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Charlotte Brontë and Her Circle by Clement King Shorter


CHAPTER XI: THE CURATES AT HAWORTH

Something has already been said concerning the growth of the population
of Haworth during the period of Mr. Bronte's Incumbency. It was 4668 in
1821, and 6301 in 1841. This makes it natural that Mr. Bronte should
have applied to his Bishop for assistance in his pastoral duty, and such
aid was permanently granted him in 1838, when Mr. William Weightman
became his first curate. {280} Mr. Weightman would appear to have been a
favourite. He many times put in an appearance at the parsonage, although
I do not recognise him in any one of Charlotte's novels, and he certainly
has no place among the three famous curates of _Shirley_. He would seem
to have been the only man, other than her father and brother, whom Emily
was known to tolerate. We know that the girls considered him effeminate,
and they called him 'Celia Amelia,' under which name he frequently
appears in Charlotte's letters to Ellen Nussey. That he was good-natured
seems to be indisputable. There is one story of his walking to Bradford
to post valentines to the incumbent's daughters, when he found they had
never received any. There is another story of a trip to Keighley to hear
him lecture. He was a bit of a poet, it seems, and Ellen Nussey was the
heroine of some of his verses when she visited at Haworth. Here is a
letter which throws some light upon Charlotte's estimate of the young
man--he was twenty-three years of age at this time.

TO MISS ELLEN NUSSEY

'_March_ 17_th_, 1840.

'MY DEAR MRS. ELEANOR,--I wish to scold you with a forty-horse power
for having told Mary Taylor that I had requested you not to tell her
everything, which piece of information has thrown her into tremendous
ill-humour, besides setting the teeth of her curiosity on edge. Tell
her forthwith every individual occurrence, including valentines,
"Fair E---, Fair E---," etc.; "Away fond love," etc.; "Soul divine,"
and all; likewise the painting of Miss Celia Amelia Weightman's
portrait, and that _young lady's_ frequent and agreeable visits.
By-the-bye, I inquired into the opinion of that intelligent and
interesting young person respecting you. It was a favourable one.
"She" thought you a fine-looking girl, and a very good girl into the
bargain. Have you received the newspaper which has been despatched,
containing a notice of "her" lecture at Keighley? Mr. Morgan came
and stayed three days. By Miss Weightman's aid, we got on pretty
well. It was amazing to see with what patience and good-temper the
innocent creature endured that fat Welshman's prosing, though she
confessed afterwards that she was almost done up by his long stories.
We feel very dull without you. I wish those three weeks were to come
over again. Aunt has been at times precious cross since you
went--however, she is rather better now. I had a bad cold on Sunday
and stayed at home most of the day. Anne's cold is better, but I
don't consider her strong yet. What did your sister Anne say about
my omitting to send a drawing for the Jew basket? I hope she was too
much occupied with the thoughts of going to Earnley to think of it.
I am obliged to cut short my letter. Everybody in the house unites
in sending their love to you. Miss Celia Amelia Weightman also
desires to be remembered. Write soon again and--Believe me, yours
unalterably,

'CHARIVARI.'

He would seem to have been a much teased curate. Now it is Miss Ellen
Nussey, now a Miss Agnes Walton, who is supposed to be the object of his
devotion.

TO MISS ELLEN NUSSEY

'_April_ 9_th_, 1840.

'MY DEAR MRS. MENELAUS,--I think I am exceedingly good to write to
you so soon, indeed I am quite afraid you will begin to consider me
intrusive with my frequent letters. I ought by right to let an
interval of a quarter of a year elapse between each communication,
and I will, in time; never fear me. I shall improve in
procrastination as I get older.

'My hand is trembling like that of an old man, so I don't expect you
will be able to read my writing; never mind, put the letter by and
I'll read it to you the next time I see you.

'I have been painting a portrait of Agnes Walton for our friend Miss
Celia Amelia. You would laugh to see how his eyes sparkle with
delight when he looks at it, like a pretty child pleased with a new
plaything. Good-bye to you. Let me have no more of your humbug
about Cupid, etc. You know as well as I do it is all groundless
trash.

'C. BRONTE.'

TO MISS ELLEN NUSSEY

'_August_ 20_th_, 1840.

'DEAR MRS. ELLEN,--I was very well pleased with your capital long
letter. A better farce than the whole affair of that letter-opening
(ducks and Mr. Weightman included) was never imagined. {282}
By-the-bye, speaking of Mr. W., I told you he was gone to pass his
examination at Ripon six weeks ago. He is not come back yet, and
what has become of him we don't know. Branwell has received one
letter since he went, speaking rapturously of Agnes Walton,
describing certain balls at which he had figured, and announcing that
he had been twice over head and ears desperately in love. It is my
devout belief that his reverence left Haworth with the fixed
intention of never returning. If he does return, it will be because
he has not been able to get a "living." Haworth is not the place for
him. He requires novelty, a change of faces, difficulties to be
overcome. He pleases so easily that he soon gets weary of pleasing
at all. He ought not to have been a parson; certainly he ought not.
Our _august_ relations, as you choose to call them, are gone back to
London. They never stayed with us, they only spent one day at our
house. Have you seen anything of the Miss Woolers lately? I wish
they, or somebody else, would get me a situation. I have answered
advertisements without number, but my applications have met with no
success.

'CALIBAN.'

One wonders if a single letter by Charlotte Bronte applying for a
'situation' has been preserved! I have not seen one.

TO MISS ELLEN NUSSEY

'_September_ 29_th_, 1840.

'I know Mrs. Ellen is burning with eagerness to hear something about
William Weightman. I think I'll plague her by not telling her a
word. To speak heaven's truth, I have precious little to say,
inasmuch as I seldom see him, except on a Sunday, when he looks as
handsome, cheery, and good-tempered as usual. I have indeed had the
advantage of one long conversation since his return from Westmorland,
when he poured out his whole warm fickle soul in fondness and
admiration of Agnes Walton. Whether he is in love with her or not I
can't say; I can only observe that it sounds very like it. He sent
us a prodigious quantity of game while he was away--a brace of wild
ducks, a brace of black grouse, a brace of partridges, ditto of
snipes, ditto of curlews, and a large salmon. If you were to ask Mr.
Weightman's opinion of my character just now, he would say that at
first he thought me a cheerful chatty kind of body, but that on
farther acquaintance he found me of a capricious changeful temper,
never to be reckoned on. He does not know that I have regulated my
manner by his--that I was cheerful and chatty so long as he was
respectful, and that when he grew almost contemptuously familiar I
found it necessary to adopt a degree of reserve which was not
natural, and therefore was very painful to me. I find this reserve
very convenient, and consequently I intend to keep it up.'

TO MISS ELLEN NUSSEY

'_November_ 12_th_, 1840.

'MY DEAR NELL,--You will excuse this scrawled sheet of paper,
inasmuch as I happen to be out of that article, this being the only
available sheet I can find in my desk. I have effaced one of the
delectable portraitures, but have spared the others--lead pencil
sketches of horse's head, and man's head--being moved to that act of
clemency by the recollection that they are not the work of my hand,
but of the sacred fingers of his reverence William Weightman. You
will discern that the eye is a little too elevated in the horse's
head, otherwise I can assure you it is no such bad attempt. It shows
taste and something of an artist's eye. The fellow had no copy for
it. He sketched it, and one or two other little things, when he
happened to be here one evening, but you should have seen the vanity
with which he afterwards regarded his productions. One of them
represented the flying figure of Fame inscribing his own name on the
clouds.
'Mrs. Brook and I have interchanged letters. She expressed herself
pleased with the style of my application--with its candour, etc. (I
took care to tell her that if she wanted a showy, elegant,
fashionable personage, I was not the man for her), but she wants
music and singing. I can't give her music and singing, so of course
the negotiation is null and void. Being once up, however, I don't
mean to sit down till I have got what I want; but there is no sense
in talking about unfinished projects, so we'll drop the subject.
Consider this last sentence a hint from me to be applied practically.
It seems Miss Wooler's school is in a consumptive state of health. I
have been endeavouring to obtain a reinforcement of pupils for her,
but I cannot succeed, because Mrs. Heap is opening a new school in
Bradford.

'C. BRONTE.'

TO MISS ELLEN NUSSEY

'_January_ 10_th_, 1841.

'MY DEAR ELLEN,--I promised to write to you, and therefore I must
keep my promise, though I have neither much to say nor much time to
say it in.

'Mary Taylor's visit has been a very pleasant one to us, and I
believe to herself also. She and Mr. Weightman have had several
games at chess, which generally terminated in a species of mock
hostility. Mr. Weightman is better in health; but don't set your
heart on him, I'm afraid he is very fickle--not to you in particular,
but to half a dozen other ladies. He has just cut his _inamorata_ at
Swansea, and sent her back all her letters. His present object of
devotion is Caroline Dury, to whom he has just despatched a most
passionate copy of verses. Poor lad, his sanguine temperament
bothers him grievously.

'That Swansea affair seems to me somewhat heartless as far as I can
understand it, though I have not heard a very clear explanation. He
sighs as much as ever. I have not mentioned your name to him yet,
nor do I mean to do so until I have a fair opportunity of gathering
his real mind. Perhaps I may never mention it at all, but on the
contrary carefully avoid all allusion to you. It will just depend
upon the further opinion I may form of his character. I am not
pleased to find that he was carrying on a regular correspondence with
this lady at Swansea all the time he was paying such pointed
attention to you; and now the abrupt way in which he has cut her off,
and the evident wandering instability of his mind is no favourable
symptom at all. I shall not have many opportunities of observing him
for a month to come. As for the next fortnight, he will be
sedulously engaged in preparing for his ordination, and the fortnight
after he will spend at Appleby and Crackenthorp with Mr. and Miss
Walton. Don't think about him; I am not afraid you will break your
heart, but don't think about him.
'Give my love to Mercy and your mother, and,--Believe me, yours
sincerely,

'CA'IRA.'

TO MISS ELLEN NUSSEY

'RAWDON, _March_ 3_rd_, 1841.

'MY DEAR ELLEN,--I dare say you have received a valentine this year
from our bonny-faced friend the curate of Haworth. I got a precious
specimen a few days before I left home, but I knew better how to
treat it than I did those we received a year ago. I am up to the
dodges and artifices of his lordship's character. He knows I know
him, and you cannot conceive how quiet and respectful he has long
been. Mind I am not writing against him--I never _will_ do that. I
like him very much. I honour and admire his generous, open
disposition, and sweet temper--but for all the tricks, wiles, and
insincerities of love, the gentleman has not his match for twenty
miles round. He would fain persuade every woman under thirty whom he
sees that he is desperately in love with her. I have a great deal
more to say, but I have not a moment's time to write it in. My dear
Ellen, _do_ write to me soon, don't forget.--Good-bye.'

TO MISS ELLEN NUSSEY

'_March_ 21_st_, 1841.

'MY DEAREST ELLEN,--I do not know how to wear your pretty little
handcuffs. When you come you shall explain the mystery. I send you
the precious valentine. Make much of it. Remember the writer's blue
eyes, auburn hair, and rosy cheeks. You may consider the concern
addressed to yourself, for I have no doubt he intended it to suit
anybody.

'Fare-thee-well.

'C. B.'

Then there are these slighter inferences, that concerning Anne being
particularly interesting.

'Write long letters to me, and tell me everything you can think of,
and about everybody. "His young reverence," as you tenderly call
him, is looking delicate and pale; poor thing, don't you pity him? I
do from my heart! When he is well, and fat, and jovial, I never
think of him, but when anything ails him I am always sorry. He sits
opposite to Anne at church, sighing softly, and looking out of the
corners of his eyes to win her attention, and Anne is so quiet, her
look so downcast, they are a picture.'
 
'_July_ 19_th_, 1841.

'Our revered friend, W. W., is quite as bonny, pleasant,
lighthearted, good-tempered, generous, careless, fickle, and
unclerical as ever. He keeps up his correspondence with Agnes
Walton. During the last spring he went to Appleby, and stayed
upwards of a month.'

During the governess and Brussels episodes in Charlotte's life we lose
sight of Mr. Weightman, and the next record is of his death, which took
place in September 1842, while Charlotte and Emily were in Brussels. Mr.
Bronte preached the funeral sermon, {287} stating by way of introduction
that for the twenty years and more that he had been in Haworth he had
never before read his sermon. 'This is owing to a conviction in my
mind,' he says, 'that in general, for the ordinary run of hearers,
extempore preaching, though accompanied with some peculiar disadvantages,
is more likely to be of a colloquial nature, and better adapted, on the
whole, to the majority.' His departure from the practice on this
occasion, he explains, is due to the request that his sermon should be
printed.

Mr. Weightman, he told his hearers, was a native of Westmoreland,
educated at the University of Durham. 'While he was there,' continued
Mr. Bronte, 'I applied to the justly venerated Apostolical Bishop of this
diocese, requesting his Lordship to send me a curate adequate to the
wants and wishes of the parishioners. This application was not in vain.
Our Diocesan, in the scriptural character of the Overlooker and Head of
his clergy, made an admirable choice, which more than answered my
expectations, and probably yours. The Church Pastoral Aid Society, in
their pious liberality, lent their pecuniary aid, without which all
efforts must have failed.' 'He had classical attainments of the first
order, and, above all, his religious principles were sound and orthodox,'
concludes Mr. Bronte. Mr. Weightman was twenty-six years of age when he
died. His successor was Mr. Peter Augustus Smith, whom Charlotte Bronte
has made famous in _Shirley_ as Mr. Malone, curate of Briarfield. Mr.
Smith was Mr. A. B. Nicholls's predecessor at Haworth. Here is Charlotte
Bronte's vigorous treatment of him in a letter to her friend.

TO MISS ELLEN NUSSEY

'_January_ 26_th_, 1844.

'DEAR NELL,--We were all very glad to get your letter this morning.
_We_, I say, as both papa and Emily were anxious to hear of the safe
arrival of yourself and the little _varmint_. {288}

'As you conjecture, Emily and I set to shirt-making the very day
after you left, and we have stuck to it pretty closely ever since.
We miss your society at least as much as you miss ours, depend upon
it. Would that you were within calling distance, that you could as
you say burst in upon us in an afternoon, and, being despoiled of
your bonnet and shawl, be fixed in the rocking-chair for the evening
once or twice every week. I certainly cherished a dream during your
stay that such might one day be the case, but the dream is somewhat
dissipating. I allude of course to Mr. Smith, to whom you do not
allude in your letter, and I think you foolish for the omission. I
say the dream is dissipating, because Mr. Smith has not mentioned
your name since you left, except once when papa said you were a nice
girl, he said, "Yes, she is a nice girl--rather quiet. I suppose she
has money," and that is all. I think the words speak volumes; they
do not prejudice one in favour of Mr. Smith. I can well believe what
papa has often affirmed, and continues to affirm, _i.e._, that Mr.
Smith is a very fickle man, that if he marries he will soon get tired
of his wife, and consider her as a burden, also that money will be a
principal consideration with him in marrying.

'Papa has two or three times expressed a fear that since Mr. Smith
paid you so much attention he will perhaps have made an impression on
your mind which will interfere with your comfort. I tell him I think
not, as I believe you to be mistress of yourself in those matters.
Still, he keeps saying that I am to write to you and dissuade you
from thinking of him. I never saw papa make himself so uneasy about
a thing of the kind before; he is usually very sarcastic on such
subjects.

'Mr. Smith be hanged! I never thought very well of him, and I am
much disposed to think very ill of him at this blessed minute. I
have discussed the subject fully, for where is the use of being
mysterious and constrained?--it is not worth while.

'Be sure you write to me and immediately, and tell me whether you
have given up eating and drinking altogether. I am not surprised at
people thinking you looked pale and thin. I shall expect another
letter on Thursday--don't disappoint me.

'My best regards to your mother and sisters.--Yours, somewhat
irritated,

'C. B.'

TO MISS ELLEN NUSSEY

'DEAR NELL,--I did not "swear at the postman" when I saw another
letter from you. And I hope you will not "swear" at me when I tell
you that I cannot think of leaving home at present, even to have the
pleasure of joining you at Harrogate, but I am obliged to you for
thinking of me. I have nothing new about Rev. Lothario Smith. I
think I like him a little bit less every day. Mr. Weightman was
worth 200 Mr. Smiths tied in a bunch. Good-bye. I fear by what you
say, "Flossy jun." behaves discreditably, and gets his mistress into
scrapes.

'C. BRONTE.'

TO MISS ELLEN NUSSEY

'_March_ 16_th_, 1844.

'DEAR ELLEN,--I received your kind note last Saturday, and should
have answered it immediately, but in the meantime I had a letter from
Mary Taylor, and had to reply to her, and to write sundry letters to
Brussels to send by opportunity. My sight will not allow me to write
several letters per day, so I was obliged to do it gradually.

'I send you two more circulars because you ask for them, not because
I hope their distribution will produce any result. I hope that if a
time should come when Emily, Anne, or I shall be able to serve you,
we shall not forget that you have done your best to serve us.

'Mr. Smith is gone hence. He is in Ireland at present, and will stay
there six weeks. He has left neither a bad nor a good character
behind him. Nobody regrets him, because nobody could attach
themselves to one who could attach himself to nobody. I thought once
he had a regard for you, but I do not think so now. He has never
asked after you since you left, nor even mentioned you in my hearing,
except to say once when I purposely alluded to you, that you were
"not very locomotive." The meaning of the observation I leave you to
divine.

'Yet the man is not without points that will be most useful to
himself in getting through life. His good qualities, however, are
all of the selfish order, but they will make him respected where
better and more generous natures would be despised, or at least
neglected.

'Mr. Grant fills his shoes at present decently enough--but one cares
naught about these sort of individuals, so drop them.

'Mary Taylor is going to leave our hemisphere. To me it is something
as if a great planet fell out of the sky. Yet, unless she marries in
New Zealand, she will not stay there long.

'Write to me again soon and I promise to write you a regular long
letter next time.

'C. BRONTE.'

The Mr. Grant here described had come to Haworth as master of the small
grammar school in which Branwell had received some portion of his
education. He is the Mr. Donne, curate of Whinbury, in _Shirley_.
Whinbury is Oxenhope, of which village and district Mr. Grant after a
time became incumbent. The district was taken out of Haworth Chapelry,
and Mr. Grant collected the funds to build a church, schoolhouse, and
parsonage. He died at Oxenhope, many years ago, greatly respected by his
parishioners. He seems to have endured good-naturedly much chaff from
Mr. Bronte and others, who always called him Mr. Donne. It was the
opinion of many of his acquaintances that the satire of _Shirley_ had
improved his disposition.

Mr. Smith left Haworth in 1844, to become curate of the parish church of
Keighley. He became, at a later date, incumbent of a district church,
but, his health failing, he returned to his native country, where he
died.

TO MISS ELLEN NUSSEY

'_October_ 15_th_, 1844.

'DEAR NELL,--I send you two additional circulars, and will send you
two more, if you desire it, when I write again. I have no news to
give you. Mr. Smith leaves in the course of a fortnight. He will
spend a few weeks in Ireland previously to settling at Keighley. He
continues just the same: often anxious and bad-tempered, sometimes
rather tolerable--just supportable. How did your party go off? How
are you? Write soon, and at length, for your letters are a great
comfort to me. We are all pretty well. Remember me kindly to each
member of the household at Brookroyd.--Yours,
'C. B.'

The third curate of _Shirley_, Mr. Sweeting of Nunnely, was Mr. Richard
Bradley, curate of Oakworth, an outlying district of Keighley parish. He
is at this present time vicar of Haxby, Yorkshire, but far too aged and
infirm to have any memories of those old Haworth days.

Mr. Bronte's one other curate was Mr. De Renzi, who occupied the position
for a little more than a year,--during the period, in fact, of Mr.
Bronte's quarrel with Mr. Nicholls for aspiring to become his son-in-law.
After he left Haworth, Mr. De Renzi became a curate at Bradford. He has
been dead for some years. The story of Mr. Nicholls's curacy belongs to
another chapter. It is sufficient testimony to his worth, however, that
he was able to win Charlotte Bronte in spite of the fact that his
predecessors had inspired in her such hearty contempt. 'I think he must
be like all the curates I have seen,' she writes of one; 'they seem to me
a self-seeking, vain, empty race.'

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