On the 29th of July, 1835, Charlotte, now little more than nineteen
years old, went as teacher to Miss Wooler's. Emily accompanied her, as
a pupil; but she became
literally ill from home-sickness, and could not settle to anything, and after passing only three months at Roe Head, returned to the parsonage and the beloved moors.
Miss Brontë gives the following reasons as those which prevented
Emily's remaining at school, and caused the substitution of her younger
sister in her place at Miss
"My sister Emily loved the moors. Flowers brighter than the rose bloomed
in the blackest of the heath for her; - out of a sullen hollow in a livid
hill-side, her mind
could make an Eden. She found in the bleak solitude many and dear delights; and not the least and best-loved was - liberty. Liberty was the breath of Emily's
nostrils; without it she perished. The change from her own home to a school, and from her own very noiseless, very secluded, but unrestricted and unartificial mode
of life, to one of disciplined routine (though under the kindest auspices), was what she failed in enduring. Her nature proved here too strong for her fortitude. Every
morning, when she woke, the vision of home and the moors rushed on her, and darkened and saddened the day that lay before her. Nobody knew what ailed her
but me. I knew only too well. In this struggle her health was quickly broken: her white face, attenuated form, and failing strength, threatened rapid decline. I felt in my
heart she would die, if she did not go home, and with this conviction obtained her recall. She had only been three months at school; and it was some years before the
experiment of sending her from home was again ventured on."
This physical suffering on Emily's part when absent from Haworth, after
recurring several times under similar circumstances, became at length so
acknowledged fact, that whichever was obliged to leave home, the sisters decided that Emily must remain there, where alone she could enjoy anything like good
health. She left it twice again in her life; once going as teacher to a school in Halifax for six months, and afterwards accompanying Charlotte to Brussels for ten.
When at home, she took the principal part of the cooking upon herself, and did all the household ironing; and after Tabby grew old and infirm, it was Emily who
made all the bread for the family; and any one passing by the kitchen-door, might have seen her studying German out of an open book, propped up before her, as
she kneaded the dough; but no study, however interesting, interfered with the goodness of the bread, which was always light and excellent. Books were, indeed, a
very common sight in that kitchen; the girls were taught by their father theoretically, and by their aunt practically, that to take an active part in all household work
was, in their position, woman's simple duty; but, in their careful employment of time, they found many an odd five minutes for reading while watching the cakes, and
managed the union of two kinds of employment better than King Alfred.
Charlotte's life at Miss Wooler's was a very happy one, until her health
failed. She sincerely loved and respected the former schoolmistress, to
whom she was now
become both companion and friend. The girls were hardly strangers to her, some of them being younger sisters of those who had been her own playmates. Though
the duties of the day might be tedious and monotonous, there were always two or three happy hours to look forward to in the evening, when she and Miss Wooler
sat together - sometimes late into the night - and had quiet pleasant conversations, or pauses of silence as agreeable, because each felt that as soon as a thought or
remark occurred which they wished to express, there was an intelligent companion ready to sympathise, and yet they were not compelled to "make talk."
It was about this time that an event happened in the neighbourhood of
Leeds, which excited a good deal of interest. A young lady, who held the
governess in a very respectable family, had been wooed and married by a gentleman, holding some subordinate position in the commercial firm to which the young
lady's employer belonged. A year after her marriage, during which time she had given birth to a child, it was discovered that he whom she called husband had
another wife. Report now says, that this first wife was deranged, and that he had made this an excuse to himself for his subsequent marriage. But, at any rate, the
condition of the wife who was no wife - of the innocent mother of the illegitimate child - excited the deepest commiseration; and the case was spoken of far and
wide, and at Roe Head among other places.
Miss Wooler was always anxious to afford Miss Brontë every opportunity
of recreation in her power; but the difficulty often was to persuade her
to avail herself of
the invitations which came, urging her to spend Saturday and Sunday with E. and Mary, in their respective homes, that lay within the distance of a walk. But Miss
Brontë was too apt to consider, that allowing herself a holiday was a dereliction of duty, and to refuse herself the necessary change from something of an
over-ascetic spirit, betokening a loss of healthy balance in either body or mind. Indeed, it is clear that such was the case, from an extract referring to this time, taken
out of the letter I have before referred to, from " Mary."
"Three years after" - (the period when they were at school together)
- "I heard that she had gone as teacher to Miss Wooler's. I went to see
her, and asked how she
could give so much for so little money, when she could live without it. She owned that, after clothing herself and Anne, there was nothing left, though she had hoped
to be able to save something. She confessed it was not brilliant, but what could she do? I had nothing to answer. She seemed to have no interest or pleasure beyond
the feeling of duty, and, when she could get, used to sit alone, and 'make out.' She told me afterwards, that one evening she had sat in the dressing-room until it was
quite dark, and then observing it all at once, had taken sudden fright." No doubt she remembered this well when she described a similar terror getting hold upon Jane
Eyre. She says in the story, " I sat looking at the white bed and overshadowed walls - occasionally turning a fascinated eye towards the gleaming mirror - I began to
recall what I had heard of dead men troubled in their graves . . . I endeavoured to be firm; shaking my hair from my eyes, I lifted my head and tried to look boldly
through the dark room; at this moment, a ray from the moon penetrated some aperture in the blind. No! moonlight was still, and this stirred . . . prepared as my mind
was for horror, shaken as my nerves were by agitation, I thought the swift-darting beam was a herald of some coming vision from another world. My heart beat
thick, my head grew hot; a sound filled my ears which I deemed the rustling of wings; something seemed near me."
"From that time," Mary adds, "her imaginations became gloomy or frightful;
she could not help it, nor help thinking. She could not forget the gloom,
could not sleep at
night, nor attend in the day."
Of course, the state of health thus described came on gradually, and
is not to be taken as a picture of her condition in 1836. Yet even then
there is a despondency in
some of her expressions, that too sadly reminds one of some of Cowper's letters. And it is remarkable how deeply his poems impressed her. His words, his verses,
came more frequently to her memory, I imagine, than those of any other poet.
"May 10th, 1836.
"I was struck with the note you sent me with the umbrella; it showed a degree of interest in my concerns which I have no right to expect from any earthly creature. I
won't play the hypocrite; I won't answer your kind, gentle, friendly questions in the way you wish me to. Don't deceive yourself by imagining I have a bit of real
goodness about me. My darling, if I were like you, I should have my face Zion-ward, though prejudice and error might occasionally fling a mist over the glorious
vision before me - but I am not like you. If you knew my thoughts, the dreams that absorb me, and the fiery imagination that at times eats me up, and makes me feel
society, as it is, wretchedly insipid, you would pity and I dare say despise me. But I know the treasures of the Bible; I love and adore them. I can see the Well of
Life in all its clearness and brightness; but when I stoop down to drink of the pure waters they fly from my lips as if I were Tantalus."
"You are far too kind and frequent in your invitations. You puzzle me.
I hardly know how to refuse, and it is still more embarrassing to accept.
At any rate, I cannot
come this week, for we are in the very thickest melée of the Repetitions. I was hearing the terrible fifth section when your note arrived. But Miss Wooler says I must
go to Mary next Friday, as she promised for me on Whit-Sunday; and on Sunday morning I will join you at church, if it be convenient, and stay till Monday. There's
a free and easy proposal! Miss Wooler has driven me to it. She says her character is implicated."
Good, kind Miss Wooler! however monotonous and trying were the duties
Charlotte had to perform under her roof, there was always a genial and
watching over her, and urging her to partake of any little piece of innocent recreation that might come in her way. And in those Midsummer holidays of 1836, her
friend E. came to stay with her at Haworth, so there was one happy time secured.
Here follows a series of letters, not dated, but belonging to the latter portion of this year; and again we think of the gentle and melancholy Cowper.
"My dear dear E., - I am at this moment trembling all over with excitement,
after reading your note; it is what I never received before - it is the
out of a warm, gentle, generous heart. . . . I thank you with energy for this kindness. I will no longer shrink from answering your questions. I do wish to be better than
I am. I pray fervently sometimes to be made so. I have stings of conscience, visitings of remorse, glimpses of holy, of inexpressible things, which formerly I used to
be a stranger to; it may all die away, and I may be in utter midnight, but I implore a merciful Redeemer, that, if this be the dawn of the gospel, it may still brighten to
perfect day. Do not mistake me - do not think I am good; I only wish to be so. I only hate my former flippancy and forwardness. Oh! I am no better than ever I was.
I am in that state of horrid, gloomy uncertainty that, at this moment, I would submit to be old, grey-haired, to have passed all my youthful days of enjoyment, and to
be settling on the verge of the grave, if I could only thereby ensure the prospect of reconciliation to God, and redemption through His Son's merit. I never was
exactly careless of these matters, but I have always taken a clouded and repulsive view of them; and now, if possible, the clouds are gathering darker, and a more
oppressive despondency weighs on my spirits. You have cheered me, my darling; for one moment, for an atom of time, I thought I might call you my own sister in the
spirit; but the excitement is past, and I am now as wretched and hopeless as ever. This very night I will pray as you wish me. May the Almighty hear me
compassionately! and I humbly hope he will, for you will strengthen my polluted petitions with your own pure requests. All is bustle and confusion round me, the
ladies pressing with their sums and their lessons. . . . If you love me, do, do, do come on Friday: I shall watch and wait for you, and if you disappoint me I shall
weep. I wish you could know the thrill of delight which I experienced, when, as I stood at the dining-room window, I saw --, as he whirled past, toss your little
packet over the wall."
Huddersfield market-day was still the great period for events at Roe
Head. Then girls, running round the corner of the house and peeping between
up a shadowy lane, could catch a glimpse of a father or brother driving to market in his gig; might, perhaps, exchange a wave of the hand; or see, as Charlotte
Brontë did from the window forbidden to pupils, a white packet tossed over the wall, by some swift strong motion of an arm, the rest of the traveller's body unseen.
"Weary with a day's hard work . . . I am sitting down to write a few
lines to my dear E. Excuse me if I say nothing but nonsense, for my mind
is exhausted and
dispirited. It is a stormy evening, and the wind is uttering a continual moaning sound, that makes me feel very melancholy. At such times - in such moods as these - it
is my nature to seek repose in some calm tranquil idea, and I have now summoned up your image to give me rest. There you sit, upright and still, in your black dress,
and white scarf, and pale marble-like face - just like reality. I wish you would speak to me. If we should be separated - if it should be our lot to live at a great
distance, and never to see each other again - in old age, how I should conjure up the memory of my youthful days, and what a melancholy pleasure I should feel in
dwelling on the recollection of my early friend! . . . I have some qualities that make me very miserable, some feelings that you can have no participation in - that few,
very few, people in the world can at all understand. I don't pride myself on these peculiarities. I strive to conceal and suppress them as much as I can; but they burst
out sometimes, and then those who see the explosion despise me, and I hate myself for days afterwards. . . . I have just received your epistle and what accompanied
it. I can't tell what should induce you and your sisters to waste your kindness on such a one as me. I'm obliged to them, and I hope you'll tell them so. I'm obliged to
you also, more for your note than for your present. The first gave me pleasure, the last something like pain."
The nervous disturbance, which is stated to have troubled her while
she was at Miss Wooler's, seems to have begun to distress her about this
time; at least, she
herself speaks of her irritable condition, which was certainly only a temporary ailment.
"You have been very kind to me of late, and have spared me all those
little sallies of ridicule, which, owing to my miserable and wretched touchiness
used formerly to make me wince, as if I had been touched with a hot iron; things that nobody else cares for, enter into my mind and rankle there like venom. I know
these feelings are absurd, and therefore I try to hide them, but they only sting the deeper for concealment."
Compare this state of mind with the gentle resignation with which she
had submitted to be put aside as useless, or told of her ugliness by her
schoolfellows, only three
"My life since I saw you has passed as monotonously and unbroken as
ever; nothing but teach, teach, teach, from morning till night. The greatest
variety I ever have
is afforded by a letter from you, or by meeting with a pleasant new book. The Life of Oberlin, and Legh Richmond's Domestic Portraiture, are the last of this
description. The latter work strongly attracted and strangely fascinated my attention. Beg, borrow, or steal it without delay; and read the Memoir of Wilberforce, -
that short record of a brief uneventful life; I shall never forget it; it is beautiful, not on account of the language in which it is written, not on account of the incidents it
details, but because of the simple narrative it gives of a young talented sincere Christian."
About this time Miss Wooler removed her school from the fine, open,
breezy situation of Roe Head, to Dewsbury Moor, only two or three miles
distant. Her new
residence was a much lower site, and the air much less pure and exhilarating to one bred at the wild hill-village of Haworth. Charlotte felt the change extremely, and
regretted it not merely on her own account, but for the sake of her sister Anne. Moreover, Emily had gone as teacher to a school at Halifax, where there were nearly
"I have had one letter from her since her departure," writes Charlotte,
on October 2nd, 1836: "it gives an appalling account of her duties; hard
labour from six in the
morning to eleven at night, with only one half-hour of exercise between. This is slavery I fear she can never stand it."
When the sisters met at home in the Christmas holidays, they talked
over their lives, and the prospect which they afforded of occupation and
remuneration. They felt
that it was a duty to relieve their father of the burden of their support, if not entirely, or that of all three, at least that of one or two; and, naturally, the lot devolved
upon the elder ones to find some remunerative occupation. They knew that they were never likely to inherit much money. Mr. Brontë had but a small stipend, and
was both charitable and liberal. Their aunt had an annuity of £5O, but it reverted to others at her death, and her nieces had no right, and were the last persons in the
world, to reckon upon her savings. What could they do? Charlotte and Emily were trying teaching, and, as it seemed, without much success. The former, it is true,
had the happiness of having a friend for her employer, and of being surrounded by those who knew her and loved her; but her salary was too small for her to save
out of it; and her education did not entitle her to a larger. The sedentary and monotonous nature of the life, too was preying upon her health and spirits, although, with
necessity "as her mistress," she might hardly like to acknowledge this even to herself. But Emily - that free, wild, untameable spirit, never happy nor well but on the
sweeping moors that gathered round her home - that hater of strangers, doomed to live amongst them, and not merely to live but to slave in their service - what
Charlotte could have borne patiently for herself, she could not bear for her sister. And yet what to do? She had once hoped that she herself might become an artist,
and so earn her livelihood; but her eyes had failed her in the minute and useless labour which she had imposed upon herself with a view to this end.
It was the household custom among these girls to sew till nine o'clock
at night. At that hour, Miss Branwell generally went to bed, and her nieces'
duties for the day
were accounted done. They put away their work, and began to pace the room backwards and forwards, up and down, - as often with the candles extinguished, for
economy's sake, as not, - their figures glancing into the fire-light, and out into the shadow, perpetually. At this time, they talked over past cares, and troubles; they
planned for the future, and consulted each other as to their plans. In after years, this was the time for discussing together the plots of their novels. And again, still
later, this was the time for the last surviving sister to walk alone, from old accustomed habit, round and round the desolate room, thinking sadly upon the "days that
were no more." But this Christmas of 1836 was not without its hopes, and daring aspirations. They had tried their hands at story-writing, in their miniature magazine,
long ago; they all of them "made out" perpetually. They had likewise attempted to write poetry; and had a modest confidence that they had achieved a tolerable
success. But they knew that they might deceive themselves, and that sisters' judgments of each other's productions were likely to be too partial to be depended
upon. So Charlotte, as the eldest, resolved to write to Southey. I believe (from an expression in a letter to be noticed hereafter), that she also consulted Coleridge;
but I have not met with any part of that correspondence.
On December 29th, her letter to Southey was despatched; and from an
excitement not unnatural in a girl who has worked herself up to the pitch
of writing to a Poet
Laureate and asking his opinion of her poems, she used some high-flown expressions, which, probably, gave him the idea that she was a romantic young lady,
unacquainted with the realities of life.
This, most likely, was the first of those adventurous letters that passed
through the little post-office of Haworth. Morning after morning of the
holidays slipped away,
and there was no answer; the sisters had to leave home, and Emily to return to her distasteful duties, without knowing even whether Charlotte's letter had ever
reached its destination.
Not dispirited, however, by the delay, Branwell determined to try a
similar venture, and addressed the following remarkable letter to Wordsworth.
It was given by
the poet to Mr. Quillinan in 1850, after the name of Brontë had become known and famous. I have no means of ascertaining what answer was returned by Mr.
Wordsworth; but that he considered the letter remarkable may, I think, be inferred both from its preservation, and its recurrence to his memory when the real name
of Currer Bell was made known to the public.
Haworth, near Bradford,
Yorkshire, January 19, 1837.
"SIR, - I most earnestly entreat you to read and pass your judgment upon what I have sent you, because from the day of my birth to this the nineteenth year of my
life, I have lived among secluded hills, where I could neither know what I was, or what I could do. I read for the same reason that I ate or drank; because it was a
real craving of nature. I wrote on the same principle as I spoke - out of the impulse and feelings of the mind; nor could I help it, for what came, came out, and there
was the end of it. For as to self-conceit, that could not receive food from flattery, since to this hour, not half a dozen people in the world know I have ever penned a
"But a change has taken place now, sir: and I am arrived at an age wherein
I must do something for myself: the powers I possess must be exercised
to a definite end,
and as I don't know them myself I must ask of others what they are worth. Yet there is not one here to tell me; and still, if they are worthless, time will henceforth be
too precious to be wasted on them.
"Do pardon me, sir, that I have ventured to come before one whose works
I have most loved in our literature, and who most has been with me a divinity
of the mind,
- laying before him one of my writings, and asking of him a judgment of its contents. I must come before some one from whose sentence there is no appeal; and such
a one is he who has developed the theory of poetry as well as its practice, and both in such a way as to claim a place in the memory of a thousand years to come.
"My aim, sir, is to push out into the open world, and for this I trust
not poetry alone - that might launch the vessel, but could not bear her
on; sensible and scientific
prose, bold and vigorous efforts in my walk in life, would give a farther title to the notice of the world; and then again poetry ought to brighten and crown that name
with glory; but nothing of all this can be ever begun without means, and as I don't possess these, I must in very shape strive to gain them. Surely, in this day, when
there is not a writing poet worth a sixpence, the field must be open, if a better man can step forward.
"What I send you is the Prefatory Scene of a much longer subject, in
which I have striven to develope strong passions and weak principles struggling
with a high
imagination and acute feelings, till, as youth hardens towards age, evil deeds and short enjoyments end in mental misery and bodily ruin. Now, to send you the whole
of this would be a mock upon your patience; what you see, does not even pretend to be more than the description of an imaginative child. But read it, sir; and, as
you would hold a light to one in utter darkness - as you value your own kind-heartedness - return me an answer, if but one word, telling me whether I should write
on, or write no more. Forgive undue warmth, because my feelings in this matter cannot be cool; and believe me, sir, with deep respect, - Your really humble servant,
P. B. BRONTË."
The poetry enclosed seems to me by no means equal to parts of the letter;
but, as every one likes to judge for himself, I copy the six opening stanzas
- about a third
of the whole, and certainly not the worst,
So where he reigns in glory bright,
Above those starry skies of night,
Amid his paradise of light
Oh, why may I not be?
Oft when awake on Christmas morn,
In sleepless twilight laid forlorn,
Strange thoughts have o'er my mind been borne,
How He has died for me.
And oft within my chamber lying,
Have I awaked myself with crying
From dreams, where I beheld Him dying
Upon the accursed Tree.
And often has my mother said,
While on her lap I laid my head,
She feared for time I was not made,
But for Eternity.
So "I can read my title clear,
To mansions in the skies,
And let me bid farewell to fear,
And wipe my weeping eyes."
I'll lay me down on this marble stone,
And set the world aside,
To see upon her ebon throne
The Moon in glory ride.
Soon after Charlotte returned to Dewsbury Moor, she was distressed by
hearing that her friend E. was likely to leave the neighbourhood for a
considerable length of
"What shall I do without you? How long are we likely to be separated? Why are we to be denied each other's society? It is an inscrutable fatality. I long to be with
you, because it seems as if two or three days, or weeks, spent in your company would beyond measure strengthen me in the enjoyment of those feelings which I
have so lately begun to cherish. You first pointed out to me that way in which I am so feebly endeavouring to travel, and now I cannot keep you by my side, I must
proceed sorrowfully alone. Why are we to be divided? Surely, it must be because we are in danger of loving each other too well - of losing sight of the Creator in
idolatry of the creature. At first, I could not say 'Thy will be done!' I felt rebellious, but I knew it was wrong to feel so. Being left a moment alone this morning, I
prayed fervently to be enabled to resign myself to every decree of God's will, though it should be dealt forth by a far severer hand than the present disappointment;
since then I have felt calmer and humbler, and consequently happier. Last Sunday I took up my Bible in a gloomy state of mind: I began to read - a feeling stole over
me such as I have not known for many long years - a sweet, placid sensation, like those, I remember, which used to visit me when I was a little child, and, on
Sunday evenings in summer, stood by the open window reading the life of a certain French nobleman, who attained a purer and higher degree of sanctity than has
been known since the days of the early martyrs."
E.'s residence was equally within a walk from Dewsbury Moor as it had
been from Roe Head; and on Saturday afternoons both Mary and she used to
Charlotte, and often endeavoured to persuade her to return with them, and be the guest of one of them till Monday morning; but this was comparatively seldom.
Mary says: - " She visited us twice or thrice when she was at Miss Wooler's. We used to dispute about politics and religion. She, a Tory and clergyman's daughter,
was always in a minority of one in our house of violent Dissent and Radicalism. She used to hear over again, delivered with authority, all the lectures I had been
used to give her at school on despotic aristocracy, mercenary priesthood, etc. She had not energy to defend herself; sometimes she owned to a little truth in it, but
generally said nothing. Her feeble health gave her her yielding manner, for she could never oppose any one without gathering up all her strength for the struggle. Thus
she would let me advise and patronise most imperiously, sometimes picking out any grain of sense there might be in what I said, but never allowing any one materially
to interfere with her independence of thought and action. Though her silence sometimes left one under the impression that she agreed when she did not, she never
gave a flattering opinion, and thus her words were golden, whether for praise or blame."
Mary's father was a man of remarkable intelligence, but of strong, not
to say violent prejudices, all running in favour of Republicanism and Dissent.
No other county
but Yorkshire could have produced such a man. His brother had been a detenu in France, and had afterwards voluntarily taken up his residence there. Mr. T.
himself had been much abroad, both on business and to see the great continental galleries of paintings. He spoke French perfectly, I have been told, when need was;
but delighted usually in talking the broadest Yorkshire. He bought splendid engravings of the pictures which he particularly admired, and his house was full of works
of art and of books; but he rather liked to present his rough side to any stranger or new-comer; he would speak his broadest, bring out his opinions on Church and
State in their most startling forms, and, by and by, if he found his hearer could stand the shock, he would involuntarily show his warm kind heart, and his true taste,
and real refinement. His family of four sons and two daughters were brought up on Republican principles; independence of thought and action was encouraged; no
"shams" tolerated. They are scattered far and wide; Martha, the younger daughter, sleeps in the Protestant cemetery at Brussels; Mary is in New Zealand; Mr. T. is
dead. And so life and death have dispersed the circle of " violent Radicals and Dissenters " into which, twenty years ago, the little, quiet, resolute clergyman's
daughter was received, and by whom she was truly loved and honoured.
January and February of 1837 had passed away, and still there was no
reply from Southey. Probably she had lost expectation and almost hope when
at length, in the
beginning of March, she received the letter inserted in Mr. C. C. Southey's life of his Father, Vol. VI., p.327.
After accounting for his delay in replying to hers by the fact of a
long absence from home, during which his letters had accumulated, whence
"it has lain unanswered
till the last of a numerous file, not from disrespect or indifference to its contents, but because in truth it is not an easy task to answer it, nor a pleasant one to cast a
damp over the high spirits and the generous desires of youth," he goes on to say: "What you are I can only infer from your letter, which appears to be written in
sincerity, though I may suspect that you have used a fictitious signature. Be that as it may, the letter and the verses bear the same stamp, and I can well understand
the state of mind they indicate."
. . . . . . . . . . . .
"It is not my advice that you have asked as to the direction of your talents, but my opinion of them, and yet the opinion may be worth little, and the advice much. You
evidently possess, and in no inconsiderable degree, what Wordsworth calls the 'faculty of verse.' I am not depreciating it when I say that in these times it is not rare.
Many volumes of poems are now published every year without attracting public attention, any one of which, if it had appeared half a century ago, would have
obtained a high reputation for its author. Whoever, therefore, is ambitious of distinction in this way ought to be prepared for disappointment.
"But it is not with a view to distinction that you should cultivate
this talent, if you consult your own happiness. I, who have made literature
my profession, and devoted
my life to it, and have never for a moment repented of the deliberate choice, think myself, nevertheless, bound in duty to caution every young man who applies as an
aspirant to me for encouragement and advice, against taking so perilous a course. You will say that a woman has no need of such a caution; there can be no peril in it
for her. In a certain sense this is true; but there is a danger of which I would, with all kindness and all earnestness, warn you. The day dreams in which you habitually
indulge are likely to induce a distempered state of mind; and in proportion as all the ordinary uses of the world seem to you flat and unprofitable, you will be unfitted
for them without becoming fitted for anything else. Literature cannot be the business of a woman's life, and it ought not to be. The more she is engaged in her proper
duties, the less leisure will she have for it even as proper an accomplishment and a recreation. To those duties you have not yet been called, and when you are you
will be less eager for celebrity. You will not seek in imagination for excitement, of which the vicissitudes of this life, and the anxieties from which you must not hope to
be exempted, be your state what it may, will bring with them but too much.
"But do not suppose that I disparage the gift which you possess; nor
that I would discourage you from exercising it. I only exhort you so to
think of it, and so to use
it, as to render it conducive to your own permanent good. Write poetry for its own sake; not in a spirit of emulation, and not with a view to celebrity; the less you aim
at that the more likely you will be to deserve and finally to obtain it. So written, it is wholesome both for the heart and soul; it may be made the surest means, next to
religion, of soothing the mind and elevating it. You may embody in it your best thoughts and your wisest feelings, and in so doing discipline and strengthen them.
"Farewell, madam. It is not because I have forgotten that I was once
young myself, that I write to you in this strain; but because I remember
it. You will neither doubt
my sincerity nor my good will; and however ill what has here been said may accord with your present views and temper, the longer you live the more reasonable it
will appear to you. Though I may be but an ungracious adviser, you will allow me, therefore, to subscribe myself, with the best wishes for your happiness here and
hereafter, your true friend,
I was with Miss Brontë when she received Mr. Cuthbert Southey's
note, requesting her permission to insert the foregoing letter in his father's
life. She said to me, "
Mr. Southey's letter was kind and admirable; a little stringent, but it did me good."It is partly because I think it so admirable, and partly because it tends to bring out
her character, as shown in the following reply, that I have taken the liberty of inserting the above extracts from it.
SIR, - I cannot rest till I have answered your letter, even though by addressing you a second time I should appear a little intrusive; but I must thank you for the kind
and wise advice you have condescended to give me. I had not ventured to hope for such a reply; so considerate in its tone, so noble in its spirit. I must suppress
what I feel, or you will think me foolishly enthusiastic.
"At the first perusal of your letter, I felt only shame and regret that
I had ever ventured to trouble you with my crude rhapsody; I felt a painful
heat rise to my face
when I thought of the quires of paper I had covered with what once gave me so much delight, but which now was only a source of confusion; but, after I had thought
a little and read it again and again, the prospect seemed to clear. You do not forbid me to write; you do not say that what I write is utterly destitute of merit. You
only warn me against the folly of neglecting real duties, for the sake of imaginative pleasures; of writing for the love of fame; for the selfish excitement of emulation.
You kindly allow me to write poetry for its own sake, provided I leave undone nothing which I ought to do, in order to pursue that single, absorbing, exquisite
gratification. I am afraid, sir, you think me very foolish. I know the first letter I wrote to you was all senseless trash from beginning to end; but I am not altogether the
idle dreaming being it would seem to denote. My father is a clergyman of limited, though competent, income, and I am the eldest of his children. He expended quite
as much in my education as he could afford in justice to the rest. I thought it therefore my duty, when I left school, to become a governess. In that capacity I find
enough to occupy my thoughts all day long, and my head and hands too, without having a moment's time for one dream of the imagination. In the evenings, I confess,
I do think, but I never trouble any one else with my thoughts. I carefully avoid any appearance of pre-occupation and eccentricity, which might lead those I live
amongst to suspect the nature of my pursuits. Following my father's advice - who from my childhood has counselled me just in the wise and friendly tone of your
letter - I have endeavoured not only attentively to observe all the duties a woman ought to fulfil, but to feel deeply interested in them. I don't always succeed, for
sometimes when I'm teaching or sewing I would rather be reading or writing; but I try to deny myself; and my father's approbation amply rewarded me for the
privation. Once more allow me to thank you with sincere gratitude. I trust I shall never more feel ambitious to see my name in print; if the wish should rise I'll look at
Southey's letter, and suppress it. It is honour enough for me that I have written to him, and received an answer. That letter is consecrated; no one shall ever see it,
but papa and my brother and sisters. Again I thank you. This incident, I suppose, will be renewed no more; if I live to be an old woman, I shall remember it thirty
years hence as a bright dream. The signature which you suspected of being fictitious is my real name. Again, therefore, I must sign myself,
"P.S. - Pray, sir, excuse me for writing to you a second time; I could
not help writing, partly to tell you how thankful I am for your kindness,
and partly to let you
know that your advice shall not be wasted; however sorrowfully and reluctantly it may be at first followed.
I cannot deny myself the gratification of inserting Southey's reply: -
"Keswick, March 22, 1837.
"DEAR MADAM, - Your letter has given me great pleasure, and I should not forgive myself if I did not tell you so. You have received admonition as considerately
and as kindly as it was given. Let me now request that, if you ever should come to these lakes while I am living here, you will let me see you. You would then think of
me afterwards with the more goodwill, because you would perceive that there is neither severity nor moroseness in the state of mind to which years and observation
have brought me.
"It is, by God's mercy, in our power to attain a degree of self-government,
which is essential to our own happiness, and contributes greatly to that
of those around us.
Take care of over-excitement, and endeavour to keep a quiet mind (even for your health it is the best advice that can be given you): your moral and spiritual
improvement will then keep pace with the culture of your intellectual powers.
"And now, Madam, God bless you!
"Farewell, and believe me to be your sincere friend,
Of this second letter also she spoke, and told me that it contained
an invitation for her to go and see the poet if ever she visited the Lakes.
"But there was no money
to spare," said she," nor any prospect of my ever earning money enough to have the chance of so great a pleasure, so I gave up thinking of it." At the time we
conversed together on the subject we were at the Lakes. But Southey was dead.
This "stringent" letter made her put aside, for a time, all idea of
literary enterprise. She bent her whole energy towards the fulfilment of
the duties in hand; but her
occupation was not sufficient food for her great forces of intellect, and they cried out perpetually, "Give, give," while the flat and comparatively stagnant air of
Dewsbury Moor told upon her health and spirits more and more. On August 27, 1837, she writes: -
"I am again at Dewsbury, engaged in the old business, - teach, teach,
teach. . . . When will you come home? Make haste! You have been at Bath
long enough for
all purposes; by this time you have acquired polish enough, I am sure; if the varnish is laid on much thicker, I am afraid the good wood underneath will be quite
concealed, and your Yorkshire friends won't stand that. Come, come. I am getting really tired of your absence. Saturday after Saturday comes round, and I can
have no hope of hearing your knock at the door, and then being told that ' Miss E. is come.' Oh dear! in this monotonous life of mine, that was a pleasant event. I
wish it would recur again; but it will take two or three interviews before the stiffness - the estrangement of this long separation - will wear away."
About this time she forgot to return a work-bag she had borrowed, by
a messenger, and in repairing her error she says: - "These aberrations
of memory warn me
pretty intelligibly that I am getting past my prime." Ætat 21! And the same tone of despondency runs through the following letter: -
"I wish exceedingly that I could come to you before Christmas, but it
is impossible; another three weeks must elapse before I shall again have
my comforter beside
me, under the roof of my own dear quiet home. If I could always live with you, and daily read the Bible with you - if your lips and mine could at the same time drink
the same draught, from the same pure fountain of mercy - I hope, I trust, I might one day become better, far better than my evil, wandering thoughts, my corrupt
heart, cold to the spirit and warm to the flesh, will now permit me to be. I often plan the pleasant life which we might lead together) strengthening each other in that
power of self-denial, that hallowed and glowing devotion, which the first saints of God often attained to. My eyes fill with tears when I contrast the bliss of such a
state, brightened by hopes of the future, with the melancholy state I now live in, uncertain that I ever felt true contrition, wandering in thought and deed, longing for
holiness, which I shall never, never obtain, smitten at times to the heart with the conviction that ghastly Calvinistic doctrines are true - darkened, in short, by the very
shadows of spiritual death. If Christian perfection be necessary to salvation, I shall never be saved; my heart is a very hot-bed for sinful thoughts, and when I decide
on an action I scarcely remember to look to my Redeemer for direction. I know not how to pray; I cannot bend my life to the grand end of doing good; I go on
constantly seeking my own pleasure, pursuing the gratification of my own desires. I forget God, and will not God forget me? And, meantime, I know the greatness of
Jehovah; I acknowledge the perfection of His word; I adore the purity of the Christian faith; my theory is right, my practice horribly wrong."
The Christmas holidays came, and she and Anne returned to the parsonage,
and to that happy home circle in which alone their natures expanded; amongst
people they shrivelled up more or less. Indeed, there were only one or two strangers who could be admitted among the sisters without producing the same result.
Emily and Anne were bound up in their lives and interests like twins. The former from reserve, the latter from timidity, avoided all friendships and intimacies beyond
their sisters. Emily was impervious to influence; she never came in contact with public opinion, and her own decision of what was right and fitting was a law for her
conduct and appearance, with which she allowed no one to interfere. Her love was poured out on Anne, as Charlotte's was on her. But the affection among all the
three was stronger than either death or life. E. was eagerly welcomed by Charlotte, freely admitted by Emily, and kindly received by Anne, whenever she could
come amongst them; and this Christmas she had promised to visit Haworth, but her coming had to be delayed on account of a little domestic accident detailed in the
following letter: -
"Dec. 29, 1837.
"I am sure you will have thought me very remiss, in not sending my promised letter long before now; but I have a sufficient and very melancholy excuse in an accident
that befell our old faithful Tabby, a few days after my return home. She was gone out into the village on some errand, when, as she was descending the steep street,
her foot slipped on the ice, and she fell; it was dark, and no one saw her mischance, till after a time her groans attracted the attention of a passer-by. She was lifted
up and carried into the druggist's near; and, after the examination; it was discovered that she had completely shattered and dislocated one leg. Unfortunately, the
fracture could not be set till six o'clock the next morning, as no surgeon was to be had before that time, and she now lies at our house in a very doubtful and
dangerous state. Of course we are all exceedingly distressed at the circumstance, for she was like one of our own family. Since the event we have been almost
without assistance - a person has dropped in now and then to do the drudgery, but we have as yet been able to procure no regular servant; and, consequently, the
whole work of the house, as well as the additional duty of nursing Tabby, falls on ourselves. Under these circumstances I dare not press your visit here, at least until
she is pronounced out of danger; it would be too selfish of me. Aunt wished me to give you this information before, but papa and all the rest were anxious I should
delay until we saw whether matters took a more settled aspect, and I myself kept putting it off from day to day, most bitterly reluctant to give up all the pleasure I
had anticipated so long. However, remembering what you told me, namely, that you had commended the matter to a higher decision than ours, and that you were
resolved to submit with resignation to that decision, whatever it might be, I hold it my duty to yield also, and to be silent; it may be all for the best. I fear, if you had
been here during this severe weather, your visit would have been of no advantage to you, for the moors are blockaded with snow, and you would never have been
able to get out. After this disappointment, I never dare reckon with certainty on the enjoyment of a pleasure again; it seems as if some fatality stood between you and
me. I am not good enough for you, and you must be kept from the contamination of too intimate society. I would urge your visit yet - I would entreat and press it -
but the thought comes across me, should Tabby die while you are in the house, I should never forgive myself. No! it must not be, and in a thousand ways the
consciousness of that mortifies and disappoints me most keenly. And I am not the only one who is disappointed. All in the house were looking to your visit with
eagerness. Papa says he highly approves of my friendship with you, and he wishes me to continue it through life."
A good neighbour of the Brontës - a clever, intelligent Yorkshire
woman, who keeps a druggist's shop in Haworth, and from her occupation,
her experience, and
excellent sense, holds the position of village doctress and nurse, and, as such, has been a friend, in many a time of trial, and sickness, and death, in the households
round - told me a characteristic little incident connected with Tabby's fractured leg. Mr. Brontë is truly generous and regardful of all deserving claims. Tabby had
lived with them for ten or twelve years, and was, as Charlotte expressed it, "one of the family." But, on the other hand, she was past the age for any very active
service, being nearer seventy than sixty at the time of the accident; she had a sister living in Haworth; and the savings she had accumulated, during many years'
service, formed a competency for one in her rank of life. Or if, in this time of sickness, she fell short of any comforts which her state rendered necessary, the
parsonage could supply them. So reasoned Miss Branwell, the prudent, not to say anxious aunt; looking to the limited contents of Mr. Brontë's purse, and the
unprovided-for future of her nieces; who were, moreover, losing the relaxation of the holidays, in close attendance upon Tabby.
Miss Branwell urged her views upon Mr. Brontë as soon as the immediate
danger to the old servant's life was over. He refused at first to listen
to the careful advice;
it was repugnant to his liberal nature. But Miss Branwell persevered; urged economical motives; pressed on his love for his daughters. He gave way. Tabby was to
be removed to her sister's, and there nursed and cared for, Mr. Brontë coming in with his aid when her own resources fell short. This decision was communicated to
the girls. There were symptoms of a quiet, but sturdy rebellion, that winter afternoon, in the small precincts of Haworth Parsonage. They made one unanimous and
stiff remonstrance. Tabby had tended them in their childhood; they, and none other, should tend her in her infirmity and age. At tea-time, they were sad and silent,
and the meal went away untouched by any of the three. So it was at breakfast; they did not waste many words on the subject, but each word they did utter was
weighty. They "struck" eating till the resolution was rescinded, and Tabby was allowed to remain a helpless invalid entirely dependent upon them. Herein was the
strong feeling of Duty being paramount to Pleasure, which lay at the foundation of Charlotte's character, made most apparent; for we have seen how she yearned for
her friend's company; but it was to be obtained only by shrinking from what she esteemed right, and that she never did, whatever might be the sacrifice.
She had another weight on her mind this Christmas. I have said that
Dewsbury Moor was low and damp, and that the air did not agree with her,
though she herself
was hardly aware how much her life there was affecting her health. But Anne had begun to suffer just before the holidays, and Charlotte watched over her younger
sisters with the jealous vigilance of some wild creature, that changes her very nature if danger threatens her young. Anne had a slight cough, a pain at her side, a
difficulty of breathing. Miss Wooler considered it as little more than a common cold; but Charlotte felt every indication of incipient consumption as a stab at her heart,
remembering Maria and Elizabeth, whose places once knew them, and should know them no more.
Stung by anxiety for this little sister, she upbraided Miss Wooler for
her fancied indifference to Anne's state of health. Miss Wooler felt these
reproaches keenly, and
wrote to Mr. Brontë about them. He immediately sent for his children, who left Dewsbury Moor the next day. Meanwhile, Charlotte had resolved that Anne should
never return as a pupil, nor she herself as a governess. But, just before she left, Miss Wooler sought for the opportunity of an explanation of each other's words, and
the issue proved that "the falling out of faithful friends, renewing is of love." And so ended the first, last; and only difference Charlotte ever had with good and kind
Still her heart had received a shock in the perception of Anne's delicacy;
and all this winter she watched over her with the longing, fond anxiety,
which is so full of
sudden pangs of fear.
Miss Wooler had entreated her to return after the holidays, and she
had consented. But, independently of this, Emily had given up her situation
in the Halifax school,
at the expiration of six months of arduous trial, on account of her health, which could only be re-established by the bracing moorland air and free life of home.
Tabby's illness had preyed on the family resources. I doubt whether Branwell was maintaining himself at this time. For some unexplained reason, he had given up, the
idea of becoming a student of painting at the Royal Academy, and his prospects in life were uncertain, and had yet to be settled. So Charlotte had quietly to take up
her burden of teaching again, and return to her previous monotonous life
Brave heart, ready to die in harness! She went back to her work; and
made no complaint, hoping to subdue the weakness that was gaining ground
upon her. About
this time, she would turn sick and trembling at any sudden noise, and could hardly repress her screams when startled. This showed a fearful degree of physical
weakness in one who was generally so self-controlled; and the medical man, whom at length, through Miss Wooler's entreaty, she was led to consult, insisted on her
return home. She had led too sedentary a life, he said; and the soft summer air, blowing round her home, the sweet company of those she loved, the release, the
freedom of life in her own family, were needed, to save either reason or life. So, as One higher than she had over-ruled that for a time she might relax her strain, she
returned to Haworth; and after a season of utter quiet, her father sought for her the enlivening society of her two friends, Mary and Martha T. At the conclusion of
the following letter, there is, I think, as pretty a glimpse of a merry group of young people as need be; and like all descriptions of doing, as distinct from thinking or
feeling, in letters, it saddens one in proportion to the vivacity of the picture of what was once, and is now utterly swept away.
"Haworth, June 9, 1838.
"I received your packet of despatches on Wednesday; it was brought me by Mary and Martha, who have been staying at Haworth for a few days; they leave us
to-day. You will be surprised at the date of this letter. I ought to be at Dewsbury Moor, you know; but I stayed as long as I was able, and at length I neither could
nor dared stay any longer. My health and spirits had utterly failed me, and the medical man whom I consulted enjoined me, as I valued my life, to go home. So home
I went, and the change has at once roused and soothed me; and I am now, I trust, fairly in the way to be myself again.
"A calm and even mind like yours cannot conceive the feelings of the
shattered wretch who is now writing to you, when, after weeks of mental
and bodily anguish not
to be described, something like peace began to dawn again. Mary is far from well. She breathes short, has a pain in her chest, and frequent flushings of fever. I
cannot tell you what agony these symptoms give me; they remind me too strongly of my two sisters, whom no power of medicine could save. Martha is now very
well; she has kept in a continual flow of good humour during her stay here, and has consequently been very fascinating.
"They are making such a noise about me I cannot write any more. Mary
is playing on the piano; Martha is chattering as fast as her little tongue
can run; and Branwell
is standing before her, laughing at her vivacity."
Charlotte grew much stronger in this quiet, happy period at home. She
paid occasional visits to her two great friends, and they in return came
to Haworth. At one of
their houses, I suspect, she met with the person to whom the following letter refers; some one having a slight resemblance to the character of "St. John," in the last
volume of Jane Eyre and, like him, in holy orders.
"March 12, 1839.
. . . . "I had a kindly leaning towards him, because he is an amiable and well-disposed man. Yet I had not, and could not have, that intense attachment which would
make me willing to die for him; and if ever I marry, it must be in that light of adoration that I will regard my husband. Ten to one I shall never have the chance again;
but n'importe. Moreover, I was aware that he knew so little of me he could hardly be conscious to whom he was writing. Why! it would startle him to see me in my
natural home character; he would think I was a wild, romantic enthusiast indeed. I could not sit all day long making a grave face before my husband. I would laugh,
and satirise, and say whatever came into my head first. And if he were a clever man, and loved me, the whole world, weighed in the balance against his smallest
wish, should be light as air."
So that - her first proposal of marriage - was quietly declined and
put on one side. Matrimony did not enter into the scheme of her life, but
good, sound, earnest
labour did; the question, however, was as yet undecided in what direction she should employ her forces. She had been discouraged in literature; her eyes failed her in
the minute kind of drawing which she practised when she wanted to express an idea; teaching seemed to her at this time, as it does to most women at all times, the
only way of earning an independent livelihood. But neither she nor her sisters were naturally fond of children. The hieroglyphics of childhood were an unknown
language to them, for they had never been much with those younger than themselves. I am inclined to think, too, that they had not the happy knack of imparting
information, which seems to be a separate gift from the faculty of acquiring it; a kind of sympathetic tact, which instinctively perceives the difficulties that impede
comprehension in a child's mind, and that yet are too vague and unformed for it, with its half-developed powers of expression, to explain by words. Consequently,
teaching very young children was anything but a "delightful task" to the three Brontë sisters. With older girls, verging on womanhood, they might have done better,
especially if these had any desire for improvement. But the education which the village clergyman's daughters had received, did not as yet qualify them to undertake
the charge of advanced pupils. They knew but little French, and were not proficients in music; I doubt whether Charlotte could play at all. But they were all strong
again, and, at any rate, Charlotte and Anne must put their shoulders to the wheel. One daughter was needed at home, to stay with Mr. Brontë and Miss Branwell; to
be the young and active member in a household of four, whereof three - the father, the aunt, and faithful Tabby - were past middle age. And Emily, who suffered and
drooped more than her sisters when away from Haworth, was the one appointed to remain. Anne was the first to meet with a situation.
"April 15th, 1839.
"I could not write to you in the week you requested, as about that time we were very busy in preparing for Anne's departure. Poor child! she left us last Monday; no
one went with her; it was her own wish that she might be allowed to go alone, as she thought she could manage better, and summon more courage, if thrown entirely
upon her own resources. We have had one letter from her since she went. She expresses herself very well satisfied, and says that Mrs. -- is extremely kind; the two
eldest children alone are under her care, the rest are confined to the nursery, with which and its occupants she has nothing to do. . . . I hope she'll do. You would be
astonished what a sensible, clever letter she writes; it is only the talking part that I fear. But I do seriously apprehend that Mrs. -- will sometimes conclude that she
has a natural impediment in her speech. For my own part, I am as yet 'wanting a situation,' like a house-maid out of place. By the way, I have lately discovered I
have quite a talent for cleaning, sweeping up hearths, dusting rooms, making beds, etc.; so, if everything else fails, I can turn my hand to that, if anybody will give me
good wages for little labour. I won't be a cook; I hate cooking. I won't be a nurserymaid, nor a lady's maid, far less a lady's companion, or a mantua-maker, or a
straw-bonnet maker, or a taker-in of plain work. I won't be anything but a housemaid. . . . With regard to my visit to G., I have as yet received no invitation; but if I
should be asked, though I should feel it a great act of self-denial to refuse, yet I have almost made up my mind to do so, though the society of the T.s is one of the
most rousing pleasures I have ever known. Good-bye, my darling E., etc.
"P.S. - Strike out that word 'darling;' it is humbug. Where's the use of protestations? We've known each other, and liked each other, a good while; that's enough."
Not many weeks after this was written, Charlotte also became engaged
as a governess. I intend carefully to abstain from introducing the names
of any living people,
respecting whom I may have to tell unpleasant truths, or to quote severe remarks from Miss Brontë's letters; but it is necessary that the difficulties she had to
encounter in her various phases of life, should be fairly and frankly made known, before the force "of what was resisted" can be at all understood. I was once
speaking to her about Agnes Grey - the novel in which her sister Anne pretty literally describes her own experience as a governess - and alluding more particularly
to the account of the stoning of the little nestlings in the presence of the parent birds. She said that none but those who had been in the position of a governess could
ever realise the dark side of "respectable" human nature; under no great temptation to crime, but daily giving way to selfishness and ill-temper, till. its conduct
towards those dependent on it sometimes amounts to a tyranny of which one would rather be the victim than the inflicter. We can only trust in such cases that the
employers err rather from a density of perception and an absence of sympathy, than from any natural cruelty of disposition. Among several things of the same kind,
which I well remember, she told me what had once occurred to herself. She had been entrusted with the care of a little boy, three or four years old, during the
absence of his parents on a day's excursion, and particularly enjoined to keep him out of the stable-yard. His elder brother, a lad of eight or nine, and not a pupil of
Miss Brontë's, tempted the little fellow into the forbidden place. She followed, and tried to induce him to come away; but, instigated by his brother, he began
throwing stones at her, and one of them hit her so severe a blow on the temple that the lads were alarmed into obedience. The next day, in full family conclave, the
mother asked Miss Brontë what occasioned the mark on her forehead. She simply replied, "An accident, ma'am," and no further inquiry was made; but the children
(both brothers and sisters) had been present, and honoured her for not "telling tales." From that time, she began to gain influence over all, more or less, according to
their different characters; and as she insensibly gained their affection, her own interest in them was increasing. But one day, at the children's dinner, the small truant of
the stable-yard, in a little demonstrative gush, said, putting his hand in hers, "I love 'ou, Miss Brontë." Whereupon, the mother exclaimed, before all the children, "
Love the governess, my dear!"
The family into which she first entered was, I believe, that of a wealthy
Yorkshire manufacturer. The following extracts from her correspondence
at this time will
show how painfully the restraint of her new mode of life pressed upon her. The first is from a letter to Emily, beginning with one of the tender expressions in which, in
spite of "humbug," she indulged herself. "Mine dear love," "Mine bonnie love," are her terms of address to this beloved sister.
"June 8th, 1839.
"I have striven hard to be pleased with my new situation. The country, the house and the grounds are, as I have said, divine; but, alack-a-day, there is such a thing as
seeing all beautiful around you - pleasant woods, white paths, green lawns, and blue sunshiny sky - and not having a free moment or a free thought left to enjoy them.
The children are constantly with me. As for correcting them, I quickly found that was out of the question; they are to do as they like. A complaint to the mother only
brings black looks on myself, and unjust, partial excuses to screen the children. I have tried that plan once, and succeeded so notably, I shall try no more. I said in
my last letter that Mrs. did not know me. I now begin to find she does not intend to know me; that she cares nothing about me, except to contrive how the greatest
possible quantity of labour may be got out of me; and to that end she overwhelms me with oceans of needlework; yards of cambric to hem, muslin night-caps to
make, and, above all things, dolls to dress. I do not think she likes me at all, because I can't help being shy in such an entirely novel scene, surrounded as I have
hitherto been by strange and constantly changing faces. . . . I used to think I should like to be in the stir of grand folks' society; but I have had enough of it - it is
dreary work to look on and listen. I see more clearly than I have ever done before, that a private governess has no existence, is not considered as a living rational
being, except as connected with the wearisome duties she has to fulfil. . . . One of the pleasantest afternoons I have spent here - indeed, the only one at all pleasant -
was when Mr. -- walked out with his children, and I had orders to follow a little behind. As he strolled on through his fields, with his magnificent Newfoundland dog
at his side, he looked very like what a frank, wealthy, Conservative gentleman ought to be. He spoke freely and unaffectedly to the people he met, and, though he
indulged his children and allowed them to tease himself far too much, he would not suffer them grossly to insult others."
(WRITTEN IN PENCIL TO A FRIEND)
"I cannot procure ink, without going into the drawing-room, where I do not wish to go. . . . I should have written to you long since, and told you every detail of the
utterly new scene into which I have lately been cast, had I not been daily expecting a letter from yourself, and wondering and lamenting that you did not write; for you
will remember it was your turn. I must not bother you too much with my sorrows, of which, I fear, you have heard an exaggerated account. If you were near me,
perhaps I might be tempted to tell you all, to grow egotistical, and pour out the long history of a private governess's trials and crosses in her first situation. As it is, I
will only ask you to imagine the miseries of a reserved wretch like me, thrown at once into the midst of a large family - proud as peacocks and wealthy as Jews - at a
time when they were particularly gay - when the house was filled with company - all strangers - people whose faces I had never seen before. In this state I had
charge given me of a set of pampered, spoilt, turbulent children, whom I was expected constantly to amuse, as well as to instruct. I soon found that the constant
demand on my stock of animal spirits reduced them to the lowest state of exhaustion; at times I felt - and, I suppose, seemed - depressed. To my astonishment, I
was taken to task on the subject by Mrs. --, with a sternness of manner and a harshness of language scarcely credible; like a fool, I cried most bitterly. I could not
help it; my spirits quite failed me at first. I thought I had done my best - strained every nerve to please her; and to be treated in that way, merely because I was shy
and sometimes melancholy, was too bad. At first I was for giving all up and going home. But, after a little reflection, I determined to summon what energy I had, and
to weather the storm. I said to myself, 'I have never yet quitted a place without gaining a friend; adversity is a good school; the poor are born to labour, and the
dependent to endure.' I resolved to be patient, to command my feelings, and to take what came; the ordeal, I reflected, would not last many weeks, and I trusted it
would do me good. I recollected the fable of the willow and the oak; I bent quietly, and now, I trust, the storm is blowing over me. Mrs. -- is generally considered
an agreeable woman; so she is, I doubt not, in general society. Her health is sound, her animal spirits good, consequently she is cheerful in company; but, oh! does
this compensate for the absence of every fine feeling - of every gentle and delicate sentiment? She behaves somewhat more civilly to me now than she did at first,
and the children are a little more manageable; but she does not know my character, and she does not wish to know it. I have never had five minutes' conversation
with her since I came, except while she was scolding me. I have no wish to be pitied, except by yourself; if I were talking to you I could tell you much more."
(To EMILY, ABOUT THIS TIME)
"Mine bonnie love, I was as glad of your letter as tongue can express:
it is a real, genuine pleasure to hear from home; a thing to be saved till
bed-time, when one has
a moment's quiet and rest to enjoy it thoroughly. Write whenever you can. I could like to be at home. I could like to work in a mill. I could like to feel some mental
liberty. I could like this weight of restraint to be taken off. But the holidays will come. Coraggio."
Her temporary engagement in this uncongenial family ended in the July
of this year; not before the constant strain upon her spirits and strength
had again affected her
health: but when this delicacy became apparent in palpitations and shortness of breathing, it was treated as affectation - as a phase of imaginary indisposition, which
could be dissipated by a good scolding. She had been brought up rather in a school of Spartan endurance than in one of maudlin self-indulgence, and could bear
many a pain and relinquish many a hope in silence.
After she had been at home about a week, a proposal was made to her
to accompany her friend in some little excursion, having pleasure alone
for its object. She
caught at the idea most eagerly at first but her hope stood still, waned, and had almost disappeared before, after many delays, it was realised. In its fulfilment at last,
it was a favourable specimen of many a similar air-bubble dancing before her eyes in her brief career, in which stern realities, rather than pleasures, formed the
"July 26th, 1839.
"Your proposal has almost driven me 'clean daft' - if you don't understand that ladylike expression, you must ask me what it means when I see you. The fact is, an
excursion with you anywhere, - whether to Cleathorpe or Canada, - just by ourselves, would be to me most delightful. I should, indeed, like to go; but I can't get
leave of absence for longer than a week, and I'm afraid that would not suit you - must I then give it up entirely? I feel as if I could not; I never had such a chance of
enjoyment before; I do want to see you and talk to you, and be with you. When do you wish to go? Could I meet you at Leeds? To take a gig from Haworth to B.,
would be to me a very serious increase of expense, and I happen to be very low in cash. Oh! rich people seem to have many pleasures at their command which we
are debarred from! However, no repining.
"Say when you go, and I shall be able in my answer to say decidedly
whether I can accompany you or not. I must - I will - I'm set upon it -
I'll be obstinate and bear
down all opposition.
"P.S. - Since writing the above, I find that aunt and papa have determined
to go to Liverpool for a fortnight, and take us all with them. It is stipulated,
however, that I
should give up the Cleathorpe scheme. I yield reluctantly."
I fancy that, about this time, Mr. Brontë found it necessary, either
from failing health or the increased populousness of the parish, to engage
the assistance of a curate.
At least, it is in a letter written this summer that I find mention of the first of a succession of curates, who henceforward revolved round Haworth Parsonage, and
made an impression on the mind of one of its inmates which she has conveyed pretty distinctly to the world. The Haworth curate brought his clerical friends and
neighbours about the place, and for a time the incursions of these, near the parsonage tea-time, formed occurrences by which the quietness of the life there was
varied, sometimes pleasantly, sometimes disagreeably. The little adventure recorded at the end of the following letter is unusual in the lot of most women, and is a
testimony in this case to the unusual power of attraction - though so plain in feature - which Charlotte possessed, when she let herself go in the happiness and
freedom of home.
"August 4th, 1839.
"The Liverpool journey is yet a matter of talk, a sort of castle in the air; but, between you and me, I fancy it is very doubtful whether it will ever assume a more solid
shape. Aunt - like many other elderly people - likes to talk of such things; but when it comes to putting them into actual execution, she rather falls off. Such being the
case, I think you and I had better adhere to our first plan of going somewhere together, independently of other people. I have got leave to accompany you for a
week - at the utmost a fortnight - but no more. Where do you wish to go? Burlington, I should think, from what M. says, would be as eligible a place as any. When
do you set off? Arrange all these things according to your convenience; I shall start no objections. The idea of seeing the sea - of being near it - watching its changes
by sunrise, sunset, moonlight, and noon-day - in calm, perhaps in storm - fills and satisfies my mind. I shall be discontented at nothing. And then I am not to be with a
set of people with whom I have nothing in common - who would be nuisances and bores; but with you, whom I like and know, and who know me. I have an odd
circumstance to relate to you: prepare for a hearty laugh The other day, Mr. --, a vicar, came to spend the day with us, bringing with him his own curate. The latter
gentleman, by name Mr. B., is a young Irish clergyman, fresh from Dublin University. It was the first time we had any of us seen him, but, however, after the manner
of his countrymen, he soon made himself at home. His character quickly appeared in his conversation; witty, lively, ardent, clever too; but deficient in the dignity and
discretion of an Englishman. At home, you know, I talk with ease, and am never shy - never weighed down and oppressed by that miserable mauvaise honte which
torments and constrains me elsewhere. So I conversed with this Irishman, and laughed at his jests; and, though I saw faults in his character, excused them because of
the amusement his originality afforded. I cooled a little, indeed, and drew in towards the latter part of the evening, because he began to season his conversation with
something of Hibernian flattery, which I did not quite relish. However, they went away, and no more was thought about them. A few days after I got a letter, the
direction of which puzzled me, it being in a hand I was not accustomed to see. Evidently, it was neither from you nor Mary, my only correspondents. Having opened
and read it, it proved to be a declaration of attachment and proposal of matrimony, expressed in the ardent language of the sapient young Irishman! I hope you are
laughing heartily. This is not like one of my adventures, is it? It more nearly resembles Martha's. I am certainly doomed to be an old maid. Never mind. I made up my
mind to that fate ever since I was twelve years old.
"Well I thought I, I have heard of love at first sight, but this beats
all! I leave you to guess what my answer would be, convinced that you will
not do me the injustice
of guessing wrong."
On the 14th of August, she still writes from Haworth: -
"I have in vain packed my box, and prepared everything for our anticipated
journey. It so happens that I can get no conveyance this week or the next.
The only gig
let out to hire in Haworth, is at Harrogate, and likely to remain there, for aught I can hear. Papa decidedly objects to my going by the coach, and walking to B.,
though I am sure I could manage it. Aunt exclaims against the weather, and the roads, and the four winds of heaven, so I am in a fix, and, what is worse, so are you.
On reading over, for the second or third time, your last letter (which by the by, was written in such hieroglyphics that, at the first hasty perusal, I could hardly make
out two consecutive words), I find that you intimate that if I leave this journey till Thursday I shall be too late. I grieve that I should have so inconvenienced you; but I
need not talk of either Friday or Saturday now, for I rather imagine there is small chance of my ever going at all. The elders of the house have never cordially
acquiesced in the measure; and now that impediments seem to start up at every step, opposition grows more open. Papa, indeed, would willingly indulge me, but this
very kindness of his makes me doubt whether I ought to draw upon it; so, though I could battle out aunt's discontent, I yield to papa's indulgence. He does not say
so, but I know he would rather I stayed at home; and aunt meant well to, I dare say, but I am provoked that she reserved the expression of her decided disapproval
till all was settled between you and myself. Reckon on me no more; leave me out in your calculations; perhaps I ought, in the beginning, to have had prudence
sufficient to shut my eyes against such a prospect of pleasure, so as to deny myself the hope of it. Be as angry as you please with me for disappointing you. I did not
intend it, and have only one thing more to say - if you do not go immediately to the sea, will you come to see us at Haworth? This invitation is not mine only, but
papa's and aunt's."
However, a little more patience, a little more delay, and she enjoyed
the pleasure she had wished for so much. She and her friend went to Easton
for a fortnight in the
latter part of September. It was here she received her first impressions of the sea.
"Have you forgotten the sea by this time, E.? Is it grown dim in your mind? Or you can still see it, dark, blue, and green, and foam-white, and hear it roaring roughly
when the wind is high, or rushing softly when it is calm. . . . I am as well as need be, and very fat. I think of Easton very often, and of worthy Mr. H., and his
kind-hearted help-mate, and of our pleasant walks to H -- Wood, and to Boynton, our merry evenings, our romps with little Hancheon, etc., etc. If we both live, this
period of our lives will long be a theme for pleasant recollection. Did you chance, in your letter to Mr. H., to mention my spectacles? I am sadly inconvenienced by
the want of them. I can neither read, write, nor draw with comfort in their absence. I hope Madame won't refuse to give them up. . . . Excuse the brevity of this
letter, for I have been drawing all day, and my eyes are so tired it is quite a labour to write."
But, as the vivid remembrance of this pleasure died away, an accident occurred to make the actual duties of life press somewhat heavily for a time.
"December 21st, 1839.
"We are at present, and have been during the last month, rather busy, as, for that space of time, we have been without a servant, except a little girl to run errands.
Poor Tabby became so lame that she was at length obliged to leave us. She is residing with her sister, in a little house of her own, which she bought with her savings
a year or two since. She is very comfortable, and wants nothing; as she is near we see her very often. In the meantime, Emily and I are sufficiently busy, as you may
suppose: I manage the ironing, and keep the rooms clean; Emily does the baking, and attends to the kitchen. We are such odd animals, that we prefer this mode of
contrivance to having a new face amongst us. Besides, we do not despair of Tabby's return, and she shall not be supplanted by a stranger in her absence. I excited
aunt's wrath very much by burning the clothes, the first time I attempted to iron; but I do better now. Human feelings are queer things; I am much happier
black-leading the stoves, making the beds, and sweeping the floors at home, than I should be living like a fine lady anywhere else. I must indeed drop my
subscription to the Jews, because I have no money to keep it up. I ought to have announced this intention to you before, but I quite forgot I was a subscriber. I
intend to force myself to take another situation when I can get one, though I hate and abhor the very thoughts of governess-ship. But I must do it; and, therefore, I
heartily wish I could hear of a family where they need such a commodity as a governess."