The Three Brontes
Part 3 out of 5
the real. She should have said that it lacked the germ of many reals; it
is so obviously drawn from incomplete observation of a single instance.
I am inclined to think that she did "take" Dr. John. And whenever
Charlotte Bronte "took" a character, as she took the unfortunate curates
and Mr. St. John Rivers, the result was failure.
No supreme work of art was ever "taken". It was begotten and born and
grown, the offspring of faithful love between the soul of the artist and
reality. The artist must bring to his "experience" as much as he takes
from it. The dignity of Nature is all against these violences and
robberies of art. She hides her deepest secret from the marauder, and
yields it to the lover who brings to her the fire of his own soul.
And that fire of her own soul was what Charlotte Bronte brought to her
supreme creations. It was certainly what she brought to Paul Emanuel.
Impossible to believe that M. Heger gave her more than one or two of the
germs of M. Paul. Personally, I can only see the respectable M. Heger as
a man whose very essence was a certain impassivity and phlegm under the
appearance of a temperament. Choleric he was, with the superficial and
temporary choler of the schoolmaster. A schoolmaster gifted with the
most extraordinary, the most marvellous, the most arresting faculty for
making faces, a faculty which in an Englishman would have argued him a
perfect volcano of erratic temperament. But I more than suspect that
when it came to temperament M. Heger took it out in faces; that he was
nothing more than a benevolent, sentimental, passably intellectual
bourgeois; but bourgeois to the core. Whereas, look at M. Paul! No
wonder that with that tame and solid stuff before her it took even
Charlotte Bronte's fiery spirit nine years (torturing the unwilling
dross that checked its flight) before it could create Paul Emanuel.
Because of her long work on him he is at once the most real and the best
imagined of her characters.
I admit that in the drawing of many of her minor characters she seems to
have relied upon very close and intimate observation of the living
model. But in none of her minor characters is she at grips with the
reality that, for her, passion is. Charlotte refused to give heroic rank
to persons she had merely observed; she would not exalt them to the
dignity of passion. Her imagination could not work on them to that
extent. (That is partly why Caroline's delirium is so palpably "faked".)
Even in her portrait of the heroic Shirley, who was frankly "taken" from
her sister Emily, she achieved the likeness mainly by the artifice of
unlikeness, by removing Shirley Keeldar into a life in which Emily
Bronte had never played a part, whereby Shirley became for her a
separate person. (You cannot by any stretch of the imagination see Emily
falling in love with the schoolmaster, Louis Moore.)
Lest there should be any doubt on the subject, Charlotte herself
explained to Mrs. Gaskell how her imagination worked. "I asked her,"
Mrs. Gaskell says, "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 that had not fallen within her own experience; she had
thought intently on it for many and many a night before falling
asleep--wondering what it was like, or how it would be--till at length,
sometimes after 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 happened."
To a mind like that the germ of the actual was enough. Charlotte
Bronte's genius, in fact, was ardently impatient of the actual: it cared
only for its own. At the least hint from experience it was off. A
glance, a gesture of M. Heger's was enough to fire it to the conception
of Paul Emanuel. He had only to say a kind word to her, to leave a book
or a box of bon-bons in her desk (if he _did_ leave bon-bons) for
Charlotte's fire to work on him. She had only to say to herself, "This
little man is adorable in friendship; I wonder what he would be like in
love," and she saw that he would be something, though not altogether,
like Paul Emanuel. She had only to feel a pang of half-remorseful,
half-humorous affection for him, and she knew what Lucy felt like in her
love-sick agony. As for Madame Heger, Madame's purely episodic jealousy,
her habits of surveillance, her small inscrutabilities of behaviour,
became the fury, the treachery, the perfidy of Madame Beck. For
treachery and perfidy, and agony and passion, were what Charlotte wanted
And yet it is true that _Villette_ is a novel of experience, owing its
conspicuous qualities very much to observation. After all, a
contemporary novel cannot be made altogether out of the fire of the
great writer's soul. It is because Charlotte Bronte relied too much on
the fire of her own soul that in _Jane Eyre_ and parts of _Shirley_ she
missed that unique expression of actuality which, over and over again,
she accomplished in _Villette_. For the expression of a social _milieu_,
for manners, for the dialogue of ordinary use, for the whole detail of
the speech characteristic of an individual and a type, for the right
accent and pitch, for all the vanishing shades and aspects of the
temporary and the particular, the greatest and the fieriest writer is at
the mercy of observation and experience. It was her final mastery of
these things that made it possible to praise Charlotte Bronte's powers
of observation at the expense of her genius; and this mainly because of
No offspring of genius was ever more alive, more rich in individuality,
than M. Paul. He is alive and he is adorable, in his _paletot_ and
_bonnet grec_, from the moment when he drags Lucy up three pairs of
stairs to the solitary and lofty attic and locks her in, to that other
moment when he brings her to the little house that he has prepared for
her. Whenever he appears there is pure radiant comedy, and pathos as
pure. It is in this utter purity, this transparent simplicity, that
_Villette_ is great. There is not one jarring note in any of the
delicious dialogues between Lucy and M. Paul, not one of those passages
which must be erased if quotation is not to fail of its effect. Take the
scene where Lucy breaks M. Paul's spectacles.
"A score of times ere now I had seen them fall and receive no
damage--this time, as Lucy Snowe's hapless luck would have it, they so
fell that each clear pebble became a shivered and shapeless star.
"Now, indeed, dismay seized me--dismay and regret. I knew the value of
these _lunettes_: M. Paul's sight was peculiar, not easily fitted, and
these glasses suited him. I had heard him call them his treasures: as I
picked them up, cracked and worthless, my hand trembled. Frightened
through all my nerves I was to see the mischief I had done, but I think
I was even more sorry than afraid. For some seconds I dared not look the
bereaved Professor in the face; he was the first to speak.
"'_La_!' he said: '_me voila veuf de mes lunettes_! I think that
Mademoiselle Lucy will now confess that the cord and gallows are amply
earned; she trembles in anticipation of her doom. Ah, traitress,
traitress! You are resolved to have me quite blind and helpless in your
"I lifted my eyes: his face, instead of being irate, lowering and
furrowed, was overflowing with the smile, coloured with the bloom I had
seen brightening it that evening at the Hotel Crecy. He was not
angry--not even grieved. For the real injury he showed himself full of
clemency; under the real provocation, patient as a saint."
Take the "Watchguard" scene.
"M. Paul came and stood behind me. He asked at what I was working; and I
said I was making a watchguard. He asked, 'For whom?' And I answered,
'For a gentleman--one of my friends.'"
Whereupon M. Paul flies into a passion, and accuses Lucy of behaving to
him, "'With what pungent vivacities--what an impetus of mutiny--what a
_fougue_ of injustice.'... '_Chut! a l'instant!_ There! there I
went--_vive comme la poudre_.' He was sorry--he was very sorry: for my
sake he grieved over the hopeless peculiarity. This _emportement_, this
_chaleur_--generous, perhaps, but excessive--would yet, he feared, do me
a mischief. It was a pity. I was not--he believed, in his soul--wholly
without good qualities; and would I but hear reason, and be more sedate,
more sober, less _en l'air_, less _coquette_, less taken by show, less
prone to set an undue value on outside excellence--to make much of the
attentions of people remarkable chiefly for so many feet of stature,
_des couleurs de poupee, un nez plus ou moins bien fait_, and an
enormous amount of fatuity--I might yet prove a useful, perhaps an
exemplary character. But, as it was----And here the little man's voice
was for a moment choked.
"I would have looked up at him, or held out my hand, or said a soothing
word; but I was afraid, if I stirred, I should either laugh or cry; so
odd, in all this, was the mixture of the touching and the absurd.
"I thought he had nearly done: but no, he sat down that he might go on
at his ease.
"'While he, M. Paul, was on these painful topics, he would dare my anger
for the sake of my good, and would venture to refer to a change he had
noticed in my dress.'"
* * * * *
"'And if you condemn a bow of ribbon for a lady, monsieur, you would
necessarily disapprove of a thing like this for a gentleman?' holding up
my bright little chainlet of silk and gold. His sole reply was a
groan--I suppose over my levity.
"After sitting some minutes in silence, and watching the progress of the
chain, at which I now wrought more assiduously than ever, he inquired:
"'Whether what he had just said would have the effect of making me
entirely detest him?'
"I hardly remember what answer I made, or how it came about; I don't
think I spoke at all, but I know we managed to bid good night on
friendly terms: and even after M. Paul had reached the door, he turned
back just to explain that he would not be understood to speak in entire
condemnation of the scarlet dress.'...
"'And the flowers under my bonnet, monsieur?' I asked. 'They are very
"'Keep them little, then,' said he. 'Permit them not to become
"'And the bow, monsieur--the bit of ribbon?'
"'_Va pour le ruban_!' was the propitious answer.
"And so we settled it."
That is good; and when Lucy presents the watchguard it is better still.
"He looked at the box: I saw its clear and warm tint, and bright azure
circlet, pleased his eyes. I told him to open it.
"'My initials!' said he, indicating the letters in the lid. 'Who told
you I was called Carl David?'
"'A little bird, monsieur.'
"'Does it fly from me to you? Then one can tie a message under its wing
"He took out the chain--a trifle indeed as to value, but glossy with
silk and sparkling with beads. He liked that too--admired it artlessly,
like a child.
"'Yes, for you.'
"'This is the thing you were working at last night?'
"'You finished it this morning?'
"'You commenced it with the intention that it should be mine?'
"'And offered on my fete-day?'
"'This purpose continued as you wove it?'
"'Again I assented.'
"'Then it is not necessary that I should cut out any portion--saying,
this part is not mine: it was plaited under the idea and for the
adornment of another?'
"'By no means. It is neither necessary, nor would it be just.'
"'This object is _all_ mine?'
"'That object is yours entirely.'
"Straightway monsieur opened his paletot, arranged the guard splendidly
across his chest, displaying as much and suppressing as little as he
could: for he had no notion of concealing what he admired and thought
"'_A present c'est un fait accompli_,' said he, readjusting his
To the last gesture of Monsieur it is superb.
I have taken those scenes because they are of crucial importance as
indications of what Charlotte Bronte was doing in _Villette_, and yet
would do. They show not only an enormous advance in technique, but a
sense of the situation, of the _scene a faire_, which is entirely or
almost entirely lacking in her earlier work.
If there be degrees in reality, Lucy and Pauline de Bassompierre are
only less real than M. Paul. And by some miracle their reality is not
diminished by Charlotte Bronte's singular change of intention with
regard to these two. Little Polly, the child of the beginning, the
inscrutable creature of nerves, exquisitely sensitive to pain, fretting
her heart out in love for her father and for Graham Bretton, is hardly
recognizable in Pauline, Countess de Bassompierre. She has preserved
only her fragility, her fastidiousness, her little air of
inaccessibility. Polly is obviously predestined to that profound and
tragic suffering which is Lucy Snowe's.
"I watched Polly rest her small elbow on her small knee, her head on her
hand; I observed her draw a square inch or two of pocket-handkerchief
from the doll-pocket of her doll-skirt, and then I heard her weep. Other
children in grief or pain cry aloud, without shame or restraint, but
this being wept: the tiniest occasional sniff testified to her emotion."
Again (Polly is parted from her father): "When the street-door closed,
she dropped on her knees at a chair with a cry--'Papa!'
"It was low and long; a sort of 'why hast thou forsaken me?' During an
ensuing space of some minutes I perceived she endured agony. She went
through, in that brief interval of her infant life, emotions such as
some never feel; it was in her constitution: she would have more of such
instants if she lived."
Polly is contrasted with the cold and disagreeable Lucy. "I, Lucy Snowe,
was calm," Lucy says when she records that agony. The effect she gives,
of something creepily insensitive and most unpleasant, is unmistakable
in these early chapters. She watches Polly with a cold, analytic eye.
"These sudden, dangerous natures--sensitive as they are called--offer
many a curious spectacle to those whom a cooler temperament has secured
from participation in their vagaries." When Polly, charming Polly, waits
on her father at the tea-table, Lucy is impervious to her tiny charm.
"Candidly speaking, I thought her a little busy-body." When Graham
Bretton repulses Polly, Lucy has some thoughts of "improving the
occasion by inculcating some of those maxims of philosophy whereof I had
ever a tolerable stock ready for application."
There is no sign in the beginning that this detestable Lucy is to be
heroine. But in Chapter Four Polly disappears and Lucy takes her place
and plays her part. The child Polly had a suffering and passionate
heart, for all her little air of fastidiousness and inaccessibility. It
is the suffering and passionate heart of Polly that beats in Lucy of the
Pensionnat. There is only enough of the original Lucy left to sit in
judgment on Ginevra Fanshawe and "the Parisienne".
The child Polly had an Imagination. "'Miss Snowe,' said she in a
whisper, 'this is a wonderful book ... it tells about distant countries,
a long, long way from England, which no traveller can reach without
sailing thousands of miles over the sea.... Here is a picture of
thousands gathered in a desolate place--a plain spread with sand.... And
here are pictures more stranger than that. There is the wonderful Great
Wall of China; here is a Chinese lady with a foot littler than mine.
There is a wild horse of Tartary; and here--most strange of all--is a
land of ice and snow without green fields, woods, or gardens. In this
land they found some mammoth bones; there are no mammoths now. You don't
know what it was; but I can tell you, because Graham told me. A mighty
goblin creature, as high as this room, and as long as the hall; but not
a fierce, flesh-eating thing, Graham thinks. He believes if I met one in
a forest, it would not kill me, unless I came quite in its way; when it
would trample me down amongst the bushes, as I might tread on a
grasshopper in a hay-field without knowing it.'"
It is Polly's Imagination that appears again in Lucy's "Creative
Impulse". "I with whom that Impulse was the most intractable, the most
capricious, the most maddening of masters ... a deity which sometimes,
under circumstances apparently propitious, would not speak when
questioned, would not hear when appealed to, would not, when sought, be
found; but would stand, all cold, all indurated, all granite, a dark
Baal with carven lips and blank eyeballs, and breast like the stone face
of a tomb; and again, suddenly, at some turn, some sound, some
long-trembling sob of the wind, at some rushing past of an unseen stream
of electricity, the irrational Demon would awake unsolicited, would stir
strangely alive, would rush from its pedestal like a perturbed Dagon,
calling to its votary for a sacrifice, whatever the hour--to its victim
for some blood or some breath, whatever the circumstances or
scene--rousing its priest, treacherously promising vaticination,
perhaps filling its temple with a strange hum of oracles, but sure to
give half the significance to fateful winds, and grudging to the
desperate listener even a miserable remnant--yielding it sordidly, as
though each word had been a drop of the deathless ichor of its own dark
That is Lucy. But when Polly reappears fitfully as Pauline de
Bassompierre, she is an ordinary, fastidious little lady without a spark
of imagination or of passion.
Now in the first three chapters of _Villette_, Charlotte Bronte
concentrated all her strength and all her art on the portrait of little
Polly. The portrait of little Polly is drawn with the most delicate care
and tender comprehension, and the most vivid and entire reality. I
cannot agree with Mr. Swinburne that George Eliot, with her Totty and
Eppie and Lillo, showed a closer observation of the ways, or a more
perfect understanding of the heart of a child. Only little Maggie
Tulliver can stand beside little Polly in _Villette_. She is an answer
to every critic, from Mr. Swinburne downwards, who maintains that
Charlotte Bronte could not draw children.
But Lucy at fourteen is drawn with slight and grudging strokes,
sufficient for the minor part she is evidently to play. Lucy at Bretton
is a mere foil to little Polly. Charlotte Bronte distinctly stated in
her letters that she did not care for Miss Snowe. "Lucy must not marry
Dr. John; he is far too youthful, handsome, bright-spirited, and
sweet-tempered; he is a 'curled darling' of Nature and of fortune, and
must draw a prize in life's lottery. His wife must be young, rich,
pretty; he must be made very happy indeed. If Lucy marries anybody, it
must be the Professor--a man in whom there is much to forgive, much to
'put up with'. But I am not leniently disposed towards Miss Frost: from
the beginning I never meant to appoint her lines in pleasant places."
"As to the character of Lucy Snowe, my intention from the first was that
she should not occupy the pedestal to which Jane Eyre was raised by some
injudicious admirers. She is where I meant her to be, and where no
charge of self-laudation can touch her."
But Lucy is _not_ altogether where she was meant to be. When she
reappears at the Pensionnat it is with "flame in her soul and lightning
in her eyes". She reminds M. Paul "of a young she wild creature, new
caught, untamed, viewing with a mixture of fire and fear the first
entrance of the breaker-in".
"'You look,' said he, 'like one who would snatch at a draught of sweet
poison, and spurn wholesome bitters with disgust.'"
There is no inconsistency in this. Women before now have hidden a soul
like a furnace under coldness and unpleasantness, and smothered
shrieking nerves under an appearance of apathy. Lucy Snowe is one of
them. As far as she goes, Lucy at Bretton is profoundly consistent with
Lucy in _Villette_. It is not Lucy's volcanic outbreaks in the
Pensionnat that do violence to her creator's original intention. It is
the debasement of Polly and the exaltation of Lucy to her tragic role,
the endowment of Lucy with Polly's rarest qualities, to the utter
impoverishment of Pauline de Bassompierre. Polly in _Villette_ is a mere
foil to Lucy.
Having lavished such care and love on Polly, Charlotte Bronte could not
possibly have meant to debase her and efface her. How then did it happen
that Polly was debased and Lucy sublimely exalted?
It happened, I think, partly because for the first time Charlotte Bronte
created a real living man. The reality of M. Paul Emanuel was too
strong both for Lucy and for Charlotte Bronte. From the moment when he
seized her and dragged her to the garret he made Lucy live as Charlotte
Bronte had never contemplated her living. He made her live to the utter
exclusion and extinction of Pauline de Bassompierre.
And "the despotic little man" dominates the book to an extent that
Charlotte never contemplated either. Until the storm carried him out of
her sight, she was, I think, unaware of his dominion. Dr. John was her
hero. She told Mr. George Smith, his prototype, that she intended him
for the most beautiful character in the book (which must have been very
gratifying to Mr. George Smith). He was the type she needed for her
purpose. But he does not "come off", if only for the reason that she is
consciously preoccupied with him. Dr. John was far more of an obsession
to her than this little man, Paul Emanuel, who was good enough for Lucy
Snowe. Pauline de Bassompierre was to be finished and perfected to match
the high finish and perfection of Dr. John. Yet neither Pauline nor Dr.
John "came off". Charlotte Bronte cared too much for them. But for Paul
Emanuel she did not care. He comes off in a triumph of the detached,
divinely free "Creative Impulse".
Charlotte, with all her schemes, is delivered over to her genius from
the moment when Lucy settles in Villette. To Charlotte's inexperience
Brussels was a perfect hotbed for the germs of the real. That, I think,
can be admitted without subscribing to the view that it was anything
more. Once in the Pensionnat, Lucy entered an atmosphere of the most
intense reality. From that point onward the book is literally inspired
by the sense of atmosphere, that sense to which experience brings the
stuff to work on. All Charlotte's experience and her suffering is there,
changed, intensified, transmuted to an experience and a suffering which
were not hers.
This matured sense of actuality is shown again in the drawing of the
minor characters. There is a certain vindictiveness about the portrait
of Ginevra Fanshawe, a touch of that fierce, intolerant temper that
caused Blanche Ingram to be strangled by the hands of her creator.
Ginevra is not strangled. She lives splendidly; she flourishes in an
opulence of detail.
Experience may have partly accounted for Ginevra. It could hardly have
accounted for the little de Hamel, and he is perfect as far as he goes.
It is because of this increasing mastery, this new power in handling
unsympathetic types, because, in short, of its all round excellence,
that _Villette_ must count as Charlotte Bronte's masterpiece. It is
marvellous that within such limits she should have attained such
comparative catholicity of vision. It is not the vast vision of
_Shirley_, prophetic and inspired, and a little ineffectual. It is the
lucid, sober, unobstructed gaze of a more accomplished artist, the
artist whose craving for "reality" is satisfied; the artist who is
gradually extending the limits of his art. When Charlotte Bronte wrote
_Jane Eyre_ she could not appreciate Jane Austen; she wondered why
George Henry Lewes liked her so much. She objected to Jane Austen
because there was no passion in her, and therefore no poetry and no
reality. When she wrote _Shirley_ she had seen that passion was not
everything; there were other things, very high realities, that were not
passion. By the time she wrote _Villette_ she saw, not only that there
are other things, but that passion is the rarest thing on earth. It does
not enter into the life of ordinary people like Dr. John, and Madame
Beck, and Ginevra Fanshawe.
In accordance with this tendency to level up, her style in _Villette_
attains a more even and a more certain excellence. Her flights are few;
so are her lapses. Her fearful tendency to rhetoric is almost gone. Gone
too are the purple patches; but there is everywhere delicate colour
under a vivid light. But there are countless passages which show the
perfection to which she could bring her old imaginative style. Take the
scene where Lucy, under the influence of opium, goes into Villette _en
"The drug wrought. I know not whether Madame had over-charged or
under-charged the dose; its result was not that she intended. Instead of
stupor, came excitement. I became alive to new thought--to reverie
peculiar in colouring. A gathering call ran among the faculties, their
bugles sang, their trumpets rang an untimely summons....
"I took a route well known, and went up towards the palatial and royal
Haute-Ville; thence the music I heard certainly floated; it was hushed
now, but it might rewaken. I went on: neither band nor bell-music came
to meet me; another sound replaced it, a sound like a strong tide, a
great flow, deepening as I proceeded. Light broke, movement gathered,
chimes pealed--to what was I coming? Entering on the level of a Grande
Place, I found myself, with the suddenness of magic, plunged amidst a
gay, living, joyous crowd.
"Villette is one blaze, one broad illumination; the whole world seems
abroad; moonlight and heaven are banished: the town by her own
flambeaux, beholds her own splendour--gay dresses, grand equipage, fine
horses and gallant riders, throng the bright streets. I see even scores
of masks. It is a strange scene, stranger than dreams."
This is only beaten by that lyric passage that ends _Villette_; that
sonorous dirge that rings high above all pathos, which is somehow a song
of triumph, inspired by the whole power and splendour and magnificence
of storm and death.
"The sun passes the equinox; the days shorten, the leaves grow sere;
but--he is coming.
"Frosts appear at night; November has sent his fogs in advance; the wind
takes its autumn moan; but--he is coming.
"The skies hang full and dark--a rack sails from the west; the clouds
cast themselves into strange forms--arches and broad radiations; there
rise resplendent mornings--glorious, royal, purple, as monarch in his
state; the heavens are one flame; so wild are they, they rival battle at
its thickest--so bloody, they shame Victory in her pride. I know some
signs of the sky, I have noted them ever since childhood. God, watch
that sail! Oh, guard it!
"The wind shifts to the west. Peace, peace, Banshee--'keening' at every
window! It will rise--it will swell--it shrieks out long: wander as I
may through the house this night, I cannot lull the blast. The advancing
hours make it strong; by midnight all sleepless watchers hear and fear a
wild south-west storm.
"That storm roared frenzied for seven days. It did not cease till the
Atlantic was strewn with wrecks: it did not lull till the deeps had
gorged their fill of substance. Not till the destroying angel of tempest
had achieved his perfect work, would he fold the wings whose waft was
thunder--the tremor of whose plumes was storm."
* * * * *
After _Villette_, the _Last Sketch_, the _Fragment of Emma_; that
fragment which Charlotte Bronte read to her husband not long before her
death. All he said was, "The critics will accuse you of repetition."
The critics have fulfilled his cautious prophecy. The _Fragment_ passed
for one of those sad things of which the least said the better. It was
settled that Charlotte Bronte had written herself out, that if she had
lived she would have become more and more her own plagiarist. There is a
middle-aged lady in _Emma_, presumably conceived on the lines of Mrs.
Fairfax and Mrs. Pryor. There is a girls' school, which is only not
Lowood because it is so obviously Roe Head or Dewsbury Moor. There is a
schoolmistress with sandy hair and thin lips and a cold blue eye,
recalling Madame Beck, though there the likeness ceases. And in that
school, ill-treated by that schoolmistress, there is a little ugly,
suffering, deserted child.
All this looks very much like repetition. But it does not shake my
private belief that _Emma_ is a fragment of what would have been as
great a novel as _Villette_. There are indications. There is Mr. Ellin,
who proves that Charlotte Bronte could create a live man of the finer
sort, an unexploited masculine type with no earthly resemblance to
Rochester or to Louis Moore or M. Paul. He is an unfinished sketch
rather than a portrait, but a sketch that would not too shamefully have
discredited Mr. Henry James. For there is a most modern fineness and
subtlety in _Emma_; and, for all its sketchy incompleteness, a peculiar
certainty of touch, an infallible sense of the significant action, the
revealing gesture. With a splendid economy of means, scenes, passages,
phrases, apparently slight, are charged with the most intense
psychological suggestion. When Mr. Ellin, summoned on urgent business by
Miss Wilcox, takes that preposterously long and leisurely round to get
to her, you know what is passing in the mind of Mr. Ellin as well as if
you had been told. In that brief scene between Mr. Ellin and the
schoolmistress, you know as well as if you had been told, that Miss
Wilcox has lost Mr. Ellin because of her unkindness to a child. When the
child, Matilda Fitzgibbon, falls senseless, and Mr. Ellin gives his
inarticulate cry and lifts her from the floor, the enigmatic man has
revealed his innermost nature.
Now a fragment that can suggest all this with the smallest possible
expenditure of phrases, is not a fragment that can be set aside. It is
slight; but slightness that accomplishes so much is a sign of progress
rather than of falling-off. We shall never know what happened to Matilda
when Mr. Ellin took her from Miss Wilcox. We shall never know what
happened to Mr. Ellin; but I confess that I am dying to know, and that I
find it hard to forgive Mr. Nicholls for having killed them, so certain
am I that they would have lived triumphantly if Charlotte Bronte had not
Some of us will be profoundly indifferent to this issue; for Charlotte
Bronte has no following in a certain school. She defies analysis. You
cannot label her. What she has done is not "Realism", neither is it
"Romance". She displeases both by her ambiguity and by her lack of form.
She has no infallible dramatic instinct. Even in _Villette_ she
preserves some of her clumsiness, her crudity, her improbability. The
progress of "the Novel" in our day is towards a perfection of form and a
reality she never knew.
But "reality" is a large term; and, as for form, _who_ cared about it in
the fifties? As for improbability--as M. Dimnet says--she is not more
improbable than Balzac.
And all these things, the ambiguity, the formlessness and the rest, she
was gradually correcting as she advanced. It is impossible to exaggerate
the importance and significance of her attainment in _Villette_; there
has been so much confused thinking in the consecrated judgment of that
novel. _Villette_ owes its high place largely to its superior
construction and technique; largely and primarily to Charlotte Bronte's
progress towards the light, towards the world, towards the great
undecorated reality. It is odd criticism that ignores the inevitable
growth, the increasing vision and grasp, the whole indomitable advance
of a great writer, and credits "experience" with the final masterpiece.
As a result of this confusion _Villette_ has been judged "final" in
another sense. Yes, final--this novel that shows every sign and token of
long maturing, long-enduring power. If Charlotte Bronte's critics had
not hypnotized themselves by the perpetual reiteration of that word
"experience", it would have been impossible for them, with the evidence
of her work before them, to have believed that in _Villette_ she had
written herself out.
She was only just beginning.
* * * * *
Of Charlotte Bronte's _Poems_ there is not much to say. They are better
poems than Branwell's or Anne's, but that does not make them very good.
Still, they are interesting, and they are important, because they are
the bridge by which Charlotte Bronte passed into her own dominion. She
took Wordsworth with his Poems and Ballads for her guide, and he misled
her and delayed her on her way, and kept her a long time standing on her
bridge. For in her novels, and her novels only, Charlotte was a poet. In
her poems she is a novelist, striving and struggling for expression in a
cramped form, an imperfect and improper medium. But most indubitably a
novelist. Nearly all her poems which are not artificial are impersonal.
They deal with "situations", with "psychological problems", that cry
aloud for prose. There is the "Wife" who seems to have lived a long,
adventurous life with "William" through many poems; there is the
deserted wife and mother in "Mementos"; there is "Frances", the deserted
maiden; there is "Gilbert" with his guilty secret and his suicide, a
triple domestic tragedy in the three acts of a three-part ballad; there
is the lady in "Preference", who prefers her husband to her passionate
and profoundly deluded lover; there is the woman in "Apostasy", wrecked
in the conflict between love and priestcraft; and there is little else
beside. These poems are straws, showing the way of the wind that bloweth
where it listeth.
* * * * *
Too much has been written about Charlotte Bronte, and far too much has
been read. You come away from it with an enormous mass of printed stuff
wrecked in your memory, letters, simply hundreds of letters, legends and
theories huddled together in a heap, with all values and proportions
lost; and your impression is of tumult and of suffering, and of a
multitude of confused and incongruous happenings; funerals and
flirtations, or something very like flirtations, to the sound of the
passing bell and sexton's chisel; upheavals of soul, flights to and from
Brussels, interminable years of exile, and of lurid, tragic passion;
years, interminable, monotonous years of potato-peeling and all manner
of household piety; scenes of debauchery, horrors of opium and of drink;
celebrity, cataclysmal celebrity, rushings up to town in storm and
darkness, dim coffee-houses in Paternoster Row, dinner-parties; deaths,
funerals, melancholia; and still celebrity; years, interminable,
monotonous years of blazing celebrity, sounds of the literary workshop
overpowering the sexton's chisel; then marriage, sudden and swift; then
death. And in the midst of it all, one small and rather absurd and
obscure figure, tossed to and fro, said to be Charlotte Bronte.
What an existence!
This is the impression created by the bibliographical total. But sweep
four-fifths of it away, all the legends and half the letters, and sort
and set out what remains, observing values and proportions, and you get
an outer life where no great and moving event ever came, saving only
death (Charlotte's marriage hardly counts beside it); an outer life of a
strange and almost oppressive simplicity and silence; and an inner life,
tumultuous and profound in suffering, a life to all appearances
frustrate, where all nourishment of the emotions was reduced to the
barest allowance a woman's heart can depend on and yet live; and none
the less a life that out of that starvation diet raised enough of rich
and vivid and superb emotion to decorate a hundred women's lives; an
inner life which her genius fed and was fed from, for which no reality,
no experience, could touch its own intensity of realization. And, genius
apart, in the region of actual and ostensible emotion, no one of us can
measure the depth of her adoration of duty, or the depth, the force and
volume of her passion for her own people, and for the earth trodden by
their feet, the earth that covered them. Beside it every other feeling
was temporary and insignificant. In the light of it you see Charlotte
Bronte's figure for ever simple and beautiful and great; behind her for
ever the black-grey setting of her village and the purple of her moors.
That greatness and beauty and simplicity is destroyed by any effort to
detach her from her background. She may seem susceptible to the alien
influences of exile; but it is as an exile that she suffers; and her
most inspired moments are her moments of return, when she wrote prose
like this: "The moon reigns glorious, glad of the gale; as glad as if
she gave herself to his fierce caress with love. No Endymion will watch
for his goddess to-night: there are no flocks on the mountains."
* * * * *
Around the figure of Emily Bronte there is none of that clamour and
confusion. She stands apart in an enduring silence, and guards for ever
her secret and her mystery. By the mercy of heaven the swarm of gossips
and of theorists has passed her by. She has no legend or hardly any. So
completely has she been passed over that when Madame Duclaux came to
write the Life of Emily Bronte she found little to add to Mrs. Gaskell's
meagre record beyond that story, which she tells with an incomparable
simplicity and reticence, of Emily in her mortal illness, sitting by the
hearth, combing her long hair till the comb slips from her fingers.
That is worth all the reams, the terrible reams that have been written
There can be no doubt that Emily Bronte found her shelter behind
Charlotte's fame; but she was protected most of all by the
unapproachable, the unique and baffling quality of her temperament and
of her genius. Her own people seem to have felt it; Charlotte herself in
that preface to _Wuthering Heights_, which stands as her last
vindication and eulogy of her dead sister, even Charlotte betrays a
curious reservation and reluctance. You feel that Emily's genius
inspired her with a kind of sacred terror.
Charlotte destroyed all records of her sister except her poems. Between
six and seven hundred of her own letters have been published; there are
two of Emily's. They tell little or nothing. And there was that diary
she kept for Anne, where she notes with extreme brevity the things that
are happening in her family. There never was a diary wherein the soul of
the diarist was so well concealed.
And yet, because of this silence, this absence of legend and conjecture,
we see Emily Bronte more clearly than we can ever hope to see Charlotte
now. Though hardly anything is known of her, what _is_ known is
authentic; it comes straight from those who knew and loved her: from
Charlotte, from Ellen Nussey, from the servants at the Parsonage. Even
of her outward and visible presence we have a clearer image. The lines
are fewer, but they are more vivid. You see her tall and slender, in her
rough clothes, tramping the moors with the form and the step of a virile
adolescent. Shirley, the "_bete fauve_", is Emily civilized. You see her
head carried high and crowned with its long, dark hair, coiled simply,
caught up with a comb. You see her face, honey-pale, her slightly high,
slightly aquiline nose; her beautiful eyes, dark-grey, luminous; the
"kind, kindling, liquid eyes" that Ellen Nussey saw; and their look, one
moment alert, intent, and the next, inaccessibly remote.
I have seen such kind and kindling eyes in the face of a visionary, born
with a profound, incurable indifference to the material event; for whom
the Real is the incredible, unapparent harmony that flows above,
beneath, and within the gross flux of appearances. To him it is the sole
thing real. That kind and kindling look I know to be simply a light
reflected from the surface of the dream. It is anything but cold; it has
indeed a certain tender flame; but you would be profoundly mistaken if
you argued from it more than the faintest polite interest in you and
your affairs. The kindling of Emily Bronte's eyes I take to have had at
times something of the same unearthly quality. Strangers received from
her an impression as of a creature utterly removed from them; a
remoteness scarcely human, hard to reconcile with her known tenderness
for every living thing. She seems to have had a passionate repugnance to
alien and external contacts, and to have felt no more than an almost
reluctant liking for the lovable and charming Ellen Nussey. Indeed, she
regarded Charlotte's friend with the large and virile tolerance that
refuses to be charmed.
And yet in the depths of her virginal nature there was something
fiercely tender and maternal. There can be no doubt that she cared for
Charlotte, who called her "Mine own bonnie love"; but she would seem to
have cared far more for Anne who was young and helpless, and for
Branwell who was helpless and most weak.
Thus there is absolutely nothing known of Emily that destroys or
disturbs the image that Haworth holds of her; nothing that detaches her
for a moment from her own people, and from her own place. Her days of
exile count not at all in her thirty years of home. No separation ever
broke, for one hour that counted, the bonds that bound her to her moors,
or frustrated the divine passion of her communion with their earth and
sky. Better still, no tale of passion such as they tell of Charlotte was
ever told of Emily.
It may be told yet, for no secret thing belonging to this disastrous
family is sacred. There may be somewhere some awful worshipper of Emily
Bronte, impatient of her silence and unsatisfied with her strange, her
virgin and inaccessible beauty, who will some day make up a story of
some love-affair, some passion kindred to Catherine Earnshaw's passion
for Heathcliff, of which her moors have kept the secret; and he will
tell his tale. But we shall at least know that he had made it up. And
even so, it will have been better for that man if he had never been
born. He will have done his best to destroy or to deface the loveliness
of a figure unique in literature. And he will have ignored the one
perfect, the one essentially true picture of Emily Bronte, which is to
be found in Maurice Maeterlinck's _Wisdom and Destiny_.
To M. Maeterlinck she is the supreme instance of the self-sufficing
soul, independent and regardless of the material event. She shows the
emptiness, the impotence, the insignificance of all that we call
"experience," beside the spirit that endures. "Not a single event ever
paused as it passed by her threshold; yet did every event she could
claim take place in her heart, with incomparable force and beauty, with
matchless precision and detail. We say that nothing ever happened; but
did not all things really happen to her much more directly and tangibly
than with most of us, seeing that everything that took place about her,
everything that she saw or heard was transformed within her into
thoughts and feelings, into indulgent love, admiration, adoration of
"Of her happiness none can doubt. Not in the soul of the best of all
those whose happiness has lasted longest, been the most active,
diversified, perfect, could more imperishable harvest be found, than in
the soul Emily Bronte lays bare. If to her there came nothing of all
that passes in love, sorrow, passion or anguish, still did she possess
all that abides when emotion has faded away."[A]
[Footnote A: _Wisdom and Destiny_, translated by Alfred Sutro.]
What was true of Charlotte, that her inner life was luminous with
intense realization, was a hundred times more true of Emily. It was so
true that beside it nothing else that can be said is altogether true. It
is not necessary for a man to be convinced of the illusory nature of
time and of material happenings in order to appreciate Charlotte's
genius; but his comprehension of Emily's will be adequate or otherwise,
according to the passion and sincerity with which he embraces that idea.
And he must have, further, a sense of the reality behind the illusion.
It is through her undying sense of it that Emily Bronte is great. She
had none of the proud appearances of the metaphysical mind; she did not,
so far as we know, devour, like George Eliot, whole systems of
philosophy in her early youth. Her passionate pantheism was not derived;
it was established in her own soul. She was a mystic, not by religious
vocation, but by temperament and by ultimate vision. She offers the
apparent anomaly of extreme detachment and of an unconquerable love of
It was the highest and the purest passion that you can well conceive.
For life gave her nothing in return. It treated her worse than it
treated Charlotte. She had none of the things that, after all, Charlotte
had; neither praise nor fame in her lifetime; nor friendship, nor love,
nor vision of love. All these things "passed her by with averted head";
and she stood in her inviolable serenity and watched them go, without
putting out her hand to one of them. You cannot surprise her in any
piteous gesture of desire or regret. And, unlike Charlotte, she made it
impossible for you to pity her.
It is this superb attitude to life, this independence of the material
event, this detachment from the stream of circumstance, that marks her
from her sister; for Charlotte is at moments pitifully immersed in the
stream of circumstance, pitifully dependent on the material event. It
is true that she kept her head above the stream, and that the failure of
the material event did not frustrate or hinder her ultimate achievement.
But Charlotte's was not by any means "a chainless soul". It struggled
and hankered after the unattainable. What she attained and realized she
realized and attained in her imagination only. She knew nothing of the
soul's more secret and intimate possession. And even her imagination
waited to some extent upon experience. When Charlotte wrote of passion,
of its tragic suffering, or of its ultimate appeasing, she, after all,
wrote of things that might have happened to her. But when Emily wrote of
passion, she wrote of a thing that, so far as she personally was
concerned, not only was not and had not been, but never could be. It was
true enough of Charlotte that she created. But of Emily it was
absolutely and supremely true.
Hers is not the language of frustration, but of complete and satisfying
possession. It may seem marvellous in the mouth of a woman destitute of
all emotional experience, in the restricted sense; but the real wonder
would have been a _Wuthering Heights_ born of any personal emotion; so
certain is it that it was through her personal destitution that her
genius was so virile and so rich. At its hour it found her virgin, not
only to passion but to the bare idea of passion, to the inner and
And her genius was great, not only through her stupendous imagination,
but because it fed on the still more withdrawn and secret sources of her
soul. If she had had no genius she would yet be great because of what
took place within her, the fusion of her soul with the transcendent and
It was there that, possessing nothing, she possessed all things; and her
secret escapes you if you are aware only of her splendid paganism. She
never speaks the language of religious resignation like Anne and
Charlotte. It is most unlikely that she relied, openly or in secret, on
"the merits of the Redeemer", or on any of the familiar consolations of
religion. As she bowed to no disaster and no grief, consolation would
have been the last thing in any religion that she looked for. But, for
height and depth of supernatural attainment, there is no comparison
between Emily's grip of divine reality and poor Anne's spasmodic and
despairing clutch; and none between Charlotte's piety, her "God
willing"; "I suppose I ought to be thankful", and Emily's acceptance and
endurance of the event.
I am reminded that one event she neither accepted nor endured. She
fought death. Her spirit lifted the pathetic, febrile struggle of
weakness with corruption, and turned it to a splendid, Titanic, and
And yet it was in her life rather than her death that she was splendid.
There is something shocking and repellent in her last defiance. It
shrieks discord with the endurance and acceptance, braver than all
revolt, finer than all resignation, that was the secret of her genius
and of her life.
There is no need to reconcile this supreme detachment with the storm and
agony that rages through _Wuthering Heights_, or with the passion for
life and adoration of the earth that burns there, an imperishable flame;
or with Catherine Earnshaw's dream of heaven: "heaven did not seem to be
my home; and I broke my heart with weeping to come back to earth; and
the angels were so angry that they flung me out into the middle of the
heath on the top of Wuthering Heights; where I woke sobbing for joy".
Catherine Earnshaw's dream has been cited innumerable times to prove
that Emily Bronte was a splendid pagan. I do not know what it does
prove, if it is not the absolute and immeasurable greatness of her
genius, that, dwelling as she undoubtedly did dwell, in the secret and
invisible world, she could yet conceive and bring forth Catherine
It is not possible to diminish the force or to take away one word of Mr.
Swinburne's magnificent eulogy. There _was_ in the "passionate great
genius of Emily Bronte", "a dark, unconscious instinct as of primitive
nature-worship". That was where she was so poised and so complete; that
she touches earth and heaven, and is at once intoxicated with the
splendour of the passion of living, and holds her spirit in security and
her heart in peace. She plunged with Catherine Earnshaw into the thick
of the tumult, and her detachment is not more wonderful than her
It is our own imperfect vision that is bewildered by the union in her of
these antagonistic attitudes. It is not only entirely possible and
compatible, but, if your soul be comprehensive, it is inevitable that
you should adore the forms of life, and yet be aware of their
impermanence; that you should affirm with equal fervour their illusion
and the radiance of the reality that manifests itself in them. Emily
Bronte was nothing if not comprehensive. There was no distance, no abyss
too vast, no antagonism, no contradiction too violent and appalling for
her embracing soul. Without a hint, so far as we know, from any
philosophy, by a sheer flash of genius she pierced to the secret of the
world and crystallized it in two lines:
The earth that wakes _one_ human heart to feeling
Can centre both the worlds of Heaven and Hell.
It is doubtful if she ever read a line of Blake; yet it is Blake that
her poems perpetually recall, and it is Blake's vision that she has
reached there. She too knew what it was
To see a world in a grain of sand,
And a Heaven in a wild flower,
To hold Infinity in the palm of your hand,
And Eternity in an hour.
She sees by a flash what he saw continuously; but it is by the same
light she sees it and wins her place among the mystics.
Her mind was not always poised. It swung between its vision of
transparent unity and its love of earth for earth's sake. There are at
least four poems of hers that show this entirely natural oscillation.
In one, a nameless poem, the Genius of Earth calls to the visionary
Shall earth no more inspire thee,
Thou lonely dreamer now?
Since passion may not fire thee,
Shall nature cease to bow?
Thy mind is ever moving
In regions dark to thee;
Recall its useless roving,
Come back, and dwell with me.
* * * * *
Few hearts to mortals given
On earth so wildly pine;
Yet few would ask a heaven
More like this earth than thine.
"The Night-Wind" sings the same song, lures with the same enchantment;
and the human voice answers, resisting:
Play with the scented flower,
The young tree's supple bough,
And leave my human feelings
In their own course to flow.
But the other voice is stronger:
The wanderer would not heed me;
Its kiss grew warmer still.
"Oh, come," it sighed so sweetly;
"I'll win thee 'gainst thy will.
"Were we not friends from childhood?
Have I not loved thee long?
As long as thou, the solemn night,
Whose silence wakes my song.
"And when thy heart is resting
Beneath the church-aisle stone,
_I_ shall have time for mourning,
And _thou_ for being alone."
There are nine verses of "The Night-Wind", and the first eight are
negligible; but, as for the last and ninth, I do not know any poem in
any language that renders, in four short lines, and with such
incomparable magic and poignancy, the haunting and pursuing of the human
by the inhuman, that passion of the homeless and eternal wind.
And this woman, destitute, so far as can be known, of all metaphysical
knowledge or training, reared in the narrowest and least metaphysical of
creeds, did yet contrive to express in one poem of four irregular verses
all the hunger and thirst after the "Absolute" that ever moved a human
soul, all the bewilderment and agony inflicted by the unintelligible
spectacle of existence, the intolerable triumph of evil over good, and
did conceive an image and a vision of the transcendent reality that
holds, as in crystal, all the philosophies that were ever worthy of the
Here it is. There are once more two voices: one of the Man, the other of
Oh, for the time when I shall sleep
And never care how rain may steep,
Or snow may cover me!
No promised heaven, these wild desires
Could all, or half fulfil;
No threatened hell, with quenchless fires,
Subdue this restless will.
So said I, and still say the same;
Still, to my death, will say--
Three gods, within this little frame,
Are warring night and day;
Heaven could not hold them all, and yet
They all are held in me;
And must be mine till I forget
My present entity!
Oh, for the time, when in my breast
Their struggles will be o'er!
Oh, for the day, when I shall rest,
And never suffer more!
I saw a spirit, standing, man,
Where thou dost stand--an hour ago,
And round his feet three rivers ran,
Of equal depth, and equal flow--
A golden stream--and one like blood,
And one like sapphire seemed to be;
But where they joined their triple flood
It tumbled in an inky sea.
The spirit sent his dazzling gaze
Down through that ocean's gloomy night;
Then, kindling all, with sudden blaze,--
The glad deep sparkled wide and bright--
White as the sun, far, far more fair
Than its divided sources were!
And even for that spirit, seer,
I've watched and sought my lifetime long;
Sought him in heaven, hell, earth and air,
An endless search and always wrong.
Had I but seen his glorious eye
_Once_ light the clouds that 'wilder me,
I ne'er had raised this coward cry
To cease to think, and cease to be;
I ne'er had called oblivion blest,
Nor, stretching eager hands to death,
Implored to change for senseless rest
This sentient soul, this living breath--
Oh, let me die--that power and will
Their cruel strife may close,
And conquered good and conquering ill
Be lost in one repose!
That vision of the transcendent spirit, with the mingled triple flood of
life about his feet, is one that Blake might have seen and sung and
The fourth poem, "The Prisoner", is a fragment, and an obscure fragment,
which may belong to a very different cycle. But whatever its place, it
has the same visionary quality. The vision is of the woman captive,
"confined in triple walls", the "guest darkly lodged", the "chainless
soul", that defies its conqueror, its gaoler, and the spectator of its
agony. It has, this prisoner, its own unspeakable consolation, the
He comes with western winds, with evening's wandering airs,
With that clear dusk of heaven that brings the thickest stars.
Winds take a pensive tone, and stars a tender fire,
And visions rise and change that kill me with desire.
* * * * *
But, first, a hush of peace--a soundless calm descends;
The struggle of distress, and fierce impatience ends;
Mute music soothes my breast--unuttered harmony,
That I could never dream, till earth was lost to me.
Then dawns the Invisible; the Unseen its truth reveals;
My outward sense is gone, my inward essence feels:
Its wings are almost free--its home, its harbour found,
Measuring the gulf, it stoops and dares the final bound.
That is the language of a mystic, of a mystic who has passed beyond
contemplation; who has known or imagined ecstasy. The joy is
unmistakable; unmistakable, too, is the horror of the return:
Oh! dreadful is the check--intense the agony--
When the ear begins to hear, and the eye begins to see;
When the pulse begins to throb, the brain to think again;
The soul to feel the flesh, and the flesh to feel the chain.
There is no doubt about those three verses; that they are the expression
of the rarest and the most tremendous experience that is given to
humanity to know.
If "The Visionary" does not touch that supernal place, it belongs
indubitably to the borderland:
Silent is the house; all are laid asleep:
One alone looks out o'er the snow-wreaths deep,
Watching every cloud, dreading every breeze
That whirls the wildering drift and bends the groaning trees.
Cheerful is the hearth, soft the matted floor;
Not one shivering gust creeps through pane or door;
The little lamp burns straight, the rays shoot strong and far
I trim it well to be the wanderer's guiding-star.
Frown, my haughty sire! chide, my angry dame!
Set your slaves to spy; threaten me with shame;
But neither sire nor dame, nor prying serf shall know,
What angel nightly tracks that waste of frozen snow.
What I love shall come like visitant of air,
Safe in secret power from lurking human snare;
What loves me no word of mine shall e'er betray,
Though for faith unstained my life must forfeit pay.
Burn then, little lamp; glimmer straight and clear--
Hush! a rustling wing stirs, methinks, the air;
He for whom I wait, thus ever comes to me:
Strange Power! I trust thy might; trust thou my constancy.
Those who can see nothing in this poem but the idealization of an
earthly passion must be strangely and perversely mistaken in their Emily
Bronte. I confess I can never read it without thinking of one of the
most marvellous of all poems of Divine Love: "En una Noche Escura".
EN UNA NOCHE ESCURA[A]
Upon an obscure night
Fevered with Love's anxiety
(O hapless, happy plight!)
I went, none seeing me,
Forth from my house, where all things quiet be.
* * * * *
Blest night of wandering
In secret, when by none might I be spied,
Nor I see anything;
Without a light to guide
Save that which in my heart burnt in my side.
That light did lead me on
More surely than the shining of noontide,
Where well I knew that One
Did for my coming bide;
Where he abode might none but he abide.
O night that didst lead thus;
O night more lovely than the dawn of light;
O night that broughtest us
Lover to lover's sight,
Lover to loved, in marriage of delight!
[Footnote A: "St. John of the Cross: The Dark Night of the Soul."
Translated by Arthur Symons in vol. ii. of his _Collected Poems_.]
* * * * *
We know what love is celebrated there, and we do not know so clearly
what manner of supernal passion is symbolized in Emily Bronte's
angel-lover. There is a long way there between Emily Bronte and St.
John of the Cross, between her lamp-lit window and his "Dark Night of
the Soul", and yet her opening lines have something of the premonitory
thrill, the haunting power of tremendous suggestion, the intense,
mysterious expectancy of his. The spiritual experience is somewhat
different, but it belongs to the same realm of the super-physical; and
it is very far from Paganism.
She wrote of these supreme ardours and mysteries; and she wrote that
most inspired and vehement song of passionate human love, "Remembrance":
Cold in the earth--and the deep snow piled above thee,
Far, far removed, cold in the dreary grave!
Have I forgot, my only Love, to love thee....
But "Remembrance" is too well known for quotation here. So is "The Old
These are perfect and unforgettable things. But there is hardly one of
the least admirable of her poems that has not in it some unforgettable
and perfect verse or line:
And oh, how slow that keen-eyed star
Has tracked the chilly grey!
What, watching yet? how very far
The morning lies away.
That is how some watcher on Wuthering Heights might measure the long
passage of the night.
"The Lady to her Guitar", that recalls the dead and forgotten player,
It is as if the glassy brook
Should image still its willows fair,
_Though years ago the woodman's stroke
Laid low in dust their Dryad-hair_.
She has her "dim moon struggling in the sky", to match Charlotte's "the
moon reigns glorious, glad of the gale, glad as if she gave herself to
his fierce caress with love". At sixteen, in the schoolroom,[A] she
wrote verses of an incomparable simplicity and poignancy:
A little while, a little while,
The weary task is put away,
And I can sing and I can smile,
Alike, while I have holiday.
Where wilt thou go, my harassed heart--
What thought, what scene invites thee now?
What spot, or near or far apart,
Has rest for thee, my weary brow?
* * * * *
The house is old, the trees are bare,
Moonless above bends twilight's dome;
But what on earth is half so dear--
So longed for--as the hearth of home?
The mute bird sitting on the stone,
The dank moss dripping from the wall,
The thorn-trees gaunt, the walks o'ergrown,
I love them--how I love them all!
Still, as I mused, the naked room,
The alien firelight died away,
And, from the midst of cheerless gloom,
I passed to bright, unclouded day.
A little and a lone green lane
That opened on a common wide;
A distant, dreamy, dim blue chain
Of mountains circling every side.
A heaven so clear, an earth so calm.
So sweet, so soft, so hushed an air;
And, deepening still the dream-like charm,
Wild moor-sheep feeding everywhere.
[Footnote A: Madame Duclaux assigns to these verses a much later
date--the year of Emily Bronte's exile in Brussels. Sir William
Robertson Nicoll also considers that "the 'alien firelight' suits
Brussels better than the Yorkshire hearth of 'good, kind' Miss Wooler".
To me the schoolroom of the Pensionnat suggests an "alien" stove, and
not the light of any fire at all.]
* * * * *
There was no nostalgia that she did not know. And there was no funeral
note she did not sound; from the hopeless gloom of
In the earth--the earth--thou shalt be laid,
A grey stone standing over thee;
Black mould beneath thee spread,
And black mould to cover thee.
Well--there is rest there,
So fast come thy prophecy;
The time when my sunny hair
Shall with grass-roots entwined be.
But cold--cold is that resting-place
Shut out from joy and liberty,
And all who loved thy living face
Will shrink from it shudderingly.
From that to the melancholy grace of the moorland dirge:
The linnet in the rocky dells,
The moor-lark in the air,
The bee among the heather-bells
That hide my lady fair:
The wild deer browse above her breast;
The wild birds raise their brood;
And they, her smiles of love caressed,
Have left her solitude.
* * * * *
Well, let them fight for honour's breath,
Or pleasure's shade pursue--
The dweller in the land of death
Is changed and careless too.
And if their eyes should watch and weep
Till sorrow's source were dry,
She would not, in her tranquil sleep,
Return a single sigh.
Blow, west wind, by the lowly mound,
And murmur, summer-streams--
There is no need of other sound
To soothe my lady's dreams.
There is, finally, that nameless poem--her last--where Emily Bronte's
creed finds utterance. It also is well known, but I give it here by way
of justification, lest I should seem to have exaggerated the mystic
detachment of this lover of the earth:
No coward soul is mine,
No trembler in the world's storm-troubled sphere:
I see Heaven's glories shine,
And faith shines equal, arming me from fear.
O God within my breast,
Almighty, ever-present Deity!
Life--that in me has rest,
As I--undying Life--have power in thee!
Vain are the thousand creeds
That move men's hearts: unutterably vain;
Worthless as withered weeds,
Or idlest froth amid the boundless main.
To waken doubt in one
Holding so fast by thine infinity;
So surely anchored on
The steadfast rock of immortality.
With wide-embracing love
Thy spirit animates eternal years,
Pervades and broods above,
Changes, sustains, dissolves, creates, and rears.
Though earth and man were gone,
And suns and universes ceased to be,
And Thou wert left alone,
Every existence would exist in Thee.
There is not room for Death,
Nor atom that his might could render void:
Thou--THOU art Being and Breath,
And what THOU art may never be destroyed.
It is not a perfect work. I do not think it is by any means the finest
poem that Emily Bronte ever wrote. It has least of her matchless,
incommunicable quality. There is one verse, the fifth, that recalls
almost painfully the frigid poets of Deism of the eighteenth century.
But even that association cannot destroy or contaminate its superb
sincerity and dignity. If it recalls the poets of Deism, it recalls no
less one of the most ancient of all metaphysical poems, the poem of
Parmenides on Being:
[Greek: pos d' an epeit apoloito pelon, pos d' an ke genoito;
ei ge genoit, ouk est', oud ei pote mellei esesthai.
* * * * *
tos, genesis men apesbestai kai apiotos olethros.
oude diaireton estin, epei pan estin homoion
oude ti pae keneon....
....eon gar eonti pelazei.]
Parmenides had not, I imagine, "penetrated" to Haworth; yet the last
verse of Emily Bronte's poem might have come straight out of his [Greek:
ta pros halaetheiaen]. Truly, an astonishing poem to have come from a
girl in a country parsonage in the 'forties.
But the most astonishing thing about it is its inversion of a yet more
consecrated form: "Thou hast made us for Thyself, and our hearts are
restless till they rest in Thee". Emily Bronte does not follow St.
Augustine. She has an absolutely inspired and independent insight:
Life--that in me has rest,
As I--undying Life--have power in Thee!
For there was but little humility or resignation about Emily Bronte.
Nothing could be prouder than her rejection of the view that must have
been offered to her every Sunday from her father's pulpit. She could not
accept the Christian idea of separation and the Mediator. She knew too
well the secret. She saw too clearly the heavenly side of the eternal
quest. She heard, across the worlds, the downward and the upward rush of
the Two immortally desirous; when her soul cried she heard the answering
cry of the divine pursuer: "My heart is restless till it rests in Thee."
It is in keeping with her vision of the descent of the Invisible, who
With that clear dusk of heaven that brings the thickest stars,
her vision of the lamp-lit window, and the secret, unearthly
There is no doubt about it. And there is no doubt about the Paganism
either. It seems at times the most apparent thing about Emily Bronte.
The truth is that she revealed her innermost and unapparent nature only
in her poems. That was probably why she was so annoyed when Charlotte
* * * * *
Until less than ten years ago it was commonly supposed that Charlotte
had discovered all there were. Then sixty-seven hitherto unpublished
poems appeared in America. And the world went on unaware of what had
And now Mr. Clement Shorter, in his indefatigable researches, has
unearthed seventy-one more, and published them with the sixty-seven and
with Charlotte's thirty-nine.[A]
[Footnote A: _Complete Works of Emily Bronte._ Vol. I.--Poetry. (Messrs.
Hodder and Stoughton, 1910.)]
And the world continues more or less unaware.
I do not know how many new poets Vigo Street can turn out in a week. But
I do know that somehow the world is made sufficiently aware of some of
them. But this event, in which Vigo Street has had no hand, the
publication, after more than sixty years, of the Complete Poems of Emily
Bronte, has not, so far as I know, provoked any furious tumult of
And yet there could hardly well have been an event of more importance in
its way. If the best poems in Mr. Shorter's collection cannot stand
beside the best in Charlotte's editions of 1846 and 1850, many of them
reveal an aspect of Emily Bronte's genius hitherto unknown and undreamed
of; one or two even reveal a little more of the soul of Emily Bronte
than has yet been known.
There are no doubt many reasons for the world's indifference. The few
people in it who read poetry at all do not read Emily Bronte much; it is
as much as they can do to keep pace with the perpetual, swift procession
of young poets out of Vigo Street. There is a certain austerity about
Emily Bronte, a superb refusal of all extravagance, pomp, and
decoration, which makes her verses look naked to eyes accustomed to
young lyrics loaded with "jewels five-words long". About Emily Bronte
there is no emerald and beryl and chrysoprase; there are no vine-leaves
in her hair, and on her white Oread's feet there is no stain of purple
vintage. She knows nothing of the Dionysiac rapture and the sensuous
side of mysticism. She can give nothing to the young soul that thirsts
and hungers for these things.
It is not surprising, therefore, that the world should be callous to
Emily Bronte. What you are not prepared for is the appearance of
indifference in her editors. They are pledged by their office to a
peculiar devotion. And the circumstances of Emily Bronte's case made it
imperative that whoever undertook this belated introduction should show
rather more than a perfunctory enthusiasm. Her alien and lonely state
should have moved Mr. Clement Shorter to a passionate chivalry. It has
not even moved him to revise his proofs with perfect piety. Perfect
piety would have saved him from the oversight, innocent but deplorable,
of attributing to Emily Bronte four poems which Emily Bronte could not
possibly have written, which were in fact written by Anne:
"Despondency", "In Memory of a Happy Day in February", "A Prayer", and
"Confidence."[A] No doubt Mr. Shorter found them in Emily's handwriting;
but how could he, how _could_ he mistake Anne's voice for Emily's?
[Footnote A: Published among Charlotte Bronte's posthumous "Selections"
My God (oh let me call Thee mine,
Weak, wretched sinner though I be),
My trembling soul would fain be Thine;
My feeble faith still clings to Thee.
It is Anne's voice at her feeblest and most depressed.
It is, perhaps, a little ungrateful and ungracious to say these things,
when but for Mr. Shorter we should not have had Emily's complete poems
at all. And to accuse Mr. Shorter of present indifference (in the face
of his previous achievements) would be iniquitous if it were not absurd;
it would be biting the hand that feeds you. The pity is that, owing to a
mere momentary lapse in him of the religious spirit, Mr. Shorter has
missed his own opportunity. He does not seem to have quite realized the
splendour of his "find". Nor has Sir William Robertson Nicoll seen fit
to help him here. Sir William Robertson Nicoll deprecates any
over-valuation of Mr. Clement Shorter's collection. "It is not claimed,"
he says, "for a moment that the intrinsic merits of the verses are of a
special kind." And Mr. Clement Shorter is not much bolder in proffering
his treasures. "No one can deny to them," he says, "a certain
Mr. Shorter is too modest. His collection includes one of the
profoundest and most beautiful poems Emily Bronte ever wrote,[A] and at
least one splendid ballad, "Douglas Ride".[B] Here is the ballad, or
enough of it to show how live it is with sound and vision and speed. It
was written by a girl of twenty:
What rider up Gobeloin's glen
Has spurred his straining steed,
And fast and far from living men
Has passed with maddening speed?
I saw his hoof-prints mark the rock,
When swift he left the plain;
I heard deep down the echoing shock
Re-echo back again.
* * * * *
With streaming hair, and forehead bare,
And mantle waving wide,
His master rides; the eagle there
Soars up on every side.
The goats fly by with timid cry,
Their realm rashly won;
They pause--he still ascends on high--
They gaze, but he is gone.
O gallant horse, hold on thy course;
The road is tracked behind.
Spur, rider, spur, or vain thy force--
Death comes on every wind.
* * * * *
Hark! through the pass with threatening crash
Comes on the increasing roar!
But what shall brave the deep, deep wave,
The deadly pass before?
Their feet are dyed in a darker tide,
Who dare those dangers drear.
Their breasts have burst through the battle's worst,
And why should they tremble here?
* * * * *
"Now, my brave men, this one pass more,
This narrow chasm of stone,
And Douglas for our sovereign's gore
Shall yield us back his own."
I hear their ever-rising tread
Sound through the granite glen;
There is a tall pine overhead
Held by the mountain men.
That dizzy bridge which no horse could track
Has checked the outlaw's way;
There like a wild beast turns he back,
And grimly stands at bay.
Why smiles he so, when far below
He spies the toiling chase?
The pond'rous tree swings heavily,
And totters from its place.
They raise their eyes, for the sunny skies
Are lost in sudden shade:
But Douglas neither shrinks nor flies,
He need not fear the dead.
[Footnote A: See pp. 207, 208.]
[Footnote B: I have removed the title from the preceding fragment to the
ballad to which it obviously belongs.]
That is sufficiently unlike the Emily Bronte whom Charlotte edited. And
there is one other poem that stands alone among her poems with a strange
exotic beauty, a music, a rhythm and a magic utterly unlike any of the
forms we recognize as hers:
Gods of the old mythology
Arise in gloom and storm;
Adramalec, bow down thy head,
Reveal, dark fiend, thy form.
The giant sons of Anakim
Bowed lowest at thy shrine,
And thy temple rose in Argola,
With its hallowed groves of vine;
And there was eastern incense burnt,
And there were garments spread,
With the fine gold decked and broidered,
And tinged with radiant red,
With the radiant red of furnace flames
That through the shadows shone
As the full moon when on Sinai's top
Her rising light is thrown.
It is undated and unsigned, and so unlike Emily Bronte that I should not
be surprised if somebody were to rise up and prove that it is Coleridge
or somebody. Heaven forbid that this blow should fall on Mr. Clement
Shorter, and Sir William Robertson Nicoll, and on me. There is at least
one reassuring line. "Reveal, dark fiend, thy form", has a decided ring
of the Brontesque.
And here again, on many an otherwise negligible poem she has set her
seal, she has scattered her fine things; thus:
No; though the soil be wet with tears,
How fair so'er it grew,
The vital sap once perished
Will never flow again;
_And surer than that dwelling dread,
The narrow dungeon of the dead,
Time parts the hearts of men._
And again, she gives a vivid picture of war in four lines:
In plundered churches piled with dead
The heavy charger neighed for food,
The wounded soldier laid his head
'Neath roofless chambers splashed with blood.
Again, she has a vision:
In all the hours of gloom
My soul was rapt away.
I stood by a marble tomb
Where royal corpses lay.
A frightful thing appears to her, "a shadowy thing, most dim":
And still it bent above,
Its features still in view;
_It seemed close by; and yet more far
Than this world from the farthest star
That tracks the boundless blue._
Indeed 'twas not the space
Of earth or time between,
But the sea of deep eternity,
The gulf o'er which mortality
Has never, never been.
The date is June 1837, a year earlier than the ballad. And here is the
first sketch or germ of "The Old Stoic":
Give we the hills our equal prayer,
Earth's breezy hills and heaven's blue sea,
_I ask for nothing further here
Than my own heart and liberty._
And here is another poem, of a sterner and a sadder stoicism:
There was a time when my cheek burned
To give such scornful words the lie,
Ungoverned nature madly spurned
The law that bade it not defy.
Oh, in the days of ardent youth
I would have given my life for truth.
For truth, for right, for liberty,
I would have gladly, freely died;
And now I calmly bear and see
The vain man smile, the fool deride,
Though not because my heart is tame,
Though not for fear, though not for shame.
My soul still chokes at every tone
Of selfish and self-clouded error;
My breast still braves the world alone,
Steeled as it ever was to terror.
Only I know, howe'er I frown,
The same world will go rolling on.
October 1839. It is the worldly wisdom of twenty-one!
* * * * *
If this, the ballad and the rest, were all, the world would still be
richer, by a wholly new conception of Emily Bronte, of her resources and
But it is by no means all. And here we come to the opportunity which,
owing to that temporary decline of fervour, Mr. Shorter has so
He might have picked out of the mass wherein they lie scattered, all but
lost, sometimes barely recognizable, the fragments of a Titanic epic. He
might have done something to build up again the fabric of that
marvellous romance, that continuous dream, that stupendous and gorgeous
fantasy in which Emily Bronte, for at least eleven years, lived and
moved and had her being.
Until the publication of the unknown poems, it was possible to ignore
the "Gondal Chronicles". They are not included in Mr. Clement Shorter's
exhaustive list of early and unpublished manuscripts. Nobody knew
anything about them except that they were part of a mysterious game of
make-believe which Emily and the ever-innocent Anne played together,
long after the age when most of us have given up make-believing. There
are several references to the Chronicles in the diaries of Emily and
Anne. Emily writes in 1841: "The Gondaland are at present in a
threatening state, but there is no open rupture as yet. All the princes
and princesses of the Royalty are at the Palace of Instruction." Anne
wonders "whether the Gondaland will still be flourishing" in 1845. In
1845 Emily and Anne go for their first long journey together. "And
during our excursion we were Ronald Macalgin, Henry Angora, Juliet
Angusteena, Rosabella Esmaldan, Ella and Julian Egremont, Catharine
Navarre, and Cordelia Fitzaphnold, escaping from the palaces of
instruction to join the Royalists, who are hard pressed at present by
the victorious Republicans. "The Gondals," Emily says, "still flourish
bright as ever." Anne is not so sure. "We have not yet finished our
'Gondal Chronicles' that we began three years and a half ago. When will
they be done? The Gondals are at present in a sad state. The Republicans
are uppermost, but the Royalists are not quite overcome. The young
sovereigns, with their brothers and sisters, are still at the Palace of
Instruction. The Unique Society, about half a year ago, were wrecked on
a desert island as they were returning from Gaul. They are still there,
but we have not played at them much yet."
But there are no recognizable references to the Gondal poems. It is not
certain whether Charlotte Bronte knew of their existence, not absolutely
certain that Anne, who collaborated on the Gondals, knew.
"Bronte specialists" are agreed in dismissing the Chronicles as puerile.
But the poems cannot be so dismissed. Written in lyric or ballad form,
fluent at their worst and loose, but never feeble; powerful, vehement,
and overflowing at their best, their cycle contains some of Emily
Bronte's very finest verse. They are obscure, incoherent sometimes,
because they are fragmentary; even poems apparently complete in
themselves are fragments, scenes torn out of the vast and complicated
epic drama. We have no clue to the history of the Gondals, whereby we
can arrange these scenes in their right order. But dark and broken as
they are, they yet trail an epic splendour, they bear the whole
phantasmagoria of ancestral and of racial memories, of "old, unhappy,
far-off things, and battles long ago". These songs and ballads, strung
on no discernible thread, are the voice of an enchanted spirit,
recalling the long roll of its secular existences; in whom nothing lives
but that mysterious, resurgent memory.
The forms that move through these battles are obscure. You can pick out
many of the Gondal poems by the recurring names of heroes and of lands.
But where there are no names of heroes and of lands to guide you it is
not easy to say exactly which poems are Gondal poems and which are not.
But after careful examination and comparison you can make out at least
eighty-three of them that are unmistakable, and ten doubtful.
All the battle-pieces and songs of battle, the songs of mourning and
captivity and exile, the songs of heroism, martyrdom, defiance, songs,
or fragments of songs, of magic and divination, and many of the love
songs, belong to this cycle. What is more, many of the poems of
eighteen-forty-six and of eighteen-fifty are Gondal poems.
For in the Gondal legend the idea of the Doomed Child, an idea that
haunted Emily Bronte, recurs perpetually, and suggests that the Gondal
legend is the proper place of "The Two Children", and "The Wanderer from
the Fold", which appear in the posthumous Selections of eighteen-fifty.
It certainly includes three at the very least of the poems of
eighteen-forty-six: "The Outcast Mother", "A Death-Scene", and "Honour's
It does not look, I own, as if this hunt for Gondal literature could
interest a single human being; which is why nobody, so far as I know,
has pursued it. And the placing of those four poems in the obscure
Gondal legend would have nothing but "a bibliographical interest" were
it not that, when placed there, they show at once the main track of the
legend. And the main track of the legend brings you straight to the
courses of _Wuthering Heights_ and of the love poems.
The sources of _Wuthering Heights_ have been the dream and the despair
of the explorer, long before Mrs. Humphry Ward tried to find them in the
_Tales of Hoffmann_. And "Remembrance", one of the most passionate love
poems in the language, stood alone and apart from every other thing that
Emily Bronte had written. It was awful and mysterious in its loneliness.
But I believe that "Remembrance" also may be placed in the Gondal legend
without any violence to its mystery.
For supreme in the Gondal legend is the idea of a mighty and disastrous
passion, a woman's passion for the defeated, the dishonoured, and the
outlawed lover; a creature superb in evil, like Heathcliff, and like
Heathcliff tragic and unspeakably mournful in his doom. He or some hero
like him is "Honour's Martyr".
To-morrow, Scorn will blight my name,
And Hate will trample me,
Will load me with a coward's shame--
A traitor's perjury.
False friends will launch their covert sneers
True friends will wish me dead;
And I shall cause the bitterest tears
That you have ever shed.
Like Heathcliff, he is the "unblessed, unfriended child"; the child of
the Outcast Mother, abandoned on the moor.
Forests of heather, dark and long,
Wave their brown branching arms above;
And they must soothe thee with their song,
And they must shield my child of love.
* * * * *
Wakes up the storm more madly wild,
The mountain drifts are tossed on high;
Farewell, unblessed, unfriended child,
I cannot bear to watch thee die.
In an unmistakable Gondal song Geraldine's lover calls her to the tryst
on the moor. In the Gondal poem "Geraldine", she has her child with her
in a woodland cavern, and she prays over it wildly:
"Bless it! My Gracious God!" I cried,
"Preserve Thy mortal shrine,
For Thine own sake, be Thou its guide,
And keep it still divine--
"Say, sin shall never blanch that cheek,
Nor suffering change that brow.
Speak, in Thy mercy, Maker, speak,
And seal it safe from woe."
* * * * *
The revellers in the city slept,
My lady in her woodland bed;
I watching o'er her slumber wept,
As one who mourns the dead.
Geraldine therefore is the Outcast Mother. In "The Two Children" the
doom gathers round the child.
Heavy hangs the raindrop
From the burdened spray;
Heavy broods the damp mist
On uplands far away.
Heavy looms the dull sky,
Heavy rolls the sea;
And heavy throbs the young heart
Beneath that lonely tree.
Never has a blue streak
Cleft the clouds since morn
Never has his grim fate
Smiled since he was born.
Frowning on the infant,
Shadowing childhood's joy.
Guardian-angel knows not
That melancholy boy.
* * * * *
Blossom--that the west wind
Has never wooed to blow,
Scentless are thy petals,
Thy dew is cold as snow!
Soul--where kindred kindness
No early promise woke,
Barren is thy beauty,
As weed upon a rock.
Wither--soul and blossom!
You both were vainly given:
Earth reserves no blessing
For the unblest of Heaven.
The doomed child of the outcast mother is the doomed man, and, by the
doom, himself an outcast. The other child, the "Child of delight, with
sun-bright hair", has vowed herself to be his guardian angel. Their
drama is obscure; but you make out that it is the doomed child, and not
Branwell Bronte, who is "The Wanderer from the Fold".
How few, of all the hearts that loved,
Are grieving for thee now;
And why should mine to-night be moved
With such a sense of woe?
Too often thus, when left alone,
Where none my thoughts can see,
Comes back a word, a passing tone
From thy strange history.
* * * * *
An anxious gazer from the shore--
I marked the whitening wave,
And wept above thy fate the more
Because--I could not save.
It recks not now, when all is over;
But yet my heart will be
A mourner still, though friend and lover
Have both forgotten thee.
Compare with this that stern elegy in Mr. Shorter's collection, "Shed no
tears o'er that tomb." A recent critic has referred this poem of
reprobation also to Branwell Bronte--as if Emily could possibly have
written like this of Branwell:
Shed no tears o'er that tomb,
For there are angels weeping;
Mourn not him whose doom
Heaven itself is mourning.
* * * * *
... he who slumbers there
His bark will strive no more
Across the waters of despair
To reach that glorious shore.
The time of grace is past,
And mercy, scorned and tried,
Forsakes to utter wrath at last
The soul so steeled by pride.
That wrath will never spare,
Will never pity know;
Will mock its victim's maddened prayer,
With triumph in his woe.
Shut from his Maker's smile
The accursed man shall be;
For mercy reigns a little while,
But hate eternally.
This is obviously related to "The Two Children", and that again to "The
Wanderer from the Fold". Obviously, too, the woman's lament in "The
Wanderer from the Fold" recalls the Gondal woman's lament for her
dishonoured lover. For there are two voices that speak and answer each
other, the voice of reprobation, and the voice of passion and pity. This
is the "Gondal Woman's Lament":
Far, far is mirth withdrawn:
'Tis three long hours before the morn,
And I watch lonely, drearily;
So come, thou shade, commune with me.
Deserted one! thy corpse lies cold,
And mingled with a foreign mould.
Year after year the grass grows green
Above the dust where thou hast been.
I will not name thy blighted name,
Tarnished by unforgotten shame,
Though not because my bosom torn
Joins the mad world in all its scorn.
Thy phantom face is dark with woe,
Tears have left ghastly traces there,
Those ceaseless tears! I wish their flow
Could quench thy wild despair.
They deluge my heart like the rain
On cursed Zamorna's howling plain.
Yet when I hear thy foes deride,
I must cling closely to thy side.
Our mutual foes! They will not rest
From trampling on thy buried breast.
Glutting their hatred with the doom
They picture thine beyond the tomb.
(Which is what they did in the song of reprobation. But passion and pity
know better. They know that)
... God is not like human kind,
Man cannot read the Almighty mind;
Vengeance will never torture thee,
Nor hurt thy soul eternally.
* * * * *
What have I dreamt? He lies asleep,
With whom my heart would vainly weep;
_He_ rests, and _I_ endure the woe
That left his spirit long ago.
This poem is not quoted for its beauty or its technique, but for its
important place in the story. You can track the great Gondal hero down
by that one fantastic name, "Zamorna". You have thus four poems,
obviously related; and a fifth that links them, obviously, with the
It is difficult to pick out from the confusion of these unsorted
fragments all the heroes of Emily Bronte's saga. There is Gleneden, who
kills a tyrant and is put in prison for it. There is Julius Angora, who
"lifts his impious eye" in the cathedral where the monarchs of Gondal
are gathered; who leads the patriots of Gondal to the battle of
Almedore, and was defeated there, and fell with his mortal enemy. He is
beloved of Rosina, a crude prototype of Catherine Earnshaw. "King Julius
left the south country" and remained in danger in the northern land
because a passion for Rosina kept him there. There is also Douglas of
the "Ride". He appears again in the saga of the Queen Augusta, the woman
of the "brown mountain side". But who he was, and what he was doing, and
whether he killed Augusta or somebody else killed her, I cannot for the
life of me make out. Queen Augusta, like Catherine Earnshaw, is a
creature of passion and jealousy, and her lover had been faithless. She
sings that savage song of defiance and hatred and lamentation: "Light up
Oh! could I see thy lids weighed down in cheerless woe;
Too full to hide their tears, too stern to overflow;
Oh! could I know thy soul with equal grief was torn,
This fate might be endured--this anguish might be borne.
How gloomy grows the night! 'Tis Gondal's wind that blows;
I shall not tread again the deep glens where it rose,
I feel it on my face----Where, wild blast! dost thou roam?
What do we, wanderer! here, so far away from home?
I do not need thy breath to cool my death-cold brow;
But go to that far land where she is shining now;
Tell her my latest wish, tell her my dreary doom;
Say that my pangs are past, but _hers_ are yet to come.
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