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

Part 5 out of 5

conscience told me. After reading that lecture, I trebly felt
that he was wrong--dangerously wrong. Had Thackeray owned a son,
grown, or growing up, and a son, brilliant but reckless--would he
have spoken in that light way of courses that lead to disgrace
and the grave? He speaks of it all as if he theorised; as if he
had never been called on, in the course of his life, to witness
the actual consequences of such failings; as if he had never
stood by and seen the issue, the final result of it all. I
believe, if only once the prospect of a promising life blasted on
the outset by wild ways had passed close under his eyes, he never
COULD have spoken with such levity of what led to its piteous
destruction. Had I a brother yet living, I should tremble to let
him read Thackeray's lecture on Fielding. I should hide it away
from him. If, in spite of precaution, it should fall into his
hands, I should earnestly pray him not to be misled by the voice
of the charmer, let him charm never so wisely. Not that for a
moment I would have had Thackeray to ABUSE Fielding, or even
Pharisaically to condemn his life; but I do most deeply grieve
that it never entered into his heart sadly and nearly to feel the
peril of such a career, that he might have dedicated some of his
great strength to a potent warning against its adoption by any
young man. I believe temptation often assails the finest manly
natures; as the pecking sparrow or destructive wasp attacks the
sweetest and mellowest fruit, eschewing what is sour and crude.
The true lover of his race ought to devote his vigour to guard
and protect; he should sweep away every lure with a kind of rage
at its treachery. You will think this far too serious, I dare
say; but the subject is serious, and one cannot help feeling upon
it earnestly."


After her visit to Manchester, she had to return to a re-opening
of the painful circumstances of the previous winter, as the time
drew near for Mr. Nicholl's departure from Haworth. A testimonial
of respect from the parishioners was presented, at a public
meeting, to one who had faithfully served them for eight years:
and he left the place, and she saw no chance of hearing a word
about him in the future, unless it was some second-hand scrap of
intelligence, dropped out accidentally by one of the neighbouring

I had promised to pay her a visit on my return from London in
June; but, after the day was fixed, a letter came from Mr.
Bronte, saying that she was suffering from so severe an attack of
influenza, accompanied with such excruciating pain in the head,
that he must request me to defer my visit until she was better.
While sorry for the cause, I did not regret that my going was
delayed till the season when the moors would be all glorious with
the purple bloom of the heather; and thus present a scene about
which she had often spoken to me. So we agreed that I should not
come to her before August or September. Meanwhile, I received a
letter from which I am tempted to take an extract, as it shows
both her conception of what fictitious writing ought to be, and
her always kindly interest in what I was doing.

"July 9th, 1853.

"Thank you for your letter; it was as pleasant as a quiet chat,
as welcome as spring showers, as reviving as a friend's visit; in
short, it was very like a page of 'Cranford.' . . . A thought
strikes me. Do you, who have so many friends,--so large a circle
of acquaintance,--find it easy, when you sit down to write, to
isolate yourself from all those ties, and their sweet
associations, so as to be your OWN WOMAN, uninfluenced or swayed
by the consciousness of how your work may affect other minds;
what blame or what sympathy it may call forth? Does no luminous
cloud ever come between you and the severe Truth, as you know it
in your own secret and clear-seeing soul? In a word, are you
never tempted to make your characters more amiable than the Life,
by the inclination to assimilate your thoughts to the thoughts of
those who always FEEL kindly, but sometimes fail to SEE justly?
Don't answer the question; it is not intended to be answered. . .
. Your account of Mrs. Stowe was stimulatingly interesting. I
long to see you, to get you to say it, and many other things, all
over again. My father continues better. I am better too; but
to-day I have a headache again, which will hardly let me write
coherently. Give my dear love to M. and M., dear happy girls as
they are. You cannot now transmit my message to F. and J. I
prized the little wild-flower,--not that I think the sender cares
for me; she DOES not, and CANNOT, for she does not know me;--but
no matter. In my reminiscences she is a person of a certain
distinction. I think hers a fine little nature, frank and of
genuine promise. I often see her; as she appeared, stepping
supreme from the portico towards the carriage, that evening we
went to see 'Twelfth Night.' I believe in J.'s future; I like
what speaks in her movements, and what is written upon her face."

Towards the latter end of September I went to Haworth. At the
risk of repeating something which I have previously said, I will
copy out parts of a letter which I wrote at the time.

"It was a dull, drizzly Indian-inky day, all the way on the
railroad to Keighley, which is a rising wool-manufacturing town,
lying in a hollow between hills--not a pretty hollow, but more
what the Yorkshire people call a 'bottom,' or 'botham.' I left
Keighley in a car for Haworth, four miles off--four tough, steep,
scrambling miles, the road winding between the wavelike hills
that rose and fell on every side of the horizon, with a long
illimitable sinuous look, as if they were a part of the line of
the Great Serpent, which the Norse legend says girdles the world.
The day was lead-coloured; the road had stone factories alongside
of it,--grey, dull-coloured rows of stone cottages belonging to
these factories, and then we came to poor, hungry-looking
fields;--stone fences everywhere, and trees nowhere. Haworth is a
long, straggling village one steep narrow street--so steep that
the flag-stones with which it is paved are placed end-ways, that
the horses' feet may have something to cling to, and not slip
down backwards; which if they did, they would soon reach
Keighley. But if the horses had cats' feet and claws, they would
do all the better. Well, we (the man, horse, car; and I)
clambered up this street, and reached the church dedicated to St.
Autest (who was he?); then we turned off into a lane on the left,
past the curate's lodging at the Sexton's, past the school-house,
up to the Parsonage yard-door. I went round the house to the
front door, looking to the church;--moors everywhere beyond and
above. The crowded grave-yard surrounds the house and small grass
enclosure for drying clothes.

"I don't know that I ever saw a spot more exquisitely clean; the
most dainty place for that I ever saw. To be sure, the life is
like clock-work. No one comes to the house; nothing disturbs the
deep repose; hardly a voice is heard; you catch the ticking of
the clock in the kitchen, or the buzzing of a fly in the parlour,
all over the house. Miss Bronte sits alone in her parlour;
breakfasting with her father in his study at nine o'clock. She
helps in the housework; for one of their servants, Tabby, is
nearly ninety, and the other only a girl. Then I accompanied her
in her walks on the sweeping moors the heather-bloom had been
blighted by a thunder-storm a day or two before, and was all of a
livid brown colour, instead of the blaze of purple glory it ought
to have been. Oh those high, wild, desolate moors, up above the
whole world, and the very realms of silence I Home to dinner at
two. Mr. Bronte has his dinner sent into him. All the small table
arrangements had the same dainty simplicity about them. Then we
rested, and talked over the clear, bright fire; it is a cold
country, and the fires were a pretty warm dancing light all over
the house. The parlour had been evidently refurnished within the
last few years, since Miss Bronte's success has enabled her to
have a little more money to spend. Everything fits into, and is
in harmony with, the idea of a country parsonage, possessed by
people of very moderate means. The prevailing colour of the room
is crimson, to make a warm setting for the cold grey landscape
without. There is her likeness by Richmond, and an engraving from
Lawrence's picture of Thackeray; and two recesses, on each side
of the high, narrow, old-fashioned mantelpiece, filled with
books,--books given to her; books she has bought, and which tell
of her individual pursuits and tastes; NOT standard books.

"She cannot see well, and does little beside knitting. The way
she weakened her eyesight was this: When she was sixteen or
seventeen, she wanted much to draw; and she copied niminipimini
copper-plate engravings out of annuals, ('stippling,' don't the
artists call it?) every little point put in, till at the end of
six months she had produced an exquisitely faithful copy of the
engraving. She wanted to learn to express her ideas by drawing.
After she had tried to DRAW stories, and not succeeded, she took
the better mode of writing; but in so small a hand, that it is
almost impossible to decipher what she wrote at this time.

"But now to return to our quiet hour of rest after dinner. I soon
observed that her habits of order were such that she could not go
on with the conversation, if a chair was out of its place;
everything was arranged with delicate regularity. We talked over
the old times of her childhood; of her elder sister's (Maria's)
death,--just like that of Helen Burns in 'Jane Eyre;' of those
strange, starved days at school; of the desire (almost amounting
to illness) of expressing herself in some way,--writing or
drawing; of her weakened eyesight, which prevented her doing
anything for two years, from the age of seventeen to nineteen; of
her being a governess; of her going to Brussels; whereupon I said
I disliked Lucy Snowe, and we discussed M. Paul Emanuel; and I
told her of ----'s admiration of 'Shirley,' which pleased her;
for the character of Shirley was meant for her sister Emily,
about whom she is never tired of talking, nor I of listening.
Emily must have been a remnant of the Titans,--
great-grand-daughter of the giants who used to inhabit earth. One
day, Miss Bronte brought down a rough, common-looking
oil-painting, done by her brother, of herself,--a little, rather
prim-looking girl of eighteen,--and the two other sisters, girls
of sixteen and fourteen, with cropped hair, and sad,
dreamy-looking eyes. . . . Emily had a great dog--half mastiff,
half bull-dog--so savage, etc. . . . This dog went to her
funeral, walking side by side with her father; and then, to the
day of its death, it slept at her room door; snuffing under it,
and whining every morning.

"We have generally had another walk before tea, which is at six;
at half-past eight, prayers; and by nine, all the household are
in bed, except ourselves. We sit up together till ten, or past;
and after I go, I hear Miss Bronte comedown and walk up and down
the room for an hour or so."

Copying this letter has brought the days of that pleasant visit
very clear before me,--very sad in their clearness. We were so
happy together; we were so full of interest in each other's
subjects. The day seemed only too short for what we had to say
and to hear. I understood her life the better for seeing the
place where it had been spent--where she had loved and suffered.
Mr. Bronte was a most courteous host; and when he was with
us,--at breakfast in his study, or at tea in Charlotte's
parlour,--he had a sort of grand and stately way of describing
past times, which tallied well with his striking appearance. He
never seemed quite to have lost the feeling that Charlotte was a
child to be guided and ruled, when she was present; and she
herself submitted to this with a quiet docility that half amused,
half astonished me. But when she had to leave the room, then all
his pride in her genius and fame came out. He eagerly listened to
everything I could tell him of the high admiration I had at any
time heard expressed for her works. He would ask for certain
speeches over and over again, as if he desired to impress them on
his memory.

I remember two or three subjects of the conversations which she
and I held in the evenings, besides those alluded to in my

I asked her whether she had ever taken opium, as the description
given of its effects in "Villette" was so exactly like what I had
experienced,--vivid and exaggerated presence of objects, of which
the outlines were indistinct, or lost in golden mist , etc. She
replied, that she had never, to her knowledge, taken a grain of
it in any shape, but that she had followed the process she always
adopted when she had to describe anything which had not fallen
within her own experience; she had thought intently on it for
many and many a night before falling to sleep,--wondering what it
was like, or how it would be,--till at length, sometimes after
the progress of her story had been arrested at this one point for
weeks, she wakened up in the morning with all clear before her,
as if she had in reality gone through the experience, and then
could describe it, word for word, as it had happened. I cannot
account for this psychologically; I only am sure that it was so,
because she said it.

She made many inquiries as to Mrs. Stowe's personal appearance;
and it evidently harmonised well with some theory of hers, to
hear that the author of Uncle Tom's Cabin was small and slight.
It was another theory of hers, that no mixtures of blood produced
such fine characters, mentally and morally, as the Scottish and

I recollect, too, her saying how acutely she dreaded a charge of
plagiarism, when, after she had written "Jane Eyre;" she read the
thrilling effect of the mysterious scream at midnight in Mrs.
Marsh's story of the "Deformed." She also said that, when she
read the "Neighbours," she thought every one would fancy that she
must have taken her conception of Jane Eyre's character from that
of "Francesca," the narrator of Miss Bremer's story. For my own
part, I cannot see the slightest resemblance between the two
characters, and so I told her; but she persisted in saying that
Francesca was Jane Eyre married to a good-natured "Bear" of a
Swedish surgeon.

We went, not purposely, but accidentally, to see various poor
people in our distant walks. From one we had borrowed an
umbrella; in the house of another we had taken shelter from a
rough September storm. In all these cottages, her quiet presence
was known. At three miles from her home, the chair was dusted for
her, with a kindly "Sit ye down, Miss Bronte;" and she knew what
absent or ailing members of the family to inquire after. Her
quiet, gentle words, few though they might be, were evidently
grateful to those Yorkshire ears. Their welcome to her, though
rough and curt, was sincere and hearty.

We talked about the different courses through which life ran. She
said, in her own composed manner, as if she had accepted the
theory as a fact, that she believed some were appointed
beforehand to sorrow and much disappointment; that it did not
fall to the lot of all--as Scripture told us--to have their lines
fall in pleasant places; that it was well for those who had
rougher paths, to perceive that such was God's will concerning
them, and try to moderate their expectations, leaving hope to
those of a different doom, and seeking patience and resignation
as the virtues they were to cultivate. I took a different view: I
thought that human lots were more equal than she imagined; that
to some happiness and sorrow came in strong patches of light and
shadow, (so to speak), while in the lives of others they were
pretty equally blended throughout. She smiled, and shook her
head, and said she was trying to school herself against ever
anticipating any pleasure; that it was better to be brave and
submit faithfully; there was some good reason, which we should
know in time, why sorrow and disappointment were to be the lot of
some on earth. It was better to acknowledge this, and face out
the truth in a religious faith.

In connection with this conversation, she named a little abortive
plan which I had not heard of till then; how, in the previous
July, she had been tempted to join some friends (a married couple
and their child) in an excursion to Scotland. They set out
joyfully; she with especial gladness, for Scotland was a land
which had its roots deep down in her imaginative affections, and
the glimpse of two days at Edinburgh was all she had as yet seen
of it. But, at the first stage after Carlisle, the little
yearling child was taken with a slight indisposition; the anxious
parents fancied that strange diet disagreed with it, and hurried
back to their Yorkshire home as eagerly as, two or three days
before, they had set their faces northward, in hopes of a month's
pleasant ramble.

We parted with many intentions, on both sides, of renewing very
frequently the pleasure we had had in being together. We agreed
that when she wanted bustle, or when I wanted quiet, we were to
let each other know, and exchange visits as occasion required.

I was aware that she had a great anxiety on her mind at this
time; and being acquainted with its nature, I could not but
deeply admire the patient docility which she displayed in her
conduct towards her father.

Soon after I left Haworth, she went on a visit to Miss Wooler,
who was then staying at Hornsea. The time passed quietly and
happily with this friend, whose society was endeared to her by
every year.


"Dec. 12th, 1853.

"I wonder how you are spending these long winter evenings. Alone,
probably, like me. The thought often crosses me, as I sit by
myself, how pleasant it would be if you lived within a walking
distance, and I could go to you sometimes, or have you to come
and spend a day and night with me. Yes; I did enjoy that week at
Hornsea, and I look forward to spring as the period when you will
fulfil your promise of coming to visit me. I fear you must be
very solitary at Hornsea. How hard to some people of the world it
would seem to live your life! how utterly impossible to live it
with a serene spirit and an unsoured disposition! It seems
wonderful to me, because you are not, like Mrs. ----, phlegmatic
and impenetrable, but received from nature feelings of the very
finest edge. Such feelings, when they are locked up, sometimes
damage the mind and temper. They don't with you. It must be
partly principle, partly self-discipline, which keeps you as you

Of course, as I draw nearer to the years so recently closed, it
becomes impossible for me to write with the same fulness of
detail as I have hitherto not felt it wrong to use. Miss Bronte
passed the winter of 1853-4 in a solitary and anxious manner. But
the great conqueror Time was slowly achieving his victory over
strong prejudice and human resolve. By degrees Mr. Bronte became
reconciled to the idea of his daughter's marriage.

There is one other letter, addressed to Mr. Dobell, which
developes the intellectual side of her character, before we lose
all thought of the authoress in the timid and conscientious woman
about to become a wife, and in the too short, almost perfect,
happiness of her nine months of wedded life.

"Haworth, near Keighley,

"Feb. 3rd, 1854.

"My dear Sir,--I can hardly tell you how glad I am to have an
opportunity of explaining that taciturnity to which you allude.
Your letter came at a period of danger and care, when my father
was very ill, and I could not leave his bedside. I answered no
letters at that time, and yours was one of three or four that,
when leisure returned to me, and I came to consider their
purport, it seemed to me such that the time was past for
answering them, and I laid them finally aside. If you remember,
you asked me to go to London; it was too late either to go or to
decline. I was sure you had left London. One circumstance you
mentioned--your wife's illness--which I have thought of many a
time, and wondered whether she is better. In your present note
you do not refer to her, but I trust her health has long ere now
been quite restored.

"'Balder' arrived safely. I looked at him, before cutting his
leaves with singular pleasure. Remembering well his elder
brother, the potent 'Roman,' it was natural to give a cordial
welcome to a fresh scion of the same house and race. I have read
him. He impressed me thus he teems with power; I found in him a
wild wealth of life, but I thought his favourite and favoured
child would bring his sire trouble--would make his heart ache. It
seemed to me, that his strength and beauty were not so much those
of Joseph, the pillar of Jacob's age, as of the Prodigal Son, who
troubled his father, though he always kept his love.

"How is it that while the first-born of genius often brings
honour, the second as almost often proves a source of depression
and care? I could almost prophesy that your third will atone for
any anxiety inflicted by this his immediate predecessor.

"There is power in that character of 'Balder,' and to me a
certain horror. Did you mean it to embody, along with force, any
of the special defects of the artistic character? It seems to me
that those defects were never thrown out in stronger lines. I did
not and could not think you meant to offer him as your cherished
ideal of the true, great poet; I regarded him as a
vividly-coloured picture of inflated self-esteem, almost frantic
aspiration; of a nature that has made a Moloch of
intellect--offered up; in pagan fires, the natural
affections--sacrificed the heart to the brain. Do we not all know
that true greatness is simple, self-oblivious, prone to
unambitious, unselfish attachments? I am certain you feel this
truth in your heart of hearts.

"But if the critics err now (as yet I have seen none of their
lucubrations), you shall one day set them right in the second
part of 'Balder.' You shall show them that you too know--better,
perhaps, than they--that the truly great man is too sincere in
his affections to grudge a sacrifice; too much absorbed in his
work to talk loudly about it; too intent on finding the best way
to accomplish what he undertakes to think great things of
himself--the instrument. And if God places seeming impediments in
his way--if his duties sometimes seem to hamper his powers--he
feels keenly, perhaps writhes, under the slow torture of
hindrance and delay; but if there be a true man's heart in his
breast, he can bear, submit, wait patiently.

"Whoever speaks to me of 'Balder'--though I live too retired a
life to come often in the way of comment--shall be answered
according to your suggestion and my own impression. Equity
demands that you should be your own interpreter. Good-bye for the
present, and believe me,

"Faithfully and gratefully,


"Sydney Dobell, Esq."

A letter to her Brussels schoolfellow gives an idea of the
external course of things during this winter.

"March 8th.

"I was very glad to see your handwriting again. It is, I believe,
a year since I heard from you. Again and again you have recurred
to my thoughts lately, and I was beginning to have some sad
presages as to the cause of your silence. Your letter happily
does away with all these; it brings, on the whole, glad tidings
both of your papa, mama, your sisters, and, last but not least,
your dear respected English self.

"My dear father has borne the severe winter very well, a
circumstance for which I feel the more thankful as he had many
weeks of very precarious health last summer, following an attack
from which he suffered in June, and which for a few hours
deprived him totally of sight, though neither his mind, speech,
nor even his powers of motion were in the least affected. I can
hardly tell you how thankful I was, when, after that dreary and
almost despairing interval of utter darkness, some gleam of
daylight became visible to him once more. I had feared that
paralysis had seized the optic nerve. A sort of mist remained for
a long time; and, indeed, his vision is not yet perfectly clear,
but he can read, write, and walk about, and he preaches TWICE
every Sunday, the curate only reading the prayers. YOU can well
understand how earnestly I wish and pray that sight may be spared
him to the end; he so dreads the privation of blindness. His mind
is just as strong and active as ever, and politics interest him
as they do YOUR papa. The Czar, the war, the alliance between
France and England--into all these things he throws himself heart
and soul; they seem to carry him back to his comparatively young
days, and to renew the excitement of the last great European
struggle. Of course my father's sympathies (and mine too) are all
with Justice and Europe against Tyranny and Russia.

"Circumstanced as I have been, you will comprehend that I have
had neither the leisure nor the inclination to go from home much
during the past year. I spent a week with Mrs. Gaskell in the
spring, and a fortnight with some other friends more recently,
and that includes the whole of my visiting since I saw you last.
My life is, indeed, very uniform and retired--more so than is
quite healthful either for mind or body; yet I find reason for
often-renewed feelings of gratitude, in the sort of support which
still comes and cheers me on from time to time. My health, though
not unbroken, is, I sometimes fancy, rather stronger on the whole
than it was three years ago headache and dyspepsia are my worst
ailments. Whether I shall come up to town this season for a few
days I do not yet know; but if I do, I shall hope to call in P.

In April she communicated the fact of her engagement to Miss

"Haworth, April 12th.

"My dear Miss Wooler,--The truly kind interest which you always
taken in my affairs makes me feel that it is due to you to
transmit an early communication on a subject respecting which I
have already consulted you more than once. I must tell you then,
that since I wrote last, papa's mind has gradually come round to
a view very different to that which he once took; and that after
some correspondence, and as the result of a visit Mr. Nicholls
paid here about a week ago, it was agreed that he was to resume
the curacy of Haworth, as soon as papa's present assistant is
provided with a situation, and in due course of time he is to be
received as an inmate into this house.

"It gives me unspeakable content to see that now my father has
once admitted this new view of the case, he dwells on it very
complacently. In all arrangements, his convenience and seclusion
will be scrupulously respected. Mr. Nicholls seems deeply to feel
the wish to comfort and sustain his declining years. I think from
Mr. Nicholls' character I may depend on this not being a mere
transitory impulsive feeling, but rather that it will be accepted
steadily as a duty, and discharged tenderly as an office of
affection. The destiny which Providence in His goodness and
wisdom seems to offer me will not, I am aware, be generally
regarded as brilliant, but I trust I see in it some germs of real
happiness. I trust the demands of both feeling and duty will be
in some measure reconciled by the step in contemplation. It is
Mr. Nicholls' wish that the marriage should take place this
summer; he urges the month of July, but that seems very soon.

"When you write to me, tell me how you are. . . . I have now
decidedly declined the visit to London; the ensuing three months
will bring me abundance of occupation; I could not afford to
throw away a month. . . . Papa has just got a letter from the
good and dear bishop, which has touched and pleased us much; it
expresses so cordial an approbation of Mr. Nicholls' return to
Haworth (respecting which he was consulted), and such kind
gratification at the domestic arrangements which are to ensue. It
seems his penetration discovered the state of things when he was
here in June 1853."

She expressed herself in other letters, as thankful to One who
had guided her through much difficulty and much distress and
perplexity of mind; and yet she felt what most thoughtful women
do, who marry when the first flush of careless youth is over,
that there was a strange half-sad feeling, in making
announcements of an engagement--for cares and fears came mingled
inextricably with hopes. One great relief to her mind at this
time was derived from the conviction that her father took a
positive pleasure in all the thoughts about and preparations for
her wedding. He was anxious that things should be expedited, and
was much interested in every preliminary arrangement for the
reception of Mr. Nicholls into the Parsonage as his daughter's
husband. This step was rendered necessary by Mr. Bronte's great
age, and failing sight, which made it a paramount obligation on
so dutiful a daughter as Charlotte, to devote as much time and
assistance as ever in attending to his wants. Mr. Nicholls, too,
hoped that he might be able to add some comfort and pleasure by
his ready presence, on any occasion when the old clergyman might
need his services.

At the beginning of May, Miss Bronte left home to pay three
visits before her marriage. The first was to us. She only
remained three days, as she had to go to the neighbourhood of
Leeds, there to make such purchases as were required for her
marriage. Her preparations, as she said, could neither be
expensive nor extensive; consisting chiefly in a modest
replenishing of her wardrobe, some re-papering and re-painting in
the Parsonage; and, above all, converting the small flagged
passage-room, hitherto used only for stores (which was behind her
sitting room), into a study for her husband. On this idea, and
plans for his comfort, as well as her father's, her mind dwelt a
good deal; and we talked them over with the same unwearying
happiness which, I suppose, all women feel in such
discussions--especially when money considerations call for that
kind of contrivance which Charles Lamb speaks of in his Essay on
Old China, as forming so great an addition to the pleasure of
obtaining a thing at last.

"Haworth, May 22nd.

"Since I came home I have been very busy stitching; the little
new room is got into order, and the green and white curtains are
up; they exactly suit the papering, and look neat and clean
enough. I had a letter a day or two since, announcing that Mr.
Nicholls comes to-morrow. I feel anxious about him; more anxious
on one point than I dare quite express to myself. It seems he has
again been suffering sharply from his rheumatic affection. I hear
this not from himself, but from another quarter. He was ill while
I was in Manchester and B----. He uttered no complaint to me;
dropped no hint on the subject. Alas he was hoping he had got the
better of it, and I know how this contradiction of his hopes will
sadden him. For unselfish reasons he did so earnestly wish this
complaint might not become chronic. I fear--I fear; but if he is
doomed to suffer, so much the more will he need care and help.
Well! come what may, God help and strengthen both him and me! I
look forward to to-morrow with a mixture of impatience and

Mr. Bronte had a slight illness which alarmed her much. Besides,
all the weight of care involved in the household preparations
pressed on the bride in this case--not unpleasantly, only to the
full occupation of her time. She was too busy to unpack her
wedding dresses for several days after they arrived from Halifax;
yet not too busy to think of arrangements by which Miss Wooler's
journey to be present at the marriage could be facilitated.

"I write to Miss Wooler to-day. Would it not be better, dear, if
you and she could arrange to come to Haworth on the same day,
arrive at Keighley by the same train; then I could order the cab
to meet you at the station, and bring you on with your luggage?
In this hot weather walking would be quite out of the question,
either for you or for her; and I know she would persist in doing
it if left to herself, and arrive half killed. I thought it
better to mention this arrangement to you first, and then, if you
liked it, you could settle the time, etc., with Miss Wooler, and
let me know. Be sure and give me timely information, that I may
write to the Devonshire Arms about the cab.

"Mr. Nicholls is a kind, considerate fellow. With all his
masculine faults, he enters into my wishes about having the thing
done quietly, in a way that makes me grateful; and if nobody
interferes and spoils his arrangements, he will manage it so that
not a soul in Haworth shall be aware of the day. He is so
thoughtful, too, about 'the ladies,'--that is, you and Miss
Wooler. Anticipating, too, the very arrangements I was going to
propose to him about providing for your departure, etc. He and
Mr. S---- come to ---- the evening before; write me a note to let
me know they are there; precisely at eight in the morning they
will be in the church, and there we are to meet them. Mr. and
Mrs. Grant are asked to the breakfast, not to the ceremony.

It was fixed that the marriage was to take place on the 29th of
June. Her two friends arrived at Haworth Parsonage the day
before; and the long summer afternoon and evening were spent by
Charlotte in thoughtful arrangements for the morrow, and for her
father's comfort during her absence from home. When all was
finished--the trunk packed, the morning's breakfast arranged, the
wedding-dress laid out,--just at bedtime, Mr. Bronte announced
his intention of stopping at home while the others went to
church. What was to be done? Who was to give the bride away?
There were only to be the officiating clergyman, the bride and
bridegroom, the bridesmaid, and Miss Wooler present. The
Prayer-book was referred to; and there it was seen that the
Rubric enjoins that the Minister shall receive "the woman from
her father's or FRIEND'S hands," and that nothing is specified as
to the sex of the "friend." So Miss Wooler, ever kind in
emergency, volunteered to give her old pupil away.

The news of the wedding had slipt abroad before the little party
came out of church, and many old and humble friends were there,
seeing her look "like a snow-drop," as they say. Her dress was
white embroidered muslin, with a lace mantle, and white bonnet
trimmed with green leaves, which perhaps might suggest the
resemblance to the pale wintry flower.

Mr. Nicholls and she went to visit his friends and relations in
Ireland; and made a tour by Killarney, Glengariff, Tarbert,
Tralee, and Cork, seeing scenery, of which she says, "some parts
exceeded all I had ever imagined." . . . "I must say I like my
new relations. My dear husband, too, appears in a new light in
his own country. More than once I have had deep pleasure in
hearing his praises on all sides. Some of the old servants and
followers of the family tell me I am a most fortunate person; for
that I have got one of the best gentlemen in the country. . . . I
trust I feel thankful to God for having enabled me to make what
seems a right choice; and I pray to be enabled to repay as I
ought the affectionate devotion of a truthful, honourable man."

Henceforward the sacred doors of home are closed upon her married
life. We, her loving friends, standing outside, caught occasional
glimpses of brightness, and pleasant peaceful murmurs of sound,
telling of the gladness within; and we looked at each other, and
gently said, "After a hard and long struggle--after many cares
and many bitter sorrows--she is tasting happiness now!" We
thought of the slight astringencies of her character, and how
they would turn to full ripe sweetness in that calm sunshine of
domestic peace. We remembered her trials, and were glad in the
idea that God had seen fit to wipe away the tears from her eyes.
Those who saw her, saw an outward change in her look, telling of
inward things. And we thought, and we hoped, and we prophesied,
in our great love and reverence.

But God's ways are not as our ways!

Hear some of the low murmurs of happiness we, who listened,

"I really seem to have had scarcely a spare moment since that dim
quiet June morning, when you, E----, and myself all walked down
to Haworth Church. Not that I have been wearied or oppressed; but
the fact is, my time is not my own now; somebody else wants a
good portion of it, and says, 'we must do so and so.' We DO so
and so, accordingly; and it generally seems the right thing. . .
. We have had many callers from a distance, and latterly some
little occupation in the way of preparing for a small village
entertainment. Both Mr. Nicholls and myself wished much to make
some response for the hearty welcome and general goodwill shown
by the parishioners on his return; accordingly, the Sunday and
day scholars and teachers, the church-ringers, singers, etc., to
the number of five hundred, were asked to tea and supper in the
School-room. They seemed to enjoy it much, and it was very
pleasant to see their happiness. One of the villagers, in
proposing my husband's health, described him as a 'consistent
Christian and a kind gentleman.' I own the words touched me
deeply, and I thought (as I know YOU would have thought had you
been present) that to merit and win such a character was better
than to earn either wealth, or fame, or power. I am disposed to
echo that high but simple eulogium. . . . My dear father was not
well when we returned from Ireland. I am, however, most thankful
to say that he is better now. May God preserve him to us yet for
some years! The wish for his continued life, together with a
certain solicitude for his happiness and health, seems, I
scarcely know why, even stronger in me now than before I was
married. Papa has taken no duty since we returned; and each time
I see Mr. Nicholls put on gown or surplice, I feel comforted to
think that this marriage has secured papa good aid in his old

"September 19th.

"Yes! I am thankful to say my husband is in improved health and
spirits. It makes me content and grateful to hear him from time
to time avow his happiness in the brief, plain phrase of
sincerity. My own life is more occupied than it used to be I have
not so much time for thinking I am obliged to be more practical,
for my dear Arthur is a very practical, as well as a very
punctual and methodical man. Every morning he is in the National
School by nine o'clock; he gives the children religious
instruction till half-past ten. Almost every afternoon he pays
visits amongst the poor parishioners. Of course, he often finds a
little work for his wife to do, and I hope she is not sorry to
help him. I believe it is not bad for me that his bent should be
so wholly towards matters of life and active usefulness; so
little inclined to the literary and contemplative. As to his
continued affection and kind attentions it does not become me to
say much of them; but they neither change nor diminish."

Her friend and bridesmaid came to pay them a visit in October. I
was to have gone also, but I allowed some little obstacle to
intervene, to my lasting regret.

"I say nothing about the war; but when I read of its horrors, I
cannot help thinking that it is one of the greatest curses that
ever fell upon mankind. I trust it may not last long, for it
really seems to me that no glory to be gained can compensate for
the sufferings which must be endured. This may seem a little
ignoble and unpatriotic; but I think that as we advance towards
middle age, nobleness and patriotism have a different
signification to us to that which we accept while young."

"You kindly inquire after Papa. He is better, and seems to gain
strength as the weather gets colder; indeed, of late years health
has always been better in winter than in summer. We are all
indeed pretty well; and, for my own part, it is long since I have
known such comparative immunity from headache, etc., as during
the last three months. My life is different from what it used to
be. May God make me thankful for it! I have a good, kind,
attached husband; and every day my own attachment to him grows

Late in the autumn, Sir James Kay Shuttleworth crossed the
border-hills that separate Lancashire from Yorkshire, and spent
two or three days with them.

About this time, Mr. Nicholls was offered a living of much
greater value than his curacy at Haworth, and in many ways the
proposal was a very advantageous one; but he felt himself bound
to Haworth as long as Mr. Bronte lived. Still, this offer gave
his wife great and true pleasure, as a proof of the respect in
which her husband was held.

"Nov. 29.

"I intended to have written a line yesterday, but just as I was
sitting down for the purpose, Arthur called to me to take a walk.
We set off, not intending to go far; but, though wild and cloudy,
it was fair in the morning; when we had got about half a mile on
the moors, Arthur suggested the idea of the waterfall; after the
melted snow, he said, it would be fine. I had often wished to see
it in its winter power,--so we walked on. It was fine indeed; a
perfect torrent racing over the rocks, white and beautiful! It
began to rain while we were watching it, and we returned home
under a streaming sky. However, I enjoyed the walk inexpressibly,
and would not have missed the spectacle on any account"

She did not achieve this walk of seven or eight miles, in such
weather, with impunity. She began to shiver soon after her return
home, in spite of every precaution, and had a bad lingering sore
throat and cold, which hung about her; and made her thin and

"Did I tell you that our poor little Flossy is dead? She drooped
for a single day, and died quietly in the night without pain. The
loss even of a dog was very saddening; yet, perhaps, no dog ever
had a happier life, or an easier death."

On Christmas-day she and her husband walked to the poor old woman
(whose calf she had been set to seek in former and less happy
days), carrying with them a great spice-cake to make glad her
heart. On Christmas-day many a humble meal in Haworth was made
more plentiful by her gifts.

Early in the new year (1855), Mr. and Mrs. Nicholls went to visit
Sir James Kay Shuttleworth at Gawthorpe. They only remained two
or three days, but it so fell out that she increased her
lingering cold, by a long walk over damp ground in thin shoes.

Soon after her return, she was attacked by new sensations of
perpetual nausea, and ever-recurring faintness. After this state
of things had lasted for some time; she yielded to Mr. Nicholls'
wish that a doctor should be sent for. He came, and assigned a
natural cause for her miserable indisposition; a little patience,
and all would go right. She, who was ever patient in illness,
tried hard to bear up and bear on. But the dreadful sickness
increased and increased, till the very sight of food occasioned
nausea. "A wren would have starved on what she ate during those
last six weeks," says one. Tabby's health had suddenly and
utterly given way, and she died in this time of distress and
anxiety respecting the last daughter of the house she had served
so long. Martha tenderly waited on her mistress, and from time to
time tried to cheer her with the thought of the baby that was
coming. "I dare say I shall be glad some time," she would say;
"but I am so ill--so weary--" Then she took to her bed, too weak
to sit up. From that last couch she wrote two notes--in pencil.
The first, which has no date, is addressed to her own "Dear

"I must write one line out of my weary bed. The news of M----'s
probable recovery came like a ray of joy to me. I am not going to
talk of my sufferings--it would be useless and painful. I want to
give you an assurance, which I know will comfort you--and that
is, that I find in my husband the tenderest nurse, the kindest
support, the best earthly comfort that ever woman had. His
patience never fails, and it is tried by sad days and broken
nights. Write and tell me about Mrs. ----'s case; how long was
she ill, and in what way? Papa--thank God!--is better. Our poor
old Tabby is DEAD and BURIED. Give my kind love to Miss Wooler.
May God comfort and help you.


The other--also in faint, faint pencil marks--was to her Brussels

"Feb. 15th.

"A few lines of acknowledgment your letter SHALL have, whether
well or ill. At present I am confined to my bed with illness, and
have been so for three weeks. Up to this period, since my
marriage, I have had excellent health. My husband and I live at
home with my father; of course, I could not leave HIM. He is
pretty well, better than last summer. No kinder, better husband
than mine, it seems to me, there can be in the world. I do not
want now for kind companionship in health and the tenderest
nursing in sickness. Deeply I sympathise in all you tell me about
Dr. W. and your excellent mother's anxiety. I trust he will not
risk another operation. I cannot write more now; for I am much
reduced and very weak. God bless you all.--Yours affectionately,


I do not think she ever wrote a line again. Long days and longer
nights went by; still the same relentless nausea and faintness,
and still borne on in patient trust. About the third week in
March there was a change; a low wandering delirium came on; and
in it she begged constantly for food and even for stimulants. She
swallowed eagerly now; but it was too late. Wakening for an
instant from this stupor of intelligence, she saw her husband's
woe-worn face, and caught the sound of some murmured words of
prayer that God would spare her. "Oh!" she whispered forth, "I am
not going to die, am I? He will not separate us, we have been so

Early on Saturday morning, March 31st, the solemn tolling of
Haworth church-bell spoke forth the fact of her death to the
villagers who had known her from a child, and whose hearts
shivered within them as they thought of the two sitting desolate
and alone in the old grey house.


I have always been much struck with a passage in Mr. Forster's
Life of Goldsmith. Speaking of the scene after his death, the
writer says:--

"The staircase of Brick Court is said to have been filled with
mourners, the reverse of domestic; women without a home, without
domesticity of any kind, with no friend but him they had come to
weep for; outcasts of that great, solitary, wicked city, to whom
he had never forgotten to be kind and charitable."

This came into my mind when I heard of some of the circumstances
attendant on Charlotte's funeral.

Few beyond that circle of hills knew that she, whom the nations
praised far off, lay dead that Easter mooring. Of kith and kin
she had more in the grave to which she was soon to be borne, than
among the living. The two mourners, stunned with their great
grief, desired not the sympathy of strangers. One member out of
most of the families in the parish was bidden to the funeral; and
it became an act of self-denial in many a poor household to give
up to another the privilege of paying their last homage to her;
and those who were excluded from the formal train of mourners
thronged the churchyard and church, to see carried forth, and
laid beside her own people, her whom, not many months ago, they
had looked at as a pale white bride, entering on a new life with
trembling happy hope.

Among those humble friends who passionately grieved over the
dead, was a village girl who had been seduced some little time
before, but who had found a holy sister in Charlotte. She had
sheltered her with her help, her counsel, her strengthening
words; had ministered to her needs in her time of trial. Bitter,
bitter was the grief of this poor young woman, when she heard
that her friend was sick unto death, and deep is her mourning
until this day. A blind girl, living some four miles from
Haworth, loved Mrs. Nicholls so dearly that, with many cries and
entreaties, she implored those about her to lead her along the
roads, and over the moor-paths, that she might hear the last
solemn words, "Earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust; in
sure and certain hope of the resurrection to eternal life,
through our Lord Jesus Christ."

Such were the mourners over Charlotte Bronte's grave.

I have little more to say. If my readers find that I have not
said enough, I have said too much. I cannot measure or judge of
such a character as hers. I cannot map out vices, and virtues,
and debatable land. One who knew her long and well,--the "Mary"
of this Life--writes thus of her dead friend:--

"She thought much of her duty, and had loftier and clearer
notions of it than most people, and held fast to them with more
success. It was done, it seems to me, with much more difficulty
than people have of stronger nerves, and better fortunes. All her
life was but labour and pain; and she never threw down the burden
for the sake of present pleasure. I don't know what use you can
make of all I have said. I have written it with the strong desire
to obtain appreciation for her. Yet, what does it matter? She
herself appealed to the world's judgment for her use of some of
the faculties she had,--not the best,--but still the only ones
she could turn to strangers' benefit. They heartily, greedily
enjoyed the fruits of her labours, and then found out she was
much to be blamed for possessing such faculties. Why ask for a
judgment on her from such a world?"

But I turn from the critical, unsympathetic public--inclined to
judge harshly because they have only seen superficially and not
thought deeply. I appeal to that larger and more solemn public,
who know how to look with tender humility at faults and errors;
how to admire generously extraordinary genius, and how to
reverence with warm, full hearts all noble virtue. To that Public
I commit the memory of Charlotte Bronte.


Back to Full Books