's temper, look, conversation, nature,
    and so on--and if, besides, years were more nearly equal--the
    chance you allude to might be admitted as a chance; but other
    reasons regulate matrimony--reasons of convenience, of connection,
    of money. Meantime I am content to know him as a friend, and pray
    God to continue to me the common sense to look on one so young, so
    rising, and so hopeful in no other light. The hint about the Rhine
    disturbs me; I am not made of stone and what is mere excitement to
    others is fever to me. However it is a matter for the future, and
    long to look forward to. As I see it now, the journey is out of
    the question--for many reasons--I rather wonder he should think of
    it. Good-bye. Heaven grant us both some quiet wisdom and strength,
    not merely to bear the trial of pain, but to resist the lure of
    pleasure when it comes in such a shape as our better judgment
    disapproves.


    Feb. 26th, 1851.

    You ought always to conclude that when I don't write it is simply
    because I have nothing particular to say. Be sure that ill news
    will travel fast enough, and good news too when such commodity
    comes. If I could often _be_ or _seem_ in brisk spirits, I might
    write oftener, knowing that my letters would amuse. But as times
    go, a glimpse of sunshine now and then is as much as one has a
    right to expect. However, I get on very decently. I am now and then
    tempted to break through my resolution of not having you to come
    before summer, and to ask you to come to this Patmos in a week or
    two. But it would be dull--very dull--for you.... What would you
    say to coming here the week after next to stay only just so long as
    you could comfortably bear the monotony? If the weather were dry,
    and the moors fine, I should not mind it so much--we could walk for
    change.

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

    You are to say no more about "Jupiter" and "Venus." What do you
    mean by such heathen trash? The fact is no fallacy can be wilder,
    and I won't have it hinted at, even in jest because my common
    sense laughs it to scorn. The idea of X---- shocks me less; it
    would be a more likely match, if "matches" were at all in
    question, _which they are not_. He still sends his little
    newspaper, and the other day there came a letter of a bulk,
    volume, pith, judgment, and knowledge, worthy to have been the
    product of a giant.


    X---- has been, and is gone; things are just as they were. I only
    know, in addition to the slight information I possessed before,
    that this Australian undertaking is necessary to the continued
    prosperity of his firm, that he alone was pronounced to possess
    the power and means to carry it out successfully, that mercantile
    honour, combined with his own sense of duty, obliged him to accept
    the post of honour and of danger to which he has been appointed,
    that he goes with great personal reluctance, and that he
    contemplates an absence of five years. He looked much thinner and
    older. I saw him very near, and once through my glass. The
    resemblance to Branwell struck me forcibly; it is marked. He is
    not ugly, but very peculiar. The lines in his face show an
    inflexibility, and, I must add, a hardness of character, which
    does not attract. As he stood near me, as he looked at me in his
    keen way, it was all I could do to stand my ground tranquilly and
    steadily, and not to recoil as before. It is no use saying
    anything if I am not candid. I avow then that on this occasion,
    predisposed as I was to regard him very favourably, his manners
    and his personal appearance scarcely pleased me more than at the
    first interview. He gave me a book at parting, requesting in his
    brief way that I would keep it for his sake, and adding hastily:
    "I shall hope to hear from you in Australia; your letters _have_
    been and _will_ be a greater refreshment than you can think or I
    can tell." And so he is gone, and stern and abrupt little man as
    he is, too often jarring as are his manners, his absence and the
    exclusion of his idea from my mind, leave me certainly with less
    support and in deeper solitude than before. You see, dear Nell, we
    are still precisely on the same level. _You_ are not isolated. I
    feel that there is a certain mystery about this transaction yet,
    and whether it will ever be cleared up to me, I do not know.
    However, my plain duty is to wean my mind from the subject, and if
    possible to avoid pondering over it.... I feel that in his way he
    has a regard for me; a regard which I cannot bring myself entirely
    to reciprocate in kind, and yet its withdrawal leaves a painful
    blank. I have just got your note. Above, you have all the account
    of my visitor. I dare not aver that your kind wish that the visit
    would yield me more pleasure than pain has been fulfilled.
    Something at my heart aches and gnaws drearily. But I must
    cultivate fortitude.


    Thank you for your kind note. It was kind of you to write it,
    though it _was_ your school-day. I never knew you to let a
    slight impediment stand in your way when doing a friendly action.
    Certainly I shall not soon forget last Friday, and never, I think,
    the evening and night succeeding that morning and afternoon. Evils
    seldom come singly, and soon after X---- was gone Papa grew much
    worse. He went to bed early. Was sick and ill for an hour, and
    when at last he began to doze and I left him, I came down to the
    dining-room with a sense of weight, fear, and desolation hard to
    express and harder to endure. A wish that you were with me did
    cross my mind; but I repelled it as a most selfish wish. Indeed it
    was only short-lived; my natural tendency in moments of this sort
    is to get through the struggle alone; to think that one is
    burdening others makes all worse. You speak to me in soft,
    consolatory accents; but I hold far sterner language to myself,
    dear Nell. An absence of five years; a dividing expanse of three
    oceans; the wide difference between a man's active career and a
    woman's passive existence. These things are almost equivalent to a
    life-long separation. But there is another thing which forms a
    barrier more difficult to pass than any of these. Would X---- and
    I ever suit? Could I ever feel for him enough love to accept of
    him as a husband? Friendship, gratitude, esteem, I have; but each
    moment that he came near me, and that I could see his eyes
    fastened upon me, my veins ran ice. Now that he is away I feel far
    more gently towards him; it is only close by that I grow rigid. I
    did not want to be proud nor intend to be proud, but I was forced
    to be so. Most true is it that we are overruled by One above us,
    that in His hands our very will is as clay in the hands of the
    potter.


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


    I have heard from X---- to-day, a quiet little note. He returned
    to London a week since on Saturday. He leaves England next month.
    His note concludes with asking whether he has any chance of seeing
    me in London before that time. I must tell him that I have already
    fixed June for my visit, and, therefore, in all human probability
    we shall see each other no more. There is still a want of plain
    mutual understanding in this business, and there is sadness and
    pain in more ways than one. My conscience, I can truly say, does
    not _now_ accuse me of having treated X---- with injustice or
    unkindness. What I once did wrong in this way I have endeavoured
    to remedy both to himself and in speaking of him to others. I am
    sure he has estimable and sterling qualities; but with every
    disposition--with every wish--with every intention even to look on
    him in the most favourable point of view at his last visit, it was
    impossible for me in my inmost heart to think of him as one that
    might one day be acceptable as a husband.... No, if X---- be the
    only husband fate offers to me, single I must always remain. But
    yet at times I grieve for him; and perhaps it is superfluous, for
    I cannot think he will suffer much--a hard nature, occupation,
    change of scene will befriend him.


    I have had a long, kind letter from Miss Martineau lately. She
    says she is well and happy. Also I have had a very long letter
    from Mr. ----, the first for many weeks. He speaks of X---- with
    much respect and regret, and says he will be greatly missed by
    many friends. I discover with some surprise that Papa has taken a
    decided liking to X----. The marked kindness of his manner to him
    when he bade him good-bye, exhorting him to be "true to himself,
    his country, and his God," and wishing him all good wishes, struck
    me with some astonishment at the time; and whenever he has alluded
    to him since, it has been with significant eulogy.... You say Papa
    has penetration. On this subject I believe he has indeed. I have
    told him nothing, yet he seems to be _au fait_ to the whole
    business. I could think at some moments his guesses go further
    than mine. I believe he thinks a prospective union, deferred for
    five years, with such a decorous, reliable personage, would be a
    very proper and advisable affair. However I ask no questions, and
    he asks me none; and if he did I should have nothing to tell him.

The summer following this affair of the heart witnessed another visit
to London, where she heard Mr. Thackeray's lectures on the humourists.
How she enjoyed listening to her idol, in one of his best moods, need
not be told. Some there are still living who remember that first
lecture, when all London had assembled to listen to the author of
"Vanity Fair," and the rumour suddenly ran round the room that the
author of "Jane Eyre" was among the audience. Men and women were at
fault at first, in their efforts to distinguish "Currer Bell" in that
brilliant company of literary and social notabilities; but at last she
was discovered hiding under the motherly wing of a chaperon, timid,
blushing, but excited and pleased--_not_ at the attention she herself
attracted, but at the treat she had in prospect. One or two gentlemen
sought and obtained introductions to her--amongst them Lord Carlisle
and Mr. Monckton Milnes. They were not particularly impressed by the
appearance or the speech of the parson's daughter. Her person was
insignificant, her dress somewhat rustic, her language quaintly
precise and formal, her manner odd and constrained. Altogether this
was a woman whom even London could not lionise; somebody outwardly
altogether too plain, simple, unpretending, to admit of hero-worship.
Within there was, as we know, something entirely exceptional and
extraordinary; but, like Lucy Snowe, she still kept her real self
hidden under a veil which no casual friend or chance acquaintance was
allowed to lift. It was but a brief visit to the "Big Babylon," and
then back to Haworth, to loneliness and duty! In July, 1851, she
writes from the parsonage to one of her friends as follows:

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



X.

"VILLETTE."


With the autumn of 1851 another epoch in the life of Charlotte Brontë
was ushered in. She began to write "Villette." Something has already
been said of the true character of that marvellous book, in which her
own deepest experiences and ripest wisdom are given to the world. Of
the manner in which it was written her readers know nothing. Yet this,
the best-beloved child of her genius, was brought forth with a travail
so bitter that more than once she was tempted to lay aside her pen and
hush her voice for ever. Every sentence was wrung from her as though
it had been a drop of blood, and the book was built up bit by bit,
amid paroxysms of positive anguish, occasioned in part by her own
physical weakness and suffering, but still more by the torture through
which her mind passed as she depicted scene after scene from the
darkest chapter in her own life, for the benefit of those for whom she
wrote. It is from her letters that at this time also we get the best
indications of what she was passing through. Few, perhaps, reading
these letters would suppose that their writer was at that very time
engaged in the production of a great masterpiece, destined to hold its
own among the ripest and finest fruits of English genius. But no one
can read them without seeing how true the woman's soul was, how deep
her sympathy with those she loved, how keen her criticisms of even the
dull and commonplace characters around her, how vivid and sincere her
interest in everything which was passing either in the great world
which lay afar off, or in the little world the drama of which was
being enacted under her own eyes. Even the ordinary incidents
mentioned in her letters, the chance expressions which drop from her
pen, have an interest when we remember who it is that speaks, and at
what hour in her life this speech falls from her.

    September, 1851.

    I have mislaid your last letter, and so cannot look it over to see
    what there is in it to answer; but it is time it was answered in
    some fashion, whether I have anything to say or not. Miss ----'s
    note is very like her. All that talk about "friendship," "mutual
    friends," "auld lang syne," &c., sounds very like palaver. Mrs.
    ---- wrote to me a week or a fortnight since--a well-meaning,
    amiable note, dwelling a good deal, excusably perhaps, on the good
    time that is coming. I mean, to speak plain English, on her
    expectation of soon becoming a mother. No doubt it is very natural
    in her to feel as if no woman had ever been a mother before; but I
    could not help inditing an answer calculated to shake her up a
    bit. A day or two since I had another note from her, quite as good
    as usual, but I think a trifle nonplussed by the rather
    unceremonious fashion in which her terrors and the expected
    personage were handled.... It is useless to tell you how I live. I
    endure life; but whether I enjoy it or not is another question.
    However, I get on. The weather, I think, has not been very good
    lately; or else the beneficial effects of change of air and scene
    are evaporating. In spite of regular exercise the old headaches
    and starting, wakeful nights are coming upon me again. But I
    _do_ get on, and have neither wish nor right to complain.


    October, 1851.

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


    November, 1851.

    Papa, Tabby, and Martha are at present all better, but yet none of
    them well. Martha especially looks feeble. I wish she had a better
    constitution. As it is, one is always afraid of giving her too
    much to do; and yet there are many things I cannot undertake
    myself; and we do not like to change when we have had her so long.
    The other day I received the enclosed letter from Australia. I had
    had one before from the same quarter, which is still unanswered. I
    told you I did not expect to hear thence--nor did I. The letter is
    long, but it will be worth your while to read it. In its way it
    has merit--that cannot be denied--abundance of information, talent
    of a certain kind, alloyed (I think) here and there with errors of
    taste. This little man with all his long letters remains as much a
    conundrum to me as ever. Your account of the H---- "domestic joys"
    amused me much. The good folks seem very happy; long may they
    continue so! It somewhat cheers me to know that such happiness
    _does_ exist on earth.


    November, 1851.

    All here is pretty much as usual.... The only events of my life
    consist in that little change occasional letters bring. I have had
    two from Miss W---- since she left Haworth, which touched me much.
    She seems to think so much of a little congenial company, a little
    attention and kindness. She says she has not for many days known
    such enjoyment as she experienced during the ten days she stayed
    here. Yet you know what Haworth is--dull enough. Before answering
    X----'s letter from Australia I got up my courage to write to ----
    and beg him to give me an impartial account of X----'s character
    and disposition, owning that I was very much in the dark on these
    points and did not like to continue correspondence without further
    information. I got the answer which I enclose. Since receiving it
    I have replied to X---- in a calm, civil manner. At the earliest I
    cannot hear from him again before the spring.


    December, 1851.

    I hope you have got on this last week well. It has been very
    trying here. Papa so far has borne it unhurt; but these winds and
    changes have given me a bad cold; however, I am better now than I
    was. Poor old Keeper (Emily's dog) died last Monday morning, after
    being ill one night. He went gently to sleep; we laid his old
    faithful head in the garden. Flossy is dull, and misses him.
    There was something very sad in losing the old dog; yet I am glad
    he met a natural fate. People kept hinting that he ought to be put
    away, which neither Papa nor I liked to think of. If I were near a
    town, and could get cod-liver oil fresh and sweet, I really would
    most gladly take your advice and try it; but how I could possibly
    procure it at Haworth I do not see.... You ask about "The Lily and
    the Bee." If you have read it, you have effected an exploit beyond
    me. I glanced at a few pages, and laid it down hopeless, nor can I
    now find courage to resume it. But then, I never liked Warren's
    writings. "Margaret Maitland" is a good book, I doubt not.

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

    I wish you could have seen the coolness with which I captured your
    letter on its way to Papa, and at once conjecturing its tenor,
    made the contents my own. Be quiet. Be tranquil. It is, dear Nell,
    my decided intention to come to B---- for a few days when I
    _can_ come; but of this last I must positively judge for myself,
    and I must take my time. I am better to-day--much better; but you
    can have little idea of the sort of condition into which mercury
    throws people to ask me to go from home anywhere in close or open
    carriage. And as to talking--four days ago I could not well have
    articulated three sentences. Yet I did not need nursing, and I
    kept out of bed. It was enough to burden myself; it would have
    been misery to me to have annoyed another.


    March, 1852.

    The news of E. T.'s death came to me last week in a letter from
    M----, a long letter, which wrung my heart so in its simple,
    strong, truthful emotion, I have only ventured to read it once. It
    ripped up half-scarred wounds with terrible force--the death-bed
    was just the same--breath failing, &c. She fears she will now in
    her dreary solitude become "a stern, harsh, selfish woman." This
    fear struck home. Again and again I have felt it for myself; and
    what is _my_ position to M----'s? I should break out in energetic
    wishes that she would return to England, if reason would permit me
    to believe that prosperity and happiness would there await her.
    But I see no such prospect. May God help her as God only can help!

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

    March 12th, 1852.

    Your kind note holds out a strong temptation, but one that _must
    be resisted_. From home I must not go unless health or some cause
    equally imperative render a change necessary. For nearly four
    months now (_i.e._ since I first became ill) I have not put pen to
    paper; my work has been lying untouched, and my faculties have
    been rusting for want of exercise; further relaxation is out of
    the question, and _I will not permit myself to think of it_. My
    publisher groans over my long delays; I am sometimes provoked to
    check the expression of his impatience with short and crusty
    answers. Yet the pleasure I now deny myself I would fain regard as
    only deferred. I heard something about your purposing to visit
    Scarborough in the course of the summer; and could I by the close
    of July or August bring my task to a certain point, how glad
    should I be to join you there for a while!... However, I dare not
    lay plans at this distance of time; for me so much must depend,
    first, on Papa's health (which throughout the winter has been, I
    am thankful to say, really excellent), and, second, on the
    progress of work--a matter not wholly contingent on wish or will,
    but lying in a great measure beyond the reach of effort, or out of
    the pale of calculation.

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

    Filey Bay, June, 1852.

    MY DEAR MISS ----,--Your kind and welcome note reached me at this
    place, where I have been staying three weeks _quite alone_. Change
    and sea-air had become necessary. Distance and other considerations
    forbade my accompanying Ellen to the South, much as I should have
    liked it had I felt quite free and unfettered. Ellen told me some
    time ago that you were not likely to visit Scarborough till the
    autumn, so I forthwith packed my trunk and betook myself here. The
    first week or ten days I greatly feared the seaside would not suit
    me, for I suffered almost incessantly from headache and other
    harassing ailments; the weather, too, was dark, stormy, and
    excessively--_bitterly_--cold. My solitude under such circumstances
    partook of the character of desolation; I had some dreary evening
    hours and night vigils. However, that passed. I think I am now
    better and stronger for the change, and in a day or two hope to
    return home. Ellen told me that Mr. W---- said people with my
    tendency to congestion of the liver should walk three or four hours
    every day; accordingly, I have walked as much as I could since I
    came here, and look almost as sunburnt and weather-beaten as a
    fisherman or a bathing-woman, with being out in the open air. As to
    my work, it has stood obstinately still for a long while; certainly
    a torpid liver makes a torpid brain. No spirit moves me. If this
    state of things does not entirely change, my chance of a holiday in
    the autumn is not worth much; yet I should be very sorry not to
    meet you for a little while at Scarborough. The duty to be
    discharged at Scarborough was the chief motive that drew me to the
    east coast. I have been there, visited the churchyard, and seen the
    stone. There were five errors; consequently I had to give
    directions for its being re-faced and re-lettered.

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

    Haworth, July, 1852.

    I am again at home, where (thank God) I found all well. I
    certainly feel much better than I did, and would fain trust that
    the improvement may prove permanent.... The first fortnight I was
    at Filey I had constantly recurring pain in the right side, and
    sick headache into the bargain. My spirits at the same time were
    cruelly depressed--prostrated sometimes. I feared the miseries and
    the suffering of last winter were all returning; consequently I am
    now indeed thankful to find myself so much better.... You ask
    about Australia. Let us dismiss the subject in a few words, and
    not recur to it. All is silent as the grave. Cornhill is silent
    too; there has been bitter disappointment there at my having no
    work ready for this season. Ellen, we must not rely upon our
    fellow-creatures--only on ourselves, and on Him who is above both
    us and them. My _labours_, as you call them, stand in abeyance,
    and I cannot hurry them. I must take my own time, however long
    that time may be.


    August, 1852.

    I am thankful to say that Papa's convalescence seems now to be
    quite confirmed. There is scarcely any remainder of the
    inflammation in his eyes, and his general health progresses
    satisfactorily. He begins even to look forward to resuming his
    duty ere long, but caution must be observed on that head. Martha
    has been very willing and helpful during Papa's illness. Poor
    Tabby is ill herself at present with English cholera, which
    complaint, together with influenza, has lately been almost
    universally prevalent in this district. Of the last I have myself
    had a touch; but it went off very gently on the whole, affecting
    my chest and liver less than any cold has done for the last three
    years.... I write to you about yourself rather under constraint
    and in the dark; for your letters, dear Nell, are most remarkably
    oracular, dropping nothing but hints which tie my tongue a good
    deal. What, for instance, can I say to your last postscript? It is
    quite sibylline. I can hardly guess what checks you in writing to
    me. Perhaps you think that as _I_ generally write with some
    reserve, you ought to do the same. _My_ reserve, however, has its
    origin not in design, but in necessity. I am silent because I have
    literally _nothing to say_. I might, indeed, repeat over and over
    again that my life is a pale blank, and often a very weary burden,
    and that the future sometimes appals me; but what end could be
    answered by such repetition, except to weary you and enervate
    myself? The evils that now and then wring a groan from my heart
    lie in my position--not that I am a _single_ woman and likely to
    remain a _single_ woman, but because I am a lonely woman and
    likely to be _lonely_. But it cannot be helped, and therefore
    _imperatively must be borne_, and borne, too, with as few words
    about it as may be. I write this just to prove to you that
    whatever you would freely _say_ to me you may just as freely
    write. Understand that I remain just as resolved as ever not to
    allow myself the holiday of a visit from you till _I_ have done my
    work. After labour, pleasure; but while work was lying at the wall
    undone, I never yet could enjoy recreation.

[Illustration: SIMILE LETTER OF CHARLOTTE BRONTË.]

Slowly page after page of "Villette" was now being written. The reader
sees from these letters that the book was composed in no happy mood.
Writing to her publisher a few weeks after the date of the last letter
printed above, she says: "I can hardly tell you how I hunger to hear
some opinions beside my own, and how I have sometimes desponded and
almost despaired, because there was no one to whom to read a line, or
of whom to ask a counsel. 'Jane Eyre' was not written under such
circumstances, nor were two-thirds of 'Shirley.' I got so miserable
about it that I could bear no allusion to the book. It is not finished
yet; but now I hope." But though her work pressed so incessantly upon
her, and her feverish anxiety to have it done weighed so heavily upon
her health and spirits, she could still find time to answer her
friend's letters in a way which showed that her interest in the outer
world was as keen as ever:

    September, 1852.

    Thank you for A----'s notes. I like to read them, they are so full
    of news, but they are illegible. A great many words I really
    cannot make out. It is pleasing to hear that M---- is doing so
    well, and the tidings about ---- seem also good. I get a note from
    ---- every now and then, but I fear my last reply has not given
    much satisfaction. It contained a taste of that unpalatable
    commodity called _advice_--such advice, too, as might be, and I
    dare say was, construed into faint reproof. I can scarcely tell
    what there is about ---- that, in spite of one's conviction of her
    amiability, in spite of one's sincere wish for her welfare, palls
    upon one, satiates, stirs impatience. She _will_ complacently put
    forth opinions and tastes as her own which are _not_ her own, nor
    in any sense natural to her. My patience can really hardly sustain
    the test of such a jay in borrowed plumes. She prated so much
    about the fine wilful spirit of her child, whom she describes as a
    hard, brown little thing, who will do nothing but what pleases
    himself, that I hit out at last--not very hard, but enough to make
    her think herself ill-used, I doubt not. Can't help it. She often
    says she is not "absorbed in self," but the fact is, I have seldom
    seen anyone more unconsciously, thoroughly, and often weakly
    egotistic. Then, too, she is inconsistent. In the same breath she
    boasts her matrimonial happiness and whines for sympathy. Don't
    understand it. With a paragon of a husband and child, why that
    whining, craving note? Either her lot is not all she professes it
    to be, or she is hard to content.

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

    October, 1852.

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

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

    Your note came only this morning. I had expected it yesterday, and
    was beginning actually to feel weary--like you. This won't do. I
    am afraid of caring for you too much. You must have come upon ----
    at an unfavourable moment, seen it under a cloud. Surely they are
    not always or often thus, or else married life is indeed but a
    slipshod paradise. I only send _The Examiner_, not having yet read
    _The Leader_. I was spared the remorse I feared. On Saturday I
    fell to business, and as the welcome mood is still decently
    existent, and my eyes consequently excessively tired with
    scribbling, you must excuse a mere scrawl. Papa was glad to hear
    you had got home well--as well as we.... I do miss my dear
    bed-fellow; no more of that calm sleep.

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

    Monday morning.

    Truly thankful am I to be able to tell you that I finished my long
    task on Saturday, packed and sent off the parcel to Cornhill. I
    said my prayers when I had done it. Whether it is well or ill done
    I don't know. _D. V._, I will now try to wait the issue quietly.
    The book, I think, will not be considered pretentious, nor is it
    of a character to excite hostility. As Papa is pretty well, I may,
    I trust, dear Nell, do as you wish me, and come for a few days to
    B----. Miss Martineau has also urgently asked me to go and see
    her. I promised, if all were well, to do so at the close of
    November or the commencement of December, so that I could go on
    from B---- to Westmoreland. Would Wednesday suit you? "Esmond"
    shall come with me--_i.e._ Thackeray's novel.

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

So "Villette" went its way, as "Jane Eyre" and "Shirley " had done
before it, from the secluded parsonage at Haworth up to the busy
publishing-house in Cornhill, and thence out into the world. There was
some fear on Charlotte's part when the MS. had been despatched. She
herself was gradually forming that which remained the fixed conviction
of her life--the conviction that in "Villette" she had done her best,
and that, for good or for ill, by it her reputation must stand or
fall. But she was intensely anxious, as we have seen, to have the
opinions of others upon the story. Nor was it only a general verdict
on its merits for which she called. She was uneasy upon some minor
points. According to her wont, she had taken most of her characters
from life, and it was not during her stay at Brussels alone that she
had studied the models which she employed when writing the book.
Naturally, she was curious to know whether she had painted her
portraits too literally. So "Villette" was allowed to pass, whilst
still in MS., into the hands of the original of "Dr. John." When that
gentleman had read the story, and criticised all the characters with
the freedom of unconsciousness, her mind was set at rest, and she knew
that she had not transgressed the bounds which divide the story-teller
from the biographer.

In the meantime, her work done, she hurried away from Haworth to spend
a well-earned holiday at B---- with her friend. "Esmond" accompanied
her, and the quiet afternoons were spent in reading it aloud. On
December 9th she writes from Haworth, announcing her safe return to
her own home:

    I got home safely at five o'clock yesterday afternoon, and, I am
    most thankful to say, found Papa and all the rest quite well. I
    did my business satisfactorily in Leeds, getting the head-dress
    rearranged as I wished. It is now a very different matter to the
    bushy, tasteless thing it was before. On my arrival I found no
    proof-sheets, but a letter from Mr. S----, which I would have
    enclosed, but so many words are scarce legible you would have no
    pleasure in reading it. He continues to make a mystery of his
    "reason"; something in the third volume sticks confoundedly in his
    throat; and as to the "female character" about which I asked, he
    responds that "she is an odd, fascinating little puss," but
    affirms that "he is not in love with her." He tells me also that
    he will answer no more questions about "Villette." This morning I
    have a brief note from Mr. Williams, intimating that he has not
    yet been permitted to read the third volume. Also there is a note
    from Mrs. ----, very kind. I almost wish I could still look on
    that kindness just as I used to do: it was very pleasant to me
    once. Write _immediately_, dear Nell, and tell me how your
    mother is. Give my kindest regards to her and all others at B----.
    Everybody seemed very good to me this last visit. I remember it
    with corresponding pleasure.

The private reception of "Villette" was not altogether that for which
its author had hoped. Her publisher had objections to urge against
certain features of the story, and those who saw the book in
manuscript were not slow to express their own disapproval. It was
evident that there was disappointment at Cornhill; and the proud
spirit of Miss Brontë was keenly troubled. The letters in which she
dwells on what was passing at that time need not be reproduced here,
for their purport is sufficiently indicated by that which has just
been given. But it is worth while to notice the scrupulous modesty
with which she listened to all that was said by those who found fault,
her careful anxiety to understand their objections, such as they were,
and her perfect readiness to discuss every point raised with them. Of
irritability under this criticism there is no trace, only a certain
sadness and sorrow at the discovery that she had not succeeded in
impressing others as she had hoped to do. Yet she is scarcely
surprised that it is so. Had she not written years before, when
"Shirley" was first produced, these words?--

    No matter, whether known or unknown, misjudged or the contrary, I
    am resolved not to write otherwise. I shall bend as my powers
    tend. The two human beings who understood me, and whom I
    understood, are gone. I have some that love me yet, and whom I
    love without expecting, or having a right to expect, that they
    shall perfectly understand me. I am satisfied, but I must have my
    own way in the matter of writing.... I am thankful to God who gave
    me the faculty; and it is for me a part of my religion to defend
    this gift and to profit by its possession.

So now she is not astonished at finding herself misunderstood. Nor is
she angry. She is perfectly ready to explain her real meaning to those
who have misjudged her, but she is resolute in abiding by what she has
written. The work wrung from her during those two years of pain and
sorrow is not work which can be altered at will to please another.
Even to meet the entreaties of her father she had refused to do more
than draw a veil over the catastrophe in which the plot ends; and she
cannot introduce new incidents, or lay on new colours, because the
little circle of critics sitting in judgment on her manuscript have
pronounced it to be imperfect. "I fear they" (the readers) "must be
satisfied with what is offered. My palette affords no brighter tints;
were I to attempt to deepen the reds or burnish the yellows, I should
but blotch." Yet she admits that those who judge the book only from
the outside have some reason to complain that it is not as other
novels are:

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

Happily, the heart of the great reading world is bigger and truer as a
whole than any part of it is. What those who read the manuscript of
"Villette" failed to see at the first glance was seen instantly by the
public when the book was placed in its hands. From critics of every
school and degree there came up a cry of wonder and admiration, as men
saw out of what simple characters and commonplace incidents genius had
evoked this striking work of literary art. Popular, perhaps, the book
could scarcely hope to be, in the vulgar acceptation of the word. The
author had carefully avoided the "flowery and inviting" course of
romance, and had written in silent obedience to the stern dictates of
an inspiration which, as we have seen, only came at intervals, leaving
her between its visits cruelly depressed and pained, but which when it
came held her spell-bound and docile. Yet out of the dull record of
humble woes, marked by no startling episodes, adorned by few of the
flowers of poetry, she had created such a heart-history as remains to
this day without a rival in the school of English fiction to which it
belongs.

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

    February 11th, 1853.

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


    February 15th.

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

    I have heard from Mrs. Gaskell. Very kind, panegyrical, and so on.
    Mr. S---- tells me he has ascertained that Miss Martineau _did_
    write the notice in _The Daily News_. J. T. offers to give me a
    regular blowing-up and setting down for £5, but I tell him _The
    Times_ will probably let me have the same gratis.


    March 10th, 1853.

    I only got _The Guardian_ newspaper yesterday morning, and have
    not yet seen either _The Critic_ or _Sharpe's Magazine_. _The
    Guardian_ does not wound me much. I see the motive, which, indeed,
    there is no attempt to disguise. Still I think it a choice little
    morsel for foes (Mr. ---- was the first to bring the news of the
    review to Papa), and a still choicer morsel for "friends"
    who--bless them!--while they would not perhaps positively do one
    an injury, still take a dear delight in dashing with bitterness
    the too sweet cup of success. Is _Sharpe's_ small article like a
    bit of sugar-candy, too, Ellen? or has it the proper wholesome
    wormwood flavour? Of course I guess it will be like _The
    Guardian_. My "dear friends" will weary of waiting for _The
    Times_. "O Sisera! why tarry the wheels of thy chariot so long?"


    March 22nd.

    Thank you for sending ----'s notes. Though I have not attended to
    them lately, they always amuse me. I like to read them; one gets
    from them a clear enough idea of her sort of life. ----'s attempts
    to improve his good partner's mind make me smile. I think it all
    right enough, and doubt not they are happy in their way; only the
    direction he gives his efforts seems of rather problematic wisdom.
    Algebra and optics! Why not enlarge her views by a little
    well-chosen general reading? However, they do right to amuse
    themselves in their own way. The rather dark view you seem to take
    of the general opinion about "Villette" surprises me the less, as
    only the more unfavourable reviews seem to have come in your way.
    Some reports reach me of a different tendency; but no matter; time
    will show. As to the character of Lucy Snowe, my intention from
    the first was that she should not occupy the pedestal to which
    "Jane Eyre" was raised by some injudicious admirers. She is where
    I meant her to be, and where no charge of self-laudation can touch
    her.



XI.

MARRIAGE AND DEATH.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In darkness such as here is shadowed forth, Charlotte Brontë believed
that her own life would close; all sunshine gone, all joys swept clean
away by the bitter blast of death, all hopes withered or uprooted. But
the end which she pictured was not to be. God was more merciful than
her own imaginings; and at eventide there was light and peace upon her
troubled path.

Those who turn to the closing passage of "Shirley" will find there
reference to "a true Christian gentleman," who had taken the place of
the hypocrite Malone, one of the famous three curates of the story.
This gentleman, a Mr. McCarthy, was, like the rest, no fictitious
personage. His original was to be found in the person of Mr. Nicholls,
who for several years had lived a simple, unobtrusive life at Haworth,
as curate to Mr. Brontë, and whose name often occurs in Charlotte's
letters to her friend. In none of these references to him is there the
slightest indication that he was more than an honoured friend. Nor was
it so. Whilst Mr. Nicholls, dwelling near Miss Brontë, and observing
her far more closely than any other person could do, had formed a deep
and abiding attachment for her, she herself was wholly unconscious of
the fact. Its first revelation came upon her as something like a
shock; as something also like a reproach. Whilst she had thought
herself alone, doomed to a life of solitude and pain, a tender yet a
manly love had all the while been growing round her.

It is obvious that the letters which she addressed at this time
(December, 1852) to her friend cannot be printed here. Yet no letters
more honourable to the woman, the daughter, and the lover have ever
been penned. There is no restraint now in the outpourings of her
heart. Her friend is taken into her full confidence, and every hope
and fear and joy is spoken out as only women who are pure and truthful
and entirely noble can venture to speak out. Mrs. Gaskell has briefly
but distinctly stated the broad features of this strange love story,
giving such promise at the time, so happy and beautiful in its brief
fruition, so soon to be quenched in the great darkness. Mr. Brontë
resented the attentions of Mr. Nicholls to his daughter in a manner
which brought to light all the sternness and bitterness of his
character. There had been of late years a certain mellowing of his
disposition, which Charlotte had dwelt upon with hopeful joy, as her
one comfort in her lonely life at Haworth. How much he owed to her
none knew but himself. When he was sinking under the burden of his
son's death, she had rescued him; when, for one dark and bitter
interval, he had sought refuge from grief and remorse in the coward's
solace, her brave heart, her gentleness, her unyielding courage, had
brought him back again from evil ways, and sustained and kept him in
the path of honour; and now his own ambitions were more than satisfied
by her success; he found himself shining in the reflected glory of his
daughter's fame, and sunned himself, poor man, in the light and
warmth. But all the old jealousy, the intense acerbity of his
character, broke out when he saw another person step between himself
and her, and that other no idol of the great world of London, but
simply the honest man who had dwelt almost under his own roof-tree for
years.

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

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

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

    In all this--she says, after speaking again of the severity of
    the struggle--it is not _I_ who am to be pitied at all, and of
    course nobody pities me. They all think in Haworth that I have
    disdainfully refused him. If pity would do him any good he ought
    to have, and I believe has, it. They may abuse me if they will.
    Whether they do or not I can't tell.


    I thought of you on New Year's Day, and hope you got well over
    your formidable tea-making. I am busy, too, in my little way,
    preparing to go to London this week--a matter which necessitates
    some little application to the needle. I find it quite necessary I
    should go to superintend the press, as Mr. S---- seems quite
    determined not to let the printing get on till I come. I have
    actually only received three proof-sheets since I was at
    Brookroyd. Papa wants me to go too, to be out of the way, I
    suppose; but I am sorry for one other person whom nobody pities
    but me.... They don't understand the nature of his feelings, but
    I see now what they are. Mr. N---- is one of those who attach
    themselves to very few, whose sensations are close and deep, like
    an underground stream, running strong but in a narrow channel. He
    continues restless and ill. He carefully performs the occasional
    duty, but does not come near the church, procuring a substitute
    every Sunday. A few days since he wrote to Papa requesting
    permission to withdraw his resignation. Papa answered that he
    should only do so on condition of giving his written promise never
    again to broach the obnoxious subject either to him or to me. This
    he has evaded doing, so the matter remains unsettled. I feel
    persuaded the termination will be, his departure for Australia.
    Dear Nell, without loving him, I don't like to think of him
    suffering in solitude, and wish him anywhere so that he were
    happier. He and Papa have never met or spoken yet.

During this crisis in her life, when suffering had come to her in a
new and sharp form, but when happily the black cloud was lit up on the
other side by the rays of the sun, she went up to London to spend a
few weeks. From the letters written during her visit I make these
extracts:

    January 11th, 1853.

    I came here last Wednesday. I had a delightful day for my journey,
    and was kindly received at the close. My time has passed
    pleasantly enough since I came, yet I have not much to tell you;
    nor is it likely I shall have. I do not mean to go out much or see
    many people. Sir J. S---- wrote to me two or three times before I
    left home, and made me promise to let him know when I should be
    in town, but I reserve to myself the right of deferring the
    communication till the latter part of my stay. All in this house
    appear to be pretty much as usual, and yet I see some changes.
    Mrs. ---- and her daughter look well enough; but on Mr. ---- hard
    work is telling early. Both his complexion, his countenance, and
    the very lines of his features are altered. It is rather the
    remembrance of what he was than the fact of what he is which can
    warrant the picture I have been accustomed to give of him. One
    feels pained to see a physical alteration of this kind; yet I feel
    glad and thankful that it is _merely_ physical. As far as I can
    judge, mind and manners have undergone no deterioration--rather, I
    think, the contrary.


    January 19th, 1853.

    I still continue to get on very comfortably and quietly in London,
    in the way I like, seeing rather things than persons. Being
    allowed to have my own choice of sights this time I selected the
    _real_ rather than the _decorative_ side of life. I have been over
    two prisons, ancient and modern, Newgate and Pentonville; also the
    Bank, the Exchange, the Foundling Hospital; and to-day, if all be
    well, I go with Dr. Forbes to see Bethlehem Hospital. Mrs. ----
    and her daughters are, I believe, a little amazed at my gloomy
    tastes; but I take no notice. Papa, I am glad to say, continues
    well. I enclose portions of two notes of his which will show you
    better than anything I can say how he treats a certain subject. My
    book is to appear at the close of this month. Mrs. Gaskell wrote
    to beg that it should not clash with "Ruth," and it was impossible
    to refuse to defer the publication a week or two.

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

    Haworth, May 19th, 1853.

    It is almost a relief to hear that you only think of staying at
    G---- a month; though of course one must not be selfish in wishing
    you to come home soon.... I cannot help feeling satisfaction in
    finding that the people here are getting up a subscription to
    offer a testimonial of respect to Mr. N---- on his leaving the
    place. Many are expressing both their commiseration and esteem for
    him. The churchwardens recently put the question to him plainly:
    Why was he going? Was it Mr. Brontë's fault or his own? His own,
    he answered. Did he blame Mr. Brontë? No, he did not: if anybody
    was wrong, it was himself. Was he willing to go? No; it gave him
    great pain. Yet he is not always right. I must be just. Papa
    addressed him at the school tea-drinking with _constrained_
    civility, but still with _civility_. He did not reply civilly; he
    cut short further words. This sort of treatment is what Papa never
    will forget or forgive. It inspires him with a silent bitterness
    not to be expressed.... It is a dismal state of things. The
    weather is fine now, dear Nell. We will take these sunny days as a
    good omen for your visit.


    May 27th, 1853.

    You will want to know about the leave-taking. The whole matter is
    but a painful subject, but I must treat it briefly. The
    testimonial was presented in a public meeting. Mr. F---- and Mr.
    G---- were there. Papa was not very well, and I advised him to
    stay away, which he did. As to the last Sunday, it was a cruel
    struggle. Mr. N---- ought not to have had to take any duty. He
    left Haworth this morning at six o'clock. Yesterday evening he
    called to render into Papa's hands the deeds of the National
    School, and to say good-bye. They were busy cleaning, washing the
    paint, &c., so he did not find me there. I would not go into the
    parlour to speak to him in Papa's presence. He went out, thinking
    he was not to see me; and indeed till the very last moment I
    thought it best not. But perceiving that he stayed long before
    going out at the gate, and remembering his long grief, I took
    courage, and went out, trembling and miserable. I found him
    leaning against the garden door.... Of course I went straight to
    him. Very few words were interchanged; those few barely
    articulate: several things I should have liked to ask him were
    swept entirely from my memory. Poor fellow! but he wanted such
    hope and such encouragement as I _could_ not give him. Still
    I trust he must know now that I am not cruelly blind and
    indifferent to his constancy and grief. For a few weeks he goes to
    the South of England--afterwards he takes a curacy somewhere in
    Yorkshire, but I don't know where. Papa has been far from strong
    lately. I dare not mention Mr. N----'s name to him. He speaks of
    him quietly and without opprobrium to others; but to me he is
    implacable on the matter. However, he is gone--gone--and there's
    an end of it! I see no chance of hearing a word about him in
    future, unless some stray shred of intelligence comes through Mr.
    G---- or some other second-hand source.

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

    Haworth, April 13th, 1853.

    MY DEAR MISS ----,--Your last kind letter ought to have been
    answered long since, and would have been, did I find it practicable
    to proportion the promptitude of the response to the value I place
    upon my correspondents and their communications. You will easily
    understand, however, that the contrary rule often holds good, and
    that the epistle which importunes often takes precedence of that
    which interests. My publishers express entire satisfaction with the
    reception which has been accorded to "Villette." And, indeed, the
    majority of the reviews has been favourable enough. You will be
    aware, however, that there is a minority, small in character, which
    views the work with no favourable eye. "Currer Bell's" remarks on
    Romanism have drawn down on him the condign displeasure of the High
    Church party, which displeasure has been unequivocally expressed
    through their principal organs, _The Guardian_, _The English
    Churchman_, and _The Christian Remembrancer_. I can well
    understand that some of the charges launched against me by these
    publications will tell heavily to my prejudice in the minds of
    most readers. But this must be borne; and for my part, I can
    suffer no accusation to oppress me much which is not supported by
    the inward evidence of Conscience and Reason. "Extremes meet,"
    says the proverb; in proof whereof I would mention that Miss
    Martineau finds with "Villette" nearly the same fault as the
    Puseyites. She accuses me of attacking Popery "with virulence," of
    going out of my way to assault it "passionately." In other
    respects she has shown, with reference to the work, a spirit so
    strangely and unexpectedly acrimonious, that I have gathered
    courage to tell her that the gulf of mutual difference between her
    and me is so wide and deep, the bridge of union so slight and
    uncertain, I have come to the conclusion that frequent intercourse
    would be most perilous and unadvisable, and have begged to adjourn
    _sine die_ my long-projected visit to her. Of course she is now
    very angry, but it cannot be helped. Two or three weeks since I
    received a long and kind letter from Mr. ----, which I answered a
    short time ago. I believe he thinks me a much better advocate for
    _change_, and what is called "political progress," than I am.
    However, in my reply I did not touch on these subjects. He
    intimated a wish to publish some of his own MSS. I fear he would
    hardly like the somewhat dissuasive tendency of my answer; but
    really, in these days of headlong competition, it is a great risk
    to publish.


    April 18th, 1853.

    If all be well, I think of going to Manchester about the close of
    this week. I only intend staying a few days; but I can say nothing
    about coming back by B----. Do not expect me; I would rather see
    you at Haworth by-and-by. Two or three weeks since, Miss Martineau
    wrote to ask why she did not hear from me, and to press me to go
    to Ambleside. Explanations ensued; the notes on each side were
    quite civil; but, having deliberately formed my resolution on
    substantial grounds, I adhered to it. I have declined being her
    visitor, and bid her good-bye. It is best so; the antagonism of
    our natures and principles was too serious to be trifled with.

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

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

    Haworth, August 30th, 1853.

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

    My late absence was but for a week, when I accompanied Mr. and
    Mrs. ---- and baby on a trip to Scotland. They went with the
    intention of taking up their quarters at Kirkcudbright, or some
    watering-place on the Solway Firth. We hardly reached that
    locality, and had stayed but one night, when the baby (that rather
    despotic member of modern households) exhibited some symptoms of
    indisposition. To my unskilled perception its ailments appeared
    very slight, nowise interfering with its appetite or spirits; but
    parental eyes saw the matter in a different light. The air of
    Scotland was pronounced unpropitious to the child, and
    consequently we had to retrace our steps. I own I felt some little
    reluctance to leave "bonnie Scotland" so soon and so abruptly, but
    of course I could not say a word, since, however strong on my own
    mind the impression that the ailment in question was very trivial
    and temporary (an impression confirmed by the issue), I could not
    be absolutely certain that such was the case; and had any evil
    consequences followed a prolonged stay, I should never have
    forgiven myself.

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

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

    With some things to regret and smile at, I saw things to admire in
    the small family party with which I travelled. Mr. ---- makes a
    most devoted father and husband. I admired his great kindness to
    his wife; but I rather groaned (inwardly) over the unbounded
    indulgence of both parents towards their only child. The world
    does not revolve round the sun; that is a mistake. Certain babies,
    I plainly perceive, are the important centre of all things. The
    papa and mamma could only take their meals, rest, and exercise at
    such times and in such manner as the despotic infant permitted.
    While Mrs. ---- eat her dinner, Mr. ---- relieved guard as nurse.
    A nominal nurse, indeed, accompanied the party, but her place was
    a sort of anxious waiting sinecure, as the child did not fancy her
    attendance. Tenderness to offspring is a virtue, yet I think I
    have seen mothers who were most tender and thoughtful, yet in very
    love for their children would not permit them to become tyrants
    either over themselves or others.

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

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

There was a curious misadventure regarding the letter inviting Mr.
Nicholls to Haworth, which is explained in the first of the letters I
now quote.

    Haworth, March 28th, 1854.

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

    I wish you could come about Easter rather than at another time,
    for this reason. Mr. Nicholls, if not prevented, proposes coming
    over then. I suppose he will be staying at Mr. ----'s, as he has
    done two or three times before; but he will be frequently coming
    here, which would enliven your visits a little. Perhaps, too, he
    might take a walk with us occasionally. Altogether, it would be a
    little change for you, such as you know I could not always offer.
    If all be well, he will come under different circumstances to any
    that have attended his visits before. Were it otherwise, I should
    not ask you to meet him, for when aspects are gloomy and
    unpropitious, the fewer there are to suffer from the cloud, the
    better. He was here in January, and was then received.... I trust
    it will be a little different now. Papa has breakfasted in bed
    to-day, and has not yet risen. His bronchitis is still
    troublesome. I had a bad week last week, but am greatly better
    now, for my mind is a little relieved, though very sedate, and
    rising only to expectations the most moderate. Some time, perhaps
    in May, I may be in your neighbourhood, and shall then hope to
    come to B.; but, as you will understand from what I have now
    stated, I could not come before. Think it over, dear E., and come
    to Haworth if you can.


    April 11th, 1854.

    The result of Mr. Nicholls's visit is that Papa's consent is
    gained and his respect won, for Mr. Nicholls has in all things
    proved himself disinterested and forbearing. He has shown, too,
    that, while his feelings are exquisitely keen, he can freely
    forgive.... In fact, dear Ellen, I am engaged. Mr. Nicholls in the
    course of a few months will return to the curacy of Haworth. I
    stipulated that I would not leave Papa, and to Papa himself I
    proposed a plan of residence which should maintain his seclusion
    and convenience uninvaded, and in a pecuniary sense bring him gain
    instead of loss. What seemed at one time impossible is now
    arranged, and Papa begins really to take a pleasure in the
    prospect. For myself, dear E----, while thankful to One who seems
    to have guided me through much difficulty, much and deep distress
    and perplexity of mind, I am still very calm.... What I taste of
    happiness is of the soberest order. Providence offers me this
    destiny. Doubtless, then, it is the best for me; nor do I shrink
    from wishing those dear to me one not less happy. It is possible
    that our marriage may take place in the course of the summer. Mr.
    Nicholls wishes it to be in July. He spoke of you with great
    kindness, and said he hoped you would be at our wedding. I said I
    thought of having no other bridesmaid. Did I say right? I mean the
    marriage to be literally _as quiet as possible_. Do not mention
    these things as yet. Good-bye. There is a strange, half-sad
    feeling in making these announcements. The whole thing is
    something other than the imagination paints it beforehand--cares,
    fears, come mixed inextricably with hopes. I trust yet to talk the
    matter over with you.

So at length the day had dawned, and every letter now is filled with
the hopes and cares of the expectant bride.

    April 15th.

    I hope to see you somewhere about the second week in May. The
    Manchester visit is still hanging over my head; I have deferred it
    and deferred it, but have finally promised to go about the
    beginning of next month. I shall only stay about three days; then
    I spend two or three days at H., then come to B. The three visits
    must be compressed into the space of a fortnight, if possible. I
    suppose I shall have to go to Leeds. My purchases cannot be either
    expensive or extensive. You must just resolve in your head the
    bonnets and dresses: something that can be turned to decent use
    and worn after the wedding-day will be best, I think. I wrote
    immediately to Miss W----, and received a truly kind letter from
    her this morning. Papa's mind seems wholly changed about this
    matter; and he has said, both to me and when I was not there, how
    much happier he feels since he allowed all to be settled. It is a
    wonderful relief for me to hear him treat the thing rationally,
    and quietly and amicably to talk over with him themes on which
    once I dared not touch. He is rather anxious that things should
    get forward now, and takes quite an interest in the arrangement of
    preliminaries. His health improves daily, though this east wind
    still keeps up a slight irritation in the throat and chest. The
    feeling which has been disappointed in Papa was _ambition_--paternal
    pride--ever a restless feeling, as we all know. Now that this
    unquiet spirit is exorcised, justice, which was once quite
    forgotten, is once more listened to, and affection, I hope, resumes
    some power. My hope is that in the end this arrangement will turn
    out more truly to Papa's advantage than any other it was in my
    power to achieve. Mr. N. only in his last letter refers touchingly
    to his earnest desire to prove his gratitude to Papa by offering
    support and consolation to his declining age. This will not be mere
    _talk_ with him. He is no talker, no dealer in mere professions.


    April 28th.

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


    Hemsworth, May 6th.

    I came here on Thursday afternoon. I shall stay over Saturday and
    Sunday, and, if all be well, I hope to come to B. on Monday, after
    dinner, and just in time for tea. I leave you to judge by your own
    feelings whether I long to see you or not. ---- tells me you are
    looking better. She tells me also that I am not--rather ugly, as
    usual. But never mind that, dear Nell--as, indeed, you never did.
    On the whole, I _feel_ very decently at present, and within the
    last fortnight have had much respite from headache. You are kind in
    being so much in earnest in wishing for Mr. N. to come to B., and I
    am sorry that circumstances do not favour such a step. But, knowing
    how matters stood, I did not repeat the proposal to him, for I
    thought it would be like tempting him to forget duty.

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

    Haworth, May 14th.

    I took the time of the Leeds, Keighley, Skipton trains from the
    February time-table, and when I got to Leeds found myself all
    wrong. The trains on that line were changed. One had that moment
    left the station--indeed, it was just steaming away; there was not
    another till a quarter after five o'clock; so I had just four
    hours to sit and twirl my thumbs. I got over the time somehow, but
    I was vexed to think how much more pleasantly I might have spent
    it at B. It was just seven o'clock when I reached home. I found
    Papa well. It seems he has been particularly well during my
    absence, but to-day he is a little sickly, and only preached once.
    However, he is better again this evening. I could not leave you,
    dear Ellen, with a very quiet mind, or take away a satisfied
    feeling about you. Not that I think that bad cough lodged in a
    dangerous quarter; but it shakes your system, wears you out, and
    makes you look ill. _Take care of it, do, dear Ellen. Avoid the
    evening air for a time_; keep in the house when the weather is
    cold. Observe these precautions till the cough is quite gone, and
    you regain strength, and feel better able to bear chill and
    change. Believe me, it does not suit you at present to be much
    exposed to variations of temperature. I send the mantle with this,
    but have made up my mind not to let you have the cushion now, lest
    you should sit stitching over it too closely. It will do any time,
    and whenever it comes will be your present all the same.


    May 22nd.

    I wonder how you are, and whether that harassing cough is better;
    but I am afraid the variable weather of last week will not have
    been favourable to improvement. I _will_ not and _do_ not believe
    the cough lies on any vital organ. Still it is a mark of weakness,
    and a warning to be scrupulously careful about undue exposure. Just
    now, dear Ellen, an hour's inadvertence might derange your whole
    constitution for years to come--might throw you into a state of
    chronic ill-health which would waste, fade, and wither you up
    prematurely. So, once and again, TAKE CARE. If you go to ----,
    or any other evening party, pack yourself in blankets and a
    feather-bed to come home, also fold your boa twice over your mouth,
    to serve as a respirator. Since I came home I have been very busy
    sketching. The little new room is got into order now, and the green
    and white curtains are up. They exactly suit the papering, and look
    neat and clean enough. I had a letter a day or two since,
    announcing that Mr. N. comes to-morrow. I feel anxious about him,
    more anxious on one point than I dare quite express to myself. It
    seems he has again been suffering sharply from his rheumatic
    affection. I hear this not from himself, but from another quarter.
    He was ill whilst I was at Manchester and B. He uttered no
    complaint to me, dropped no hint on the subject. Alas! he was
    hoping he had got the better of it; and I know how this
    contradiction of his hopes will sadden him. For unselfish reasons
    he did so earnestly wish this complaint might not become chronic. I
    fear--I fear--but, however, I mean to stand by him now, whether in
    weal or woe. This liability to rheumatic pain was one of the strong
    arguments used against the marriage. It did not weigh, somehow. If
    he is doomed to suffer, it seems that so much the more will he need
    care and help. And yet the ultimate possibilities of such a case
    are appalling. Well, come what may, God help and strengthen both
    him and me. I look forward to to-morrow with a mixture of
    impatience and anxiety. Poor fellow! I want to see with my own eyes
    how he is.


    Haworth, June 7th.

    I am very glad and thankful to hear that you continue better,
    though I am afraid your cough will have returned a little during
    the late chilly change in the weather. Are you taking proper care
    of yourself, and either staying in the house or going out warmly
    clad, and with a boa doing duty as a respirator? On this last
    point I incline particularly to insist, for you seemed careless
    about it, and unconscious how much atmospheric harm the fine thick
    hairs of the fur might ward off. I was very miserable about Papa
    again some days ago. While the weather was so sultry and electric,
    about a week since, he was suddenly attacked with deafness, and
    complained of other symptoms which showed the old tendency to the
    head. His spirits, too, became excessively depressed. It was all I
    could do to keep him up, and I own I was sad and depressed myself.
    However he took some medicine, which did him good. The change to
    cooler weather, too, has suited him. The temporary deafness has
    quite disappeared for the present, and his head is again clear and
    cool. I can only earnestly trust he will continue better. That
    unlucky ---- continues his efforts to give what trouble he can,
    and I am obliged to conceal things from Papa's knowledge as well
    as I can, to spare him that anxiety which hurts him so much.... I
    feel compelled to throw the burden of the contest upon Mr.
    Nicholls, who is younger and can bear it better. The worst of it
    is, Mr. N. has not Papa's right to speak and act, or he would do
    it to purpose. I should then have to mediate, not rouse; to play
    the part of

        Feather-bed 'twixt castle-wall
        And heavy brunt of cannon-ball.


    June 16th.

    MY DEAR MISS W----,--Owing to certain untoward proceedings, matters
    have hitherto been kept in such a state of uncertainty that I could
    not make any approach towards fixing the day; and now, if I would
    avoid inconveniencing Papa, I must hurry. I believe the
    commencement of July is the furthest date upon which I can
    calculate; possibly I may be obliged to accept one still
    nearer--the close of June. I cannot quite decide till next week.
    Meantime, will you, my dear Miss W----, come as soon as you
    possibly can, and let me know at your earliest convenience the
    day of your arrival. I have written to Ellen, begging her to
    communicate with you.... Your absence would be a real and grievous
    disappointment. Papa also seems much to wish your presence. Mr.
    Nicholls enters with true kindness into my wish to have all done
    quietly; and he has made such arrangements as will, I trust, secure
    literal privacy. Yourself, Ellen, and Mr. S. will be the only
    persons present at the ceremony. Mr. and Mrs. G. are asked to the
    breakfast afterwards. I know you will kindly excuse this brief
    note, for I am and have been _very_ busy, and must still be busy up
    to the very day. Give my sincere love to all Mr. C----'s family. I
    hope Mr. C. and Mr. Nicholls may meet some day. I believe mutual
    acquaintance would in time bring mutual respect; but one of them,
    at least, requires _knowing_ to be _appreciated_. And I must say
    that I have not yet found him to lose with closer knowledge. I make
    no grand discoveries, but I occasionally come upon a quiet little
    nook of character which excites esteem. He is always reliable,
    truthful, faithful, affectionate; a little unbending, perhaps, but
    still persuadable and open to kind influence--a man never, indeed,
    to be driven, but who may be led.

[Illustration: HAWORTH CHURCH.]

The marriage took place on June 29th, 1854. A neighbouring clergyman
read the service; Charlotte's "dear Nell" was the solitary bridesmaid;
her old schoolmistress, whose friendship had ever been dear to her,
Miss Wooler, gave her away; and visitors to Haworth who are shown the
marriage register will see that these two faithful and trusted friends
were the only witnesses. Immediately after the marriage the bride and
bridegroom started for Ireland, to visit some of the relatives of Mr.
Nicholls. "I trust I feel thankful to God for having enabled me to
make a right choice; and I pray to be enabled to repay as I ought the
affectionate devotion of a truthful, honourable, unboastful man," are
words which appear in the first letter written from Ireland. A month
later the bride writes as follows to her friend:

    Dublin, July 28th, 1854.

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

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

    August 9th, 1854.

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


    Haworth, September 7th, 1854.

    I send a French paper to-day. You would almost think I had given
    them up, it is so long since one was despatched. The fact is they
    had accumulated to quite a pile during my absence. I wished to
    look them over before sending them off, and as yet I have scarcely
    found time. That same _time_ is an article of which I once had a
    large stock always on hand; where it is all gone to now it would
    be difficult to say, but my moments are very fully occupied. Take
    warning, Ellen. The married woman can call but a very small
    portion of each day her own. Not that I complain of this sort of
    monopoly as yet, and I hope I never shall incline to regard it as
    a misfortune, but it certainly exists. We were both disappointed
    that you could not come on the day I mentioned. I have grudged
    this splendid weather very much. The moors are in their glory; I
    never saw them fuller of purple bloom; I wanted you to see them at
    their best. They are fast turning now, and in another week, I
    fear, will be faded and sere. As soon as ever you can leave home,
    be sure to write and let me know.... Papa continues greatly
    better. My husband flourishes; he begins indeed to express some
    slight alarm at the growing improvement in his condition. I think
    I am decent--better certainly than I was two months ago; but
    people don't compliment me as they do Arthur--excuse the name; it
    has grown natural to use it now.


    Haworth, September 16th, 1854.

    MY DEAR MISS ----,--You kindly tell me not to write while Ellen is
    with me; I am expecting her this week; and as I think it would be
    wrong long to defer answering a letter like yours, I will reduce
    to practice the maxim: "There is no time like the present," and do
    it at once. It grieves me that you should have had any anxiety
    about my health; the cough left me before I quitted Ireland, and
    since my return home I have scarcely had an ailment, except
    occasional headaches. My dear father, too, continues much better.
    Dr. B---- was here on Sunday, preaching a sermon for the Jews, and
    he gratified me much by saying that he thought Papa not at all
    altered since he saw him last--nearly a year ago. I am afraid this
    opinion is rather flattering; but still it gave me pleasure, for I
    had feared that he looked undeniably thinner and older. You ask
    what visitors we have had. A good many amongst the clergy, &c., in
    the neighbourhood, but none of note from a distance. Haworth is,
    as you say, a very quiet place; it is also difficult of access,
    and unless under the stimulus of necessity, or that of strong
    curiosity, or finally, that of true and tried friendship, few take
    courage to penetrate to so remote a nook. Besides, now that I am
    married, I do not expect to be an object of much general interest.
    Ladies who have won some prominence (call it either _notoriety_ or
    celebrity) in their single life, often fall quite into the
    background when they change their names. But if true domestic
    happiness replace fame, the change is indeed for the better. Yes,
    I am thankful to say that my husband is in improved health and
    spirits. It makes me content and grateful to hear him, from time
    to time, avow his happiness in the brief but plain phrase of
    sincerity. My own life is more occupied than it used to be; I have
    not so much time for thinking: I am obliged to be more practical,
    for my dear Arthur is a very practical as well as a very punctual,
    methodical man. Every morning he is in the national school by nine
    o'clock; he gives the children religious instruction till
    half-past ten. Almost every afternoon he pays visits amongst the
    poor parishioners. Of course he often finds a little work for his
    wife to do, and I hope she is not sorry to help him. I believe it
    is not bad for me that his bent should be so wholly towards
    matters of real life and active usefulness--so little inclined to
    the literary and contemplative. As to his continued affection and
    kind attentions, it does not become me to say much of them; but as
    yet they neither change nor diminish. I wish, my dear Miss ----,
    _you_ had some kind, faithful companion to enliven your solitude
    at R----, some friend to whom to communicate your pleasure in the
    scenery, the fine weather, the pleasant walks. You never complain,
    never murmur, never seem otherwise than thankful; but I know you
    must miss a privilege none could more keenly appreciate than
    yourself.

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

    Haworth, December 26th.

    I return Mrs. ----'s letter: it is as you say, very genuine,
    truthful, affectionate, _maternal_, without a taint of sham or
    exaggeration. She will love her child without spoiling it, I
    think. She does not make an uproar about her happiness either. The
    longer I live the more I suspect exaggerations. I fancy it is
    sometimes a sort of fashion for each to vie with the other in
    protestations about their wondrous felicity--and sometimes they
    _fib_! I am truly glad to hear you are all better at B----. In the
    course of three or four weeks now I expect to get leave to come
    to you. I certainly long to see you again. One circumstance
    reconciles me to this delay--the weather. I do not know whether it
    has been as bad with you as with us; but here for three weeks we
    have had little else than a succession of hurricanes.... You
    inquire after Mrs. Gaskell. She has not been here, and I think I
    should not like her to come now till summer. She is very busy now
    with her story of "North and South." I must make this note very
    short. Arthur joins me in sincere good wishes for a happy
    Christmas and many of them to you and yours. He is well, thank
    God, and so am I; and he _is_ "my dear boy" certainly--dearer
    now than he was six months ago. In three days we shall actually
    have been married that length of time.

There was not much time for literary labours during these happy months
of married life. The wife, new to her duties, was engaged in mastering
them with all the patience, self-suppression, and industry which had
characterised her throughout her life. Her husband was now her first
thought; and he took the time which had formerly been devoted to
reading, study, thought, and writing. But occasionally the pressure
she was forced to put upon herself was very severe. Mr. Nicholls had
never been attracted towards her by her literary fame; with literary
effort, indeed, he had no sympathy, and upon the whole he would rather
that his wife should lay aside her pen entirely than that she should
gain any fresh triumphs in the world of letters. So she submitted, and
with cheerful courage repressed that "gift" which had been her solace
in sorrows deep and many. Yet once "the spell" was too strong to be
resisted, and she hastily wrote a few pages of a new story called
"Emma," in which once more she proposed to deal with her favourite
theme--the history of a friendless girl. One would fain have seen how
she would have treated her subject, now that "the colour of her
thoughts" had been changed, and that a happy marriage had introduced
her to a new phase of that life which she had studied so closely and
so constantly. But it was not to be. On January 19, when she had
returned to Haworth, after a visit to Sir J. K. Shuttleworth's, she
wrote to her friend as follows. This letter was the last written in
ink to her schoolfellow:

    Haworth, January 19th, 1855.

    Since our return from Gawthorpe we have had Mr. B----, one of
    Arthur's cousins, staying with us. It was a great pleasure. I wish
    you could have seen him and made his acquaintance: a true
    gentleman by nature and cultivation is not, after all, an everyday
    thing.... I very much wish to come to B----, and I hoped to be
    able to write with certainty and fix Wednesday, the 31st January,
    as the day; but the fact is I am not sure whether I shall be well
    enough to leave home. At present I should be a most tedious
    visitor. My health has really been very good ever since my return
    from Ireland, till about ten days ago. Indigestion and continual
    faint sickness have been my portion ever since. I never before
    felt as I have done lately. I am rather mortified to lose my good
    looks and grow thin as I am doing, just when I thought of going to
    B----. Poor J----! I still hope he will get better, but A----
    writes grievous though not always clear or consistent accounts.
    Dear Ellen, I want to see you, and I hope I shall see you well.

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

    Haworth, near Keighley,
    March 30th, 1855.

    MY DEAR MADAM,--We are all in great trouble, and Mr. Nicholls so
    much so that he is not sufficiently strong and composed as to be
    able to write. I therefore devote a few lines to tell you that my
    dear daughter is very ill, and apparently on the verge of the
    grave. If she could speak she would no doubt dictate to us whilst
    answering your kind letter. But we are left to ourselves to give
    what answer we can. The doctors have no hope of her case, and
    fondly as we a long time cherished hope, that hope is now gone; and
    we have only to look forward to the solemn event with prayer to God
    that He will give us grace and strength sufficient unto our day.

    Ever truly and respectfully yours,

    P. Brontë.

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



XII.

POSTHUMOUS HONOURS.


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

The announcement that all these hopes had been brought to nothing fell
upon the world as a blow not easily to be borne. When it was made
known that the author of "Jane Eyre" was dead, there rose up even from
those who had been her bitter critics during her lifetime, a cry of
pain and regret which would have astonished nobody more than herself
had she been able to hear it. The genuine unaffected modesty which had
enabled her to preserve the simplicity of her character amid all the
temptations which thronged round her at the height of her fame, had
prevented her from ever feeling herself to be a person of consequence
in the world. What she did in the way of writing she did because she
could not escape the commanding authority of her own genius; but the
idea that by doing this she had made herself conspicuously great never
once occurred to her. There is not a letter extant from her which
shows that she thought anything of the fame or the fortune she had
acquired. On the contrary everything that remains of her inner life
proves that to the very last she esteemed herself as humbly as ever
she did during the days of her "governessing" in Yorkshire or at
Brussels. She knew of course that she attracted attention wherever she
went; but her own unfeigned belief seems to have been that this
attention was due solely to curiosity, and to curiosity of a not very
pleasant or flattering kind. Brought up as she had been among those
who regarded any literary pursuit, and above all the writing of a
book, as something beyond the proper limits of the rights and duties
of her sex, she had never quite escaped from the notion that in
putting pen to paper she was in some vague way offending against the
proprieties of society. It has been shown by an extract from one of
her letters, how keenly and indignantly she repudiated the notion that
she had ever written anything of which she needed to be ashamed. Her
pure heart vindicated her absolutely upon that point. But, from first
to last, she seemed during her literary career to feel that in writing
novels she had sinned against the conventional canons, and that she
was in consequence looked upon not as a great woman who had taken a
lofty place in the republic of letters, but as a social curiosity who
had done something which made her for the time-being notorious. How
ready she was to forget her success as a writer is shown by a thousand
passages in her correspondence, many of these passages being too
tender or sacred for quotation. It is impossible to read her letters
without seeing that, with the exception of a solitary friend, the
companions of her daily life in Yorkshire did not feel at all drawn
towards her by her literary fame. With her accustomed humility she
accepted herself at their valuation, and whilst the nations afar off
were praising her, she herself was perfectly ready to take a humble
place in the circle of her friends at home. The tastes of her husband
had unquestionably something to do in maintaining this simple and
sincere modesty up to the end of her life. He was resolute in putting
aside all thought of her literary achievements; his whole anxiety--an
anxiety arising almost entirely from his desire for her happiness--was
that she should cease entirely to be the author, and should become the
busy, useful, contented wife of the village clergyman. It would be
wrong to hide the fact that she was compelled to place a severe strain
upon herself in order to comply with her husband's wishes; and once,
as we have seen, her strength of self-repression gave way, and she
indulged in the forbidden luxury of work with the pen. But it is not
surprising that, surrounded by those who, loving her very dearly, yet
withheld from her all recognition of her position as one of the great
writers of the day, she should have accepted their estimate of her
place with characteristic humility, and believed herself to be of
little or no account outside the walls of her own home.

In this belief she lived and died. Among the letters before me, but
from which I must forbear to quote, are not a few written during that
last sad illness when the end began to loom before her vision. In
these, whilst there are many anxious inquiries after the friends of
early days, and many remarks upon their varying fortunes, many
allusions, too, to her husband and father, and to parish work at
Haworth, there is not a line which speaks of her own feelings as an
author, or of the work which she had accomplished during the brief
closing years of her life. The novelist has passed entirely out of
sight, and only the wife, the friend, the expectant mother, remains. I
know nothing which more touchingly shows one how small a thing is
great fame, how little even the most marked and marvellous successes
can affect the realities of life, than the last chapters of Charlotte
Brontë's correspondence do. Her death, all unknown to the great world
outside; her quiet funeral, treated only as the funeral of the
clergyman's daughter, the curate's wife; the modest announcement of
her end sent to the local papers--all these are in keeping with her
own low estimate of herself.

But death, the great touchstone of humanity, revealed her true
position to the world, and to her surviving relatives and friends.
Copies of the newspapers of that sad March week in 1855 lie before me,
carefully treasured up by loving hands. They speak with an eloquence
which is not always that of mere words, of a nation's mourning for a
great soul gone prematurely to its account. Of all these tributes of
loving admiration, there are two which must be singled out for special
mention. One is Miss Martineau's generous though not wholly
satisfactory notice of "Currer Bell" in _The Daily News_, and the
other the far more sympathetic article by "Shirley," which appeared in
_Fraser's Magazine_ a few months later.

Her father, her husband, her life-long friend, were wonderfully
touched and moved when they found how closely the simple, modest
woman, who had been so long a sweet and familiar presence to them, had
wound herself round the great heart of the reading public. But they
were slow to grasp all the truth. When it was proposed that some
record of this noble life should be preserved, and when Mrs. Gaskell
was named as the fittest among all Charlotte's literary acquaintances
to undertake the office, there was strong and keen opposition on the
part of those who had been nearest and dearest to her. With a natural
feeling, to which no word of blame can be attached, but which again
throws light upon the character of her surroundings in life, they
objected to any revelation to the world of the real character and
career of the lost member of their household. Happily, their scruples
were overcome, and the world was permitted to read the story of the
Brontës as told by one who was herself a woman of genius and of the
highest moral worth. The reader of this monograph will not, it is to
be hoped, imagine that the writer has presumed to set himself up as a
rival to Mrs. Gaskell. He can no more pretend to equal her in the
treatment of his subject than in the freshness of the interest
attaching to it. And if he has found himself obliged to differ from
her on some points not wholly unimportant, it must be borne in mind
that the writer of to-day is free from not a few of the difficulties
and restraints which weighed upon the writer of twenty years ago. Mrs.
Gaskell had, indeed, to labour under serious disadvantages in her
task. Not only was she unable to obtain full and ready access to all
the materials which she needed to employ, but she was also compelled
to introduce much irrelevant and even hurtful matter into a delightful
and beautiful story. When, after gathering up the bare outline of the
life she proposed to write, she complained to Mr. Brontë that there
were not incidents enough in the history of his daughter to make an
interesting narrative of the ordinary length, his reply was a
characteristic one: "If there are not facts enough in Charlotte's life
to make a book, madam, you must invent some." There is no need to say
that Mrs. Gaskell declined to follow this advice; but none the less
was she hampered all through her work by the necessity of introducing
topics which had but little to do with her main theme; and we see the
result in the fact that the plain unadorned tale of Charlotte Brontë
and her sisters has been interwoven with dismal episodes with which
properly it had no concern.

The publication of Mrs. Gaskell's biography came, however, as a
revelation upon the world. Readers everywhere had learned to admire
the writings of "Currer Bell," and to mourn over the premature
extinction of her genius, but few of them had imagined that the life
and personal character of the author of "Jane Eyre" had been what it
was.

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

    St. Leonards, May 14, 1857.

    Let me renew our long-interrupted acquaintance by complimenting
    you on poor Miss Brontë'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 sufferings. 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.[1]

          [1] "Charles Kingsley: his Letters and Memories of his
          Life," vol. ii. p. 24.

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

[Illustration: INTERIOR OF HAWORTH CHURCH.]

One great change resulted immediately from the publication of Mrs.
Gaskell's work. Haworth and its parsonage became the shrine to which
hundreds of literary pilgrims from all parts of the globe began to
find their way. To see the house in which the three sisters had spent
their lives and done their work, to stand at the altar at which
Charlotte was married, and beneath which her ashes now rest, and to
hear her aged father preach one of his pithy, sensible, but dogmatic
sermons, was what all literary lion-hunters aspired to do. In
Yorkshire, indeed, the stolid people of the West Riding were not
greatly moved by this enthusiasm. Just as Charlotte herself had seemed
an ordinary and rather obscure person to her Yorkshire friends, so
Haworth was still regarded as being a very dull and dreary village by
those who lived near it. But the empire of genius knows no
geographical boundaries, and if at her own doors Charlotte Brontë's
sway was unrecognised, from far-distant quarters of the world there
came the free and full acknowledgment of her power. No other land,
however, furnished so many eager and enthusiastic visitors to the
Brontë shrine as the United States, and the number of Americans who
found their way to Haworth during the ten years immediately following
the death of the author of "Jane Eyre" would, if properly recorded,
astonish the world. The bleak and lonely house by the side of the
moors, with its dismal little garden stretching down to the
churchyard, where the village dead of many a generation rest, and its
dreary out-look upon the old tower rising from its bank of nettles,
the squalid houses of the hamlet, and the bare moorlands beyond,
received almost as many visitors from the other side of the Atlantic
during those years as Abbotsford or Stratford-upon-Avon. Mr. Brontë
and Mr. Nicholls, though they were anxious to avoid the pertinacious
intrusion of these curious but enthusiastic guests, could not entirely
escape from meeting them. It followed that many an American lady and
gentleman wandered through the rooms where the three sisters had dwelt
together in love and unity, and where Charlotte had laboured alone
after the light of her life had fled from her, and many an American
magazine and newspaper contained the record of the impressions which
these visits left upon the minds of those who made them.

In only one case does it seem necessary to recall those impressions.
The late Mr. Raymond, for many years editor of _The New York Times_,
visited Haworth, and wrote an account of his visit, some passages of
which may well be reproduced here. He tells us how on his railway
journey to Keighley, at that time the nearest railway station to
Haworth, he "astonished an intelligent, sociable, and very agreeable
English lady, his sole companion in the railway carriage, by telling
her the errand which had brought him to Yorkshire. She lived in the
neighbourhood, had read the 'Jane Eyre' novels, and 'supposed the
girls were clever;' but 'she would not go ten steps to see where they
lived, nor could she understand how a stranger from America should
feel any interest in their affairs.'" Arrived at Haworth, and having
satisfied himself as to the appearance of the parsonage and the
character of the surrounding neighbourhood, Mr. Raymond went to the
Black Bull Inn to dine and sleep. "As I took my candle to go to my
chamber, I stepped for a moment into the kitchen, where the landlord
and landlady were having a comfortable chat over pipes and ale, with a
companionable rustic of the place, who proved to be a nephew of the
old servant Tabby, who lived so long, and at last died in the service
of the Brontë family. I joined the circle, and sat there till long
after midnight. Branwell was clearly the hero of the village worship.
A little red-headed fellow, the landlord said, quick, bright,
abounding in stories, in jokes, and in pleasant talk of every kind; he
was a general favourite in town, and the special wonder of the Black
Bull circles. Small as he was, it was impossible to frighten him. They
had seen him volunteer during a mill-riot to go in and thrash a dozen
fellows, any one of whom could have put him in his pocket and carried
him off at a minute's notice. Indeed a characteristic of the whole
family seems to have been an entire insensibility to danger and to
fear. Emily and Charlotte, these people told me, were one day walking
through the street, when their great dog, Keeper, engaged in a fight
with another dog of equal size. Whilst everybody else stood aloof and
shouted, these girls went in, caught Keeper by the neck, and by dint
of tugging, and beating him over the head, succeeded in dragging him
away." I extract this passage because of the confirmation which it
gives, on the authority of one who made his inquiries very soon after
the death of Charlotte Brontë, of the account of some of the family
characteristics which appear in these pages; nor will the story of Mr.
Raymond's interview with Mr. Brontë, told as it is with American
directness, be without its interest and its value.

    The next morning I prepared to call at the parsonage. I was told
    that Mr. Brontë and Mr. Nicholls declined to receive strangers,
    having a great aversion to visits of curiosity, and being
    exceedingly retiring and reserved in their habits. I sent in my
    card, however, and was shown into the little library at the right
    of the entrance, where I was asked to await Mr. Nicholls's
    appearance. The room was small, very plainly furnished, with small
    bookcases round the walls, the one between the windows containing
    copies of the Brontë novels. Mr. Nicholls soon came in and made me
    welcome. To my apologies for my intrusion he assured me that while
    they were under the necessity of declining many visits, both he
    and his father were always happy to see their friends, and that
    the words "New York" upon my card were quite sufficient to insure
    me a welcome. Mr. Brontë, he said, was not up when I called, but
    had desired him to detain me until he could dress and come down,
    as he did soon after. I had an exceedingly pleasant conversation
    of half an hour with them both.... Mr. Brontë's personal
    appearance is striking and peculiar. He is tall, thin, and rather
    muscular, has a quick energetic manner, a reflective and by no
    means unpleasant countenance, and a resolute promptness of
    movement which indicated marked decision and firmness of
    character. The extraordinary stories told by Mrs. Gaskell of his
    inflammable temper, of his burning silk dresses belonging to his
    wife which he did not approve of her wearing, of his sawing chairs
    and tables, and firing off pistols in the back-yard by way of
    relieving his superfluous anger, find no warrant certainly in his
    present appearance, and are generally considered exaggerations. I
    remarked to him that I had been agreeably disappointed in the face
    of the country and the general aspect of the town, that they were
    less sombre and repulsive than Mrs. Gaskell's descriptions led me
    to expect. Mr. Nicholls and Mr. Brontë smiled at each other, and
    the latter remarked: "Well, I think Mrs. Gaskell tried to make us
    all appear as bad as she could." Mr. Brontë wears a very wide
    white neckcloth, and usually sinks his chin so that his mouth is
    barely visible over it. This gives him rather a singular
    expression, which is rendered still more so by spectacles with
    large round glasses enclosed in broad metallic rims. Though over
    eighty years old and somewhat infirm, he preaches once every
    Sunday in his church.... As I rose to take my leave Mr. Nicholls
    asked me to step into the parlour and look at Charlotte's
    portrait. It is the one from which the engraving in the "Life" is
    made; but the latter does no justice to the picture, which Mr.
    Nicholls said was a perfect likeness of the original. I remarked
    that the engraving gives to the face, and especially to the eyes,
    a weird, sinister, and unpleasant expression which did not appear
    in the portrait. He said he had observed it, and that nothing
    could be more unjust, for Charlotte's eyes were as soft and
    affectionate in their expression as could possibly be conceived.

Slight as these scraps from the pen of an American "interviewer" may
seem, they have their value as contemporary records of scenes and
incidents the memory of which is fast fading away. Yet even to-day old
men and women are to be found in Haworth who can regale the curious
stranger with many a reminiscence, more or less original, of the
family which has given so great a glory to the place.

Mr. Brontë lived six years after the death of Charlotte. In spite of
his great age he preached regularly in the church till within a few
months of his death; and when at last he took to his bed, he retained
his active interest in the affairs of the world. The newspapers which
Charlotte mentions in one of her juvenile lucubrations as being
regularly "taken in" at the patronage--_The Leeds Mercury_ and
_The Intelligencer_--were still brought to him, and read aloud.
Every scrap of political information which he could gather up he
cherished as a precious morsel; and any visitor who could tell him how
the currents of public life were moving in the great West Riding towns
around him, was certain to be welcome. But the chief enjoyment of his
later years was connected with the public respect shown for his
daughter's memory. The tributes to her virtues and her genius which
were poured from the press after the publication of Mrs. Gaskell's
work were valued by him to the latest moment of his life; and in the
end he at last understood something of the character and the inner
life of the child who had dwelt so long a stranger under her father's
roof.

One point I must notice ere I quit the subject of Charlotte Brontë's
father. Some of those who knew him in his later years, including one
who is above all others entitled to an opinion on the subject, have
objected to the portrait of him presented in these pages, as being
over-coloured. So far as his early life and manhood are concerned, I
cannot admit the force of the objection; for what has been told of Mr.
Brontë in these pages has been gathered from the best of all
sources--from the letters of his children and the recollections of
those who saw much of him during that period. But it is perfectly true
that in old age, after the marriage, and still more after the death of
Charlotte, he was wonderfully softened in character. The fierce
outburst of opposition to the engagement between his daughter and Mr.
Nicholls was almost the last trace of that vehement passion which
consumed him during his earlier years; and those visitors who, like
Mr. Raymond, first became acquainted with him in the closing days of
his life, found it difficult to believe that the stories told of his
propensities in youth and middle-age could possibly be true. Time did
its work at last, even on his adamantine character, softening the
asperities, and wearing away the corners of a disposition, the angular
eccentricities of which had long been so noticeable. Nor ought mention
of the closing scenes of Mr. Brontë's life to be made without some
reference to the part which Mr. Nicholls played at Haworth during
those last sad years. The faithful husband remained under the
parsonage roof in the character of a faithful son. The two men, bound
together by so tender and sacred a tie, were not lightly to be
separated, now that the living and visible link had been taken away.
To some it may seem strange that Charlotte Brontë should have given
her heart to one who was little disposed to sympathise with the
overmastering passion inspired by her genius. But if in her husband
she had found one who was not likely to have helped her in her
literary work, she had also found in him a friend whose steadfastness
even to the death was nobly proved. During all these sad and lonely
years, whilst the father of the Brontës waited for the summons which
should call him once more into their company, Charlotte's husband
lived with him, the patient companion of his hours of pain and
weariness, the faithful guardian of that living legacy which had been
bequeathed to him by the woman whom he loved. And by this
self-sacrificing life he did greater honour to the memory of Charlotte
Brontë than by the most tender and vivid appreciation of her
intellectual greatness.

There is a strange sad harmony between the closing chapter of the
Brontë story and the earlier ones. The brightness had fled for ever
from the parson's house; the gaiety which it had once witnessed was
gone; even its fame as the home of one who was a living force in
English literature had departed; but there still remained one to bear
witness in his own person to the nobleness of that entire devotion to
duty of the necessity of which Charlotte was so fully convinced. The
friendship by which Mr. Nicholls soothed the last days of Mr. Brontë
is a touching episode in the Haworth story, and it is one which cannot
be allowed to pass unnoticed.

When Mr. Brontë died there was a general wish, not only among those
who were impressed by the claims of all connected with his family upon
Haworth, but by the parishioners themselves, that his son-in-law
should succeed him, and that the relationship of the Brontës to the
place where their lives had been spent and their work accomplished,
should thus not be absolutely severed. But the bestowal of church
patronage is not always influenced by considerations of this kind. The
incumbency of Haworth was given to a stranger; Mr. Nicholls returned
to Ireland; and new faces and a new life filled the parsonage-house in
which "Jane Eyre" and "Wuthering Heights" were written.

[Illustration: THE ORGAN LOFT, OVER THE BRONTË TABLET AND PEW.]



XIII.

THE BRONTË NOVELS.


The Brontë novels continued to sell largely for some time after
Charlotte's death. The publication of Mrs. Gaskell's "Life" added not
a little to the sale, and both at home and abroad the fame of the
three sisters was greatly increased. But in recent years the
disposition has been almost to ignore these books; and though fresh
editions have recently been issued they have had no circulation worthy
of being compared with that which they maintained between 1850 and
1860. Yet though there has not been the same interest in these
remarkable performances as that which formerly prevailed, they
continue from time to time to attract the attention of literary
critics both in this and other countries, the works of "Currer Bell"
naturally holding the foremost place in the critiques upon the
writings of the sisters.

"Wuthering Heights," the solitary prose work of Emily Brontë, is now
practically unread. Even those who admire the genius of the family,
those who have the highest opinion of the qualities displayed in "Jane
Eyre" or "Villette," turn away with something like a shudder from
"that dreadful book," as one who knew the Brontës intimately always
calls it. But I venture to invite the attention of my readers to this
story, as being in its way as marvellous a _tour de force_ as "Jane
Eyre" itself. It is true that as a novel it is repulsive and almost
ghastly. As one reads chapter after chapter of the horrible chronicles
of Heathcliff's crimes, the only literary work that can be recalled
for comparison with it is the gory tragedy of "Titus Andronicus." From
the first page to the last there is hardly a redeeming passage in the
book. The atmosphere is lurid and storm-laden throughout, only lighted
up occasionally by the blaze of passion and madness. The hero himself
is the most unmitigated villain in fiction; and there is hardly a
personage in the story who is not in some shape or another the victim
of mental or moral deformities. Nobody can pretend that such a story
as this ever ought to have been written; nobody can read it without
feeling that its author must herself have had a morbid if not a
diseased mind. Much, however, may be said in defence of Emily Brontë's
conduct in writing "Wuthering Heights." She was in her twenty-eighth
year when it was written, and the reader has seen something of the
circumstances of her life, and the motives which led her to take up
her pen. The life had been, so far as the outer world could judge,
singularly barren and unproductive. Its one eventful episode was the
short visit to Brussels. But Brussels had made no such impression upon
Emily as it made upon Charlotte. She went back to Haworth quite
unchanged; her love for the moors stronger than ever; her self-reserve
only strengthened by the assaults to which it had been exposed during
her residence among strangers; her whole nature still crying out for
the solitary life of home, and the sustenance which she drew from the
congenial society of the animals she loved and the servants she
understood. When, partly in the forlorn hope of making money by the
use of her pen, but still more to give some relief to her pent-up
feelings, she began to write "Wuthering Heights," she knew nothing of
the world. "I am bound to avow," says Charlotte, "that she had
scarcely more practical knowledge of the peasants amongst whom she
lived than a nun has of the country people who sometimes pass her
convent gates." Love, except the love for nature and for her own
nearest relatives, was a passion absolutely unknown to her--as any one
who cares to study the pictures of it in "Wuthering Heights" may
easily perceive. Of harsh and brutal, or deliberate crime, she had no
personal knowledge. She had before her, it is true, a sad instance of
the results of vicious self-indulgence, and from that she drew
materials for some portions of her story. But so far as the great
movements of human nature were concerned--of those movements which are
not to be mastered by book learning, but which must come as the tardy
fruits of personal experience--she was in absolute ignorance. Little
as Charlotte herself knew at this time of the world, and of men and
women, she was an accomplished mistress of the secrets of life, in
comparison with Emily.

When a woman has lived such a life as that of "Ellis Bell," her first
literary effort must be regarded as the attempt of an innocent and
ignorant child. It may be full of faults; all the conditions which
should govern a work of art may have been neglected; the book itself,
so far as story, tone, and execution are concerned, may be an entire
mistake; but it will nevertheless give us far more insight into the
real character of the author than any more elaborate and successful
work, constructed after experience has taught her what to do and what
to avoid in order to secure the ear of the public.

"Wuthering Heights," then, is the work of one who, in everything but
years, was a mere child, and its great and glaring faults are to be
forgiven as one forgives the mistakes of childhood. But how vast was
the intellectual greatness displayed in this juvenile work! The author
seizes the reader at the first moment at which they meet, holds him
thrilled, entranced, terrified perhaps, in a grasp which never
relaxes, and leaves him at last, after a perusal of the story, shaken
and exhausted as by some great effort of the mind. Surely nowhere in
modern English fiction can more striking proof be found of the
possession of "the creative gift" in an extraordinary degree than is
to be obtained in "Wuthering Heights." From what unfathomed recesses
of her intellect did this shy, nervous, untrained girl produce such
characters as those which hold the foremost place in her story? Mrs.
Dean, the faithful domestic, we can understand; for her model was at
Emily's elbow in the kitchen at Haworth. Joseph, the quaint High
Calvinist, whose fidelity to his creed is unredeemed by a single touch
of fellow-feeling with the human creatures around him, was drawn from
life; and vigorous and powerful though his portrait is, one can
understand it also. But Heathcliff, and the two Catherines, and
Hareton Earnshaw--none of these ever came within the ken of Emily
Brontë. No persons approaching them in originality or force of
character were to be found in her circle of friends. Here and there
some psychologist, learned in the secrets of morbid human nature, may
have conceived the existence of such persons--evolved them from an
inner consciousness which had been enlightened by years of studious
labour. But no such slow and painful process guided the pen of Emily
Brontë in painting these weird and wonderful portraits. They come
forth with all the vigour and freshness, the living reality and
impressiveness, which can belong only to the spontaneous creations of
genius. They are no copies, indeed, but living originals, owing their
lives to her own travail and suffering.

Regarded in this light they must, I think, be counted among the
greatest curiosities of literature. Their very repulsiveness adds to
their force. I have said that Heathcliff is the greatest villain in
fiction. The reader of the story is disposed to echo the agonised cry
of his wife when she asks: "Is Mr. Heathcliff a man? If so, is he mad?
And if not, is he a devil?" It is not pleasant to see such a character
obtruded upon us in a novel; but I repeat, it is far more difficult to
paint a consummate villain of the Heathcliff type than to draw any of
the more ordinary types of humanity. The concentration of power
required in performing the task is enormous. At every moment the
writer is tempted to turn aside and relieve the darkness by some touch
of light; and the risk which the artist must encounter if he gives way
to this temptation is that of destroying the whole effect of the
picture. Light and shade there must be, or the portrait becomes a mere
daub of blackness; and the man whom the author has desired to create
stands forth as a monster, unrecognisable as a creature belonging to
the same race as ourselves. But unless these lighter shades are
introduced with a tact and a self-command which belong rather to
genius than to art, there must, as I have said, be complete failure.
Now, Emily Brontë has not failed in her portrait of Heathcliff. He
stands, indeed, absolutely alone in that great human portrait-gallery
which forms one of the chambers in the noble edifice of English
literature. We can compare him to nobody else among the creatures of
fiction. We cannot even trace his literary pedigree. He is a distinct
being, not less original than he is hateful. But this circumstance
does not alter the fact that we accept him at once as a real being,
not a merely grotesque monster. He stands as much alone as
Frankenstein's creature did; but we recognise within him that subtle
combination of elements which gives him kinship with the human race.
Here, then, Emily Brontë has succeeded; and girl as she was when she
wrote, she has succeeded where some of the most practised writers have
failed entirely. Compare "Wuthering Heights," for example, with the
fantastic horrors of Lord Lytton's "Strange Story," and you feel at
once how much more powerful and masterly is the touch of the woman.
Lord Lytton's villain, though he has been drawn with so much care and
skill, is often absurd and at last entirely wearisome. Emily Brontë's
is consistent, terrible, fascinating, from beginning to end. Then,
again, the writer never tries to frighten her reader with a bogey. She
never hints at the possibility of supernatural agencies being at work
behind the scene. Even when she is showing us that Heathcliff is for
ever haunted by the dead Catherine, she makes it clear by the words
she puts into his own mouth that his belief on the subject is nothing
more than the delusion of a disordered brain, worried by a guilty
conscience. "I knew no living thing in flesh and blood was by," says
Heathcliff, describing how he dug down into Catherine's grave on the
night after she had been buried; "but as certainly as you perceive the
approach to some substantial body in the dark, so certainly I felt
that Cathy was there: not under me, but on the earth. A sudden sense
of relief flowed from my heart through every limb. I relinquished my
labour of agony, and turned consoled at once--unspeakably consoled.
Her presence was with me; it remained while I refilled the grave and
led me home. You may laugh if you will; but I was sure I should see
her there. I was sure she was with me, and I could not help talking to
her. Having reached the Heights I rushed eagerly to the door. It was
fastened; and I remember that accursed Earnshaw and my wife opposed my
entrance. I remember stopping to kick the breath out of him, and then
hurrying upstairs to my room and hers. I looked round impatiently--I
felt her by me--I could _almost_ see her, and yet I _could not_! I
ought to have sweat blood then, from the anguish of my yearning--from
the fervour of my supplications to have but one glimpse! I had not
one. She showed herself, as she often was in life, a devil to me. And,
since then, sometimes more and sometimes less, I've been the sport of
that intolerable torture.... When I sat in the house with Hareton, it
seemed that on going out I should meet her; when I walked on the moors
I should meet her coming in. When I went from home I hastened to
return. She _must_ be somewhere at the Heights, I was certain! And
when I slept in her chamber--I was beaten out of that. I couldn't lie
there; for the moment I closed my eyes, she was either outside the
window, or sliding back the panels, or entering the room, or even
resting her darling head on the same pillow as she did when a child;
and I must open my lids to see. And so I opened and closed them a
hundred times a night--to be always disappointed!" Here is a picture
of a man who is really haunted. No supernatural agency is invoked; no
strain is put upon the reader's credulity. We are asked to believe in
the suspension of no law of nature. In one word, we can all understand
how a wicked man, whose brain has, as it were, been made drunk with
the fumes of his own wickedness, can be persecuted throughout his
whole life by terrors of this kind; and just because we are able to
conceive and understand it, this haunting of Heathcliff by the ghost
of his dead mistress is infinitely more terrible than if it had been
accompanied either by the paraphernalia of rococo horrors which Mrs.
Radcliffe habitually invoked, or by those refined and subtle
supernatural phenomena which Lord Lytton employs in his famous ghost
story.

This strict honesty which refused to allow the writer of the weirdest
story in the English language to avail herself of the easiest of all
the modes of stimulating a reader's terrors, is shown all through the
novel. The workmanship is good from beginning to end, though the art
is crude and clumsy. She never allows a date to escape her memory, nor
are there any of those broken threads which usually abound in the
works of inexperienced writers. All is neatly, clearly, carefully
finished off. Every date fits into its place, and so does every
incident. The reader is never allowed to wander into a blind alley.
Though at the outset he finds himself in a bewildering maze, far too
complicated in construction to comply with the canons of literary art,
he has only to go straight on, and in the end he will find everything
made plain. Emily permits no fact however minute to drop from her
grasp. Irrelevant though it may seem at the moment when the reader
meets with it, a place has been prepared for it in the edifice which
the patient hands are rearing, and in the end it will be fitted into
that place. Thus there is no scamped work in the story; nor any
sacrifice of details in order to obtain those broad effects in which
the tale abounds.

Let the reader turn to "Wuthering Heights," and he will find many a
simple innocent revelation of the character of the author peeping out
from its pages in unexpected places. We know how the story was
written, and how day by day it was submitted to the revision of
Charlotte and Anne. We may be sure under these circumstances that
Emily did not allow too much of her true inner nature to appear in
what she wrote. Even from her sisters she habitually concealed some of
the strongest and deepest emotions of her heart. But such passages as
the following, when read in the light of her history, as we know it
now, are of strange and abiding interest:

    He said the pleasantest manner of spending a hot July day was
    lying from morning till evening on a bank of heath in the middle
    of the moors, with the bees humming dreamily about among the
    bloom, and the larks singing high up over head, and the blue sky
    and bright sun shining steadily and cloudlessly. That was his most
    perfect idea of heaven's happiness. Mine was rocking in a rustling
    green tree, with a west wind blowing, and bright white clouds
    flitting rapidly above; and not only larks, but throstles and
    blackbirds and linnets and cuckoos, pouring out music on every
    side, and the moors seen at a distance broken into cool dusky
    dells; but close by great swells of long grass undulating in waves
    to the breeze; and woods and sounding water, and the whole world
    awake and wild with joy. He wanted all to lie in an ecstasy of
    peace. I wanted all to sparkle and dance in a glorious jubilee. I
    said his heaven would be only half alive; and he said mine would
    be drunk. I said I should fall asleep in his; and he said he could
    not breathe in mine.

For "he," read "Anne," and accept Emily as speaking for herself, and
we have in this passage a vivid description of the opposing tastes of
the two sisters.

The abhorrence which Charlotte felt for the High Calvinism, which was
the favourite creed around her, was felt even more strongly by Emily.
Her poems throw not a little light upon this feature of her character;
but we also gain some from her solitary novel. Joseph, the old
man-servant, was a study from life, and he represented one of a class
whom the author thoroughly disliked, but for whom at the same time she
entertained a certain respect. Again and again she breaks forth with
all the force of sarcasm she can command against "the wearisomest,
self-righteous pharisee that ever ransacked a Bible to rake the
promises to himself and fling the curses to his neighbours." Yet there
is no character in the story over whom she lingers more lovingly than
Joseph, and it is only in painting his portrait that she allows
herself to be betrayed into the display of any of that humour which,
according to her sisters, always lurked very near the surface of her
character, ever ready to show itself when no stranger was at hand. Few
who have read "Wuthering Heights" can have forgotten Joseph's quaint
remark when the boy Heathcliff has disappeared, and the others are
speculating on his fate.

    Nay, nay, he's noan at Gimmerton. I's never wonder but he's at t'
    bottom of a bog-boile. This visitation worn't for nowt, and I wod
    hev ye to look out, miss. Yah muh be t' next. Thank Hivin for all!
    All works togither for gooid to them as is chozzen, and piked out
    fro' th' rubbidge. Yah knaw whet t' Scripture ses.

There is one passage in the story which furnishes so strange a
foreshadowing of Emily's own death, that it is difficult to believe
that she did not bear it in her mind during those last hours when she
faced the dread enemy with such unwavering resolution. She is writing
of the death of Mrs. Earnshaw.

    Poor soul! till within a week of her death that gay heart never
    failed her; and her husband persisted doggedly, nay furiously, in
    affirming her health improved every day. When Kenneth warned him
    that his medicines were useless at that stage of the malady, and
    he needn't put him to further expense by attending her, he
    retorted:

    "I know you need not. She's well; she does not want any more
    attendance from you! She never was in a consumption. It was a
    fever, and it is gone: her pulse is as slow as mine now, and her
    cheek as cool!"

    He told his wife the same story, and she seemed to believe him.
    But one night while leaning on his shoulder, in the act of saying
    she thought she should be able to get up to-morrow, a fit of
    coughing took her--a very slight one--he raised her in his arms;
    she put her two hands about his neck, her face changed, and she
    was dead.

Strange and inscrutable, indeed, are the mysteries of the human heart!
Let the reader turn from the passage I have quoted to that letter in
which Charlotte laments that "Emily is too intractable," and let him
read how she refused to believe that she was ill until death caught
her as suddenly as it did the wife of Earnshaw. The blindness to the
approach of danger, which she describes so clearly in her story, was
but a few months afterwards displayed even more fully by herself. In
this last quotation, which I venture to make from a book now seldom
opened, we see the author speaking evidently out of the fulness of her
heart on a subject on which in conversation she was specially
reserved.

    I don't know if it be a peculiarity in me, but I am seldom
    otherwise than happy when watching in the chamber of death, should
    no frenzied or despairing mourner share the duty with me. I see a
    repose that neither earth nor hell can break, and I feel an
    assurance of the endless and shadowless hereafter--the Eternity
    they have entered--where life is boundless in its duration, and
    love in its sympathy, and joy in its fulness. I noticed on that
    occasion how much selfishness there is even in a love like Mr.
    Linton's, when he so regretted Catherine's blessed release! To be
    sure, one might have doubted, after the wayward and impatient
    existence she had led, whether she merited a haven of peace at
    last. One might doubt in seasons of cold reflection; but not then
    in the presence of her corpse. It asserted its own tranquillity,
    which seemed a pledge of equal quiet to its former inhabitant.

Even these fragments, culled from the pages of "Wuthering Heights,"
are sufficient to show how little the story has in common with the
ordinary novel. Differing widely in every respect from "Jane Eyre,"
dealing with characters and circumstances which belong to the romance
rather than the reality of life, it is yet stamped by the same
originality, the same daring, the same thoughtfulness, and the same
intense individuality. It is a marvel to all who know anything of the
secrets of literary work, that Haworth Parsonage should have produced
"Jane Eyre;" but how is the marvel increased, when we know that at the
same time it produced, from the brain of another inmate, the wonderful
story of "Wuthering Heights." Brimful of faults as it may be, that
book is alone sufficient to prove that a rare and splendid genius was
lost to the world when Emily Brontë died.

All interested in the story of the Brontës must be curious to know
whence Emily derived the materials for this romance. I have said that
Heathcliff and the other prominent characters of the story are
creations of her own; and indeed the book in its originality is almost
unique. But this does not affect the fact that somewhere, and at some
period during her life, the seed which brought forth this strange
fruit must have been sown. It has been suggested by some--strangely
ignorant, surely, of the conditions of West Riding life during the
present century--that Emily obtained the skeleton of her plot from her
own observation of people around her. But the life round Haworth was
really tame and commonplace. Josephs and Mrs. Deans could be found in
and about the village in abundance; but there were no people round
whose lives hung anything of the mystery which attaches to Heathcliff.
It was, so far as I can learn, during her early girlhood that Emily's
mind was filled with those grim traditions which she afterwards
employed in writing "Wuthering Heights." Mr. Brontë, in addition to
his other gifts, had the faculty of storytelling highly developed, and
his delight was to use this faculty in order to awaken superstitious
terrors in the hearts of his children.

Though he habitually took his meals alone, he would often appear at
the table where his daughters, with possibly their one female friend,
were breakfasting, and, without joining in the repast, would entertain
the little company of schoolgirls with wild legends not only relating
to life in Yorkshire during the last century, but to that still wilder
life which he had left behind him in Ireland. A cold smile would play
round his mouth as he added horror to horror in his attempts to move
his children; and his keen eyes sparkled with triumph when he found he
had succeeded in filling them with alarm. Emily listened to these
stories with bated breath, drinking them, in eagerly. She could repeat
them afterwards by the hour together to her sisters; and no better
proof of the deep root they took in her sensitive nature can be
desired, than the fact that they led her to write "Wuthering Heights."
Thus the paternal influence, strong as it was in the case of all the
daughters, was peculiarly strong as regarded Emily; and we can gauge
the nature of that influence in the weird and ghastly story which was
brought forth under its shadow.

It is with a feeling of curious disappointment that one rises from the
perusal of the writings of Anne Brontë. She wrote two novels, "Agnes
Grey" and "The Tenant of Wildfell Hall," neither of which will really
repay perusal. In the first she sought to set forth some of the
experiences which had befallen her in that patient placid life which
she led as a governess. They were not ordinary experiences, the reader
should know. I have resolutely avoided, in writing this sketch of
Charlotte Brontë and her sisters, all unnecessary reference to the
tragedy of Branwell Brontë's life. But it is a strange sad feature of
that story, that the pious and gentle youngest sister was compelled to
be a closer and more constant witness of his sins and his sufferings
than either Charlotte or Emily. She was living under the same roof
with him when he went astray and was thrust out in deep disgrace. I
have said already that the effect of his career upon her own was as
strong and deep as Mrs. Gaskell represents it to have been. Branwell's
fall formed the dark turning-point in Anne Brontë's life. So it was
not unnatural that it should colour her literary labours. Accordingly,
whilst "Agnes Grey" gives us some of the scenes of her governess life,
dressed up in the fashion of the ordinary romances of thirty years
ago, "The Tenant of Wildfell Hall" presents us with a dreary and
repulsive picture of Branwell Brontë's condition after his fall.
Charlotte, in her brief memoir of her sisters, does bare justice to
Anne when she speaks in these words upon the subject:

    "The Tenant of Wildfell Hall," by "Acton Bell," had likewise an
    unfavourable reception. At this I cannot wonder. The choice of
    subject was an entire mistake. Nothing less congruous with the
    writer's nature could be conceived. The motives which dictated
    this choice were pure, but, I think, slightly morbid. She had in
    the course of her life been called on to contemplate, near at
    hand, and for a long time, the terrible effects of talents misused
    and faculties abused; hers was naturally a sensitive, reserved,
    and dejected nature; what she saw sank very deeply into her mind;
    it did her harm. She brooded over it till she believed it to be a
    duty to reproduce every detail (of course with fictitious
    characters, incidents, and situations) as a warning to others. She
    hated her work, but would pursue it. When reasoned with on the
    subject, she regarded such reasonings as a temptation to
    self-indulgence. She must be honest; she must not varnish, soften,
    or conceal. This well-meant resolution brought on her
    misconception and some abuse, which she bore, as it was her custom
    to bear whatever was unpleasant, with mild steady patience. She
    was a very sincere and practical Christian, but the tinge of
    religious melancholy communicated a sad hue to her brief blameless
    life.

What a picture one gets of this third and least considered of the
Brontë sisters in the passage which I have quoted! A lovable,
fair-featured girl, leading a blameless life, lighted up by few hopes
of any brighter future--for the one little romance of her own heart
had been destroyed ere this by the unrelenting hand of death--and not
inspired as her sisters were by the passion of the artist or the
creator; a girl whose simple faith was still unmoved from its first
foundations; whose delight was in visiting the poor and helping the
sick, who had no sustaining conviction of her own strength such as
maintained Charlotte and Emily in their darkest hours, and whose very
piety was "tinged with melancholy." This is the girl who, not from any
of the irresistible impulses which attend the exercise of the creative
faculty, but from a simple sense of duty, set herself the hard task of
depicting in the pages of a novel the consequences of a shocking vice
with which her brother's degradation had brought her into close and
abiding contact. Of course she failed. It is not by hands so weak as
those of Anne Brontë that effective blows are struck at such sins as
she assailed. But whilst we acknowledge her failure, let us do justice
both to the self-sacrificing courage and the fervent piety which led
her to undertake this painful work.

Of Charlotte Brontë's novels, as a whole, I shall say nothing at this
point; but something may very properly be said here of the story which
she wrote at the time when her sisters were engaged in writing
"Wuthering Heights" and "Agnes Grey." It was not published until after
her death, and after the world had learned from Mrs. Gaskell's pages
something of the truth about her life. Its interest to the ordinary
reader was to a considerable extent discounted by the fact that the
author had so largely used the materials in her last great work,
"Villette." But even as a mere novel "The Professor" has striking
merits, and would well repay perusal from that point of view alone;
whilst as a means of gaining fresh light with regard to the character
of the writer, it is not less valuable than "Wuthering Heights"
itself. True, "The Professor" is not really a first attempt. "A first
attempt it certainly was not," says Charlotte in reference to it, "as
the pen which wrote it had previously been worn a good deal in a
practice of some years." But the previous writings, of which hardly a
trace now remains--those early MSS. having been carefully destroyed,
with the exception of the few which Mrs. Gaskell was permitted to
see--were in no respect finished productions, nor had they been
written with a view to publication. The first occasion on which
Charlotte Brontë really began a prose work which she proposed to
commit to the press was on that day when, seated by her two sisters,
she joined them in penning the first page of a new novel.

To all practical intents, therefore, "The Professor" is entitled to be
regarded as a first work; and certainly nothing can show Charlotte's
peculiar views on the subject of novel-writing more clearly or
strikingly than this book does. The world knows how resolutely in all
her writings she strove to be true to life as she saw it. In "Jane
Eyre" there are, indeed, romantic incidents and situations, but even
in that work there is no trespassing beyond the limits always allowed
to the writer of fiction; whilst it must not be forgotten that "Jane
Eyre" was in part a response to the direct appeal from the publishers
for something different in character from "The Professor." In that
first story she determined that she would write a man's life as men's
lives usually are. Her hero was "never to get a shilling he had not
earned;" no sudden turns of fortune were "to lift him in a moment to
wealth and high station;" and he was not even to marry "a beautiful
girl or a lady of rank." "As Adam's son he should share Adam's doom,
and drain throughout life a mixed and moderate cup of enjoyment."

Very few novel-readers will share this conception of what a novel
ought to be. The writer of fiction is an artist whose accepted duty it
is to lift men and women out of the cares of ordinary life, out of the
sordid surroundings which belong to every lot in this world, and to
show us life under different, perhaps under fantastic, conditions: a
life which by its contrast to that we ourselves are leading shall
furnish some relief to our mental vision, wearied and jaded by its
constant contemplation of the fevers and disappointments, the crosses
and long years of weary monotony, which belong to life as it is. We
know how a great living writer has ventured to protest against this
theory, and how in her finest works of fiction she has shown us life
as it is, under the sad and bitter conditions of pain, sorrow, and
hopelessness. But Charlotte Brontë wrote "The Professor" long before
"George Eliot" took up her pen; and she must at least receive credit
for having been in the field as a reformer of fiction before her
fellow-labourer was heard of.

She was true to the conditions she had laid down for herself in
writing "The Professor." Nothing more sober and matter-of-fact than
that story is to be found in English literature. And yet, though the
landscape one is invited to view is but a vast plain, without even a
hillock to give variety to the prospect, it has beauties of its own
which commend it to our admiration. The story, as everybody knows,
deals with Brussels, from which she had just returned when she began
to write it. But it is sad to note the difference between the spirit
of "The Professor" and that which is exhibited in "Villette." Dealing
with the same circumstances, and substantially with the same story,
the author has nevertheless cast each in a mould of its own. Nor is
the cause of this any secret to those who know Charlotte Brontë. When
she wrote "The Professor," disillusioned though she was, she was still
young, and still blessed with that fervent belief in a better future
which the youthful heart can never quite cast out, even under the
heaviest blows of fate. She had come home restless and miserable,
feeling Haworth to be far too small and quiet a place for her; and her
mind could not take in the reality that under that modest roof the
remainder of her life was destined to be spent. Suffering and unhappy
as she was, she could not shut out the hope that brighter days lay
before her. The fever of life racked her; but in the very fact that it
burnt so high there was proof that love and hope, the capacity for a
large enjoyment of existence, still lived within her. So "The
Professor," though a sad, monotonous book, has life and hope, and a
fair faith in the ultimate blessedness of all sorrowful ones, shining
through all its pages; and it closes in a scene of rest and peace.

Very different is the case with "Villette." It was written years after
the period when "The Professor" was composed, when the hard realities
of life had ceased to be veiled under tender mists of sentiment or
imagination, and when the lonely present, the future, "which often
appals me," made the writer too painfully aware that she had drunk the
cup of existence almost to the dregs. As a piece of workmanship there
is no comparison between it and the earlier story. On every page we
see traces of the artist's hand. Genius flashes forth from both works
it is true, but in "Villette" it is genius chastened and restrained by
a cultivated taste, or working under that high pressure which only the
trained writer can bring to bear upon it. Yet, whilst we must admit
the immense superiority of the later over the earlier work, we cannot
turn from the one to the other without being painfully touched by the
sad, strange difference in the spirit which animates them. The
stories, as I have said, are nearly the same. With some curious
transformations, in fact, they are practically identical. But they are
only the same in the sense in which the portrait of the fair and
hopeful girl, with life's romance shining before her eyes, is the same
as the portrait of the worn and solitary woman for whom the romance is
at an end. A whole world of suffering, of sorrow, of patient
endurance, lies between the two. I have spoken of the mood in which
"The Professor" was written--Hope still lingered at that time in the
heart, breathing its merciful though illusory suggestions of something
brighter and better in the future. All who have passed through the
ordeal of a life's sorrow will be able to understand the distinction
between the temperament of the author at that period in her life, and
her temperament when she composed "Villette." For such suffering ones
know, how, in the first and bitterest moment of sorrow, the heart
cannot shut out the blessed belief that a time of release from the
pain will come--a time far off, perhaps, but in which a day bright as
that which has suddenly been eclipsed will shine again. It is only as
the years go by, and as the first ache of intolerable anguish has been
lulled into a dreary rest by habit, that the faith which gave them
strength to bear the keenest smart, takes flight, and leaves them to
the pale monotony of a twilight which can know no dawn. It was in this
later and saddest stage of endurance that "Villette" was written. The
sharpest pangs of the heart-experiences at Brussels had vanished. The
author, no longer full of the self-consciousness of the girl, could
even treat her own story, her own sorrows of that period, with a
lighter hand, a more artistic touch, than when she first wrote of
them; but through all her work there ran the dreary conviction that in
those days of mingled joy and suffering she had tasted life at its
best, and that in the future which lay before her there could be
nothing which should renew either the strong delights or keen anguish
of that time. So the book is pitched, as we know, in a key of almost
absolute hopelessness. Nothing but the genius of Charlotte Brontë
could have saved such a work from sinking under its own burden of
gloom. That this intense and tragic study of a soul should have had
power to fascinate, not the psychologist alone, but the vast masses of
the reading world, is a triumph which can hardly be paralleled in
recent literary efforts. In "The Professor" we move among the same
scenes, almost among the same characters and incidents, but the whole
atmosphere is a different one. It is a dull, cold atmosphere, if you
will, but one feels that behind the clouds the sun is shining, and
that sooner or later the hero and heroine will be allowed to bask in
his reviving rays. Set the two stories together, and read them in the
light of all that passed between the years in which they were
written--the death of Branwell, of Emily, and of Anne, the utter
shattering of some fair illusions which buoyed up Charlotte's heart in
the first years of her literary triumph, the apparent extinction of
all hope as to future happiness--and you will get from them a truer
knowledge of the author's soul than any critic or biographer could
convey to you.

Ere I part from "The Professor," which, naturally enough, never gained
much attention from the public, I must extract from it one passage, a
parallel to which may be found in many of Charlotte Brontë's letters.
It describes, as none but one who had suffered could do, one of those
seasons of mental depression, arising from bodily illness, by which
she was visited at intervals, and under the influence of which not a
little of her work was done. Reading it, we get some idea of the true
origin of much in her character that was supposed to be morbid and
unnatural:

    Man is ever clogged with his mortality, and it was my mortal
    nature which now faltered and plained; my nerves which jarred and
    gave a false sound, because the soul, of late rushing headlong to
    an aim, had overstrained the body's comparative weakness. A horror
    of great darkness fell upon me; I felt my chamber invaded by one I
    had known formerly but had thought for ever departed. I was
    temporarily a prey to hypochondria. She had been my acquaintance,
    nay, my guest, once before in boyhood; I had entertained her at
    bed and board for a year; for that space of time I had her to
    myself in secret; she lay with me, she ate with me, she walked out
    with me, showing me nooks in woods, hollows in hills, where we
    could sit together, and where she could drop her drear veil over
    me, and so hide sky and sun, grass and green tree; taking me
    entirely to her death-cold bosom and holding me with arms of bone.
    What tales she would tell me at such hours! What songs she would
    recite in my ears! How she would discourse to me of her own
    country--the grave--and again and again promise to conduct me
    there ere long; and drawing me to the very brink of a black sullen
    river, show me on the other side shores unequal with mound,
    monument, and tablet, standing up in a glimmer more hoary than
    moonlight. "Necropolis!" she would whisper, pointing to the pale
    piles, and add, "it contains a mansion prepared for you." But my
    boyhood was lonely, parentless; uncheered by brother or sister;
    and there was no marvel that, just as I rose to youth, a
    sorceress, finding me lost in vague mental wanderings, with many
    affections and few objects, glowing aspirations and gloomy
    prospects, strong desires and tender hopes, should lift up her
    illusive lamp to me in the distance, and lure me to her vaulted
    home of horrors.

It was when, under the influence of occasional spells of physical
suffering such as she here describes, that Miss Brontë gave those who
saw her the impresion that her mind was naturally a morbid one; and,
as I have said before, the same influence is at times perceptible in
her writings. One of the purposes with which this little book has been
written is to show the world how much of the gloom and depression
which are now associated with her story, must be attributed to purely
physical or accidental causes.



XIV.

CONCLUSION.


No apology need be offered for any single feature of Charlotte
Brontë's life or character. She was what God made her in the furnace
of sore afflictions and yet more sore temptations; her life, instinct
with its extraordinary individuality, was, notwithstanding, always
subject to exterior influences for the existence of which she was not
responsible, and which more than once threatened to change the whole
nature and purpose of her being; her genius, which brought forth its
first-fruits under the cold shade of obscurity and adversity, was
developed far more largely by sorrow, loneliness, and pain, than by
the success which she gained in so abundant a degree. There are
features of her character which we can scarcely comprehend, for the
existence of which we are unable to account; and there are features of
her genius which jar upon our sympathies and ruffle our conventional
ideas; but for neither will one word of apology or excuse be offered
by any who really know and love this great woman.

The fashion which exalted her to such a pinnacle of fame, like many
another fashion, has lost its vogue; and the present generation,
wrapped in admiration of another school of fiction, has consigned the
works of "Currer Bell" to a premature sepulchre. But her friends need
not despair; for from that dreary tomb of neglect an hour of
resurrection must come, and the woman who has given us three of the
most masterful books of the century, will again assert her true
position in the literature of her country. We hear nothing now of the
"immorality" of her writings. Younger people, if they turn from the
sparkling or didactic pages of the most popular of recent stories to
"Jane Eyre" or "Villette," in the hope of finding there some stimulant
which may have power to tickle their jaded palates, will search in
vain for anything that even borders upon impropriety--as we understand
the word in these enlightened days--and they will form a strange
conception of the generation of critics which denounced "Currer Bell"
as the writer of immoral works of fiction. But it is said that there
is coarseness in her stories, "otherwise so entirely noble." Even Mrs.
Gaskell has assented to the charge; and it is generally believed that
Charlotte Brontë, as a writer, though not immoral in tone, was rude in
language and coarse in thought. The truth, I maintain, is, that this
so-called coarseness is nothing more than the simplicity and purity,
the straightforwardness and unconsciousness which an unspotted heart
naturally displays in dealing with those great problems of life which,
alas! none who have drunk deep of the waters of good and evil can ever
handle with entire freedom from embarrassment. An American writer[2]
has spoken of Charlotte Brontë as "the great pre-Raphaelite among
women, who was not ashamed or afraid to utter what God had shown her,
and was too single-hearted of aim to swerve one hairbreadth in
duplicating nature's outlines." She was more than this however; she
was bold enough to set up a standard of right of her own; and when
still the unknown daughter of the humble Yorkshire parson, she could
stir the hearts of readers throughout the world with the trumpet-note
of such a declaration as this: "Conventionality is not morality;
self-righteousness is not religion; to pluck the mask from the face of
the Pharisee is not to lift an impious hand to the Crown of Thorns."
Let it be remembered that these words were written nearly thirty years
ago, when conventionalism was still a potent influence in checking the
free utterance of our inmost opinions; and let us be thankful that in
that heroic band to whom we owe the emancipation of English thought, a
woman holds an honourable place.

          [2] Harper's _New Monthly Magazine_, February, 1866.

Writing of her life just after it had closed, her friend Miss
Martineau said of her: "In her vocation she had, in addition to the
deep intuitions of a gifted woman, the strength of a man, the patience
of a hero, and the conscientiousness of a saint." Those who know her
best will apply to her personal character the epithets which Miss
Martineau reserved for her career as an author. It has been my object
in these pages to supplement the picture painted in Mrs. Gaskell's
admirable biography by the addition of one or two features, slight in
themselves perhaps, and yet not unimportant when the effect of the
whole as a faithful portrait is considered. Charlotte Brontë was not
naturally a morbid person; in youth she was happy and high-spirited;
and up to the last moment of her life she had a serene strength and
cheerfulness which seldom deserted her, except when acute physical
suffering was added to her mental pangs. If her mind could have been
freed from the depressing influences exerted on it by her frail and
suffering body, it would have been one of the healthiest and most
equable minds of our age. As it was, it showed itself able to meet the
rude buffetings of fate without shrinking and without bravado; and the
woman who is to this day regarded by the world at large as a marvel of
self-conscious genius and of unchecked morbidness, was able to her
dying hour to take the keenest, liveliest interest in the welfare of
her friends, to pour out all her sympathy wherever she believed it was
needed and deserved, and to lighten the grim parsonage of Haworth by a
presence which, in the sacred recesses of her home, was bright and
cheerful, as well as steadfast and calm.

"Do not underrate her oddity," said a gifted friend who knew her
during her heyday of fame, while these pages were being written. Her
oddity, it must be owned, was extreme--so far as the world could
judge. But I have striven to show how much this eccentricity was
outward and superficial only, due in part to the peculiar conditions
of her early life, but chiefly to the excessive shyness in the
presence of strangers which she shared with her sisters. At heart, as
some of these letters will show, she was one of the truest women who
ever breathed; and her own heart-history was by no means so
exceptional, so far removed from the heart-history of most women, as
the public believes.

The key to her character was simple and unflinching devotion to duty.
Once she failed,[3] or rather, once she allowed inclination to blind
her as to the true direction of the path of duty, and that single
failure coloured the whole of her subsequent life. But her own
condemnation of herself was more sharp and bitter than any which could
have been passed upon her by the world, and from that one venial error
she drew lessons which enabled her henceforward to live with a steady,
constant power of self-sacrifice at her command such as distinguishes
saints and heroes rather than ordinary men and women. Hot, impulsive,
and tenacious in her affections, she suffered those whom she loved the
most dearly to be torn from her without losing faith in herself or in
God; tenderly sensitive as to the treatment which her friends
received, she repaid the cruelty and injustice of her father towards
the man whose heart she had won, by a depth of devotion and
self-sacrifice which can only be fully estimated by those who know
under what bitter conditions it was lavished upon an unworthy parent;
bound, as all the children of genius are, by the spell of her own
imagination, she was yet able during the closing months of her life to
lay aside her pen, and give herself up wholly, at the desire of her
husband, to those parish duties which had such slight attractions for
her. Those who, knowing these facts, still venture to assert that the
virtues which distinguished "Currer Bell" the author were lacking in
Charlotte Brontë the woman, must have minds warped by deep-rooted and
unworthy prejudices.

          [3] I ought perhaps to point out, as this passage may
          otherwise be open to misconception, that the failure to
          which I refer is that confessed by herself in a letter I
          have quoted on page 59.

I have expressed my conviction that the comparative neglect from which
"Jane Eyre" and its sister-works now suffer is only temporary. It is
true that in some respects these books are not attractive. Though they
are written with a terse vigour which must make them grateful to all
whose palates are cloyed by the pretty writing of the present
generation, they undoubtedly err on the side of a lack of literary
polish. And though the portraits presented to us in their pages are
wonderful as works of art, unsurpassed as studies of character, the
range of the artist is a limited one, and, as a rule, the subjects
chosen are not the most pleasing that could have been conceived. Yet
one great and striking merit belongs to this masterly painter of men
and women, which is lacking in some who, treading to a certain extent
in her footsteps, have achieved even a wider and more brilliant
reputation. There is no taint of the dissecting-room about her books;
we are never invited to admire the supreme cleverness of the operator
who, with unsparing knife, lays bare before us the whole cunning
mechanism of the soul which is stretched under the scalpel; nor are we
bidden to pause and listen to those didactic moralisings which belong
rather to the preacher or the lecturer than the novelist. It is the
artist, not the anatomist who is instructing us; and after all, we may
derive a more accurate knowledge of men and women as they are from the
cartoons of a Raphael than from the most elaborate diagrams or
sections of the most eminent of physiologists.

Perhaps no merit is more conspicuous in Charlotte Brontë's writings
than their unswerving honesty. Writing always "under the spell," at
the dictation, as it were, of an invisible and superior spirit, she
would never write save when "the fit was upon her" and she had
something to say. "I have been silent lately because I have
accumulated nothing since I wrote last," is a phrase which fell from
her on one occasion. Save when she believed that she had accumulated
something, some truth which she was bound to convey to the world, she
would not touch her pen. She had every temptation to write fast and
freely. Money was needed at home, and money was to be had by the mere
production of novels which, whether good, bad, or indifferent, were
certain to sell. But she withstood the temptation bravely, withstood
it even when it came strengthened by the supplications of her friends;
and from first to last she gave the world nothing but her best. This
honesty--rare enough unfortunately among those whose painful lot it is
to coin their brains into money--was carried far beyond these limits.
When in writing she found that any character had escaped from her
hands--and every writer of fiction knows how easily this may
happen--she made no attempt to finish the portrait according to the
canons of literary art. She waited patiently for fresh light; studying
deeply in her waking hours, dreaming constantly of her task during her
uneasy slumbers, until perchance the light she needed came and she
could go on. But if it came not she never pretended to supply the
place of this inspiration of genius by any clever trick of literary
workmanship. The picture was left unfinished--perfect so far as it
went, but broken off at the point at which the author's keen
intuitions had failed or fled from her. Nor when her work was done
would she consent to alter or amend at the bidding of others; for the
sake of no applause, of no success, would she change the fate of any
of her characters as they had been fixed in the crucible of her
genius. Even when her father exerted all his authority to secure
another ending to the tale of "Villette," he could only, as we have
seen, persuade his daughter to veil the catastrophe. The hero was
doomed; and Charlotte, whatever might be her own inclination, could
not save him from his fate. Books so true, so honest, so simple, so
thorough as these, depend for their ultimate fate upon no transitions
of fashion, no caprices of the public taste. They will hold their own
as the slow-born fruits of a great genius, long after the productions
of a score of facile pens now able to secure the world's attention
have been utterly forgotten. The daring and passion of "Jane Eyre,"
the broad human sympathies, sparkling humour, and graphic portraiture
of "Shirley," and the steady, patient, unsurpassed concentration of
power which distinguishes "Villette," can hardly cease to command
admiration whilst the literature of this century is remembered and
studied.

But when we turn from the author to the woman, from the written pages
to the writer, and when, forgetting the features and fortunes of those
who appear in the romances of "Currer Bell," we recall that touching
story which will for ever be associated with Haworth Parsonage and
with the great family of the Brontës, we see that the artist is
greater than her works, that the woman is nobler and purer than the
writer, and that by her life, even more than by her labours, the
author of "Jane Eyre" must always teach us those lessons of courage,
self-sacrifice, and patient endurance of which our poor humanity
stands in such pressing and constant need.


THE END.

CHARLES DICKENS AND EVANS, CRYSTAL PALACE PRESS.





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