The Life of Charlotte Bronte - Volume 1
Elizabeth Claghorn Gaskell

Part 2 out of 5

The house is still remaining that formed part of that occupied by
the school. It is a long, bow-windowed cottage, now divided into
two dwellings. It stands facing the Leck, between which and it
intervenes a space, about seventy yards deep, that was once the
school garden. This original house was an old dwelling of the
Picard family, which they had inhabited for two generations. They
sold it for school purposes, and an additional building was
erected, running at right angles from the older part. This new
part was devoted expressly to school-rooms, dormitories, &c.; and
after the school was removed to Casterton, it was used for a
bobbin-mill connected with the stream, where wooden reels were
made out of the alders, which grow profusely in such ground as
that surrounding Cowan Bridge. This mill is now destroyed. The
present cottage was, at the time of which I write, occupied by the
teachers' rooms, the dinner-room and kitchens, and some smaller
bedrooms. On going into this building, I found one part, that
nearest to the high road, converted into a poor kind of public-
house, then to let, and having all the squalid appearance of a
deserted place, which rendered it difficult to judge what it would
look like when neatly kept up, the broken panes replaced in the
windows, and the rough-cast (now cracked and discoloured) made
white and whole. The other end forms a cottage, with the low
ceilings and stone floors of a hundred years ago; the windows do
not open freely and widely; and the passage up-stairs, leading to
the bedrooms, is narrow and tortuous: altogether, smells would
linger about the house, and damp cling to it. But sanitary
matters were little understood thirty years ago; and it was a
great thing to get a roomy building close to the high road, and
not too far from the habitation of Mr. Wilson, the originator of
the educational scheme. There was much need of such an
institution; numbers of ill-paid clergymen hailed the prospect
with joy, and eagerly put down the names of their children as
pupils when the establishment should be ready to receive them.
Mr. Wilson was, no doubt, pleased by the impatience with which the
realisation of his idea was anticipated, and opened the school
with less than a hundred pounds in hand, and with pupils, the
number of whom varies according to different accounts; Mr. W. W.
Carus Wilson, the son of the founder, giving it as seventy; while
Mr. Shepheard, the son-in-law, states it to have been only

Mr. Wilson felt, most probably, that the responsibility of the
whole plan rested upon him. The payment made by the parents was
barely enough for food and lodging; the subscriptions did not flow
very freely into an untried scheme; and great economy was
necessary in all the domestic arrangements. He determined to
enforce this by frequent personal inspection; carried perhaps to
an unnecessary extent, and leading occasionally to a meddling with
little matters, which had sometimes the effect of producing
irritation of feeling. Yet, although there was economy in
providing for the household, there does not appear to have been
any parsimony. The meat, flour, milk, &c., were contracted for,
but were of very fair quality; and the dietary, which has been
shown to me in manuscript, was neither bad nor unwholesome; nor,
on the whole, was it wanting in variety. Oatmeal porridge for
breakfast; a piece of oat-cake for those who required luncheon;
baked and boiled beef, and mutton, potato-pie, and plain homely
puddings of different kinds for dinner. At five o'clock, bread
and milk for the younger ones; and one piece of bread (this was
the only time at which the food was limited) for the elder pupils,
who sat up till a later meal of the same description.

Mr. Wilson himself ordered in the food, and was anxious that it
should be of good quality. But the cook, who had much of his
confidence, and against whom for a long time no one durst utter a
complaint, was careless, dirty, and wasteful. To some children
oatmeal porridge is distasteful, and consequently unwholesome,
even when properly made; at Cowan Bridge School it was too often
sent up, not merely burnt, but with offensive fragments of other
substances discoverable in it. The beef, that should have been
carefully salted before it was dressed, had often become tainted
from neglect; and girls, who were schoolfellows with the Brontes,
during the reign of the cook of whom I am speaking, tell me that
the house seemed to be pervaded, morning, noon, and night, by the
odour of rancid fat that steamed out of the oven in which much of
their food was prepared. There was the same carelessness in
making the puddings; one of those ordered was rice boiled in
water, and eaten with a sauce of treacle and sugar; but it was
often uneatable, because the water had been taken out of the rain
tub, and was strongly impregnated with the dust lodging on the
roof, whence it had trickled down into the old wooden cask, which
also added its own flavour to that of the original rain water.
The milk, too, was often "bingy," to use a country expression for
a kind of taint that is far worse than sourness, and suggests the
idea that it is caused by want of cleanliness about the milk pans,
rather than by the heat of the weather. On Saturdays, a kind of
pie, or mixture of potatoes and meat, was served up, which was
made of all the fragments accumulated during the week. Scraps of
meat from a dirty and disorderly larder, could never be very
appetizing; and, I believe, that this dinner was more loathed than
any in the early days of Cowan Bridge School. One may fancy how
repulsive such fare would be to children whose appetites were
small, and who had been accustomed to food, far simpler perhaps,
but prepared with a delicate cleanliness that made it both
tempting and wholesome. At many a meal the little Brontes went
without food, although craving with hunger. They were not strong
when they came, having only just recovered from a complication of
measles and hooping-cough: indeed, I suspect they had scarcely
recovered; for there was some consultation on the part of the
school authorities whether Maria and Elizabeth should be received
or not, in July 1824. Mr. Bronte came again, in the September of
that year, bringing with him Charlotte and Emily to be admitted as

It appears strange that Mr. Wilson should not have been informed
by the teachers of the way in which the food was served up; but we
must remember that the cook had been known for some time to the
Wilson family, while the teachers were brought together for an
entirely different work--that of education. They were expressly
given to understand that such was their department; the buying in
and management of the provisions rested with Mr. Wilson and the
cook. The teachers would, of course, be unwilling to lay any
complaints on the subject before him.

There was another trial of health common to all the girls. The
path from Cowan Bridge to Tunstall Church, where Mr. Wilson
preached, and where they all attended on the Sunday, is more than
two miles in length, and goes sweeping along the rise and fall of
the unsheltered country, in a way to make it a fresh and
exhilarating walk in summer, but a bitter cold one in winter,
especially to children like the delicate little Brontes, whose
thin blood flowed languidly in consequence of their feeble
appetites rejecting the food prepared for them, and thus inducing
a half-starved condition. The church was not warmed, there being
no means for this purpose. It stands in the midst of fields, and
the damp mist must have gathered round the walls, and crept in at
the windows. The girls took their cold dinner with them, and ate
it between the services, in a chamber over the entrance, opening
out of the former galleries. The arrangements for this day were
peculiarly trying to delicate children, particularly to those who
were spiritless and longing for home, as poor Maria Bronte must
have been; for her ill health was increasing, and the old cough,
the remains of the hooping-cough, lingered about her.

She was far superior in mind to any of her play-fellows and
companions, and was lonely amongst them from that very cause; and
yet she had faults so annoying that she was in constant disgrace
with her teachers, and an object of merciless dislike to one of
them, who is depicted as "Miss Scatcherd" in "Jane Eyre," and
whose real name I will be merciful enough not to disclose. I need
hardly say, that Helen Burns is as exact a transcript of Maria
Bronte as Charlotte's wonderful power of reproducing character
could give. Her heart, to the latest day on which we met, still
beat with unavailing indignation at the worrying and the cruelty
to which her gentle, patient, dying sister had been subjected by
this woman. Not a word of that part of "Jane Eyre" but is a
literal repetition of scenes between the pupil and the teacher.
Those who had been pupils at the same time knew who must have
written the book from the force with which Helen Burns' sufferings
are described. They had, before that, recognised the description
of the sweet dignity and benevolence of Miss Temple as only a just
tribute to the merits of one whom all that knew her appear to hold
in honour; but when Miss Scatcherd was held up to opprobrium they
also recognised in the writer of "Jane Eyre" an unconsciously
avenging sister of the sufferer.

One of their fellow-pupils, among other statements even worse,
gives me the following:- The dormitory in which Maria slept was a
long room, holding a row of narrow little beds on each side,
occupied by the pupils; and at the end of this dormitory there was
a small bed-chamber opening out of it, appropriated to the use of
Miss Scatcherd. Maria's bed stood nearest to the door of this
room. One morning, after she had become so seriously unwell as to
have had a blister applied to her side (the sore from which was
not perfectly healed), when the getting-up bell was heard, poor
Maria moaned out that she was so ill, so very ill, she wished she
might stop in bed; and some of the girls urged her to do so, and
said they would explain it all to Miss Temple, the superintendent.
But Miss Scatcherd was close at hand, and her anger would have to
be faced before Miss Temple's kind thoughtfulness could interfere;
so the sick child began to dress, shivering with cold, as, without
leaving her bed, she slowly put on her black worsted stockings
over her thin white legs (my informant spoke as if she saw it yet,
and her whole face flushed out undying indignation). Just then
Miss Scatcherd issued from her room, and, without asking for a
word of explanation from the sick and frightened girl, she took
her by the arm, on the side to which the blister had been applied,
and by one vigorous movement whirled her out into the middle of
the floor, abusing her all the time for dirty and untidy habits.
There she left her. My informant says, Maria hardly spoke, except
to beg some of the more indignant girls to be calm; but, in slow,
trembling movements, with many a pause, she went down-stairs at
last,--and was punished for being late.

Any one may fancy how such an event as this would rankle in
Charlotte's mind. I only wonder that she did not remonstrate
against her father's decision to send her and Emily back to Cowan
Bridge, after Maria's and Elizabeth's deaths. But frequently
children are unconscious of the effect which some of their simple
revelations would have in altering the opinions entertained by
their friends of the persons placed around them. Besides,
Charlotte's earnest vigorous mind saw, at an unusually early age,
the immense importance of education, as furnishing her with tools
which she had the strength and the will to wield, and she would be
aware that the Cowan Bridge education was, in many points, the
best that her father could provide for her.

Before Maria Bronte's death, that low fever broke out, in the
spring of 1825, which is spoken of in "Jane Eyre." Mr. Wilson was
extremely alarmed at the first symptoms of this. He went to a
kind motherly woman, who had had some connection with the school--
as laundress, I believe--and asked her to come and tell him what
was the matter with them. She made herself ready, and drove with
him in his gig. When she entered the school-room, she saw from
twelve to fifteen girls lying about; some resting their aching
heads on the table, others on the ground; all heavy-eyed, flushed,
indifferent, and weary, with pains in every limb. Some peculiar
odour, she says, made her recognise that they were sickening for
"the fever;" and she told Mr. Wilson so, and that she could not
stay there for fear of conveying the infection to her own
children; but he half commanded, and half entreated her to remain
and nurse them; and finally mounted his gig and drove away, while
she was still urging that she must return to her own house, and to
her domestic duties, for which she had provided no substitute.
However, when she was left in this unceremonious manner, she
determined to make the best of it; and a most efficient nurse she
proved: although, as she says, it was a dreary time.

Mr. Wilson supplied everything ordered by the doctors, of the best
quality and in the most liberal manner; the invalids were attended
by Dr. Batty, a very clever surgeon in Kirby, who had had the
medical superintendence of the establishment from the beginning,
and who afterwards became Mr. Wilson's brother-in-law. I have
heard from two witnesses besides Charlotte Bronte, that Dr. Batty
condemned the preparation of the food by the expressive action of
spitting out a portion of it. He himself, it is but fair to say,
does not remember this circumstance, nor does he speak of the
fever itself as either alarming or dangerous. About forty of the
girls suffered from this, but none of them died at Cowan Bridge;
though one died at her own home, sinking under the state of health
which followed it. None of the Brontes had the fever. But the
same causes, which affected the health of the other pupils through
typhus, told more slowly, but not less surely, upon their
constitutions. The principal of these causes was the food.

The bad management of the cook was chiefly to be blamed for this;
she was dismissed, and the woman who had been forced against her
will to serve as head nurse, took the place of housekeeper; and
henceforward the food was so well prepared that no one could ever
reasonably complain of it. Of course it cannot be expected that a
new institution, comprising domestic and educational arrangements
for nearly a hundred persons, should work quite smoothly at the

All this occurred during the first two years of the establishment,
and in estimating its effect upon the character of Charlotte
Bronte, we must remember that she was a sensitive thoughtful
child, capable of reflecting deeply, if not of analyzing truly;
and peculiarly susceptible, as are all delicate and sickly
children, to painful impressions. What the healthy suffer from
but momentarily and then forget, those who are ailing brood over
involuntarily and remember long,--perhaps with no resentment, but
simply as a piece of suffering that has been stamped into their
very life. The pictures, ideas, and conceptions of character
received into the mind of the child of eight years old, were
destined to be reproduced in fiery words a quarter of a century
afterwards. She saw but one side of Mr. Wilson's character; and
many of those who knew him at that time assure me of the fidelity
with which this is represented, while at the same time they regret
that the delineation should have obliterated, as it were, nearly
all that was noble or conscientious. And that there were grand
and fine qualities in Mr. Wilson, I have received abundant
evidence. Indeed for several weeks past I have received letters
almost daily, bearing on the subject of this chapter; some vague,
some definite; many full of love and admiration for Mr. Wilson,
some as full of dislike and indignation; few containing positive
facts. After giving careful consideration to this mass of
conflicting evidence, I have made such alterations and omissions
in this chapter as seem to me to be required. It is but just to
state that the major part of the testimony with which I have been
favoured from old pupils is in high praise of Mr. Wilson. Among
the letters that I have read, there is one whose evidence ought to
be highly respected. It is from the husband of "Miss Temple."
She died in 1856, but he, a clergyman, thus wrote in reply to a
letter addressed to him on the subject by one of Mr. Wilson's
friends:- "Often have I heard my late dear wife speak of her
sojourn at Cowan Bridge; always in terms of admiration of Mr.
Carus Wilson, his parental love to his pupils, and their love for
him; of the food and general treatment, in terms of approval. I
have heard her allude to an unfortunate cook, who used at times to
spoil the porridge, but who, she said, was soon dismissed."

The recollections left of the four Bronte sisters at this period
of their lives, on the minds of those who associated with them,
are not very distinct. Wild, strong hearts, and powerful minds,
were hidden under an enforced propriety and regularity of
demeanour and expression, just as their faces had been concealed
by their father, under his stiff, unchanging mask. Maria was
delicate, unusually clever and thoughtful for her age, gentle, and
untidy. Of her frequent disgrace from this last fault--of her
sufferings, so patiently borne--I have already spoken. The only
glimpse we get of Elizabeth, through the few years of her short
life, is contained in a letter which I have received from "Miss
Temple." "The second, Elizabeth, is the only one of the family of
whom I have a vivid recollection, from her meeting with a somewhat
alarming accident, in consequence of which I had her for some days
and nights in my bedroom, not only for the sake of greater quiet,
but that I might watch over her myself. Her head was severely
cut, but she bore all the consequent suffering with exemplary
patience, and by it won much upon my esteem. Of the two younger
ones (if two there were) I have very slight recollections, save
that one, a darling child, under five years of age, was quite the
pet nursling of the school." This last would be Emily. Charlotte
was considered the most talkative of the sisters--a "bright,
clever, little child." Her great friend was a certain "Mellany
Hane" (so Mr. Bronte spells the name), whose brother paid for her
schooling, and who had no remarkable talent except for music,
which her brother's circumstances forbade her to cultivate. She
was "a hungry, good-natured, ordinary girl;" older than Charlotte,
and ever ready to protect her from any petty tyranny or
encroachments on the part of the elder girls. Charlotte always
remembered her with affection and gratitude.

I have quoted the word "bright" in the account of Charlotte. I
suspect that this year of 1825 was the last time it could ever be
applied to her. In the spring of it, Maria became so rapidly
worse that Mr. Bronte was sent for. He had not previously been
aware of her illness, and the condition in which he found her was
a terrible shock to him. He took her home by the Leeds coach, the
girls crowding out into the road to follow her with their eyes
over the bridge, past the cottages, and then out of sight for
ever. She died a very few days after her arrival at home.
Perhaps the news of her death falling suddenly into the life of
which her patient existence had formed a part, only a little week
or so before, made those who remained at Cowan Bridge look with
more anxiety on Elizabeth's symptoms, which also turned out to be
consumptive. She was sent home in charge of a confidential
servant of the establishment; and she, too, died in the early
summer of that year. Charlotte was thus suddenly called into the
responsibilities of eldest sister in a motherless family. She
remembered how anxiously her dear sister Maria had striven, in her
grave earnest way, to be a tender helper and a counsellor to them
all; and the duties that now fell upon her seemed almost like a
legacy from the gentle little sufferer so lately dead.

Both Charlotte and Emily returned to school after the Midsummer
holidays in this fatal year. But before the next winter it was
thought desirable to advise their removal, as it was evident that
the damp situation of the house at Cowan Bridge did not suit their
health. {3}


For the reason just stated, the little girls were sent home in the
autumn of 1825, when Charlotte was little more than nine years

About this time, an elderly woman of the village came to live as
servant at the parsonage. She remained there, as a member of the
household, for thirty years; and from the length of her faithful
service, and the attachment and respect which she inspired, is
deserving of mention. Tabby was a thorough specimen of a
Yorkshire woman of her class, in dialect, in appearance, and in
character. She abounded in strong practical sense and shrewdness.
Her words were far from flattery; but she would spare no deeds in
the cause of those whom she kindly regarded. She ruled the
children pretty sharply; and yet never grudged a little extra
trouble to provide them with such small treats as came within her
power. In return, she claimed to be looked upon as a humble
friend; and, many years later, Miss Bronte told me that she found
it somewhat difficult to manage, as Tabby expected to be informed
of all the family concerns, and yet had grown so deaf that what
was repeated to her became known to whoever might be in or about
the house. To obviate this publication of what it might be
desirable to keep secret, Miss Bronte used to take her out for a
walk on the solitary moors; where, when both were seated on a tuft
of heather, in some high lonely place, she could acquaint the old
woman, at leisure, with all that she wanted to hear.

Tabby had lived in Haworth in the days when the pack-horses went
through once a week, with their tinkling bells and gay worsted
adornment, carrying the produce of the country from Keighley over
the hills to Colne and Burnley. What is more, she had known the
"bottom," or valley, in those primitive days when the fairies
frequented the margin of the "beck" on moonlight nights, and had
known folk who had seen them. But that was when there were no
mills in the valleys; and when all the wool-spinning was done by
hand in the farm-houses round. "It wur the factories as had
driven 'em away," she said. No doubt she had many a tale to tell
of by-gone days of the country-side; old ways of living, former
inhabitants, decayed gentry, who had melted away, and whose places
knew them no more; family tragedies, and dark superstitious dooms;
and in telling these things, without the least consciousness that
there might ever be anything requiring to be softened down, would
give at full length the bare and simple details.

Miss Branwell instructed the children at regular hours in all she
could teach, making her bed-chamber into their school-room. Their
father was in the habit of relating to them any public news in
which he felt an interest; and from the opinions of his strong and
independent mind they would gather much food for thought; but I do
not know whether he gave them any direct instruction. Charlotte's
deep thoughtful spirit appears to have felt almost painfully the
tender responsibility which rested upon her with reference to her
remaining sisters. She was only eighteen months older than Emily;
but Emily and Anne were simply companions and playmates, while
Charlotte was motherly friend and guardian to both; and this
loving assumption of duties beyond her years, made her feel
considerably older than she really was.

Patrick Branwell, their only brother, was a boy of remarkable
promise, and, in some ways, of extraordinary precocity of talent.
Mr. Bronte's friends advised him to send his son to school; but,
remembering both the strength of will of his own youth and his
mode of employing it, he believed that Patrick was better at home,
and that he himself could teach him well, as he had taught others
before. So Patrick, or as his family called him--Branwell,
remained at Haworth, working hard for some hours a day with his
father; but, when the time of the latter was taken up with his
parochial duties, the boy was thrown into chance companionship
with the lads of the village--for youth will to youth, and boys
will to boys.

Still, he was associated in many of his sisters' plays and
amusements. These were mostly of a sedentary and intellectual
nature. I have had a curious packet confided to me, containing an
immense amount of manuscript, in an inconceivably small space;
tales, dramas, poems, romances, written principally by Charlotte,
in a hand which it is almost impossible to decipher without the
aid of a magnifying glass. No description will give so good an
idea of the extreme minuteness of the writing as the annexed
facsimile of a page.

Among these papers there is a list of her works, which I copy, as
a curious proof how early the rage for literary composition had
seized upon her:-

AUGUST 3RD, 1830.

Two romantic tales in one volume; viz., The Twelve Adventurers and
the Adventures in Ireland, April 2nd, 1829.

The Search after Happiness, a Tale, Aug. 1st, 1829.

Leisure Hours, a Tale, and two Fragments, July 6th 1829.

The Adventures of Edward de Crack, a Tale, Feb. 2nd, 1830.

The Adventures of Ernest Alembert, a Tale, May 26th, 1830.

An interesting Incident in the Lives of some of the most eminent
Persons of the Age, a Tale, June 10th, 1830.

Tales of the Islanders, in four volumes. Contents of the lst
Vol.: --l. An Account of their Origin; 2. A Description of
Vision Island; 3. Ratten's Attempt; 4. Lord Charles Wellesley
and the Marquis of Douro's Adventure; completed June 31st, 1829.
2nd Vol.:- 1. The School-rebellion; 2. The strange Incident in
the Duke of Wellington's Life; 3. Tale to his Sons; 4. The
Marquis of Douro and Lord Charles Wellesley's Tale to his little
King and Queen; completed Dec. 2nd, 1829. 3rd Vol.:- 1. The Duke
of Wellington's Adventure in the Cavern; 2. The Duke of
Wellington and the little King's and Queen's visit to the Horse-
Guards; completed May 8th, 1830. 4th Vol.:- 1. The three old
Washer-women of Strathfieldsaye; 2. Lord C. Wellesley's Tale to
his Brother; completed July 30th, 1830.

Characters of Great Men of the Present Age, Dec. 17th 1829.

The Young Men's Magazines, in Six Numbers, from August to
December, the latter months double number, completed December the
12th, 1829. General index to their contents:- 1. A True Story;
2. Causes of the War; 3. A Song; 4. Conversations; 5. A True
Story continued; 6. The Spirit of Cawdor; 7. Interior of a
Pothouse, a Poem; 8. The Glass Town, a Song; 9. The Silver Cup,
a Tale; 10. The Table and Vase in the Desert, a Song; 11.
Conversations; 12. Scene on the Great Bridge; 13. Song of the
Ancient Britons; 14. Scene in my Tun, a Tale; 15. An American
Tale; 16. Lines written on seeing the Garden of a Genius; 17.
The Lay of the Glass Town; 18. The Swiss Artist, a Tale; 19.
Lines on the Transfer of this Magazine; 20. On the Same, by a
different hand; 21. Chief Genii in Council; 22. Harvest in
Spain; 23. The Swiss Artists continued; 24. Conversations.

The Poetaster, a Drama, in 2 volumes, July 12th, 1830.

A Book of Rhymes, finished December 17th, 1829. Contents:- 1.
The Beauty of Nature; 2. A Short Poem; 3. Meditations while
Journeying in a Canadian Forest; 4. Song of an Exile; 5. On
Seeing the Ruins of the Tower of Babel; 6. A Thing of 14 lines;
7. Lines written on the Bank of a River one fine Summer Evening;
8. Spring, a Song; 9. Autumn, a Song.

Miscellaneous Poems, finished May 30th, 1830. Contents:- 1. The
Churchyard; 2. Description of the Duke of Wellington's Palace on
the Pleasant Banks of the Lusiva; this article is a small prose
tale or incident; 3. Pleasure; 4. Lines written on the Summit
of a high Mountain of the North of England; 5. Winter; 6. Two
Fragments, namely, 1st, The Vision; 2nd, A Short untitled Poem;
the Evening Walk, a Poem, June 23rd, 1830.

Making in the whole twenty-two volumes.

C. BRONTE, August 3, 1830

As each volume contains from sixty to a hundred pages, and the
size of the page lithographed is rather less than the average, the
amount of the whole seems very great, if we remember that it was
all written in about fifteen months. So much for the quantity;
the quality strikes me as of singular merit for a girl of thirteen
or fourteen. Both as a specimen of her prose style at this time,
and also as revealing something of the quiet domestic life led by
these children, I take an extract from the introduction to "Tales
of the Islanders," the title of one of their "Little Magazines:" -

"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 candle having been
produced. A long pause succeeded, which was at last 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 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. The next
day we added many others to our list of men, till we got almost
all the chief men of the kingdom. After this, for a long time,
nothing worth noticing occurred. In June, 1828, we erected a
school on a fictitious island, which was to contain 1,000
children. The manner of the building was as follows. The Island
was fifty miles in circumference, and certainly appeared more like
the work of enchantment than anything real," &c.

Two or three things strike me much in this fragment; one is the
graphic vividness with which the time of the year, the hour of the
evening, the feeling of cold and darkness outside, the sound of
the night-winds sweeping over the desolate snow-covered moors,
coming nearer and nearer, and at last shaking the very door of the
room where they were sitting--for it opened out directly on that
bleak, wide expanse--is contrasted with the glow, and busy
brightness of the cheerful kitchen where these remarkable children
are grouped. Tabby moves about in her quaint country-dress,
frugal, peremptory, prone to find fault pretty sharply, yet
allowing no one else to blame her children, we may feel sure.
Another noticeable fact is the intelligent partisanship with which
they choose their great men, who are almost all stanch Tories of
the time. Moreover, they do not confine themselves to local
heroes; their range of choice has been widened by hearing much of
what is not usually considered to interest children. Little Anne,
aged scarcely eight, picks out the politicians of the day for her
chief men.

There is another scrap of paper, in this all but illegible
handwriting, written about this time, and which gives some idea of
the sources of their opinions.


"Once Papa lent my sister Maria a book. It was an old geography-
book; she wrote on its blank leaf, 'Papa lent me this book.' This
book is a hundred and twenty years old; it is at this moment lying
before me. While I write this I am in the kitchen of the
Parsonage, Haworth; Tabby, the servant, is washing up the
breakfast-things, and Anne, my youngest sister (Maria was my
eldest), is kneeling on a chair, looking at some cakes which Tabby
has been baking for us. Emily is in the parlour, brushing the
carpet. Papa and Branwell are gone to Keighley. Aunt is up-
stairs in her room, and I am sitting by the table writing this in
the kitchen. Keighley is a small town four miles from here. Papa
and Branwell are gone for the newspaper, the 'Leeds
Intelligencer,' a most excellent Tory newspaper, edited by Mr.
Wood, and the proprietor, Mr. Henneman. We take two and see three
newspapers a week. We take the 'Leeds Intelligencer,' Tory, and
the 'Leeds Mercury,' Whig, edited by Mr. Baines, and his brother,
son-in-law, and his two sons, Edward and Talbot. We see the 'John
Bull;' it is a high Tory, very violent. Mr. Driver lends us it,
as likewise 'Blackwood's Magazine,' the most able periodical there
is. The Editor is Mr. Christopher North, an old man seventy-four
years of age; the 1st of April is his birth-day; his company are
Timothy Tickler, Morgan O'Doherty, Macrabin Mordecai, Mullion,
Warnell, and James Hogg, a man of most extraordinary genius, a
Scottish shepherd. Our plays were established; 'Young Men,' June,
1826; 'Our Fellows,' July, 1827; 'Islanders,' December, 1827.
These are our three great plays, that are not kept secret.
Emily's and my best plays were established the 1st of December,
1827; the others March, 1828. Best plays mean secret plays; they
are very nice ones. All our plays are very strange ones. Their
nature I need not write on paper, for I think I shall always
remember them. The 'Young Men's' play took its rise from some
wooden soldiers Branwell had: 'Our Fellows' from 'AEsop's
Fables;' and the 'Islanders' from several events which happened.
I will sketch out the origin of our plays more explicitly if I
can. First, 'Young Men.' Papa bought Branwell some wooden
soldiers at Leeds; when Papa came home it was night, and we were
in bed, so next morning Branwell came to our door with a box of
soldiers. Emily and I jumped out of bed, and I snatched up one
and exclaimed, 'This is the Duke of Wellington! This shall be the
Duke!' When I had said this, Emily likewise took up one and said
it should be hers; when Anne came down, she said one should be
hers. Mine was the prettiest of the whole, and the tallest, and
the most perfect in every part. Emily's was a grave-looking
fellow, and we called him 'Gravey.' Anne's was a queer little
thing, much like herself, and we called him 'Waiting-Boy.'
Branwell chose his, and called him 'Buonaparte.'"

The foregoing extract shows something of the kind of reading in
which the little Brontes were interested; but their desire for
knowledge must have been excited in many directions, for I find a
"list of painters whose works I wish to see," drawn up by
Charlotte when she was scarcely thirteen:-

"Guido Reni, Julio Romano, Titian, Raphael, Michael Angelo,
Correggio, Annibal Caracci, Leonardo da Vinci, Fra Bartolomeo,
Carlo Cignani, Vandyke, Rubens, Bartolomeo Ramerghi."

Here is this little girl, in a remote Yorkshire parsonage, who has
probably never seen anything worthy the name of a painting in her
life, studying the names and characteristics of the great old
Italian and Flemish masters, whose works she longs to see some
time, in the dim future that lies before her! There is a paper
remaining which contains minute studies of, and criticisms upon,
the engravings in "Friendship's Offering for 1829;" showing how
she had early formed those habits of close observation, and
patient analysis of cause and effect, which served so well in
after-life as handmaids to her genius.

The way in which Mr. Bronte made his children sympathise with him
in his great interest in politics, must have done much to lift
them above the chances of their minds being limited or tainted by
petty local gossip. I take the only other remaining personal
fragment out of "Tales of the Islanders;" it is a sort of apology,
contained in the introduction to the second volume, for their not
having been continued before; the writers had been for a long time
too busy, and latterly too much absorbed in politics.

"Parliament was opened, and the great Catholic question was
brought forward, and the Duke's measures were disclosed, and all
was slander, violence, party-spirit, and confusion. Oh, those six
months, from the time of the King's speech to the end! Nobody
could write, think, or speak on any subject but the Catholic
question, and the Duke of Wellington, and Mr. Peel. I remember
the day when the Intelligence Extraordinary came with Mr. Peel's
speech in it, containing the terms on which the Catholics were to
be let in! With what eagerness Papa tore off the cover, and how
we all gathered round him, and with what breathless anxiety we
listened, as one by one they were disclosed, and explained, and
argued upon so ably, and so well! and then when it was all out,
how aunt said that she thought it was excellent, and that the
Catholics could do no harm with such good security! I remember
also the doubts as to whether it would pass the House of Lords,
and the prophecies that it would not; and when the paper came
which was to decide the question, the anxiety was almost dreadful
with which we listened to the whole affair: the opening of the
doors; the hush; the royal dukes in their robes, and the great
duke in green sash and waistcoat; the rising of all the peeresses
when he rose; the reading of his speech--Papa saying that his
words were like precious gold; and lastly, the majority of one to
four (sic) in favour of the Bill. But this is a digression," &c.,

This must have been written when she was between thirteen and

It will be interesting to some of my readers to know what was the
character of her purely imaginative writing at this period. While
her description of any real occurrence is, as we have seen,
homely, graphic, and forcible, when she gives way to her powers of
creation, her fancy and her language alike run riot, sometimes to
the very borders of apparent delirium. Of this wild weird
writing, a single example will suffice. It is a letter to the
editor of one of the "Little Magazines."

"Sir,--It is well known that the Genii have declared that unless
they perform certain arduous duties every year, of a mysterious
nature, all the worlds in the firmament will be burnt up, and
gathered together in one mighty globe, which will roll in solitary
grandeur through the vast wilderness of space, inhabited only by
the four high princes of the Genii, till time shall be succeeded
by Eternity; and the impudence of this is only to be paralleled by
another of their assertions, namely, that by their magic might
they can reduce the world to a desert, the purest waters to
streams of livid poison, and the clearest lakes to stagnant
waters, the pestilential vapours of which shall slay all living
creatures, except the blood-thirsty beast of the forest, and the
ravenous bird of the rock. But that in the midst of this
desolation the palace of the Chief Genii shall rise sparkling in
the wilderness, and the horrible howl of their war-cry shall
spread over the land at morning, at noontide and night; but that
they shall have their annual feast over the bones of the dead, and
shall yearly rejoice with the joy of victors. I think, sir, that
the horrible wickedness of this needs no remark, and therefore I
haste to subscribe myself, &c.

"July 14, 1829."

It is not unlikely that the foregoing letter may have had some
allegorical or political reference, invisible to our eyes, but
very clear to the bright little minds for whom it was intended.
Politics were evidently their grand interest; the Duke of
Wellington their demi-god. All that related to him belonged to
the heroic age. Did Charlotte want a knight-errant, or a devoted
lover, the Marquis of Douro, or Lord Charles Wellesley, came ready
to her hand. There is hardly one of her prose-writings at this
time in which they are not the principal personages, and in which
their "august father" does not appear as a sort of Jupiter Tonans,
or Deus ex Machina.

As one evidence how Wellesley haunted her imagination, I copy out
a few of the titles to her papers in the various magazines.

"Liffey Castle," a Tale by Lord C. Wellesley.

"Lines to the River Aragua," by the Marquis of Douro.

"An Extraordinary Dream," by Lord C. Wellesley.

"The Green Dwarf, a Tale of the Perfect Tense," by the Lord
Charles Albert Florian Wellesley.

"Strange Events," by Lord C. A. F. Wellesley.

Life in an isolated village, or a lonely country-house, presents
many little occurrences which sink into the mind of childhood,
there to be brooded over. No other event may have happened, or be
likely to happen, for days, to push one of these aside, before it
has assumed a vague and mysterious importance. Thus, children
leading a secluded life are often thoughtful and dreamy: the
impressions made upon them by the world without--the unusual
sights of earth and sky--the accidental meetings with strange
faces and figures (rare occurrences in those out-of-the-way
places)--are sometimes magnified by them into things so deeply
significant as to be almost supernatural. This peculiarity I
perceive very strongly in Charlotte's writings at this time.
Indeed, under the circumstances, it is no peculiarity. It has
been common to all, from the Chaldean shepherds--"the lonely
herdsman stretched on the soft grass through half a summer's day"-
-the solitary monk--to all whose impressions from without have had
time to grow and vivify in the imagination, till they have been
received as actual personifications, or supernatural visions, to
doubt which would be blasphemy.

To counterbalance this tendency in Charlotte, was the strong
common sense natural to her, and daily called into exercise by the
requirements of her practical life. Her duties were not merely to
learn her lessons, to read a certain quantity, to gain certain
ideas; she had, besides, to brush rooms, to run errands up and
down stairs, to help in the simpler forms of cooking, to be by
turns play-fellow and monitress to her younger sisters and
brother, to make and to mend, and to study economy under her
careful aunt. Thus we see that, while her imagination received
vivid impressions, her excellent understanding had full power to
rectify them before her fancies became realities. On a scrap of
paper, she has written down the following relation:-

"June 22, 1830, 6 o'clock p.m.
"Haworth, near Bradford.

"The following strange occurrence happened on the 22nd of June,
1830:- At the time Papa was very ill, confined to his bed, and so
weak that he could not rise without assistance. Tabby and I were
alone in the kitchen, about half-past nine ante-meridian.
Suddenly we heard a knock at the door; Tabby rose and opened it.
An old man appeared, standing without, who accosted her thus:-

"OLD MAN.--'Does the parson live here?'


"OLD MAN.--'I wish to see him.'

"TABBY.--'He is poorly in bed.'

"OLD MAN.--'I have a message for him.'

"TABBY.--'Who from?'

"OLD MAN.--'From the Lord.'


"OLD MAN.--'The Lord. He desires me to say that the Bridegroom is
coming, and that we must prepare to meet him; that the cords are
about to be loosed, and the golden bowl broken; the pitcher broken
at the fountain.'

"Here he concluded his discourse, and abruptly went his way. As
Tabby closed the door, I asked her if she knew him. Her reply
was, that she had never seen him before, nor any one like him.
Though I am fully persuaded that he was some fanatical enthusiast,
well meaning perhaps, but utterly ignorant of true piety; yet I
could not forbear weeping at his words, spoken so unexpectedly at
that particular period."

Though the date of the following poem is a little uncertain, it
may be most convenient to introduce it here. It must have been
written before 1833, but how much earlier there are no means of
determining. I give it as a specimen of the remarkable poetical
talent shown in the various diminutive writings of this time; at
least, in all of them which I have been able to read.


Passing amid the deepest shade
Of the wood's sombre heart,
Last night I saw a wounded deer
Laid lonely and apart.

Such light as pierced the crowded boughs
(Light scattered, scant and dim,)
Passed through the fern that formed his couch
And centred full on him.

Pain trembled in his weary limbs,
Pain filled his patient eye,
Pain-crushed amid the shadowy fern
His branchy crown did lie.

Where were his comrades? where his mate?
All from his death-bed gone!
And he, thus struck and desolate,
Suffered and bled alone.

Did he feel what a man might feel,
Friend-left, and sore distrest?
Did Pain's keen dart, and Grief's sharp sting
Strive in his mangled breast?

Did longing for affection lost
Barb every deadly dart;
Love unrepaid, and Faith betrayed,
Did these torment his heart?

No! leave to man his proper doom!
These are the pangs that rise
Around the bed of state and gloom,
Where Adam's offspring dies!


This is perhaps a fitting time to give some personal description
of Miss Bronte. In 1831, she was a quiet, thoughtful girl, of
nearly fifteen years of age, very small in figure--"stunted" was
the word she applied to herself,--but as her limbs and head were
in just proportion to the slight, fragile body, no word in ever so
slight a degree suggestive of deformity could properly be applied
to her; with soft, thick, brown hair, and peculiar eyes, of which
I find it difficult to give a description, as they appeared to me
in her later life. They were large and well shaped; their colour
a reddish brown; but if the iris was closely examined, it appeared
to be composed of a great variety of tints. The usual expression
was of quiet, listening intelligence; but now and then, on some
just occasion for vivid interest or wholesome indignation, a light
would shine out, as if some spiritual lamp had been kindled, which
glowed behind those expressive orbs. I never saw the like in any
other human creature. As for the rest of her features, they were
plain, large, and ill set; but, unless you began to catalogue
them, you were hardly aware of the fact, for the eyes and power of
the countenance over-balanced every physical defect; the crooked
mouth and the large nose were forgotten, and the whole face
arrested the attention, and presently attracted all those whom she
herself would have cared to attract. Her hands and feet were the
smallest I ever saw; when one of the former was placed in mine, it
was like the soft touch of a bird in the middle of my palm. The
delicate long fingers had a peculiar fineness of sensation, which
was one reason why all her handiwork, of whatever kind--writing,
sewing, knitting--was so clear in its minuteness. She was
remarkably neat in her whole personal attire; but she was dainty
as to the fit of her shoes and gloves.

I can well imagine that the grave serious composure, which, when I
knew her, gave her face the dignity of an old Venetian portrait,
was no acquisition of later years, but dated from that early age
when she found herself in the position of an elder sister to
motherless children. But in a girl only just entered on her
teens, such an expression would be called (to use a country
phrase) "old-fashioned;" and in 1831, the period of which I now
write, we must think of her as a little, set, antiquated girl,
very quiet in manners, and very quaint in dress; for besides the
influence exerted by her father's ideas concerning the simplicity
of attire befitting the wife and daughters of a country clergyman,
her aunt, on whom the duty of dressing her nieces principally
devolved, had never been in society since she left Penzance, eight
or nine years before, and the Penzance fashions of that day were
still dear to her heart.

In January, 1831, Charlotte was sent to school again. This time
she went as a pupil to Miss W-, who lived at Roe Head, a cheerful
roomy country house, standing a little apart in a field, on the
right of the road from Leeds to Huddersfield. Three tiers of old-
fashioned semicircular bow windows run from basement to roof; and
look down upon a long green slope of pasture-land, ending in the
pleasant woods of Kirklees, Sir George Armitage's park. Although
Roe Head and Haworth are not twenty miles apart, the aspect of the
country is as totally dissimilar as if they enjoyed a different
climate. The soft curving and heaving landscape round the former
gives a stranger the idea of cheerful airiness on the heights, and
of sunny warmth in the broad green valleys below. It is just such
a neighbourhood as the monks loved, and traces of the old
Plantagenet times are to be met with everywhere, side by side with
the manufacturing interests of the West Riding of to-day. There
is the park of Kirklees, full of sunny glades, speckled with black
shadows of immemorial yew-trees; the grey pile of building,
formerly a "House of professed Ladies;" the mouldering stone in
the depth of the wood, under which Robin Hood is said to lie;
close outside the park, an old stone-gabled house, now a roadside
inn, but which bears the name of the "Three Nuns," and has a
pictured sign to correspond. And this quaint old inn is
frequented by fustian-dressed mill-hands from the neighbouring
worsted factories, which strew the high road from Leeds to
Huddersfield, and form the centres round which future villages
gather. Such are the contrasts of modes of living, and of times
and seasons, brought before the traveller on the great roads that
traverse the West Riding. In no other part of England, I fancy,
are the centuries brought into such close, strange contact as in
the district in which Roe Head is situated. Within six miles of
Miss W-'s house--on the left of the road, coming from Leeds--lie
the remains of Howley Hall, now the property of Lord Cardigan, but
formerly belonging to a branch of the Saviles. Near to it is Lady
Anne's well; "Lady Anne," according to tradition, having been
worried and eaten by wolves as she sat at the well, to which the
indigo-dyed factory people from Birstall and Batley woollen mills
would formerly repair on Palm Sunday, when the waters possess
remarkable medicinal efficacy; and it is still believed by some
that they assume a strange variety of colours at six o'clock on
the morning of that day.

All round the lands held by the farmer who lives in the remains of
Howley Hall are stone houses of to-day, occupied by the people who
are making their living and their fortunes by the woollen mills
that encroach upon and shoulder out the proprietors of the ancient
halls. These are to be seen in every direction, picturesque,
many-gabled, with heavy stone carvings of coats of arms for
heraldic ornament; belonging to decayed families, from whose
ancestral lands field after field has been shorn away, by the
urgency of rich manufacturers pressing hard upon necessity.

A smoky atmosphere surrounds these old dwellings of former
Yorkshire squires, and blights and blackens the ancient trees that
overshadow them; cinder-paths lead up to them; the ground round
about is sold for building upon; but still the neighbours, though
they subsist by a different state of things, remember that their
forefathers lived in agricultural dependence upon the owners of
these halls; and treasure up the traditions connected with the
stately households that existed centuries ago. Take Oakwell Hall,
for instance. It stands in a pasture-field, about a quarter of a
mile from the high road. It is but that distance from the busy
whirr of the steam-engines employed in the woollen mills at
Birstall; and if you walk to it from Birstall Station about meal-
time, you encounter strings of mill-hands, blue with woollen dye,
and cranching in hungry haste over the cinder-paths bordering the
high road. Turning off from this to the right, you ascend through
an old pasture-field, and enter a short by-road, called the
"Bloody Lane"--a walk haunted by the ghost of a certain Captain
Batt, the reprobate proprietor of an old hall close by, in the
days of the Stuarts. From the "Bloody Lane," overshadowed by
trees, you come into the field in which Oakwell Hall is situated.
It is known in the neighbourhood to be the place described as
"Field Head," Shirley's residence. The enclosure in front, half
court, half garden; the panelled hall, with the gallery opening
into the bed-chambers running round; the barbarous peach-coloured
drawing-room; the bright look-out through the garden-door upon the
grassy lawns and terraces behind, where the soft-hued pigeons
still love to coo and strut in the sun,--are described in
"Shirley." The scenery of that fiction lies close around; the
real events which suggested it took place in the immediate

They show a bloody footprint in a bedchamber of Oakwell Hall, and
tell a story connected with it, and with the lane by which the
house is approached. Captain Batt was believed to be far away;
his family was at Oakwell; when in the dusk, one winter evening,
he came stalking along the lane, and through the hall, and up the
stairs, into his own room, where he vanished. He had been killed
in a duel in London that very same afternoon of December 9th,

The stones of the Hall formed part of the more ancient vicarage,
which an ancestor of Captain Batt's had seized in the troublous
times for property which succeeded the Reformation. This Henry
Batt possessed himself of houses and money without scruple; and,
at last, stole the great bell of Birstall Church, for which
sacrilegious theft a fine was imposed on the land, and has to be
paid by the owner of the Hall to this day.

But the Oakwell property passed out of the hands of the Batts at
the beginning of the last century; collateral descendants
succeeded, and left this picturesque trace of their having been.
In the great hall hangs a mighty pair of stag's horns, and
dependent from them a printed card, recording the fact that, on
the 1st of September, 1763, there was a great hunting-match, when
this stag was slain; and that fourteen gentlemen shared in the
chase, and dined on the spoil in that hall, along with Fairfax
Fearneley, Esq., the owner. The fourteen names are given,
doubtless "mighty men of yore;" but, among them all, Sir Fletcher
Norton, Attorney-General, and Major-General Birch were the only
ones with which I had any association in 1855. Passing on from
Oakwell there lie houses right and left, which were well known to
Miss Bronte when she lived at Roe Head, as the hospitable homes of
some of her schoolfellows. Lanes branch off for three or four
miles to heaths and commons on the higher ground, which formed
pleasant walks on holidays, and then comes the white gate into the
field-path leading to Roe Head itself.

One of the bow-windowed rooms on the ground floor with the
pleasant look-out I have described was the drawing-room; the other
was the schoolroom. The dining-room was on one side of the door,
and faced the road.

The number of pupils, during the year and a half Miss Bronte was
there, ranged from seven to ten; and as they did not require the
whole of the house for their accommodation, the third story was
unoccupied, except by the ghostly idea of a lady, whose rustling
silk gown was sometimes heard by the listeners at the foot of the
second flight of stairs.

The kind motherly nature of Miss W-, and the small number of the
girls, made the establishment more like a private family than a
school. Moreover, she was a native of the district immediately
surrounding Roe Head, as were the majority of her pupils. Most
likely Charlotte Bronte, in coming from Haworth, came the greatest
distance of all. "E.'s" home was five miles away; two other dear
friends (the Rose and Jessie Yorke of "Shirley") lived still
nearer; two or three came from Huddersfield; one or two from

I shall now quote from a valuable letter which I have received
from "Mary," one of these early friends; distinct and graphic in
expression, as becomes a cherished associate of Charlotte
Bronte's. The time referred to is her first appearance at Roe
Head, on January 19th, 1831.

"I first saw her coming out of a covered cart, in very old-
fashioned clothes, and looking very cold and miserable. She was
coming to school at Miss W-'s. When she appeared in the
schoolroom, her dress was changed, but just as old. She looked a
little old woman, so short-sighted that she always appeared to be
seeking something, and moving her head from side to side to catch
a sight of it. She was very shy and nervous, and spoke with a
strong Irish accent. When a book was given her, she dropped her
head over it till her nose nearly touched it, and when she was
told to hold her head up, up went the book after it, still close
to her nose, so that it was not possible to help laughing."

This was the first impression she made upon one of those whose
dear and valued friend she was to become in after-life. Another
of the girls recalls her first sight of Charlotte, on the day she
came, standing by the schoolroom window, looking out on the snowy
landscape, and crying, while all the rest were at play. "E." was
younger than she, and her tender heart was touched by the
apparently desolate condition in which she found the oddly-
dressed, odd-looking little girl that winter morning, as "sick for
home she stood in tears," in a new strange place, among new
strange people. Any over-demonstrative kindness would have scared
the wild little maiden from Haworth; but "E." (who is shadowed
forth in the Caroline Helstone of "Shirley") managed to win
confidence, and was allowed to give sympathy.

To quote again from "Mary's" letter:-

"We thought her very ignorant, for she had never learnt grammar at
all, and very little geography."

This account of her partial ignorance is confirmed by her other
school-fellows. But Miss W- was a lady of remarkable intelligence
and of delicate tender sympathy. She gave a proof of this in her
first treatment of Charlotte. The little girl was well-read, but
not well-grounded. Miss W- took her aside and told her she was
afraid that she must place her in the second class for some time
till she could overtake the girls of her own age in the knowledge
of grammar, &c.; but poor Charlotte received this announcement
with so sad a fit of crying, that Miss W-'s kind heart was
softened, and she wisely perceived that, with such a girl, it
would be better to place her in the first class, and allow her to
make up by private study in those branches where she was

"She would confound us by knowing things that were out of our
range altogether. She was acquainted with most of the short
pieces of poetry that we had to learn by heart; would tell us the
authors, the poems they were taken from, and sometimes repeat a
page or two, and tell us the plot. She had a habit of writing in
italics (printing characters), and said she had learnt it by
writing in their magazine. They brought out a 'magazine' once a
month, and wished it to look as like print as possible. She told
us a tale out of it. No one wrote in it, and no one read it, but
herself, her brother, and two sisters. She promised to show me
some of these magazines, but retracted it afterwards, and would
never be persuaded to do so. In our play hours she sate, or stood
still, with a book, if possible. Some of us once urged her to be
on our side in a game at ball. She said she had never played, and
could not play. We made her try, but soon found that she could
not see the ball, so we put her out. She took all our proceedings
with pliable indifference, and always seemed to need a previous
resolution to say 'No' to anything. She used to go and stand
under the trees in the play-ground, and say it was pleasanter.
She endeavoured to explain this, pointing out the shadows, the
peeps of sky, &c. We understood but little of it. She said that
at Cowan Bridge she used to stand in the burn, on a stone, to
watch the water flow by. I told her she should have gone fishing;
she said she never wanted. She always showed physical feebleness
in everything. She ate no animal food at school. It was about
this time I told her she was very ugly. Some years afterwards, I
told her I thought I had been very impertinent. She replied, 'You
did me a great deal of good, Polly, so don't repent of it.' She
used to draw much better, and more quickly, than anything we had
seen before, and knew much about celebrated pictures and painters.
Whenever an opportunity offered of examining a picture or cut of
any kind, she went over it piecemeal, with her eyes close to the
paper, looking so long that we used to ask her 'what she saw in
it.' She could always see plenty, and explained it very well.
She made poetry and drawing at least exceedingly interesting to
me; and then I got the habit, which I have yet, of referring
mentally to her opinion on all matters of that kind, along with
many more, resolving to describe such and such things to her,
until I start at the recollection that I never shall."

To feel the full force of this last sentence--to show how steady
and vivid was the impression which Miss Bronte made on those
fitted to appreciate her--I must mention that the writer of this
letter, dated January 18th, 1856, in which she thus speaks of
constantly referring to Charlotte's opinion has never seen her for
eleven years, nearly all of which have been passed among strange
scenes, in a new continent, at the antipodes.

"We used to be furious politicians, as one could hardly help being
in 1832. She knew the names of the two ministries; the one that
resigned, and the one that succeeded and passed the Reform Bill.
She worshipped the Duke of Wellington, but said that Sir Robert
Peel was not to be trusted; he did not act from principle like the
rest, but from expediency. I, being of the furious radical party,
told her 'how could any of them trust one another; they were all
of them rascals!' Then she would launch out into praises of the
Duke of Wellington, referring to his actions; which I could not
contradict, as I knew nothing about him. She said she had taken
interest in politics ever since she was five years old. She did
not get her opinions from her father--that is, not directly--but
from the papers, &c., he preferred."

In illustration of the truth of this, I may give an extract from a
letter to her brother, written from Roe Head, May 17th, 1832:-
"Lately I had begun to think that I had lost all the interest
which I used formerly to take in politics; but the extreme
pleasure I felt at the news of the Reform Bill's being thrown out
by the House of Lords, and of the expulsion, or resignation of
Earl Grey, &c., convinced me that I have not as yet lost all my
penchant for politics. I am extremely glad that aunt has
consented to take in 'Fraser's Magazine;' for, though I know from
your description of its general contents it will be rather
uninteresting when compared with 'Blackwood,' still it will be
better than remaining the whole year without being able to obtain
a sight of any periodical whatever; and such would assuredly be
our case, as, in the little wild moorland village where we reside,
there would be no possibility of borrowing a work of that
description from a circulating library. I hope with you that the
present delightful weather may contribute to the perfect
restoration of our dear papa's health; and that it may give aunt
pleasant reminiscences of the salubrious climate of her native
place," &c.

To return to "Mary's" letter.

"She used to speak of her two elder sisters, Maria and Elizabeth,
who died at Cowan Bridge. I used to believe them to have been
wonders of talent and kindness. She told me, early one morning,
that she had just been dreaming; she had been told that she was
wanted in the drawing-room, and it was Maria and Elizabeth. I was
eager for her to go on, and when she said there was no more, I
said, 'but go on! MAKE IT OUT! I know you can.' She said she
would not; she wished she had not dreamed, for it did not go on
nicely, they were changed; they had forgotten what they used to
care for. They were very fashionably dressed, and began
criticising the room, &c.

"This habit of 'making out' interests for themselves that most
children get who have none in actual life, was very strong in her.
The whole family used to 'make out' histories, and invent
characters and events. I told her sometimes they were like
growing potatoes in a cellar. She said, sadly, 'Yes! I know we

"Some one at school said she 'was always talking about clever
people; Johnson, Sheridan, &c.' She said, 'Now you don't know the
meaning of CLEVER, Sheridan might be clever; yes, Sheridan was
clever,--scamps often are; but Johnson hadn't a spark of
cleverality in him.' No one appreciated the opinion; they made
some trivial remark about 'CLEVERALITY,' and she said no more.

"This is the epitome of her life. At our house she had just as
little chance of a patient hearing, for though not school-girlish,
we were more intolerant. We had a rage for practicality, and
laughed all poetry to scorn. Neither she nor we had any idea but
that our opinions were the opinions of all the SENSIBLE people in
the world, and we used to astonish each other at every sentence .
. . Charlotte, at school, had no plan of life beyond what
circumstances made for her. She knew that she must provide for
herself, and chose her trade; at least chose to begin it once.
Her idea of self-improvement ruled her even at school. It was to
cultivate her tastes. She always said there was enough of hard
practicality and USEFUL knowledge forced on us by necessity, and
that the thing most needed was to soften and refine our minds.
She picked up every scrap of information concerning painting,
sculpture, poetry, music, &c., as if it were gold."

What I have heard of her school days from other sources, confirms
the accuracy of the details in this remarkable letter. She was an
indefatigable student: constantly reading and learning; with a
strong conviction of the necessity and value of education, very
unusual in a girl of fifteen. She never lost a moment of time,
and seemed almost to grudge the necessary leisure for relaxation
and play-hours, which might be partly accounted for by the
awkwardness in all games occasioned by her shortness of sight.
Yet, in spite of these unsociable habits, she was a great
favourite with her schoolfellows. She was always ready to try and
do what they wished, though not sorry when they called her
awkward, and left her out of their sports. Then, at night, she
was an invaluable story-teller, frightening them almost out of
their wits as they lay in bed. On one occasion the effect was
such that she was led to scream out aloud, and Miss W-, coming up
stairs, found that one of the listeners had been seized with
violent palpitations, in consequence of the excitement produced by
Charlotte's story.

Her indefatigable craving for knowledge tempted Miss W- on into
setting her longer and longer tasks of reading for examination;
and towards the end of the year and a half that she remained as a
pupil at Roe Head, she received her first bad mark for an
imperfect lesson. She had had a great quantity of Blair's
"Lectures on Belles Lettres" to read; and she could not answer
some of the questions upon it; Charlotte Bronte had a bad mark.
Miss W- was sorry, and regretted that she had set Charlotte so
long a task. Charlotte cried bitterly. But her school-fellows
were more than sorry--they were indignant. They declared that the
infliction of ever so slight a punishment on Charlotte Bronte was
unjust--for who had tried to do her duty like her?--and testified
their feeling in a variety of ways, until Miss W-, who was in
reality only too willing to pass over her good pupil's first
fault, withdrew the bad mark; and the girls all returned to their
allegiance except "Mary," who took her own way during the week or
two that remained of the half-year, choosing to consider that Miss
W-, in giving Charlotte Bronte so long a task, had forfeited her
claim to obedience of the school regulations.

The number of pupils was so small that the attendance to certain
subjects at particular hours, common in larger schools, was not
rigidly enforced. When the girls were ready with their lessons,
they came to Miss W- to say them. She had a remarkable knack of
making them feel interested in whatever they had to learn. They
set to their studies, not as to tasks or duties to be got through,
but with a healthy desire and thirst for knowledge, of which she
had managed to make them perceive the relishing savour. They did
not leave off reading and learning as soon as the compulsory
pressure of school was taken away. They had been taught to think,
to analyse, to reject, to appreciate. Charlotte Bronte was happy
in the choice made for her of the second school to which she was
sent. There was a robust freedom in the out-of-doors life of her
companions. They played at merry games in the fields round the
house: on Saturday half-holidays they went long scrambling walks
down mysterious shady lanes, then climbing the uplands, and thus
gaining extensive views over the country, about which so much had
to be told, both of its past and present history.

Miss W- must have had in great perfection the French art,
"conter," to judge from her pupil's recollections of the tales she
related during these long walks, of this old house, or that new
mill, and of the states of society consequent on the changes
involved by the suggestive dates of either building. She
remembered the times when watchers or wakeners in the night heard
the distant word of command, and the measured tramp of thousands
of sad desperate men receiving a surreptitious military training,
in preparation for some great day which they saw in their visions,
when right should struggle with might and come off victorious:
when the people of England, represented by the workers of
Yorkshire, Lancashire, and Nottinghamshire, should make their
voice heard in a terrible slogan, since their true and pitiful
complaints could find no hearing in parliament. We forget, now-a-
days, so rapid have been the changes for the better, how cruel was
the condition of numbers of labourers at the close of the great
Peninsular war. The half-ludicrous nature of some of their
grievances has lingered on in tradition; the real intensity of
their sufferings has become forgotten. They were maddened and
desperate; and the country, in the opinion of many, seemed to be
on the verge of a precipice, from which it was only saved by the
prompt and resolute decision of a few in authority. Miss W- spoke
of those times; of the mysterious nightly drillings; of thousands
on lonely moors; of the muttered threats of individuals too
closely pressed upon by necessity to be prudent; of the overt
acts, in which the burning of Cartwright's mill took a prominent
place; and these things sank deep into the mind of one, at least,
among her hearers.

Mr. Cartwright was the owner of a factory called Rawfolds, in
Liversedge, not beyond the distance of a walk from Roe Head. He
had dared to employ machinery for the dressing of woollen cloth,
which was an unpopular measure in 1812, when many other
circumstances conspired to make the condition of the mill-hands
unbearable from the pressure of starvation and misery. Mr.
Cartwright was a very remarkable man, having, as I have been told,
some foreign blood in him, the traces of which were very apparent
in his tall figure, dark eyes and complexion, and singular, though
gentlemanly bearing. At any rate he had been much abroad, and
spoke French well, of itself a suspicious circumstance to the
bigoted nationality of those days. Altogether he was an unpopular
man, even before he took the last step of employing shears,
instead of hands, to dress his wool. He was quite aware of his
unpopularity, and of the probable consequences. He had his mill
prepared for an assault. He took up his lodgings in it; and the
doors were strongly barricaded at night. On every step of the
stairs there was placed a roller, spiked with barbed points all
round, so as to impede the ascent of the rioters, if they
succeeded in forcing the doors.

On the night of Saturday the 11th of April, 1812, the assault was
made. Some hundreds of starving cloth-dressers assembled in the
very field near Kirklees that sloped down from the house which
Miss W- afterwards inhabited, and were armed by their leaders with
pistols, hatchets, and bludgeons, many of which had been extorted
by the nightly bands that prowled about the country, from such
inhabitants of lonely houses as had provided themselves with these
means of self-defence. The silent sullen multitude marched in the
dead of that spring-night to Rawfolds, and giving tongue with a
great shout, roused Mr. Cartwright up to the knowledge that the
long-expected attack was come. He was within walls, it is true;
but against the fury of hundreds he had only four of his own
workmen and five soldiers to assist him. These ten men, however,
managed to keep up such a vigorous and well-directed fire of
musketry that they defeated all the desperate attempts of the
multitude outside to break down the doors, and force a way into
the mill; and, after a conflict of twenty minutes, during which
two of the assailants were killed and several wounded, they
withdrew in confusion, leaving Mr. Cartwright master of the field,
but so dizzy and exhausted, now the peril was past, that he forgot
the nature of his defences, and injured his leg rather seriously
by one of the spiked rollers, in attempting to go up his own
staircase. His dwelling was near the factory. Some of the
rioters vowed that, if he did not give in, they would leave this,
and go to his house, and murder his wife and children. This was a
terrible threat, for he had been obliged to leave his family with
only one or two soldiers to defend them. Mrs. Cartwright knew
what they had threatened; and on that dreadful night, hearing, as
she thought, steps approaching, she snatched up her two infant
children, and put them in a basket up the great chimney, common in
old-fashioned Yorkshire houses. One of the two children who had
been thus stowed away used to point out with pride, after she had
grown up to woman's estate, the marks of musket shot, and the
traces of gunpowder on the walls of her father's mill. He was the
first that had offered any resistance to the progress of the
"Luddites," who had become by this time so numerous as almost to
assume the character of an insurrectionary army. Mr. Cartwright's
conduct was so much admired by the neighbouring mill-owners that
they entered into a subscription for his benefit which amounted in
the end to 3,000L.

Not much more than a fortnight after this attack on Rawfolds,
another manufacturer who employed the obnoxious machinery was shot
down in broad daylight, as he was passing over Crossland Moor,
which was skirted by a small plantation in which the murderers lay
hidden. The readers of "Shirley" will recognise these
circumstances, which were related to Miss Bronte years after they
occurred, but on the very spots where they took place, and by
persons who remembered full well those terrible times of
insecurity to life and property on the one hand, and of bitter
starvation and blind ignorant despair on the other.

Mr. Bronte himself had been living amongst these very people in
1812, as he was then clergyman at Hartshead, not three miles from
Rawfolds; and, as I have mentioned, it was in these perilous times
that he began his custom of carrying a loaded pistol continually
about with him. For not only his Tory politics, but his love and
regard for the authority of the law, made him despise the
cowardice of the surrounding magistrates, who, in their dread of
the Luddites, refused to interfere so as to prevent the
destruction of property. The clergy of the district were the
bravest men by far.

There was a Mr. Roberson of Heald's Hall, a friend of Mr. Bronte's
who has left a deep impression of himself on the public mind. He
lived near Heckmondwike, a large, straggling, dirty village, not
two miles from Roe Head. It was principally inhabited by blanket
weavers, who worked in their own cottages; and Heald's Hall is the
largest house in the village, of which Mr. Roberson was the vicar.
At his own cost, he built a handsome church at Liversedge, on a
hill opposite the one on which his house stood, which was the
first attempt in the West Riding to meet the wants of the
overgrown population, and made many personal sacrifices for his
opinions, both religious and political, which were of the true
old-fashioned Tory stamp. He hated everything which he fancied
had a tendency towards anarchy. He was loyal in every fibre to
Church and King; and would have proudly laid down his life, any
day, for what he believed to be right and true. But he was a man
of an imperial will, and by it he bore down opposition, till
tradition represents him as having something grimly demoniac about
him. He was intimate with Cartwright, and aware of the attack
likely to be made on his mill; accordingly, it is said, he armed
himself and his household, and was prepared to come to the rescue,
in the event of a signal being given that aid was needed. Thus
far is likely enough. Mr. Roberson had plenty of war-like spirit
in him, man of peace though he was.

But, in consequence of his having taken the unpopular side,
exaggerations of his character linger as truth in the minds of the
people; and a fabulous story is told of his forbidding any one to
give water to the wounded Luddites, left in the mill-yard, when he
rode in the next morning to congratulate his friend Cartwright on
his successful defence. Moreover, this stern, fearless clergyman
had the soldiers that were sent to defend the neighbourhood
billeted at his house; and this deeply displeased the work-people,
who were to be intimidated by the red-coats. Although not a
magistrate, he spared no pains to track out the Luddites concerned
in the assassination I have mentioned; and was so successful in
his acute unflinching energy, that it was believed he had been
supernaturally aided; and the country people, stealing into the
fields surrounding Heald's Hall on dusky winter evenings, years
after this time, declared that through the windows they saw Parson
Roberson dancing, in a strange red light, with black demons all
whirling and eddying round him. He kept a large boys' school; and
made himself both respected and dreaded by his pupils. He added a
grim kind of humour to his strength of will; and the former
quality suggested to his fancy strange out-of-the-way kinds of
punishment for any refractory pupils: for instance, he made them
stand on one leg in a corner of the schoolroom, holding a heavy
book in each hand; and once, when a boy had run away home, he
followed him on horseback, reclaimed him from his parents, and,
tying him by a rope to the stirrup of his saddle, made him run
alongside of his horse for the many miles they had to traverse
before reaching Heald's Hall.

One other illustration of his character may be given. He
discovered that his servant Betty had "a follower;" and, watching
his time till Richard was found in the kitchen, he ordered him
into the dining-room, where the pupils were all assembled. He
then questioned Richard whether he had come after Betty; and on
his confessing the truth, Mr. Roberson gave the word, "Off with
him, lads, to the pump!" The poor lover was dragged to the court-
yard, and the pump set to play upon him; and, between every
drenching, the question was put to him, "Will you promise not to
come after Betty again?" For a long time Richard bravely refused
to give in; when "Pump again, lads!" was the order. But, at last,
the poor soaked "follower" was forced to yield, and renounce his

The Yorkshire character of Mr. Roberson would be incomplete if I
did not mention his fondness for horses. He lived to be a very
old man, dying some time nearer to 1840 than 1830; and even after
he was eighty years of age, he took great delight in breaking
refractory steeds; if necessary, he would sit motionless on their
backs for half-an-hour or more to bring them to. There is a story
current that once, in a passion, he shot his wife's favourite
horse, and buried it near a quarry, where the ground, some years
after, miraculously opened and displayed the skeleton; but the
real fact is, that it was an act of humanity to put a poor old
horse out of misery; and that, to spare it pain, he shot it with
his own hands, and buried it where, the ground sinking afterwards
by the working of a coal-pit, the bones came to light. The
traditional colouring shows the animus with which his memory is
regarded by one set of people. By another, the neighbouring
clergy, who remember him riding, in his old age, down the hill on
which his house stood, upon his strong white horse--his bearing
proud and dignified, his shovel hat bent over and shadowing his
keen eagle eyes--going to his Sunday duty like a faithful soldier
that dies in harness--who can appreciate his loyalty to
conscience, his sacrifices to duty, and his stand by his religion-
-his memory is venerated. In his extreme old age, a rubric
meeting was held, at which his clerical brethren gladly subscribed
to present him with a testimonial of their deep respect and

This is a specimen of the strong character not seldom manifested
by the Yorkshire clergy of the Established Church. Mr. Roberson
was a friend of Charlotte Bronte's father; lived within a couple
of miles of Roe Head while she was at school there; and was deeply
engaged in transactions, the memory of which was yet recent when
she heard of them, and of the part which he had had in them.

I may now say a little on the character of the Dissenting
population immediately surrounding Roe Head; for the "Tory and
clergyman's daughter," "taking interest in politics ever since she
was five years old," and holding frequent discussions with such of
the girls as were Dissenters and Radicals, was sure to have made
herself as much acquainted as she could with the condition of
those to whom she was opposed in opinion.

The bulk of the population were Dissenters, principally
Independents. In the village of Heckmondwike, at one end of which
Roe Head is situated, there were two large chapels belonging to
that denomination, and one to the Methodists, all of which were
well filled two or three times on a Sunday, besides having various
prayer-meetings, fully attended, on week-days. The inhabitants
were a chapel-going people, very critical about the doctrine of
their sermons, tyrannical to their ministers, and violent Radicals
in politics. A friend, well acquainted with the place when
Charlotte Bronte was at school, has described some events which
occurred then among them:-

"A scene, which took place at the Lower Chapel at Heckmondwike,
will give you some idea of the people at that time. When a newly-
married couple made their appearance at chapel, it was the custom
to sing the Wedding Anthem, just after the last prayer, and as the
congregation was quitting the chapel. The band of singers who
performed this ceremony expected to have money given them, and
often passed the following night in drinking; at least, so said
the minister of the place; and he determined to put an end to this
custom. In this he was supported by many members of the chapel
and congregation; but so strong was the democratic element, that
he met with the most violent opposition, and was often insulted
when he went into the street. A bride was expected to make her
first appearance, and the minister told the singers not to perform
the anthem. On their declaring they would, he had the large pew
which they usually occupied locked; they broke it open: from the
pulpit he told the congregation that, instead of their singing a
hymn, he would read a chapter; hardly had he uttered the first
word, before up rose the singers, headed by a tall, fierce-looking
weaver, who gave out a hymn, and all sang it at the very top of
their voices, aided by those of their friends who were in the
chapel. Those who disapproved of the conduct of the singers, and
sided with the minister, remained seated till the hymn was
finished. Then he gave out the chapter again, read it, and
preached. He was just about to conclude with prayer, when up
started the singers and screamed forth another hymn. These
disgraceful scenes were continued for many weeks, and so violent
was the feeling, that the different parties could hardly keep from
blows as they came through the chapel-yard. The minister, at
last, left the place, and along with him went many of the most
temperate and respectable part of the congregation, and the
singers remained triumphant.

"I believe that there was such a violent contest respecting the
choice of a pastor, about this time, in the Upper Chapel at
Heckmondwike, that the Riot Act had to be read at a church-

Certainly, the SOI-DISANT Christians who forcibly ejected Mr.
Redhead at Haworth, ten or twelve years before, held a very
heathen brotherhood with the SOI-DISANT Christians of
Heckmondwike; though the one set might be called members of the
Church of England and the other Dissenters.

The letter from which I have taken the above extract relates
throughout to the immediate neighbourhood of the place where
Charlotte Bronte spent her school-days, and describes things as
they existed at that very time. The writer says,--"Having been
accustomed to the respectful manners of the lower orders in the
agricultural districts, I was at first, much disgusted and
somewhat alarmed at the great freedom displayed by the working
classes of Heckmondwike and Gomersall to those in a station above
them. The term 'lass,' was as freely applied to any young lady,
as the word 'wench' is in Lancashire. The extremely untidy
appearance of the villagers shocked me not a little, though I must
do the housewives the justice to say that the cottages themselves
were not dirty, and had an air of rough plenty about them (except
when trade was bad), that I had not been accustomed to see in the
farming districts. The heap of coals on one side of the house-
door, and the brewing tubs on the other, and the frequent perfume
of malt and hops as you walked along, proved that fire and 'home-
brewed' were to be found at almost every man's hearth. Nor was
hospitality, one of the main virtues of Yorkshire, wanting. Oat-
cake, cheese, and beer were freely pressed upon the visitor.

"There used to be a yearly festival, half-religious, half social,
held at Heckmondwike, called 'The Lecture.' I fancy it had come
down from the times of the Nonconformists. A sermon was preached
by some stranger at the Lower Chapel, on a week-day evening, and
the next day, two sermons in succession were delivered at the
Upper Chapel. Of course, the service was a very long one, and as
the time was June, and the weather often hot, it used to be
regarded by myself and my companions as no pleasurable way of
passing the morning. The rest of the day was spent in social
enjoyment; great numbers of strangers flocked to the place; booths
were erected for the sale of toys and gingerbread (a sort of 'Holy
Fair'); and the cottages, having had a little extra paint and
white-washing, assumed quite a holiday look.

"The village of Gomersall" (where Charlotte Bronte's friend "Mary"
lived with her family), "which was a much prettier place than
Heckmondwike, contained a strange-looking cottage, built of rough
unhewn stones, many of them projecting considerably, with uncouth
heads and grinning faces carved upon them; and upon a stone above
the door was cut, in large letters, 'SPITE HALL.' It was erected
by a man in the village, opposite to the house of his enemy, who
had just finished for himself a good house, commanding a beautiful
view down the valley, which this hideous building quite shut out."

Fearless--because this people were quite familiar to all of them--
amidst such a population, lived and walked the gentle Miss W-'s
eight or nine pupils. She herself was born and bred among this
rough, strong, fierce set, and knew the depth of goodness and
loyalty that lay beneath their wild manners and insubordinate
ways. And the girls talked of the little world around them, as if
it were the only world that was; and had their opinions and their
parties, and their fierce discussions like their elders--possibly,
their betters. And among them, beloved and respected by all,
laughed at occasionally by a few, but always to her face--lived,
for a year and a half, the plain, short-sighted, oddly-dressed,
studious little girl they called Charlotte Bronte.


Miss Bronte left Roe Head in 1832, having won the affectionate
regard both of her teacher and her school-fellows, and having
formed there the two fast friendships which lasted her whole life
long; the one with "Mary," who has not kept her letters; the other
with "E.," who has kindly entrusted me with a large portion of
Miss Bronte's correspondence with her. This she has been induced
to do by her knowledge of the urgent desire on the part of Mr.
Bronte that the life of his daughter should be written, and in
compliance with a request from her husband that I should be
permitted to have the use of these letters, without which such a
task could be but very imperfectly executed. In order to shield
this friend, however, from any blame or misconstruction, it is
only right to state that, before granting me this privilege, she
throughout most carefully and completely effaced the names of the
persons and places which occurred in them; and also that such
information as I have obtained from her bears reference solely to
Miss Bronte and her sisters, and not to any other individuals whom
I may find it necessary to allude to in connection with them.

In looking over the earlier portion of this correspondence, I am
struck afresh by the absence of hope, which formed such a strong
characteristic in Charlotte. At an age when girls, in general,
look forward to an eternal duration of such feelings as they or
their friends entertain, and can therefore see no hindrance to the
fulfilment of any engagements dependent on the future state of the
affections, she is surprised that "E." keeps her promise to write.
In after-life, I was painfully impressed with the fact, that Miss
Bronte never dared to allow herself to look forward with hope;
that she had no confidence in the future; and I thought, when I
heard of the sorrowful years she had passed through, that it had
been this pressure of grief which had crushed all buoyancy of
expectation out of her. But it appears from the letters, that it
must have been, so to speak, constitutional; or, perhaps, the deep
pang of losing her two elder sisters combined with a permanent
state of bodily weakness in producing her hopelessness. If her
trust in God had been less strong, she would have given way to
unbounded anxiety, at many a period of her life. As it was, we
shall see, she made a great and successful effort to leave "her
times in His hands."

After her return home, she employed herself in teaching her
sisters, over whom she had had superior advantages. She writes
thus, July 21st, 1832, of her course of life at the parsonage:-

"An account of one day is an account of all. In the morning, from
nine o'clock till half-past twelve, I instruct my sisters, and
draw; then we walk till dinner-time. After dinner I sew till tea-
time, and after tea I either write, read, or do a little fancy-
work, or draw, as I please. Thus, in one delightful, though
somewhat monotonous course, my life is passed. I have been only
out twice to tea since I came home. We are expecting company this
afternoon, and on Tuesday next we shall have all the female
teachers of the Sunday-school to tea."

I may here introduce a quotation from a letter which I have
received from "Mary" since the publication of the previous
editions of this memoir.

"Soon after leaving school she admitted reading something of
Cobbett's. 'She did not like him,' she said; 'but all was fish
that came to her net.' At this time she wrote to me that reading
and drawing were the only amusements she had, and that her supply
of books was very small in proportion to her wants. She never
spoke of her aunt. When I saw Miss Branwell she was a very
precise person, and looked very odd, because her dress, &c., was
so utterly out of fashion. She corrected one of us once for using
the word 'spit' or 'spitting.' She made a great favourite of
Branwell. She made her nieces sew, with purpose or without, and
as far as possible discouraged any other culture. She used to
keep the girls sewing charity clothing, and maintained to me that
it was not for the good of the recipients, but of the sewers. 'It
was proper for them to do it,' she said. Charlotte never was 'in
wild excitement' that I know of. When in health she used to talk
better, and indeed when in low spirits never spoke at all. She
needed her best spirits to say what was in her heart, for at other
times she had not courage. She never gave decided opinions at
such times . . .

"Charlotte said she could get on with any one who had a bump at
the top of their heads (meaning conscientiousness). I found that
I seldom differed from her, except that she was far too tolerant
of stupid people, if they had a grain of kindness in them."

It was about this time that Mr. Bronte provided his children with
a teacher in drawing, who turned out to be a man of considerable
talent, but very little principle. Although they never attained
to anything like proficiency, they took great interest in
acquiring this art; evidently, from an instinctive desire to
express their powerful imaginations in visible forms. Charlotte
told me, that at this period of her life, drawing, and walking out
with her sisters, formed the two great pleasures and relaxations
of her day.

The three girls used to walk upwards toward the "purple-black"
moors, the sweeping surface of which was broken by here and there
a stone-quarry; and if they had strength and time to go far
enough, they reached a waterfall, where the beck fell over some
rocks into the "bottom." They seldom went downwards through the
village. They were shy of meeting even familiar faces, and were
scrupulous about entering the house of the very poorest uninvited.
They were steady teachers at the Sunday-School, a habit which
Charlotte kept up very faithfully, even after she was left alone;
but they never faced their kind voluntary, and always preferred
the solitude and freedom of the moors.

In the September of this year, Charlotte went to pay her first
visit to her friend "E." It took her into the neighbourhood of
Roe Head, and brought her into pleasant contact with many of her
old school-fellows. After this visit she and her friend seem to
have agreed to correspond in French, for the sake of improvement
in the language. But this improvement could not be great, when it
could only amount to a greater familiarity with dictionary words,
and when there was no one to explain to them that a verbal
translation of English idioms hardly constituted French
composition; but the effort was laudable, and of itself shows how
willing they both were to carry on the education which they had
begun under Miss W-. I will give an extract which, whatever may
be thought of the language, is graphic enough, and presents us
with a happy little family picture; the eldest sister returning
home to the two younger, after a fortnight's absence.

"J'arrivait e Haworth en parfaite sauvete sans le moindre accident
ou malheur. Mes petites soeurs couraient hors de la maison pour
me rencontrer aussitot que la voiture se fit voir, et elles
m'embrassaient avec autant d'empressement et de plaisir comme si
j'avais ete absente pour plus d'an. Mon Papa, ma Tante, et le
monsieur dent men frere avoit parle, furent tous assembles dans le
Salon, et en peu de temps je m'y rendis aussi. C'est souvent
l'ordre du Ciel que quand on a perdu un plaisir il y en a un autre
pret e prendre sa place. Ainsi je venois de partir de tres-chers
amis, mais tout e l'heure je revins e des parens aussi chers et
bon dans le moment. Meme que vous me perdiez (ose-je croire que
mon depart vous etait un chagrin?) vous attendites l'arrivee de
votre frere, et de votre soeur. J'ai donne e mes soeurs les
pommes que vous leur envoyiez avec tant de bonte; elles disent
qu'elles sont sur que Mademoiselle E. est tres-aimable et bonne;
l'une et l'autre sont extremement impatientes de vous voir;
j'espere qu'en peu de mois elles auront ce plaisir."

But it was some time yet before the friends could meet, and
meanwhile they agreed to correspond once a month. There were no
events to chronicle in the Haworth letters. Quiet days, occupied
in reaching, and feminine occupations in the house, did not
present much to write about; and Charlotte was naturally driven to
criticise books.

Of these there were many in different plights, and according to
their plight, kept in different places. The well-bound were
ranged in the sanctuary of Mr. Bronte's study; but the purchase of
books was a necessary luxury to him, but as it was often a choice
between binding an old one, or buying a new one, the familiar
volume, which had been hungrily read by all the members of the
family, was sometimes in such a condition that the bedroom shelf
was considered its fitting place. Up and down the house were to
be found many standard works of a solid kind. Sir Walter Scott's
writings, Wordsworth's and Southey's poems were among the lighter
literature; while, as having a character of their own--earnest,
wild, and occasionally fanatical--may be named some of the books
which came from the Branwell side of the family--from the Cornish
followers of the saintly John Wesley--and which are touched on in
the account of the works to which Caroline Helstone had access in
"Shirley:"--"Some venerable Lady's Magazines, that had once
performed a voyage with their owner, and undergone a storm"--
(possibly part of the relics of Mrs. Bronte's possessions,
contained in the ship wrecked on the coast of Cornwall)--"and
whose pages were stained with salt water; some mad Methodist
Magazines full of miracles and apparitions, and preternatural
warnings, ominous dreams, and frenzied fanaticisms; and the
equally mad letters of Mrs. Elizabeth Rowe from the Dead to the

Mr. Bronte encouraged a taste for reading in his girls; and though
Miss Branwell kept it in due bounds, by the variety of household
occupations, in which she expected them not merely to take a part,
but to become proficients, thereby occupying regularly a good
portion of every day, they were allowed to get books from the
circulating library at Keighley; and many a happy walk, up those
long four miles, must they have had, burdened with some new book,
into which they peeped as they hurried home. Not that the books
were what would generally be called new; in the beginning of 1833,
the two friends seem almost simultaneously to have fallen upon
"Kenilworth," and Charlotte writes as follows about it:-

"I am glad you like 'Kenilworth;' it is certainly more resembling
a romance than a novel: in my opinion, one of the most
interesting works that ever emanated from the great Sir Walter's
pen. Varney is certainly the personification of consummate
villainy; and in the delineation of his dark and profoundly artful
mind, Scott exhibits a wonderful knowledge of human nature, as
well as a surprising skill in embodying his perceptions, so as to
enable others to become participators in that knowledge."

Commonplace as this extract may seem, it is noteworthy on two or
three accounts: in the first place, instead of discussing the
plot or story, she analyses the character of Varney; and next,
she, knowing nothing of the world, both from her youth and her
isolated position, has yet been so accustomed to hear "human
nature" distrusted, as to receive the notion of intense and artful
villainy without surprise.

What was formal and set in her way of writing to "E." diminished
as their personal acquaintance increased, and as each came to know
the home of the other; so that small details concerning people and
places had their interest and their significance. In the summer
of 1833, she wrote to invite her friend to come and pay her a
visit. "Aunt thought it would be better" (she says) "to defer it
until about the middle of summer, as the winter, and even the
spring seasons, are remarkably cold and bleak among our

The first impression made on the visitor by the sisters of her
school-friend was, that Emily was a tall, long-armed girl, more
fully grown than her elder sister; extremely reserved in manner.
I distinguish reserve from shyness, because I imagine shyness
would please, if it knew how; whereas, reserve is indifferent
whether it pleases or not. Anne, like her eldest sister, was shy;
Emily was reserved.

Branwell was rather a handsome boy, with "tawny" hair, to use Miss
Bronte's phrase for a more obnoxious colour. All were very
clever, original, and utterly different to any people or family
"E." had ever seen before. But, on the whole, it was a happy
visit to all parties. Charlotte says, in writing to "E.," just
after her return home--"Were I to tell you of the impression you
have made on every one here, you would accuse me of flattery.
Papa and aunt are continually adducing you as an example for me to
shape my actions and behaviour by. Emily and Anne say 'they never
saw any one they liked so well as you.' And Tabby, whom you have
absolutely fascinated, talks a great deal more nonsense about your
ladyship than I care to repeat. It is now so dark that,
notwithstanding the singular property of seeing in the night-time,
which the young ladies at Roe Head used to attribute to me, I can
scribble no longer."

To a visitor at the parsonage, it was a great thing to have
Tabby's good word. She had a Yorkshire keenness of perception
into character, and it was not everybody she liked.

Haworth is built with an utter disregard of all sanitary
conditions: the great old churchyard lies above all the houses,
and it is terrible to think how the very water-springs of the
pumps below must be poisoned. But this winter of 1833-4 was
particularly wet and rainy, and there were an unusual number of
deaths in the village. A dreary season it was to the family in
the parsonage: their usual walks obstructed by the spongy state
of the moors--the passing and funeral bells so frequently tolling,
and filling the heavy air with their mournful sound--and, when
they were still, the "chip, chip," of the mason, as he cut the
grave-stones in a shed close by. In many, living, as it were, in
a churchyard, and with all the sights and sounds connected with
the last offices to the dead things of every-day occurrence, the
very familiarity would have bred indifference. But it was
otherwise with Charlotte Bronte. One of her friends says:- "I
have seen her turn pale and feel faint when, in Hartshead church,
some one accidentally remarked that we were walking over graves.
Charlotte was certainly afraid of death. Not only of dead bodies,
or dying people. She dreaded it as something horrible. She
thought we did not know how long the 'moment of dissolution' might
really be, or how terrible. This was just such a terror as only
hypochondriacs can provide for themselves. She told me long ago
that a misfortune was often preceded by the dream frequently
repeated which she gives to 'Jane Eyre,' of carrying a little
wailing child, and being unable to still it. She described
herself as having the most painful sense of pity for the little
thing, lying INERT, as sick children do, while she walked about in
some gloomy place with it, such as the aisle of Haworth Church.
The misfortunes she mentioned were not always to herself. She
thought such sensitiveness to omens was like the cholera, present
to susceptible people,--some feeling more, some less."

About the beginning of 1834, "E." went to London for the first
time. The idea of her friend's visit seems to have stirred
Charlotte strangely. She appears to have formed her notions of
its probable consequences from some of the papers in the "British
Essayists," "The Rambler," "The Mirror," or "The Lounger," which
may have been among the English classics on the parsonage
bookshelves; for she evidently imagines that an entire change of
character for the worse is the usual effect of a visit to "the
great metropolis," and is delighted to find that "E." is "E."
still. And, as her faith in her friend's stability is restored,
her own imagination is deeply moved by the idea of what great
wonders are to be seen in that vast and famous city.

"Haworth, February 20th, 1834.

"Your letter gave me real and heartfelt pleasure, mingled with no
small share of astonishment. Mary had previously informed me of
your departure for London, and I had not ventured to calculate on
any communication from you while surrounded by the splendours and
novelties of that great city, which has been called the mercantile
metropolis of Europe. Judging from human nature, I thought that a
little country girl, for the first time in a situation so well
calculated to excite curiosity, and to distract attention, would
lose all remembrance, for a time at least, of distant and familiar
objects, and give herself up entirely to the fascination of those
scenes which were then presented to her view. Your kind,
interesting, and most welcome epistle showed me, however, that I
had been both mistaken and uncharitable in these suppositions. I
was greatly amused at the tone of nonchalance which you assumed,
while treating of London and its wonders. Did you not feel awed
while gazing at St. Paul's and Westminster Abbey? Had you no
feeling of intense and ardent interest, when in St. James's you
saw the palace where so many of England's kings have held their
courts, and beheld the representations of their persons on the
walls? You should not be too much afraid of appearing COUNTRY-
BRED; the magnificence of London has drawn exclamations of
astonishment from travelled men, experienced in the world, its
wonders and beauties. Have you yet seen anything of the great
personages whom the sitting of Parliament now detains in London--
the Duke of Wellington, Sir Robert Peel, Earl Grey, Mr. Stanley,
Mr. O'Connell? If I were you, I would not be too anxious to spend
my time in reading whilst in town. Make use of your own eyes for
the purposes of observation now, and, for a time at least, lay
aside the spectacles with which authors would furnish us."

In a postscript she adds:-

"Will you be kind enough to inform me of the number of performers
in the King's military band?"

And in something of the same strain she writes on

"June 19th.
"My own Dear E.,

"I may rightfully and truly call you so now. You HAVE returned or
ARE returning from London--from the great city which is to me as
apocryphal as Babylon, or Nineveh, or ancient Rome. You are
withdrawing from the world (as it is called), and bringing with
you--if your letters enable me to form a correct judgment--a heart
as unsophisticated, as natural, as true, as that you carried
there. I am slow, VERY slow, to believe the protestations of
another; I know my own sentiments, I can read my own mind, but the
minds of the rest of man and woman kind are to me sealed volumes,
hieroglyphical scrolls, which I cannot easily either unseal or
decipher. Yet time, careful study, long acquaintance, overcome
most difficulties; and, in your case, I think they have succeeded
well in bringing to light and construing that hidden language,
whose turnings, windings, inconsistencies, and obscurities, so
frequently baffle the researches of the honest observer of human
nature . . . I am truly grateful for your mindfulness of so
obscure a person as myself, and I hope the pleasure is not
altogether selfish; I trust it is partly derived from the
consciousness that my friend's character is of a higher, a more
steadfast order than I was once perfectly aware of. Few girls
would have done as you have done--would have beheld the glare, and
glitter, and dazzling display of London with dispositions so
unchanged, heart so uncontaminated. I see no affectation in your
letters, no trifling, no frivolous contempt of plain, and weak
admiration of showy persons and things."

In these days of cheap railway trips, we may smile at the idea of
a short visit to London having any great effect upon the
character, whatever it may have upon the intellect. But her
London--her great apocryphal city--was the "town" of a century
before, to which giddy daughters dragged unwilling papas, or went


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