The Life of Charlotte Bronte Volume 2 [At this date we are still working on Volume 1]
Elizabeth Claghorn Gaskell

Part 1 out of 5

The Life of Charlotte Bronte by Elizabeth Claghorn Gaskell
Volume 2 [At this date we are still working on Volume 1]



Mr. Bronte afflicted with blindness, and relieved by a successful
operation for cataract--Charlotte Bronte's first work of fiction,
"The Professor"--She commences "Jane Eyre"--Circumstances
attending its composition--Her ideas of a heroine--Her attachment
to home--Haworth in December--A letter of confession and counsel.

State of Charlotte Bronte's health at the commencement of 1847--
Family trials--"Wuthering Heights" and "Agnes Grey" accepted by a
publisher--"The Professor" rejected--Completion of "Jane Eyre",
its reception and publication--The reviews of "Jane Eyre", and
the author's comments on them--Her father's reception of the
book--Public interest excited by "Jane Eyre"--Dedication of the
second edition to Mr. Thackeray--Correspondence of Currer Bell
with Mr. Lewes on "Jane Eyre"--Publication of "Wuthering Heights"
and "Agnes Grey"--Miss Bronte's account of the authoress of
"Wuthering Heights"--Domestic anxieties of the Bronte
sisters--Currer Bell's correspondence with Mr. Lewes--Unhealthy
state of Haworth--Charlotte Bronte on the revolutions of
1848--Her repudiation of authorship--Anne Bronte's second tale,
"The Tenant of Wildfell Hall"--Misunderstanding as to the
individuality of the three Bells, and its results--Currer and
Acton Bell visit London--Charlotte Bronte's account of her
visit--The Chapter Coffee House--The Clergy Daughters' School at
Casterton--Death of Branwell Bronte--Illness and death of Emily

The Quarterly Review on "Jane Eyre"--Severe illness of Anne
Bronte--Her last verses--She is removed to Scarborough--Her last
hours, and death and burial there--Charlotte's return to Haworth,
and her loneliness.

Commencement and completion of "Shirley"--Originals of the
characters, and circumstances under which it was written--Loss on
railway shares--Letters to Mr. Lewes and other friends on
"Shirley," and the reviews of it--Miss Bronte visits London,
meets Mr. Thackeray, and makes the acquaintance of Miss
Martineau--Her impressions of literary men.

"Currer Bell" identified as Miss Bronte at Haworth and the
vicinity--Her letter to Mr. Lewes on his review of
"Shirley"--Solitude and heavy mental sadness and anxiety--She
visits Sir J. and Lady Kay Shuttleworth--Her comments on critics,
and remarks on Thackeray's "Pendennis" and Scott's "Suggestions
on Female Education"--Opinions of "Shirley" by Yorkshire readers.

An unhealthy spring at Haworth--Miss Bronte's proposed visit to
London--Her remarks on "The Leader"--Associations of her walks on
the moors--Letter to an unknown admirer of her works--Incidents
of her visit to London--Her impressions of a visit to
Scotland--Her portrait, by Richmond--Anxiety about her father.

Visit to Sir J. and Lady Kay Shuttleworth--The biographer's
impressions of Miss Bronte--Miss Bronte's account of her visit to
the Lakes of Westmoreland--Her disinclination for acquaintance
and visiting--Remarks on "Woman's Mission," Tennyson's "In
Memoriam," etc.--Impressions of her visit to Scotland--Remarks on
a review in the "Palladium."

Intended republication of "Wuthering Heights" and "Agnes Grey"--
Reaction after her visit to Scotland--Her first meeting with Mr.
Lewes--Her opinion of Balzac and George Sand--A characteristic
incident--Account of a friendly visit to Haworth
Parsonage--Remarks on "The Roman," by Sydney Dobell, and on the
character of Dr. Arnold--Letter to Mr. Dobell.

Miss Bronte's visit to Miss Martineau, and estimate of her
hostess--Remarks on Mr. Ruskin's "Stones of Venice"--Preparations
for another visit to London--Letter to Mr. Sydney Dobell: the
moors in autumn--Mr. Thackeray's second lecture at Willis's
Rooms, and sensation produced by Currer Bell's appearance
there--Her account of her visit to London--She breakfasts with
Mr. Rogers, visits the Great Exhibition, and sees Lord
Westminster's pictures--Return to Haworth and letter thence--Her
comment on Mr. Thackeray's Lecture--Counsel on development of

Remarks on friendship--Letter to Mrs. Gaskell on her and Miss
Martineau's views of the Great Exhibition and Mr. Thackeray's
lecture, and on the "Saint's Tragedy"--Miss Bronte's feelings
towards children--Her comments on Mr. J. S. Mill's article on the
Emancipation of Women--More illness at Haworth Parsonage--Letter
on Emigration--Periodical returns of illness--Miss Wooler visits
Haworth--Miss Bronte's impressions of her visit to London--Her
account of the progress of Villette--Her increasing illness and
sufferings during winter--Her letter on Mr. Thackeray's Esmond--
Revival of sorrows and accessions of low spirits--Remarks on some
recent books--Retrospect of the winter of 1851-2--Letter to Mrs.
Gaskell on "Ruth."

Miss Bronte revisits Scarborough--Serious illness and ultimate
convalescence of her father--Her own illness--"Villette" nearly
completed--Further remarks on "Esmond" and "Uncle Tom's
Cabin"--Letter respecting "Villette"--Another letter about
"Villette"--Instance of extreme sensibility.

The biographer's difficulty--Deep and enduring attachment of Mr.
Nicholls for Miss Bronte--Instance of her self-abnegation--She
again visits London--Impressions of this visit--Letter to Mrs.
Gaskell--Reception of the critiques on
"Villette"--Misunderstanding with Miss Martineau--Letter on Mr.
Thackeray's portrait--Visit of the Bishop of Ripon to Haworth
Parsonage--Her wish to see the unfavourable critiques on her
works--Her nervous shyness of strangers, and its cause--Letter on
Mr. Thackeray's lectures.

Letter to Mrs. Gaskell on writing fiction, etc.--The biographer's
account of her visit to Haworth, and reminiscences of
conversations with Miss Bronte--Letters from Miss Bronte to her
friends--Her engagement to Mr. Nicholls, and preparations for the
marriage--The marriage ceremony and wedding tour--Her happiness
in the married state--New symptoms of illness, and their
cause--The two last letters written by Mrs. Nicholls--An alarming
change--Her death.

Mourners at the funeral--Conclusion.


During this summer of 1846, while her literary hopes were waning,
an anxiety of another kind was increasing. Her father's eyesight
had become seriously impaired by the progress of the cataract
which was forming. He was nearly blind. He could grope his way
about, and recognise the figures of those he knew well, when they
were placed against a strong light; but he could no longer see to
read; and thus his eager appetite for knowledge and information
of all kinds was severely balked. He continued to preach. I have
heard that he was led up into the pulpit, and that his sermons
were never so effective as when he stood there, a grey sightless
old man, his blind eyes looking out straight before him, while
the words that came from his lips had all the vigour and force of
his best days. Another fact has been mentioned to me, curious as
showing the accurateness of his sensation of time. His sermons
had always lasted exactly half an hour. With the clock right
before him, and with his ready flow of words, this had been no
difficult matter as long as he could see. But it was the same
when he was blind; as the minute-hand came to the point, marking
the expiration of the thirty minutes, he concluded his sermon.

Under his great sorrow he was always patient. As in times of far
greater affliction, he enforced a quiet endurance of his woe upon
himself. But so many interests were quenched by this blindness
that he was driven inwards, and must have dwelt much on what was
painful and distressing in regard to his only son. No wonder that
his spirits gave way, and were depressed. For some time before
this autumn, his daughters had been collecting all the
information they could respecting the probable success of
operations for cataract performed on a person of their father's
age. About the end of July, Emily and Charlotte had made a
journey to Manchester for the purpose of searching out an
operator; and there they heard of the fame of the late Mr. Wilson
as an oculist. They went to him at once, but he could not tell,
from description, whether the eyes were ready for being operated
upon or not. It therefore became necessary for Mr. Bronte to
visit him; and towards the end of August, Charlotte brought her
father to him. He determined at once to undertake the operation,
and recommended them to comfortable lodgings, kept by an old
servant of his. These were in one of numerous similar streets of
small monotonous-looking houses, in a suburb of the town. From
thence the following letter is dated, on August 21st, 1846:--

"I just scribble a line to you to let you know where I am, in
order that you may write to me here, for it seems to me that a
letter from you would relieve me from the feeling of strangeness
I have in this big town. Papa and I came here on Wednesday; we
saw Mr. Wilson, the oculist, the same day; he pronounced papa's
eyes quite ready for an operation, and has fixed next Monday for
the performance of it. Think of us on that day! We got into our
lodgings yesterday. I think we shall be comfortable; at least our
rooms are very good, but there is no mistress of the house (she
is very ill, and gone out into the country), and I am somewhat
puzzled in managing about provisions; we board ourselves. I find
myself excessively ignorant. I can't tell what to order in the
way of meat. For ourselves I could contrive, papa's diet is so
very simple; but there will be a nurse coming in a day or two,
and I am afraid of not having things good enough for her. Papa
requires nothing, you know, but plain beef and mutton, tea and
bread and butter; but a nurse will probably expect to live much
better; give me some hints if you can. Mr. Wilson says we shall
have to stay here for a month at least. I wonder how Emily and
Anne will get on at home with Branwell. They, too, will have
their troubles. What would I not give to have you here! One is
forced, step by step, to get experience in the world; but the
learning is so disagreeable. One cheerful feature in the business
is, that Mr. Wilson thinks most favourably of the case."

"August 26th, 1846.

"The operation is over; it took place yesterday Mr. Wilson
performed it; two other surgeons assisted. Mr. Wilson says, he
considers it quite successful; but papa cannot yet see anything.
The affair lasted precisely a quarter of an hour; it was not the
simple operation of couching Mr. C. described, but the more
complicated one of extracting the cataract. Mr. Wilson entirely
disapproves of couching. Papa displayed extraordinary patience
and firmness; the surgeons seemed surprised. I was in the room
all the time; as it was his wish that I should be there; of
course, I neither spoke nor moved till the thing was done, and
then I felt that the less I said, either to papa or the surgeons,
the better. Papa is now confined to his bed in a dark room, and
is not to be stirred for four days; he is to speak and be spoken
to as little as possible. I am greatly obliged to you for your
letter, and your kind advice, which gave me extreme satisfaction,
because I found I had arranged most things in accordance with it,
and, as your theory coincides with my practice, I feel assured
the latter is right. I hope Mr. Wilson will soon allow me to
dispense with the nurse; she is well enough, no doubt, but
somewhat too obsequious; and not, I should think, to be much
trusted; yet I was obliged to trust her in some things. . . .

"Greatly was I amused by your account of ----'s flirtations; and
yet something saddened also. I think Nature intended him for
something better than to fritter away his time in making a set of
poor, unoccupied spinsters unhappy. The girls, unfortunately, are
forced to care for him, and such as him, because, while their
minds are mostly unemployed, their sensations are all unworn,
and, consequently, fresh and green; and he, on the contrary, has
had his fill of pleasure, and can with impunity make a mere
pastime of other people's torments. This is an unfair state of
things; the match is not equal. I only wish I had the power to
infuse into the souls of the persecuted a little of the quiet
strength of pride--of the supporting consciousness of superiority
(for they are superior to him because purer)--of the fortifying
resolve of firmness to bear the present, and wait the end. Could
all the virgin population of ---- receive and retain these
sentiments, he would continually have to veil his crest before
them. Perhaps, luckily, their feelings are not so acute as one
would think, and the gentleman's shafts consequently don't wound
so deeply as he might desire. I hope it is so."

A few days later, she writes thus: "Papa is still lying in bed,
in a dark room, with his eyes bandaged. No inflammation ensued,
but still it appears the greatest care, perfect quiet, and utter
privation of light are necessary to ensure a good result from the
operation. He is very patient, but, of course, depressed and
weary. He was allowed to try his sight for the first time
yesterday. He could see dimly. Mr. Wilson seemed perfectly
satisfied, and said all was right. I have had bad nights from the
toothache since I came to Manchester."

All this time, notwithstanding the domestic anxieties which were
harassing them--notwithstanding the ill-success of their
poems--the three sisters were trying that other literary venture,
to which Charlotte made allusion in one of her letters to the
Messrs. Aylott. Each of them had written a prose tale, hoping
that the three might be published together. "Wuthering Heights"
and "Agnes Grey" are before the world. The third--Charlotte's
contribution--is yet in manuscript, but will be published shortly
after the appearance of this memoir. The plot in itself is of no
great interest; but it is a poor kind of interest that depends
upon startling incidents rather than upon dramatic development of
character; and Charlotte Bronte never excelled one or two
sketches of portraits which she had given in "The Professor",
nor, in grace of womanhood, ever surpassed one of the female
characters there described. By the time she wrote this tale, her
taste and judgment had revolted against the exaggerated idealisms
of her early girlhood, and she went to the extreme of reality,
closely depicting characters as they had shown themselves to her
in actual life: if there they were strong even to coarseness,--as
was the case with some that she had met with in flesh and blood
existence,--she "wrote them down an ass;" if the scenery of such
life as she saw was for the most part wild and grotesque, instead
of pleasant or picturesque, she described it line for line. The
grace of the one or two scenes and characters, which are drawn
rather from her own imagination than from absolute fact stand out
in exquisite relief from the deep shadows and wayward lines of
others, which call to mind some of the portraits of Rembrandt.

The three tales had tried their fate in vain together, at length
they were sent forth separately, and for many months with still-
continued ill success. I have mentioned this here, because, among
the dispiriting circumstances connected with her anxious visit to
Manchester, Charlotte told me that her tale came back upon her
hands, curtly rejected by some publisher, on the very day when
her father was to submit to his operation. But she had the heart
of Robert Bruce within her, and failure upon failure daunted her
no more than him. Not only did "The Professor" return again to
try his chance among the London publishers, but she began, in
this time of care and depressing inquietude, in those grey,
weary, uniform streets; where all faces, save that of her kind
doctor, were strange and untouched with sunlight to her,--there
and then, did the brave genius begin "Jane Eyre". Read what she
herself says:--"Currer Bell's book found acceptance nowhere, nor
any acknowledgment of merit, so that something like the chill of
despair began to invade his heart." And, remember it was not the
heart of a person who, disappointed in one hope, can turn with
redoubled affection to the many certain blessings that remain.
Think of her home, and the black shadow of remorse lying over one
in it, till his very brain was mazed, and his gifts and his life
were lost;--think of her father's sight hanging on a thread;--of
her sister's delicate health, and dependence on her care;--and
then admire as it deserves to be admired, the steady courage
which could work away at "Jane Eyre", all the time "that the
one-volume tale was plodding its weary round in London."

I believe I have already mentioned that some of her surviving
friends consider that an incident which she heard, when at school
at Miss Wooler's, was the germ of the story of Jane Eyre. But
of this nothing. can be known, except by conjecture. Those to
whom she spoke upon the subject of her writings are dead and
silent; and the reader may probably have noticed, that in the
correspondence from which I have quoted, there has been no
allusion whatever to the publication of her poems, nor is there
the least hint of the intention of the sisters to publish any
tales. I remember, however, many little particulars which Miss
Bronte gave me, in answer to my inquiries respecting her mode of
composition, etc. She said, that it was not every day, that she
could write. Sometimes weeks or even months elapsed before she
felt that she had anything to add to that portion of her story
which was already written. Then, some morning, she would waken
up, and the progress of her tale lay clear and bright before her,
in distinct vision. when this was the case, all her care was to
discharge her household and filial duties, so as to obtain
leisure to sit down and write out the incidents and consequent
thoughts, which were, in fact, more present to her mind at such
times than her actual life itself. Yet notwithstanding this
"possession" (as it were), those who survive, of her daily and
household companions, are clear in their testimony, that never
was the claim of any duty, never was the call of another for
help, neglected for an instant. It had become necessary to give
Tabby--now nearly eighty years of age--the assistance of a girl.
Tabby relinquished any of her work with jealous reluctance, and
could not bear to be reminded, though ever so delicately, that
the acuteness of her senses was dulled by age. The other servant
might not interfere with what she chose to consider her exclusive
work. Among other things, she reserved to herself the right of
peeling the potatoes for dinner; but as she was growing blind,
she often left in those black specks, which we in the North call
the "eyes" of the potato. Miss Bronte was too dainty a
housekeeper to put up with this; yet she could not bear to hurt
the faithful old servant, by bidding the younger maiden go over
the potatoes again, and so reminding Tabby that her work was less
effectual than formerly. Accordingly she would steal into the
kitchen, and quietly carry off the bowl of vegetables, without
Tabby's being aware, and breaking off in the full flow of
interest and inspiration in her writing, carefully cut out the
specks in the potatoes, and noiselessly carry them back to their
place. This little proceeding may show how orderly and fully she
accomplished her duties, even at those times when the
"possession" was upon her.

Any one who has studied her writings,--whether in print or in her
letters; any one who has enjoyed the rare privilege of listening
to her talk, must have noticed her singular felicity in the
choice of words. She herself, in writing her books, was
solicitous on this point. One set of words was the truthful
mirror of her thoughts; no others, however apparently identical
in meaning, would do. She had that strong practical regard for
the simple holy truth of expression, which Mr. Trench has
enforced, as a duty too often neglected. She would wait patiently
searching for the right term, until it presented itself to her.
It might be provincial, it might be derived from the Latin; so
that it accurately represented her idea, she did not mind whence
it came; but this care makes her style present the finish of a
piece of mosaic. Each component part, however small, has been
dropped into the right place. She never wrote down a sentence
until she clearly understood what she wanted to say, had
deliberately chosen the words, and arranged them in their right
order. Hence it comes that, in the scraps of paper covered with
her pencil writing which I have seen, there will occasionally be
a sentence scored out, but seldom, if ever, a word or an
expression. She wrote on these bits of paper in a minute hand,
holding each against a piece of board, such as is used in binding
books, for a desk. This plan was necessary for one so
short-sighted as she was; and, besides, it enabled her to use
pencil and paper, as she sat near the fire in the twilight hours,
or if (as was too often the case) she was wakeful for hours in
the night. Her finished manuscripts were copied from these pencil
scraps, in clear, legible, delicate traced writing, almost as
easy to read as print.

The sisters retained the old habit, which was begun in their
aunt's life-time, of putting away their work at nine o'clock, and
beginning their study, pacing up and down the sitting room. At
this time, they talked over the stories they were engaged upon,
and described their plots. Once or twice a week, each read to the
others what she had written, and heard what they had to say about
it. Charlotte told me, that the remarks made had seldom any
effect in inducing her to alter her work, so possessed was she
with the feeling that she had described reality; but the readings
were of great and stirring interest to all, taking them out of
the gnawing pressure of daily-recurring cares, and setting them
in a free place. It was on one of these occasions, that Charlotte
determined to make her heroine plain, small, and unattractive, in
defiance of the accepted canon.

The writer of the beautiful obituary article on "the death of
Currer Bell" most likely learnt from herself what is there
stated, and which I will take the liberty of quoting, about Jane

"She once told her sisters that they were wrong--even morally
wrong--in making their heroines beautiful as a matter of course.
They replied that it was impossible to make a heroine interesting
on any other terms. Her answer was, 'I will prove to you that you
are wrong; I will show you a heroine as plain and as small as
myself, who shall be as interesting as any of yours.' Hence 'Jane
Eyre,' said she in telling the anecdote: 'but she is not myself,
any further than that.' As the work went on, the interest
deepened to the writer. When she came to 'Thornfield' she could
not stop. Being short-sighted to excess, she wrote in little
square paper-books, held close to her eyes, and (the first copy)
in pencil. On she went, writing incessantly for three weeks; by
which time she had carried her heroine away from Thornfield, and
was herself in a fever which compelled her to pause."

This is all, I believe, which can now be told respecting the
conception and composition of this wonderful book, which was,
however, only at its commencement when Miss Bronte returned with
her father to Haworth, after their anxious expedition to

They arrived at home about the end of September. Mr. Bronte was
daily gaining strength, but he was still forbidden to exercise
his sight much. Things had gone on more comfortably while she was
away than Charlotte had dared to hope, and she expresses herself
thankful for the good ensured and the evil spared during her

Soon after this some proposal, of which I have not been able to
gain a clear account, was again mooted for Miss Bronte's opening
a school at some place distant from Haworth. It elicited the
following fragment of a characteristic reply:--

"Leave home!--I shall neither be able to find place nor
employment, perhaps, too, I shall be quite past the prime of
life, my faculties will be rusted, and my few acquirements in a
great measure forgotten. These ideas sting me keenly sometimes;
but, whenever I consult my conscience, it affirms that I am doing
right in staying at home, and bitter are its upbraidings when I
yield to an eager desire for release. I could hardly expect
success if I were to err against such warnings. I should like to
hear from you again soon. Bring ---- to the point, and make him
give you a clear, not a vague, account of what pupils he really
could promise; people often think they can do great things in
that way till they have tried; but getting pupils is unlike
getting any other sort of goods."

Whatever might be the nature and extent of this negotiation, the
end of it was that Charlotte adhered to the decision of her
conscience, which bade her remain at home, as long as her
presence could cheer or comfort those who were in distress, or
had the slightest influence over him who was the cause of it. The
next extract gives us a glimpse into the cares of that home. It
is from a letter dated December 15th.

"I hope you are not frozen up; the cold here is dreadful. I do
not remember such a series of North-Pole days. England might
really have taken a slide up into the Arctic Zone; the sky looks
like ice; the earth is frozen; the wind is as keen as a two-edged
blade. We have all had severe colds and coughs in consequence of
the weather. Poor Anne has suffered greatly from asthma, but is
now, we are glad to say, rather better. She had two nights last
week when her cough and difficulty of breathing were painful
indeed to hear and witness, and must have been most distressing
to suffer; she bore it, as she bears all affliction, without one
complaint, only sighing now and then when nearly worn out. She
has an extraordinary heroism of endurance. I admire, but I
certainly could not imitate her." . . . "You say I am to 'tell
you plenty.' What would you have me say? Nothing happens at
Haworth; nothing, at least, of a pleasant kind. One little
incident occurred about a week ago, to sting us to life; but if
it gives no more pleasure for you to hear, than it did for us to
witness, you will scarcely thank me for adverting to it. It was
merely the arrival of a Sheriff's officer on a visit to B.,
inviting him either to pay his debts or take a trip to York. Of
course his debts had to be paid. It is not agreeable to lose
money, time after time, in this way; but where is the use of
dwelling on such subjects? It will make him no better."

"December 28th.

"I feel as if it was almost a farce to sit down and write to you
now, with nothing to say worth listening to; and, indeed, if it
were not for two reasons, I should put off the business at least
a fortnight hence. The first reason is, I want another letter
from you, for your letters are interesting, they have something
in them; some results of experience and observation; one receives
them with pleasure, and reads them with relish; and these letters
I cannot expect to get, unless I reply to them. I wish the
correspondence could be managed so as to be all on one side. The
second reason is derived from a remark in your last, that you
felt lonely, something as I was at Brussels, and that
consequently you had a peculiar desire to hear from old
acquaintance. I can understand and sympathise with this. I
remember the shortest note was a treat to me, when I was at the
above-named place; therefore I write. I have also a third reason:
it is a haunting terror lest you should imagine I forget
you--that my regard cools with absence. It is not in my nature to
forget your nature; though, I dare say, I should spit fire and
explode sometimes if we lived together continually; and you, too,
would get angry, and then we should get reconciled and jog on as
before. Do you ever get dissatisfied with your own temper when
you are long fixed to one place, in one scene, subject to one
monotonous species of annoyance? I do: I am now in that
unenviable frame of mind; my humour, I think, is too soon over-
thrown, too sore, too demonstrative and vehement. I almost long
for some of the uniform serenity you describe in Mrs. ----'s
disposition; or, at least, I would fain have her power of self-
control and concealment; but I would not take her artificial
habits and ideas along with her composure. After all I should
prefer being as I am. . . You do right not to be annoyed at any
maxims of conventionality you meet with. Regard all new ways in
the light of fresh experience for you: if you see any honey
gather it." . . . "I don't, after all, consider that we ought to
despise everything we see in the world, merely because it is not
what we are accustomed to. I suspect, on the contrary, that there
are not unfrequently substantial reasons underneath for customs
that appear to us absurd; and if I were ever again to find myself
amongst strangers, I should be solicitous to examine before I
condemned. Indiscriminating irony and faultfinding are just
sumphishness, and that is all. Anne is now much better, but papa
has been for near a fortnight far from well with the influenza;
he has at times a most distressing cough, and his spirits are
much depressed."

So ended the year 1846.


The next year opened with a spell of cold dreary weather, which
told severely on a constitution already tried by anxiety and
care. Miss Bronte describes herself as having utterly lost her
appetite, and as looking "grey, old, worn and sunk," from her
sufferings during the inclement season. The cold brought on
severe toothache; toothache was the cause of a succession of
restless miserable nights; and long wakefulness told acutely upon
her nerves, making them feel with redoubled sensitiveness all the
harass of her oppressive life. Yet she would not allow herself to
lay her bad health to the charge of an uneasy mind; "for after
all," said she at this time, "I have many, many things to be
thankful for." But the real state of things may be gathered from
the following extracts from her letters.

"March 1st.

"Even at the risk of appearing very exacting, I can't help saying
that I should like a letter as long as your last, every time you
write. Short notes give one the feeling of a very small piece of
a very good thing to eat,--they set the appetite on edge, and
don't satisfy it,--a letter leaves you more contented; and yet,
after all, I am very glad to get notes; so don't think, when you
are pinched for time and materials, that it is useless to write a
few lines; be assured, a few lines are very acceptable as far as
they go; and though I like long letters, I would by no means have
you to make a task of writing them. . . . I really should like
you to come to Haworth, before I again go to B----. And it is
natural and right that I should have this wish. To keep
friendship in proper order, the balance of good offices must be
preserved, otherwise a disquieting and anxious feeling creeps in,
and destroys mutual comfort. In summer and in fine weather, your
visit here might be much better managed than in winter. We could
go out more, be more independent of the house and of our room.
Branwell has been conducting himself very badly lately. I expect,
from the extravagance of his behaviour, and from mysterious hints
he drops (for he never will speak out plainly), that we shall be
hearing news of fresh debts contracted by him soon. My health is
better: I lay the blame of its feebleness on the cold weather,
more than on an uneasy mind."

"March 24th, 1847.

"It is at Haworth, if all be well, that we must next see each
other again. I owe you a grudge for giving Miss M---- some very
exaggerated account about my not being well, and setting her on
to urge my leaving home as quite a duty. I'll take care not to
tell you next time, when I think I am looking specially old and
ugly; as if people could not have that privilege, without being
supposed to be at the last gasp! I shall be thirty-one next
birthday. My youth is gone like a dream; and very little use have
I ever made of it. What have I done these last thirty years?
Precious little."

The quiet, sad year stole on. The sisters were contemplating near
at hand, and for a long time, the terrible effects of talents
misused and faculties abused in the person of that brother, once
their fond darling and dearest pride. They had to cheer the poor
old father, into whose heart all trials sank the deeper, because
of the silent stoicism of his endurance. They had to watch over
his health, of which, whatever was its state, he seldom
complained. They had to save, as much as they could, the precious
remnants of his sight. They had to order the frugal household
with increased care, so as to supply wants and expenditure
utterly foreign to their self-denying natures. Though they shrank
from overmuch contact with their fellow-beings, for all whom they
met they had kind words, if few; and when kind actions were
needed, they were not spared, if the sisters at the parsonage
could render them. They visited the parish-schools duly; and
often were Charlotte's rare and brief holidays of a visit from
home shortened by her sense of the necessity of being in her
place at the Sunday-school.

In the intervals of such a life as this, "Jane Eyre" was making
progress. "The Professor" was passing slowly and heavily from
publisher to publisher. "Wuthering Heights" and "Agnes Grey" had
been accepted by another publisher, "on terms somewhat
impoverishing to the two authors;" a bargain to be alluded to
more fully hereafter. It was lying in his hands, awaiting his
pleasure for its passage through the press, during all the months
of early summer.

The piece of external brightness to which the sisters looked
during these same summer months, was the hope that the friend to
whom so many of Charlotte's letters are addressed, and who was
her chosen companion, whenever circumstances permitted them to be
together, as well as a favourite with Emily and Anne, would be
able to pay them a visit at Haworth. Fine weather had come in
May, Charlotte writes, and they hoped to make their visitor
decently comfortable. Their brother was tolerably well, having
got to the end of a considerable sum of money which he became
possessed of in the spring, and therefore under the wholesome
restriction of poverty. But Charlotte warns her friend that she
must expect to find a change in his appearance, and that he is
broken in mind; and ends her note of entreating invitation by
saying, "I pray for fine weather, that we may get out while you

At length the day was fixed.

"Friday will suit us very well. I DO trust nothing will now arise
to prevent your coming. I shall be anxious about the weather on
that day; if it rains, I shall cry. Don't expect me to meet you;
where would be the good of it? I neither like to meet, nor to be
met. Unless, indeed, you had a box or a basket for me to carry;
then there would be some sense in it. Come in black, blue, pink,
white, or scarlet, as you like. Come shabby or smart, neither the
colour nor the condition signifies; provided only the dress
contain E----, all will be right."

But there came the first of a series of disappointments to be
borne. One feels how sharp it must have been to have wrung out
the following words.

"May 20th.

"Your letter of yesterday did indeed give me a cruel chill of
disappointment. I cannot blame you, for I know it was not your
fault. I do not altogether exempt ---- from reproach. . . . This
is bitter, but I feel bitter. As to going to B----, I will not go
near the place till you have been to Haworth. My respects to all
and sundry, accompanied with a large amount of wormwood and gall,
from the effusion of which you and your mother are alone
excepted.--C. B.

"You are quite at liberty to tell what I think, if you judge
proper. Though it is true I may be somewhat unjust, for I am
deeply annoyed. I thought I had arranged your visit tolerably
comfortable for you this time. I may find it more difficult on
another occasion."

I must give one sentence from a letter written about this time,
as it shows distinctly the clear strong sense of the writer.

"I was amused by what she says respecting her wish that, when she
marries, her husband will, at least, have a will of his own, even
should he be a tyrant. Tell her, when she forms that aspiration
again, she must make it conditional if her husband has a strong
will, he must also have strong sense, a kind heart, and a
thoroughly correct notion of justice; because a man with a WEAK
BRAIN and a STRONG WILL, is merely an intractable brute; you can
have no hold of him; you can never lead him right. A TYRANT under
any circumstances is a curse."

Meanwhile, "The Professor" had met with many refusals from
different publishers; some, I have reason to believe, not
over-courteously worded in writing to an unknown author, and none
alleging any distinct reasons for its rejection. Courtesy is
always due; but it is, perhaps, hardly to be expected that, in
the press of business in a great publishing house, they should
find time to explain why they decline particular works. Yet,
though one course of action is not to be wondered at, the
opposite may fall upon a grieved and disappointed mind with all
the graciousness of dew; and I can well sympathise with the
published account which "Currer Bell" gives, of the feelings
experienced on reading Messrs. Smith and Elder's letter
containing the rejection of "The Professor".

"As a forlorn hope, we tried one publishing house more. Ere long,
in a much shorter space than that on which experience had taught
him to calculate, there came a letter, which he opened in the
dreary anticipation of finding two hard hopeless lines,
intimating that "Messrs. Smith and Elder were not disposed to
publish the MS.," and, instead, he took out of the envelope a
letter of two pages. He read it trembling. It declined, indeed,
to publish that tale, for business reasons, but it discussed its
merits and demerits, so courteously, so considerately, in a
spirit so rational, with a discrimination so enlightened, that
this very refusal cheered the author better than a
vulgarly-expressed acceptance would have done. It was added, that
a work in three volumes would meet with careful attention."

Mr. Smith has told me a little circumstance connected with the
reception of this manuscript, which seems to me indicative of no
ordinary character. It came (accompanied by the note given below)
in a brown paper parcel, to 65 Cornhill. Besides the address to
Messrs. Smith and Co., there were on it those of other publishers
to whom the tale had been sent, not obliterated, but simply
scored through, so that Messrs. Smith at once perceived the names
of some of the houses in the trade to which the unlucky parcel
had gone, without success.


"July 15th, 1847.

"Gentlemen--I beg to submit to your consideration the
accompanying manuscript. I should be glad to learn whether it be
such as you approve, and would undertake to publish at as early a
period as possible. Address, Mr. Currer Bell, under cover to Miss
Bronte, Haworth, Bradford, Yorkshire."

Some time elapsed before an answer was returned.

A little circumstance may be mentioned here, though it belongs to
a somewhat earlier period, as showing Miss Bronte's inexperience
of the ways of the world, and willing deference to the opinion of
others. She had written to a publisher about one of her
manuscripts, which she had sent him, and, not receiving any
reply, she consulted her brother as to what could be the reason
for the prolonged silence. He at once set it down to her not
having enclosed a postage-stamp in her letter. She accordingly
wrote again, to repair her former omission, and apologise for it.


"August 2nd, 1847.

"Gentlemen,--About three weeks since, I sent for your
consideration a MS. entitled "The Professor", a tale by Currer
Bell. I should be glad to know whether it reached your hands
safely, and likewise to learn, at your earliest convenience,
whether it be such as you can undertake to publish.--I am,
gentlemen, yours respectfully,


"I enclose a directed cover for your reply."

This time her note met with a prompt answer; for, four days
later, she writes (in reply to the letter which she afterwards
characterised in the Preface to the second edition of "Wuthering
Heights", as containing a refusal so delicate, reasonable, and
courteous, as to be more cheering than some acceptances):

"Your objection to the want of varied interest in the tale is, I
am aware, not without grounds; yet it appears to me that it might
be published without serious risk, if its appearance were
speedily followed up by another work from the same pen, of a more
striking and exciting character. The first work might serve as an
introduction, and accustom the public to the author's the success
of the second might thereby be rendered more probable. I have a
second narrative in three volumes, now in progress, and nearly
completed, to which I have endeavoured to impart a more vivid
interest than belongs to "The Professor". In about a month I hope
to finish it, so that if a publisher were found for "The
Professor", the second narrative might follow as soon as was
deemed advisable; and thus the interest of the public (if any
interest was aroused) might not be suffered to cool. Will you be
kind enough to favour me with your judgment on this plan?"

While the minds of the three sisters were in this state of
suspense, their long-expected friend came to pay her promised
visit. She was with them at the beginning of the glowing August
of that year. They were out on the moors for the greater part of
the day basking in the golden sunshine, which was bringing on an
unusual plenteousness of harvest, for which, somewhat later,
Charlotte expressed her earnest desire that there should be a
thanksgiving service in all the churches. August was the season
of glory for the neighbourhood of Haworth. Even the smoke, lying
in the valley between that village and Keighley, took beauty from
the radiant colours on the moors above, the rich purple of the
heather bloom calling out an harmonious contrast in the tawny
golden light that, in the full heat of summer evenings, comes
stealing everywhere through the dun atmosphere of the hollows.
And up, on the moors, turning away from all habitations of men,
the royal ground on which they stood would expand into long
swells of amethyst-tinted hills, melting away into aerial tints;
and the fresh and fragrant scent of the heather, and the "murmur
of innumerable bees," would lend a poignancy to the relish with
which they welcomed their friend to their own true home on the
wild and open hills.

There, too, they could escape from the Shadow in the house below.

Throughout this time--during all these confidences--not a word
was uttered to their friend of the three tales in London; two
accepted and in the press--one trembling in the balance of a
publisher's judgment; nor did she hear of that other story
"nearly completed," lying in manuscript in the grey old parsonage
down below. She might have her suspicions that they all wrote
with an intention of publication some time; but she knew the
bounds which they set to themselves in their communications; nor
could she, nor can any one else, wonder at their reticence, when
remembering how scheme after scheme had failed, just as it seemed
close upon accomplishment.

Mr. Bronte, too, had his suspicions of something going on; but,
never being spoken to, he did not speak on the subject, and
consequently his ideas were vague and uncertain, only just
prophetic enough to keep him from being actually stunned when,
later on, he heard of the success of "Jane Eyre"; to the progress
of which we must now return.


"August 24th.

"I now send you per rail a MS. entitled 'Jane Eyre,' a novel in
three volumes, by Currer Bell. I find I cannot prepay the
carriage of the parcel, as money for that purpose is not received
at the small station-house where it is left. If, when you
acknowledge the receipt of the MS., you would have the goodness
to mention the amount charged on delivery, I will immediately
transmit it in postage stamps. It is better in future to address
Mr. Currer Bell, under cover to Miss Bronte, Haworth, Bradford,
Yorkshire, as there is a risk of letters otherwise directed not
reaching me at present. To save trouble, I enclose an envelope."

"Jane Eyre" was accepted, and printed and published by October

While it was in the press, Miss Bronte went to pay a short visit
to her friend at B----. The proofs were forwarded to her there,
and she occasionally sat at the same table with her friend,
correcting them; but they did not exchange a word on the subject.

Immediately on her return to the Parsonage, she wrote:


"I had a very wet, windy walk home from Keighley; but my fatigue
quite disappeared when I reached home, and found all well. Thank
God for it.

"My boxes came safe this morning. I have distributed the
presents. Papa says I am to remember him most kindly to you. The
screen will be very useful, and he thanks you for it. Tabby was
charmed with her cap. She said, 'she never thought o' naught o'
t' sort as Miss sending her aught, and, she is sure, she can
never thank her enough for it.' I was infuriated on finding a jar
in my trunk. At first, I hoped it was empty, but when I found it
heavy and replete, I could have hurled it all the way back to
B----. However, the inscription A. B. softened me much. It was at
once kind and villainous in you to send it. You ought first to be
tenderly kissed, and then afterwards as tenderly whipped. Emily
is just now on the floor of the bed-room where I am writing,
looking at her apples. She smiled when I gave the collar to her
as your present, with an expression at once well-pleased and
slightly surprised. All send their love.--Yours, in a mixture of
anger and love."

When the manuscript of "Jane Eyre" had been received by the
future publishers of that remarkable novel, it fell to the share
of a gentleman connected with the firm to read it first. He was
so powerfully struck by the character of the tale, that he
reported his impression in very strong terms to Mr. Smith, who
appears to have been much amused by the admiration excited. "You
seem to have been so enchanted, that I do not know how to believe
you," he laughingly said. But when a second reader, in the person
of a clear-headed Scotchman, not given to enthusiasm, had taken
the MS. home in the evening, and became so deeply interested in
it, as to sit up half the night to finish it, Mr. Smith's
curiosity was sufficiently excited to prompt him to read it for
himself; and great as were the praises which had been bestowed
upon it, he found that they had not exceeded the truth.

On its publication, copies were presented to a few private
literary friends. Their discernment had been rightly reckoned
upon. They were of considerable standing in the world of letters;
and one and all returned expressions of high praise along with
their thanks for the book. Among them was the great writer of
fiction for whom Miss Bronte felt so strong an admiration; he
immediately appreciated, and, in a characteristic note to the
publishers, acknowledged its extraordinary merits.

The Reviews were more tardy, or more cautious. The Athenaeum and
the Spectator gave short notices, containing qualified admissions
of the power of the author. The Literary Gazette was uncertain as
to whether it was safe to praise an unknown author. The Daily
News declined accepting the copy which had been sent, on the
score of a rule "never to review novels;" but a little later on,
there appeared a notice of the Bachelor of the Albany in that
paper; and Messrs. Smith and Elder again forwarded a copy of
"Jane Eyre" to the Editor, with a request for a notice. This time
the work was accepted; but I am not aware what was the character
of the article upon it.

The Examiner came forward to the rescue, as far as the opinions
of professional critics were concerned. The literary articles in
that paper were always remarkable for their genial and generous
appreciation of merit nor was the notice of "Jane Eyre" an
exception; it was full of hearty, yet delicate and discriminating
praise. Otherwise, the press in general did little to promote the
sale of the novel; the demand for it among librarians had begun
before the appearance of the review in the Examiner; the power of
fascination of the tale itself made its merits known to the
public, without the kindly finger-posts of professional
criticism; and, early in December, the rush began for copies.

I will insert two or three of Miss Bronte's letters to her
publishers, in order to show how timidly the idea of success was
received by one so unaccustomed to adopt a sanguine view of any
subject in which she was individually concerned. The occasions on
which these notes were written, will explain themselves.

"Oct. 19th, 1847.

"Gentlemen,--The six copies of "Jane Eyre" reached me this
morning. You have given the work every advantage which good
paper, clear type, and a seemly outside can supply;--if it fails,
the fault will lie with the author,--you are exempt.

"I now await the judgment of the press and the public.--I am,
Gentlemen, yours respectfully,



"Oct. 26th, 1847.

"Gentlemen,--I have received the newspapers. They speak quite as
favourably of "Jane Eyre" as I expected them to do. The notice in
the Literary Gazette seems certainly to have been indited in
rather a flat mood, and the Athenaeum has a style of its own,
which I respect, but cannot exactly relish; still when one
considers that journals of that standing have a dignity to
maintain which would be deranged by a too cordial recognition of
the claims of an obscure author, I suppose there is every reason
to be satisfied.

"Meantime a brisk sale would be effectual support under the
hauteur of lofty critics.--I am, Gentlemen, yours respectfully,

"C. BELL."


"Nov. 13th, 1847.

"Gentlemen,--I have to acknowledge the receipt of yours of the
11th inst., and to thank you for the information it communicates.
The notice from the People's Journal also duly reached me, and
this morning I received the Spectator. The critique in the
Spectator gives that view of the book which will naturally be
taken by a certain class of minds; I shall expect it to be
followed by other notices of a similar nature. The way to
detraction has been pointed out, and will probably be pursued.
Most future notices will in all likelihood have a reflection of
the Spectator in them. I fear this turn of opinion will not
improve the demand for the book--but time will show. If "Jane
Eyre" has any solid worth in it, it ought to weather a gust of
unfavourable wind.--I am, Gentlemen, yours respectfully,

"C. BELL."


"Nov. 30th, 1847.

"Gentlemen,--I have received the Economist, but not the Examiner;
from some cause that paper has missed, as the Spectator did on a
former occasion; I am glad, however, to learn through your
letter, that its notice of "Jane Eyre" was favourable, and also
that the prospects of the work appear to improve.

"I am obliged to you for the information respecting "Wuthering
Heights".--I am, Gentlemen, yours respectfully,

"C. BELL."


"Dec. 1st, 1847.

"Gentlemen,--The Examiner reached me to-day; it had been missent
on account of the direction, which was to Currer Bell, care of
Miss Bronte. Allow me to intimate that it would be better in
future not to put the name of Currer Bell on the outside of
communications; if directed simply to Miss Bronte they will be
more likely to reach their destination safely. Currer Bell is not
known in the district, and I have no wish that he should become
known. The notice in the Examiner gratified me very much; it
appears to be from the pen of an able man who has understood what
he undertakes to criticise; of course, approbation from such a
quarter is encouraging to an author, and I trust it will prove
beneficial to the work.--I am, Gentlemen, yours respectfully,


"I received likewise seven other notices from provincial papers
enclosed in an envelope. I thank you very sincerely for so
punctually sending me all the various criticisms on "Jane Eyre"."


"Dec. 10th, 1847.

"Gentlemen,--I beg to acknowledge the receipt of your letter
inclosing a bank post bill, for which I thank you. Having already
expressed my sense of your kind and upright conduct, I can now
only say that I trust you will always have reason to be as well
content with me as I am with you. If the result of any future
exertions I may be able to make should prove agreeable and
advantageous to you, I shall be well satisfied; and it would be a
serious source of regret to me if I thought you ever had reason
to repent being my publishers.

"You need not apologise, Gentlemen, for having written to me so
seldom; of course I am always glad to hear from you, but I am
truly glad to hear from Mr. Williams likewise; he was my first
favourable critic; he first gave me encouragement to persevere as
an author, consequently I naturally respect him and feel grateful
to him.

"Excuse the informality of my letter, and believe me, Gentlemen,
yours respectfully,


There is little record remaining of the manner in which the first
news of its wonderful success reached and affected the one heart
of the three sisters. I once asked Charlotte--we were talking
about the description of Lowood school, and she was saying that
she was not sure whether she should have written it, if she had
been aware how instantaneously it would have been identified with
Cowan Bridge--whether the popularity to which the novel attained
had taken her by surprise. She hesitated a little, and then said:
"I believed that what had impressed me so forcibly when I wrote
it, must make a strong impression on any one who read it. I was
not surprised at those who read "Jane Eyre" being deeply
interested in it; but I hardly expected that a book by an unknown
author could find readers."

The sisters had kept the knowledge of their literary ventures
from their father, fearing to increase their own anxieties and
disappointment by witnessing his; for he took an acute interest
in all that befell his children, and his own tendency had been
towards literature in the days when he was young and hopeful. It
was true he did not much manifest his feelings in words; he would
have thought that he was prepared for disappointment as the lot
of man, and that he could have met it with stoicism; but words
are poor and tardy interpreters of feelings to those who love one
another, and his daughters knew how he would have borne
ill-success worse for them than for himself. So they did not tell
him what they were undertaking. He says now that he suspected it
all along, but his suspicions could take no exact form, as all he
was certain of was, that his children were perpetually
writing--and not writing letters. We have seen how the
communications from their publishers were received "under cover
to Miss Bronte." Once, Charlotte told me, they overheard the
postman meeting Mr. Bronte, as the latter was leaving the house,
and inquiring from the parson where one Currer Bell could be
living, to which Mr. Bronte replied that there was no such person
in the parish. This must have been the misadventure to which Miss
Bronte alludes in the beginning of her correspondence with Mr.

Now, however, when the demand for the work had assured success to
"Jane Eyre," her sisters urged Charlotte to tell their father of
its publication. She accordingly went into his study one
afternoon after his early dinner, carrying with her a copy of the
book, and one or two reviews, taking care to include a notice
adverse to it.

She informed me that something like the following conversation
took place between her and him. (I wrote down her words the day
after I heard them; and I am pretty sure they are quite

"Papa, I've been writing a book."

"Have you, my dear?"

"Yes, and I want you to read it."

"I am afraid it will try my eyes too much."

"But it is not in manuscript: it is printed."

"My dear! you've never thought of the expense it will be! It will
be almost sure to be a loss, for how can you get a book sold? No
one knows you or your name."

"But, papa, I don't think it will be a loss; no more will you, if
you will just let me read you a review or two, and tell you more
about it."

So she sate down and read some of the reviews to her father; and
then, giving him the copy of "Jane Eyre" that she intended for
him, she left him to read it. When he came in to tea, he said,
"Girls, do you know Charlotte has been writing a book, and it is
much better than likely?"

But while the existence of Currer Bell, the author, was like a
piece of a dream to the quiet inhabitants of Haworth Parsonage,
who went on with their uniform household life,--their cares for
their brother being its only variety,--the whole reading-world of
England was in a ferment to discover the unknown author. Even the
publishers of "Jane Eyre" were ignorant whether Currer Bell was a
real or an assumed name,--whether it belonged to a man or a
woman. In every town people sought out the list of their friends
and acquaintances, and turned away in disappointment. No one they
knew had genius enough to be the author. Every little incident
mentioned in the book was turned this way and that to answer, if
possible, the much-vexed question of sex. All in vain. People
were content to relax their exertions to satisfy their curiosity,
and simply to sit down and greatly admire.

I am not going to write an analysis of a book with which every
one who reads this biography is sure to be acquainted; much less
a criticism upon a work, which the great flood of public opinion
has lifted up from the obscurity in which it first appeared, and
laid high and safe on the everlasting hills of fame.

Before me lies a packet of extracts from newspapers and
periodicals, which Mr. Bronte has sent me. It is touching to look
them over, and see how there is hardly any notice, however short
and clumsily-worded, in any obscure provincial paper, but what
has been cut out and carefully ticketed with its date by the
poor, bereaved father,--so proud when he first read them--so
desolate now. For one and all are full of praise of this great,
unknown genius, which suddenly appeared amongst us. Conjecture as
to the authorship ran about like wild-fire. People in London,
smooth and polished as the Athenians of old, and like them
"spending their time in nothing else, but either to tell or to
hear some new thing," were astonished and delighted to find that
a fresh sensation, a new pleasure, was in reserve for them in the
uprising of an author, capable of depicting with accurate and
Titanic power the strong, self-reliant, racy, and individual
characters which were not, after all, extinct species, but
lingered still in existence in the North. They thought that there
was some exaggeration mixed with the peculiar force of
delineation. Those nearer to the spot, where the scene of the
story was apparently laid, were sure, from the very truth and
accuracy of the writing, that the writer was no Southeron; for
though "dark, and cold, and rugged is the North," the old
strength of the Scandinavian races yet abides there, and glowed
out in every character depicted in "Jane Eyre." Farther than
this, curiosity, both honourable and dishonourable, was at fault.

When the second edition appeared, in the January of the following
year, with the dedication to Mr. Thackeray, people looked at each
other and wondered afresh. But Currer Bell knew no more of
William Makepeace Thackeray as an individual man--of his life,
age, fortunes, or circumstances--than she did of those of Mr.
Michael Angelo Titmarsh. The one had placed his name as author
upon the title-page of Vanity Fair, the other had not. She was
thankful for the opportunity of expressing her high admiration of
a writer, whom, as she says, she regarded "as the social
regenerator of his day--as the very master of that working corps
who would restore to rectitude the warped state of things. . . .
His wit is bright, his humour attractive, but both bear the same
relation to his serious genius, that the mere lambent
sheet-lightning, playing under the edge of the summer cloud, does
to the electric death-spark hid in its womb."

Anne Bronte had been more than usually delicate all the summer,
and her sensitive spirit had been deeply affected by the great
anxiety of her home. But now that "Jane Eyre" gave such
indications of success, Charlotte began to plan schemes of future
pleasure,--perhaps relaxation from care, would be the more
correct expression,--for their darling younger sister, the
"little one" of the household. But, although Anne was cheered for
a time by Charlotte's success, the fact was, that neither her
spirits nor her bodily strength were such as to incline her to
much active exertion, and she led far too sedentary a life,
continually stooping either over her book, or work, or at her
desk. "It is with difficulty," writes her sister, "that we can
prevail upon her to take a walk, or induce her to converse. I
look forward to next summer with the confident intention that she
shall, if possible, make at least a brief sojourn at the
sea-side." In this same letter, is a sentence, telling how dearly
home, even with its present terrible drawback, lay at the roots
of her heart; but it is too much blended with reference to the
affairs of others to bear quotation.

Any author of a successful novel is liable to an inroad of
letters from unknown readers, containing commendation--sometimes
of so fulsome and indiscriminating a character as to remind the
recipient of Dr. Johnson's famous speech to one who offered
presumptuous and injudicious praise--sometimes saying merely a
few words, which have power to stir the heart "as with the sound
of a trumpet," and in the high humility they excite, to call
forth strong resolutions to make all future efforts worthy of
such praise; and occasionally containing that true appreciation
of both merits and demerits, together with the sources of each,
which forms the very criticism and help for which an
inexperienced writer thirsts. Of each of these kinds of
communication Currer Bell received her full share; and her warm
heart, and true sense and high standard of what she aimed at,
affixed to each its true value. Among other letters of hers, some
to Mr. G. H. Lewes have been kindly placed by him at my service;
and as I know Miss Bronte highly prized his letters of
encouragement and advice, I shall give extracts from her replies,
as their dates occur, because they will indicate the kind of
criticism she valued, and also because throughout, in anger, as
in agreement and harmony, they show her character unblinded by
any self-flattery, full of clear-sighted modesty as to what she
really did well, and what she failed in, grateful for friendly
interest, and only sore and irritable when the question of sex in
authorship was, as she thought, roughly or unfairly treated. As
to the rest, the letters speak for themselves, to those who know
how to listen, far better than I can interpret their meaning into
my poorer and weaker words. Mr. Lewes has politely sent me the
following explanation of that letter of his, to which the
succeeding one of Miss Bronte is a reply.

"When 'Jane Eyre' first appeared, the publishers courteously sent
me a copy. The enthusiasm with which I read it, made me go down
to Mr. Parker, and propose to write a review of it for Frazer's
Magazine. He would not consent to an unknown novel--for the
papers had not yet declared themselves--receiving such
importance, but thought it might make one on 'Recent Novels:
English and French'--which appeared in Frazer, December, 1847.
Meanwhile I had written to Miss Bronte to tell her the delight
with which her book filled me; and seem to have sermonised her,
to judge from her reply."


"Nov. 6th, 1847.

"Dear Sir,--Your letter reached me yesterday; I beg to assure
you, that I appreciate fully the intention with which it was
written, and I thank you sincerely both for its cheering
commendation and valuable advice.

"You warn me to beware of melodrama, and you exhort me to adhere
to the real. When I first began to write, so impressed was I with
the truth of the principles you advocate, that I determined to
take Nature and Truth as my sole guides, and to follow in their
very footprints; I restrained imagination, eschewed romance,
repressed excitement; over-bright colouring, too, I avoided, and
sought to produce something which should be soft, grave, and

"My work (a tale in one volume) being completed, I offered it to
a publisher. He said it was original, faithful to nature, but he
did not feel warranted in accepting it; such a work would not
sell. I tried six publishers in succession; they all told me it
was deficient in 'startling incident' and 'thrilling excitement,'
that it would never suit the circulating libraries, and, as it
was on those libraries the success of works of fiction mainly
depended, they could not undertake to publish what would be
overlooked there.

"'Jane Eyre' was rather objected to at first, on the same
grounds, but finally found acceptance.

"I mention this to you, not with a view of pleading exemption
from censure, but in order to direct your attention to the root
of certain literary evils. If, in your forthcoming article in
Frazer, you would bestow a few words of enlightenment on the
public who support the circulating libraries, you might, with
your powers, do some good.

"You advise me, too, not to stray far from the ground of
experience, as I become weak when I enter the region of fiction;
and you say, 'real experience is perennially interesting, and to
all men.'

"I feel that this also is true; but, dear Sir, is not the real
experience of each individual very limited? And, if a writer
dwells upon that solely or principally, is he not in danger of
repeating himself, and also of becoming an egotist? Then, too,
imagination is a strong, restless faculty, which claims to be
heard and exercised: are we to be quite deaf to her cry, and
insensate to her struggles? When she shows us bright pictures,
are we never to look at them, and try to reproduce them? And when
she is eloquent, and speaks rapidly and urgently in our ear, are
we not to write to her dictation?

"I shall anxiously search the next number of Fraser for your
opinions on these points.--Believe me, dear Sir, yours

"C. BELL."

But while gratified by appreciation as an author, she was
cautious as to the person from whom she received it; for much of
the value of the praise depended on the sincerity and capability
of the person rendering it. Accordingly, she applied to Mr.
Williams (a gentleman connected with her publishers' firm) for
information as to who and what Mr. Lewes was. Her reply, after
she had learnt something of the character of her future critic,
and while awaiting his criticism, must not be omitted. Besides
the reference to him, it contains some amusing allusions to the
perplexity which began to be excited respecting the "identity of
the brothers Bell," and some notice of the conduct of another
publisher towards her sister, which I refrain from
characterising, because I understand that truth is considered a
libel in speaking of such people.


"Nov. 10th, 1847.

"Dear Sir,--I have received the Britannia and the Sun, but not
the Spectator which I rather regret, as censure, though not
pleasant, is often wholesome.

"Thank you for your information regarding Mr. Lewes. I am glad to
hear that he is a clever and sincere man: such being the case, I
can await his critical sentence with fortitude; even if it goes
against me, I shall not murmur; ability and honesty have a right
to condemn, where they think condemnation is deserved. From what
you say, however, I trust rather to obtain at least a modified

"Your account of the various surmises respecting the identity of
the brothers Bell, amused me much: were the enigma solved, it
would probably be found not worth the trouble of solution; but I
will let it alone; it suits ourselves to remain quiet, and
certainly injures no one else.

"The reviewer who noticed the little book of poems, in the Dublin
Magazine, conjectured that the soi-disant three personages were
in reality but one, who, endowed with an unduly prominent organ
of self-esteem, and consequently impressed with a somewhat
weighty notion of his own merits, thought them too vast to be
concentrated in a single individual, and accordingly divided
himself into three, out of consideration, I suppose, for the
nerves of the much-to-be-astounded public! This was an ingenious
thought in the reviewer,--very original and striking, but not
accurate. We are three.

"A prose work, by Ellis and Acton, will soon appear: it should
have been out, indeed, long since; for the first proof-sheets
were already in the press at the commencement of last August,
before Currer Bell had placed the MS. of "Jane Eyre" in your
hands. Mr.----, however, does not do business like Messrs. Smith
and Elder; a different spirit seems to preside at ---- Street, to
that which guides the helm at 65, Cornhill. . . . My relations
have suffered from exhausting delay and procrastination, while I
have to acknowledge the benefits of a management at once
business-like and gentleman-like, energetic and considerate.

"I should like to know if Mr. ---- often acts as he has done to
my relations, or whether this is an exceptional instance of his
method. Do you know, and can you tell me anything about him? You
must excuse me for going to the point at once, when I want to
learn anything: if my questions are importunate, you are, of
course, at liberty to decline answering them.--I am, yours



"Nov. 22nd, 1847.

"Dear Sir,--I have now read 'Ranthorpe.' I could not get it till
a day or two ago; but I have got it and read it at last; and in
reading 'Ranthorpe,' I have read a new book,--not a reprint--not
a reflection of any other book, but a NEW BOOK.

"I did not know such books were written now. It is very different
to any of the popular works of fiction: it fills the mind with
fresh knowledge. Your experience and your convictions are made
the reader's; and to an author, at least, they have a value and
an interest quite unusual. I await your criticism on 'Jane Eyre'
now with other sentiments than I entertained before the perusal
of 'Ranthorpe.'

"You were a stranger to me. I did not particularly respect you. I
did not feel that your praise or blame would have any special
weight. I knew little of your right to condemn or approve. NOW I
am informed on these points.

"You will be severe; your last letter taught me as much. Well! I
shall try to extract good out of your severity: and besides,
though I am now sure you are a just, discriminating man, yet,
being mortal, you must be fallible; and if any part of your
censure galls me too keenly to the quick--gives me deadly pain--I
shall for the present disbelieve it, and put it quite aside, till
such time as I feel able to receive it without torture.--I am,
dear Sir, yours very respectfully,


In December, 1847, "Wuthering Heights" and "Agnes Grey" appeared.
The first-named of these stories has revolted many readers by the
power with which wicked and exceptional characters are depicted.
Others, again, have felt the attraction of remarkable genius,
even when displayed on grim and terrible criminals. Miss Bronte
herself says, with regard to this tale, "Where delineation of
human character is concerned, the case is different. I am bound
to avow that she had scarcely more practical knowledge of the
peasantry amongst whom she lived, than a nun has of the
country-people that pass her convent gates. My sister's
disposition was not naturally gregarious: circumstances favoured
and fostered her tendency to seclusion; except to go to church,
or take a walk on the hills, she rarely crossed the threshold of
home. Though the feeling for the people around her was
benevolent, intercourse with them she never sought, nor, with
very few exceptions, ever experienced and yet she knew them, knew
their ways, their language, and their family histories; she could
hear of them with interest, and talk of them with detail minute,
graphic, and accurate; but WITH them she rarely exchanged a word.
Hence it ensued, that what her mind has gathered of the real
concerning them, was too exclusively confined to those tragic and
terrible traits, of which, in listening to the secret annals of
every rude vicinage, the memory is sometimes compelled to receive
the impress. Her imagination, which was a spirit more sombre than
sunny--more powerful than sportive--found in such traits material
whence it wrought creations like Heathcliff, like Earnshaw, like
Catherine. Having formed these beings, she did not know what she
had done. If the auditor of her work, when read in manuscript,
shuddered under the grinding influence of natures so relentless
and implacable--of spirits so lost and fallen; if it was
complained that the mere hearing of certain vivid and fearful
scenes banished sleep by night, and disturbed mental peace by
day, Ellis Bell would wonder what was meant, and suspect the
complainant of affectation. Had she but lived, her mind would of
itself have grown like a strong tree--loftier, straighter,
wider-spreading--and its matured fruits would have attained a
mellower ripeness and sunnier bloom; but on that mind time and
experience alone could work; to the influence of other intellects
she was not amenable."

Whether justly or unjustly, the productions of the two younger
Miss Brontes were not received with much favour at the time of
their publication. "Critics failed to do them justice. The
immature, but very real, powers revealed in 'Wuthering Heights,'
were scarcely recognised; its import and nature were
misunderstood; the identity of its author was misrepresented: it
was said that this was an earlier and ruder attempt of the same
pen which had produced 'Jane Eyre.'" . . . "Unjust and grievous
error! We laughed at it at first, but I deeply lament it now."

Henceforward Charlotte Bronte's existence becomes divided into
two parallel currents--her life as Currer Bell, the author; her
life as Charlotte Bronte, the woman. There were separate duties
belonging to each character--not opposing each other; not
impossible, but difficult to be reconciled. When a man becomes an
author, it is probably merely a change of employment to him. He
takes a portion of that time which has hitherto been devoted to
some other study or pursuit; he gives up something of the legal
or medical profession, in which he has hitherto endeavoured to
serve others, or relinquishes part of the trade or business by
which he has been striving to gain a livelihood; and another
merchant or lawyer, or doctor, steps into his vacant place, and
probably does as well as he. But no other can take up the quiet,
regular duties of the daughter, the wife, or the mother, as well
as she whom God has appointed to fill that particular place: a
woman's principal work in life is hardly left to her own choice;
nor can she drop the domestic charges devolving on her as an
individual, for the exercise of the most splendid talents that
were ever bestowed. And yet she must not shrink from the extra
responsibility implied by the very fact of her possessing such
talents. She must not hide her gift in a napkin; it was meant for
the use and service of others. In an humble and faithful spirit
must she labour to do what is not impossible, or God would not
have set her to do it.

I put into words what Charlotte Bronte put into actions.

The year 1848 opened with sad domestic distress. It is necessary,
however painful, to remind the reader constantly of what was
always present to the hearts of father and sisters at this time.
It is well that the thoughtless critics, who spoke of the sad and
gloomy views of life presented by the Brontes in their tales,
should know how such words were wrung out of them by the living
recollection of the long agony they suffered. It is well, too,
that they who have objected to the representation of coarseness
and shrank from it with repugnance, as if such conceptions arose
out of the writers, should learn, that, not from the
imagination--not from internal conception--but from the hard
cruel facts, pressed down, by external life, upon their very
senses, for long months and years together, did they write out
what they saw, obeying the stern dictates of their consciences.
They might be mistaken. They might err in writing at all, when
their affections were so great that they could not write
otherwise than they did of life. It is possible that it would
have been better to have described only good and pleasant people,
doing only good and pleasant things (in which case they could
hardly have written at any time): all I say is, that never, I
believe, did women, possessed of such wonderful gifts, exercise
them with a fuller feeling of responsibility for their use. As to
mistakes, stand now--as authors as well as women--before the
judgment-seat of God.

"Jan. 11th, 1848.

"We have not been very comfortable here at home lately. Branwell
has, by some means, contrived to get more money from the old
quarter, and has led us a sad life. . . . Papa is harassed day
and night; we have little peace, he is always sick; has two or
three times fallen down in fits; what will be the ultimate end,
God knows. But who is without their drawback, their scourge,
their skeleton behind the curtain? It remains only to do one's
best, and endure with patience what God sends."

I suppose that she had read Mr. Lewes' review on "Recent Novels,"
when it appeared in the December of the last year, but I find no
allusion to it till she writes to him on January 12th, 1848.

"Dear Sir,--I thank you then sincerely for your generous review;
and it is with the sense of double content I express my
gratitude, because I am now sure the tribute is not superfluous
or obtrusive. You were not severe on 'Jane Eyre;' you were very
lenient. I am glad you told me my faults plainly in private, for
in your public notice you touch on them so lightly, I should
perhaps have passed them over thus indicated, with too little

"I mean to observe your warning about being careful how I
undertake new works; my stock of materials is not abundant, but
very slender; and, besides, neither my experience, my
acquirements, nor my powers, are sufficiently varied to justify
my ever becoming a frequent writer. I tell you this, because your
article in Frazer left in me an uneasy impression that you were
disposed to think better of the author of 'Jane Eyre' than that
individual deserved; and I would rather you had a correct than a
flattering opinion of me, even though I should never see you.

"If I ever DO write another book, I think I will have nothing of
what you call 'melodrama;' I think so, but I am not sure. I
THINK, too, I will endeavour to follow the counsel which shines
out of Miss Austen's 'mild eyes,' 'to finish more and be more
subdued;' but neither am I sure of that. When authors write best,
or, at least, when they write most fluently, an influence seems
to waken in them, which becomes their master--which will have its
own way--putting out of view all behests but its own, dictating
certain words, and insisting on their being used, whether
vehement or measured in their nature; new-moulding characters,
giving unthought of turns to incidents, rejecting
carefully-elaborated old ideas, and suddenly creating and
adopting new ones.

"Is it not so? And should we try to counteract this influence?
Can we indeed counteract it?

"I am glad that another work of yours will soon appear; most
curious shall I be to see whether you will write up to your own
principles, and work out your own theories. You did not do it
altogether in 'Ranthorpe'--at least not in the latter part; but
the first portion was, I think, nearly without fault; then it had
a pith, truth, significance in it, which gave the book sterling
value; but to write so, one must have seen and known a great
deal, and I have seen and known very little.

"Why do you like Miss Austen so very much? I am puzzled on that
point. What induced you to say that you would have rather written
"Pride and Prejudice,' or 'Tom Jones,' than any of the 'Waverley

"I had not seen 'Pride and Prejudice' till I read that sentence
of yours, and then I got the book. And what did I find? An
accurate, daguerreotyped portrait of a commonplace face; a
carefully-fenced, highly-cultivated garden, with neat borders and
delicate flowers; but no glance of a bright, vivid physiognomy,
no open country, no fresh air, no blue hill, no bonny beck. I
should hardly like to live with her ladies and gentlemen, in
their elegant but confined houses. These observations will
probably irritate you, but I shall run the risk.

"Now I can understand admiration of George Sand; for though I
never saw any of her works which I admired throughout (even
'Consuelo,' which is the best, or the best that I have read,
appears to me to couple strange extravagance with wondrous
excellence), yet she has a grasp of mind, which, if I cannot
fully comprehend, I can very deeply respect; she is sagacious and
profound;--Miss Austen is only shrewd and observant.

"Am I wrong--or, were you hasty in what you said? If you have
time, I should be glad to hear further on this subject; if not,
or if you think the questions frivolous, do not trouble yourself
to reply.--I am, yours respectfully,



"Jan. 18th, 1848.

"Dear Sir,--I must write one more note, though I had not intended
to trouble you again so soon. I have to agree with you, and to
differ from you.

"You correct my crude remarks on the subject of the 'influence';
well, I accept your definition of what the effects of that
influence should be; I recognise the wisdom of your rules for its
regulation. . . .

"What a strange lecture comes next in your letter! You say I
must familiarise my mind with the fact, that 'Miss Austen is not
a poetess, has no "sentiment" (you scornfully enclose the word
in inverted commas), no eloquence, none of the ravishing
enthusiasm of poetry,'--and then you add, I MUST 'learn to
PAINTERS OF HUMAN CHARACTER, and one of the writers with the
nicest sense of means to an end that ever lived.'

"The last point only will I ever acknowledge.

"Can there be a great artist without poetry?

"What I call--what I will bend to, as a great artist then--cannot
be destitute of the divine gift. But by POETRY, I am sure, you
understand something different to what I do, as you do by
'sentiment.' It is POETRY, as I comprehend the word, which
elevates that masculine George Sand, and makes out of something
coarse, something Godlike. It is 'sentiment,' in my sense of the
term--sentiment jealously hidden, but genuine, which extracts the
venom from that formidable Thackeray, and converts what might be
corrosive poison into purifying elixir.

"If Thackeray did not cherish in his large heart deep feeling for
his kind, he would delight to exterminate; as it is, I believe,
he wishes only to reform. Miss Austen being, as you say, without
'sentiment,' without Poetry, maybe IS sensible, real (more REAL
than TRUE), but she cannot be great.

"I submit to your anger, which I have now excited (for have I not
questioned the perfection of your darling?); the storm may pass
over me. Nevertheless, I will, when I can (I do not know when
that will be, as I have no access to a circulating library),
diligently peruse all Miss Austen's works, as you recommend. . .
. You must forgive me for not always being able to think as you
do, and still believe me, yours gratefully,


I have hesitated a little, before inserting the following extract
from a letter to Mr. Williams, but it is strikingly
characteristic; and the criticism contained in it is, from that
circumstance, so interesting (whether we agree with it or not),
that I have determined to do so, though I thereby displace the
chronological order of the letters, in order to complete this
portion of a correspondence which is very valuable, as showing
the purely intellectual side of her character.


"April 26th, 1848.

"My dear Sir,--I have now read 'Rose, Blanche, and Violet,' and I
will tell you, as well as I can, what I think of it. Whether it
is an improvement on 'Ranthorpe' I do not know, for I liked
'Ranthorpe' much; but, at any rate, it contains more of a good
thing. I find in it the same power, but more fully developed.

"The author's character is seen in every page, which makes the
book interesting--far more interesting than any story could do;
but it is what the writer himself says that attracts far more
than what he puts into the mouths of his characters. G. H. Lewes
is, to my perception, decidedly the most original character in
the book. . . . The didactic passages seem to me the best--far
the best--in the work; very acute, very profound, are some of the
views there given, and very clearly they are offered to the
reader. He is a just thinker; he is a sagacious observer; there
is wisdom in his theory, and, I doubt not, energy in his
practice. But why, then, are you often provoked with him while
you read? How does he manage, while teaching, to make his hearer
feel as if his business was, not quietly to receive the doctrines
propounded, but to combat them? You acknowledge that he offers
you gems of pure truth; why do you keep perpetually scrutinising
them for flaws?

"Mr. Lewes, I divine, with all his talents and honesty, must have
some faults of manner; there must be a touch too much of
dogmatism; a dash extra of confidence in him, sometimes. This you
think while you are reading the book; but when you have closed it
and laid it down, and sat a few minutes collecting your thoughts,
and settling your impressions, you find the idea or feeling
predominant in your mind to be pleasure at the fuller
acquaintance you have made with a fine mind and a true heart,
with high abilities and manly principles. I hope he will not be
long ere he publishes another book. His emotional scenes are
somewhat too uniformly vehement: would not a more subdued style
of treatment often have produced a more masterly effect? Now and
then Mr. Lewes takes a French pen into his hand, wherein he
differs from Mr. Thackeray, who always uses an English quill.
However, the French pen does not far mislead Mr. Lewes; he wields
it with British muscles. All honour to him for the excellent
general tendency of his book!

"He gives no charming picture of London literary society, and
especially the female part of it; but all coteries, whether they
be literary, scientific, political, or religious, must, it seems
to me, have a tendency to change truth into affectation. When
people belong to a clique, they must, I suppose, in some measure,
write, talk, think, and live for that clique; a harassing and
narrowing necessity. I trust, the press and the public show
themselves disposed to give the book the reception it merits, and
that is a very cordial one, far beyond anything due to a Bulwer
or D'Israeli production."

Let us return from Currer Bell to Charlotte Bronte. The winter in
Haworth had been a sickly season. Influenza had prevailed amongst
the villagers, and where there was a real need for the presence
of the clergyman's daughters, they were never found wanting,
although they were shy of bestowing mere social visits on the
parishioners. They had themselves suffered from the epidemic;
Anne severely, as in her case it had been attended with cough and
fever enough to make her elder sisters very anxious about her.

There is no doubt that the proximity of the crowded church-yard
rendered the Parsonage unhealthy, and occasioned much illness to
its inmates. Mr. Bronte represented the unsanitary state at
Haworth pretty forcibly to the Board of Health; and, after the
requisite visits from their officers, obtained a recommendation
that all future interments in the churchyard should be forbidden,
a new graveyard opened on the hill-side, and means set on foot
for obtaining a water-supply to each house, instead of the weary,
hard-worked housewives having to carry every bucketful, from a
distance of several hundred yards, up a steep street. But he was
baffled by the rate-payers; as, in many a similar instance,
quantity carried it against quality, numbers against
intelligence. And thus we find that illness often assumed a low
typhoid form in Haworth, and fevers of various kinds visited the
place with sad frequency.

In February, 1848, Louis Philippe was dethroned. The quick
succession of events at that time called forth the following
expression of Miss Bronte's thoughts on the subject, in a letter
addressed to Miss Wooler, and dated March 31st.

"I remember well wishing my lot had been cast in the troubled
times of the late war, and seeing in its exciting incidents a
kind of stimulating charm, which it made my pulses beat fast to
think of I remember even, I think; being a little impatient, that
you would not fully sympathise with my feelings on those
subjects; that you heard my aspirations and speculations very
tranquilly, and by no means seemed to think the flaming swords
could be any pleasant addition to Paradise. I have now out-lived
youth; and, though I dare not say that I have outlived all its
illusions--that the romance is quite gone from life--the veil
fallen from truth, and that I see both in naked reality--yet,
certainly, many things are not what they were ten years ago: and,
amongst the rest, the pomp and circumstance of war have quite
lost in my eyes their fictitious glitter. I have still no doubt
that the shock of moral earthquakes wakens a vivid sense of life,
both in nations and individuals; that the fear of dangers on a
broad national scale, diverts men's minds momentarily from
brooding over small private perils, and for the time gives them
something like largeness of views; but, as little doubt have I,
that convulsive revolutions put back the world in all that is
good, check civilisation, bring the dregs of society to its
surface; in short, it appears to me that insurrections and
battles are the acute diseases of nations, and that their
tendency is to exhaust, by their violence, the vital energies of
the countries where they occur. That England may be spared the
spasms, cramps, and frenzy-fits now contorting the Continent, and
threatening Ireland, I earnestly pray. With the French and Irish
I have no sympathy. With the Germans and Italians I think the
case is different; as different as the love of freedom is from
the lust for license."

Her birthday came round. She wrote to the friend whose birthday
was within a week of hers; wrote the accustomed letter; but,
reading it with our knowledge of what she had done, we perceive
the difference between her thoughts and what they were a year or
two ago, when she said "I have done nothing." There must have
been a modest consciousness of having "done something" present in
her mind, as she wrote this year:--

"I am now thirty-two. Youth is gone--gone,--and will never come
back: can't help it. . . . It seems to me, that sorrow must come
some time to everybody, and those who scarcely taste it in their
youth, often have a more brimming and bitter cup to drain in
after life; whereas, those who exhaust the dregs early, who drink
the lees before the wine, may reasonably hope for more palatable
draughts to succeed."

The authorship of "Jane Eyre" was as yet a close secret in the
Bronte family; not even this friend, who was all but a sister
knew more about it than the rest of the world. She might
conjecture, it is true, both from her knowledge of previous
habits, and from the suspicious fact of the proofs having been
corrected at B----, that some literary project was afoot; but she
knew nothing, and wisely said nothing, until she heard a report
from others, that Charlotte Bronte was an author--had published a
novel! Then she wrote to her; and received the two following
letters; confirmatory enough, as it seems to me now, in their
very vehemence and agitation of intended denial, of the truth of
the report.

"April 28th, 1848.

"Write another letter, and explain that last note of yours
distinctly. If your allusions are to myself, which I suppose they
are, understand this,--I have given no one a right to gossip
about me, and am not to be judged by frivolous conjectures,
emanating from any quarter whatever. Let me know what you heard,
and from whom you heard it."

"May 3rd, 1848.

"All I can say to you about a certain matter is this: the
report--if report there be--and if the lady, who seems to have
been rather mystified, had not dreamt what she fancied had been
told to her--must have had its origin in some absurd
misunderstanding. I have given NO ONE a right either to affirm,
or to hint, in the most distant manner, that I was
'publishing'--(humbug!) Whoever has said it--if any one has,
which I doubt--is no friend of mine. Though twenty books were
ascribed to me, I should own none. I scout the idea utterly.
Whoever, after I have distinctly rejected the charge, urges it
upon me, will do an unkind and an ill-bred thing. The most
profound obscurity is infinitely preferable to vulgar notoriety;
and that notoriety I neither seek nor will have. If then any
B--an, or G--an, should presume to bore you on the subject,--to
ask you what 'novel' Miss Bronte has been 'publishing,' you can
just say, with the distinct firmness of which you are perfect
mistress when you choose, that you are authorised by Miss Bronte
to say, that she repels and disowns every accusation of the kind.
You may add, if you please, that if any one has her confidence,
you believe you have, and she has made no drivelling confessions
to you on the subject. I am at a loss to conjecture from what
source this rumour has come; and, I fear, it has far from a
friendly origin. I am not certain, however, and I should be very
glad if I could gain certainty. Should you hear anything more,
please let me know. Your offer of 'Simeon's Life' is a very kind
one, and I thank you for it. I dare say Papa would like to see
the work very much, as he knew Mr. Simeon. Laugh or scold A----
out of the publishing notion; and believe me, through all chances
and changes, whether calumniated or let alone,--Yours faithfully,


The reason why Miss Bronte was so anxious to preserve her secret,
was, I am told, that she had pledged her word to her sisters
that it should not be revealed through her.

The dilemmas attendant on the publication of the sisters' novels,
under assumed names, were increasing upon them. Many critics
insisted on believing, that all the fictions published as by
three Bells were the works of one author, but written at
different periods of his development and maturity. No doubt, this
suspicion affected the reception of the books. Ever since the
completion of Anne Bronte's tale of "Agnes Grey", she had been
labouring at a second, "The Tenant of Wildfell Hall." It is
little known; the subject--the deterioration of a character,
whose profligacy and ruin took their rise in habits of
intemperance, so slight as to be only considered "good
fellowship"--was painfully discordant to one who would fain have
sheltered herself from all but peaceful and religious ideas. "She
had" (says her sister of that gentle "little one"), "in the
course of her life, been called on to contemplate near at hand,
and for a long time, the terrible effects of talents misused and
faculties abused; hers was naturally a sensitive, reserved, and
dejected nature; what she saw sunk very deeply into her mind; it
did her harm. She brooded over it till she believed it to be a
duty to reproduce every detail (of course, with fictitious
characters, incidents, and situations), as a warning to others.
She hated her work, but would pursue it. When reasoned with on
the subject, she regarded such reasonings as a temptation to
self-indulgence. She must be honest; she must not varnish,
soften, or conceal. This well-meant resolution brought on her
misconstruction, and some abuse, which she bore, as it was her
custom to bear whatever was unpleasant with mild steady patience.
She was a very sincere and practical Christian, but the tinge of
religious melancholy communicated a sad shade to her brief
blameless life."

In the June of this year, 'The Tenant of Wildfell Hall' was
sufficiently near its completion to be submitted to the person
who had previously published for Ellis and Acton Bell.

In consequence of his mode of doing business, considerable
annoyance was occasioned both to Miss Bronte and to them. The
circumstances, as detailed in a letter of hers to a friend in New
Zealand, were these:--One morning, at the beginning of July, a
communication was received at the Parsonage from Messrs. Smith
and Elder, which disturbed its quiet inmates not a little, as,
though the matter brought under their notice was merely referred
to as one which affected their literary reputation, they
conceived it to have a bearing likewise upon their character.
"Jane Eyre" had had a great run in America, and a publisher there
had consequently bid high for early sheets of the next work by
"Currer Bell." These Messrs. Smith and Elder had promised to let
him have. He was therefore greatly astonished, and not well
pleased, to learn that a similar agreement had been entered into
with another American house, and that the new tale was very
shortly to appear. It turned out, upon inquiry, that the mistake
had originated in Acton and Ellis Bell's publisher having assured
this American house that, to the best of his belief, "Jane Eyre",
"Wuthering Heights", and "The Tenant of Wildfell Hall" (which he
pronounced superior to either of the other two) were all written
by the same author.

Though Messrs. Smith and Elder distinctly stated in their letter
that they did not share in such "belief," the sisters were
impatient till they had shown its utter groundlessness, and set
themselves perfectly straight. With rapid decision, they resolved
that Charlotte and Anne should start, for London, that very day,
in order to prove their separate identity to Messrs. Smith and
Elder, and demand from the credulous publisher his reasons for a
"belief" so directly at variance with an assurance which had
several times been given to him. Having arrived at this
determination, they made their preparations. with resolute
promptness. There were many household duties to be performed
that day; but they were all got through. The two sisters each
packed up a change of dress in a small box, which they sent down
to Keighley by an opportune cart; and after early tea they set
off to walk thither--no doubt in some excitement; for,
independently of the cause of their going to London, it was
Anne's first visit there. A great thunderstorm overtook them on
their way that summer evening to the station; but they had no
time to seek shelter. They only just caught the train at
Keighley, arrived at Leeds, and were whirled up by the night
train to London.

About eight o'clock on the Saturday morning, they arrived at the
Chapter Coffee-house, Paternoster Row--a strange place, but they
did not well know where else to go. They refreshed themselves by
washing, and had some breakfast. Then they sat still for a few
minutes, to consider what next should be done.

When they had been discussing their project in the quiet of
Haworth Parsonage the day before, and planning the mode of
setting about the business on which they were going to London,
they had resolved to take a cab, if they should find it
desirable, from their inn to Cornhill; but that, amidst the
bustle and "queer state of inward excitement" in which they found
themselves, as they sat and considered their position on the
Saturday morning, they quite forgot even the possibility of
hiring a conveyance; and when they set forth, they became so
dismayed by the crowded streets, and the impeded crossings, that
they stood still repeatedly, in complete despair of making
progress, and were nearly an hour in walking the half-mile they
had to go. Neither Mr. Smith nor Mr. Williams knew that they were
coming; they were entirely unknown to the publishers of "Jane
Eyre", who were not, in fact, aware whether the "Bells" were men
or women, but had always written to them as to men.

On reaching Mr. Smith's, Charlotte put his own letter into his
hands; the same letter which had excited so much disturbance at
Haworth Parsonage only twenty-four hours before. "Where did you
get this?" said he,--as if he could not believe that the two
young ladies dressed in black, of slight figures and diminutive
stature, looking pleased yet agitated, could be the embodied
Currer and Acton Bell, for whom curiosity had been hunting so
eagerly in vain. An explanation ensued, and Mr. Smith at once
began to form plans for their amusement and pleasure during their
stay in London. He urged them to meet a few literary friends at
his house; and this was a strong temptation to Charlotte, as
amongst them were one or two of the writers whom she particularly
wished to see; but her resolution to remain unknown induced her
firmly to put it aside.

The sisters were equally persevering in declining Mr. Smith's
invitations to stay at his house. They refused to leave their
quarters, saying they were not prepared for a long stay.

When they returned back to their inn, poor Charlotte paid for the
excitement of the interview, which had wound up the agitation and
hurry of the last twenty-four hours, by a racking headache and
harassing sickness. Towards evening, as she rather expected some
of the ladies of Mr. Smith's family to call, she prepared herself
for the chance, by taking a strong dose of sal-volatile, which
roused her a little, but still, as she says, she was "in grievous
bodily case," when their visitors were announced, in full evening
costume. The sisters had not understood that it had been settled
that they were to go to the Opera, and therefore were not ready.
Moreover, they had no fine elegant dresses either with them, or
in the world. But Miss Bronte resolved to raise no objections in
the acceptance of kindness. So, in spite of headache and
weariness, they made haste to dress themselves in their plain
high-made country garments.

Charlotte says, in an account which she gives to her friend of
this visit to London, describing the entrance of her party into
the Opera-house:--


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