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Charlotte Brontë and Her Circle by Clement King Shorter
CHAPTER XII: CHARLOTTE BRONTE'S LOVERS
Charlotte Bronte was not beautiful, but she must have been singularly
fascinating. That she was not beautiful there is abundant evidence.
When, as a girl of fifteen, she became a pupil at Roe Head, Mary Taylor
once told her to her face that she was ugly. Ugly she was not in later
years. All her friends emphasise the soft silky hair, and the beautiful
grey eyes which in moments of excitement seemed to glisten with
remarkable brilliancy. But she had a sallow complexion, and a large nose
slightly on one side. She was small in stature, and, in fact, the casual
observer would have thought her a quaint, unobtrusive little body. Mr.
Grundy's memory was very defective when he wrote about the Brontes; but,
with the exception of the reference to red hair--and all the girls had
brown hair--it would seem that he was not very wide of the mark when he
wrote of 'the daughters--distant and distrait, large of nose, small of
figure, red of hair, prominent of spectacles, showing great intellectual
development, but with eyes constantly cast down, very silent, painfully
Charlotte was indeed painfully shy. Miss Wheelwright, who saw much of
her during her visits to London in the years of her literary success,
says that she would never enter a room without sheltering herself under
the wing of some taller friend. A resident of Haworth, still alive,
remembers the girls passing him frequently on the way down to the shops,
and their hands would involuntarily be lifted to the face on the side
nearest to him, with a view to avoid observation. This was not
affectation; it was absolute timidity. Miss Wheelwright always thought
George Richmond's portrait--for which Charlotte sat during a stay at Dr.
Wheelwright's in Phillimore Place--entirely flattering. Many of
Charlotte's friends were pleased that it should be so, but there can be
no doubt that the magnificent expanse of forehead was an exaggeration.
Charlotte's forehead was high, but very narrow.
All this is comparatively unimportant. Charlotte certainly was under no
illusion; and we who revere her to-day as one of the greatest of
Englishwomen need have no illusions. It is sufficient that, if not
beautiful, Charlotte possessed a singular charm of manner, and, when
interested, an exhilarating flow of conversation which carried
intelligent men off their feet. She had at least four offers of
marriage. The three lovers she refused have long since gone to their
graves, and there can be no harm now in referring to the actual facts as
they present themselves in Charlotte's letters. Two of these offers of
marriage were made in one year, when she was twenty-three years of age.
Her first proposal came from the brother of her friend Ellen Nussey.
Henry Nussey was a curate at Donnington when he asked Charlotte Bronte to
be his wife. Two letters on the subject, one of which is partly printed
in a mangled form in Mrs. Gaskell's Memoir, speak for themselves.
TO REV. HENRY NUSSEY
'HAWORTH, _March_ 5_th_, 1839.
'MY DEAR SIR,--Before answering your letter I might have spent a long
time in consideration of its subject; but as from the first moment of
its reception and perusal I determined on what course to pursue, it
seemed to me that delay was wholly unnecessary. You are aware that I
have many reasons to feel grateful to your family, that I have
peculiar reasons for affection towards one at least of your sisters,
and also that I highly esteem yourself--do not therefore accuse me of
wrong motives when I say that my answer to your proposal must be a
_decided negative_. In forming this decision, I trust I have
listened to the dictates of conscience more than to those of
inclination. I have no personal repugnance to the idea of a union
with you, but I feel convinced that mine is not the sort of
disposition calculated to form the happiness of a man like you. It
has always been my habit to study the characters of those amongst
whom I chance to be thrown, and I think I know yours and can imagine
what description of woman would suit you for a wife. The character
should not be too marked, ardent, and original, her temper should be
mild, her piety undoubted, her spirits even and cheerful, and her
_personal attractions_ sufficient to please your eyes and gratify
your just pride. As for me, you do not know me; I am not the
serious, grave, cool-headed individual you suppose; you would think
me romantic and eccentric; you would say I was satirical and severe.
However, I scorn deceit, and I will never, for the sake of attaining
the distinction of matrimony and escaping the stigma of an old maid,
take a worthy man whom I am conscious I cannot render happy. Before
I conclude, let me thank you warmly for your other proposal regarding
the school near Donnington. It is kind in you to take so much
interest about me; but the fact is, I could not at present enter upon
such a project because I have not the capital necessary to insure
success. It is a pleasure to me to hear that you are so comfortably
settled and that your health is so much improved. I trust God will
continue His kindness towards you. Let me say also that I admire the
good-sense and absence of flattery and cant which your letter
displayed. Farewell. I shall always be glad to hear from you as a
_friend_.--Believe me, yours truly,
TO MISS ELLEN NUSSEY
'HAWORTH, _March_ 12_th_, 1839.
'MY DEAREST ELLEN,--When your letter was put into my hands, I said,
"She is coming at last, I hope," but when I opened it and found what
the contents were, I was vexed to the heart. You need not ask me to
go to Brookroyd any more. Once for all, and at the hazard of being
called the most stupid little wretch that ever existed, I _won't_ go
till you have been to Haworth. I don't blame _you_, I believe you
would come if you might; perhaps I ought not to blame others, but I
'Anne goes to Blake Hall on the 8th of April, unless some further
unseen cause of delay should occur. I've heard nothing more from
Mrs. Thos. Brook as yet. Papa wishes me to remain at home a little
longer, but I begin to be anxious to set to work again; and yet it
will be _hard work_ after the indulgence of so many weeks, to return
to that dreary "gin-horse" round.
'You ask me, my dear Ellen, whether I have received a letter from
Henry. I have, about a week since. The contents, I confess, did a
little surprise me, but I kept them to myself, and unless you had
questioned me on the subject, I would never have adverted to it.
Henry says he is comfortably settled at Donnington, that his health
is much improved, and that it is his intention to take pupils after
Easter. He then intimates that in due time he should want a wife to
take care of his pupils, and frankly asks me to be that wife.
Altogether the letter is written without cant or flattery, and in a
common-sense style, which does credit to his judgment.
'Now, my dear Ellen, there were in this proposal some things which
might have proved a strong temptation. I thought if I were to marry
Henry Nussey, his sister could live with me, and how happy I should
be. But again I asked myself two questions: Do I love him as much as
a woman ought to love the man she marries? Am I the person best
qualified to make him happy? Alas! Ellen, my conscience answered
_no_ to both these questions. I felt that though I esteemed, though
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 Henry 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. Could I, knowing my mind to be
such as that, conscientiously say that I would take a grave, quiet,
young man like Henry? No, it would have been deceiving him, and
deception of that sort is beneath me. So I wrote a long letter back,
in which I expressed my refusal as gently as I could, and also
candidly avowed my reasons for that refusal. I described to him,
too, the sort of character that would suit him for a wife.--Good-bye,
my dear Ellen.
Mr. Nussey was a very good man, with a capacity for making himself
generally esteemed, becoming in turn vicar of Earnley, near Chichester,
and afterwards of Hathersage, in Derbyshire. It was honourable to his
judgment that he had aspired to marry Charlotte Bronte, who, as we know,
had neither money nor much personal attraction, and at the time no
possible prospect of literary fame. Her common-sense letter in reply to
his proposal had the desired effect. He speedily took the proffered
advice, and six months later we find her sending him a letter of
congratulation upon his engagement to be married.
TO REV. HENRY NUSSEY
'HAWORTH, _October_ 28_th_, 1839.
'DEAR SIR,--I have delayed answering your last communication in the
hopes of receiving a letter from Ellen, that I might be able to
transmit to you the latest news from Brookroyd; however, as she does
not write, I think I ought to put off my reply no longer lest you
should begin to think me negligent. As you rightly conjecture, I had
heard a little hint of what you allude to before, and the account
gave me pleasure, coupled as it was with the assurance that the
object of your regard is a worthy and estimable woman. The step no
doubt will by many of your friends be considered scarcely as a
prudent one, _since_ fortune is not amongst the number of the young
lady's advantages. For my own part, I must confess that I esteem you
the more for not hunting after wealth if there be strength of mind,
firmness of principle, and sweetness of temper to compensate for the
absence of that usually all-powerful attraction. The wife who brings
riches to her husband sometimes also brings an idea of her own
importance and a tenacity about what she conceives to be her rights,
little calculated to produce happiness in the married state. Most
probably she will wish to control when nature and affection bind her
to submit--in this case there cannot, I should think, be much
'On the other hand, it must be considered that when two persons marry
without money, there ought to be moral courage and physical exertion
to atone for the deficiency--there should be spirit to scorn
dependence, patience to endure privation, and energy to labour for a
livelihood. If there be these qualities, I think, with the blessing
of God, those who join heart and hand have a right to expect success
and a moderate share of happiness, even though they may have departed
a step or two from the stern maxims of worldly prudence. The bread
earned by honourable toil is sweeter than the bread of idleness; and
mutual love and domestic calm are treasures far preferable to the
possessions rust can corrupt and moths consume away.
'I enjoyed my late excursion with Ellen with the greater zest because
such pleasures have not often chanced to fall in my way. I will not
tell you what I thought of the sea, because I should fall into my
besetting sin of enthusiasm. I may, however, say that its glories,
changes, its ebbs and flow, the sound of its restless waves, formed a
subject for contemplation that never wearied either the eye, the ear,
or the mind. Our visit at Easton was extremely pleasant; I shall
always feel grateful to Mr. and Mrs. Hudson for their kindness. We
saw Agnes Burton, during our stay, and called on two of your former
parishioners--Mrs. Brown and Mrs. Dalton. I was pleased to hear your
name mentioned by them in terms of encomium and sincere regard.
Ellen will have detailed to you all the minutia of our excursion; a
recapitulation from me would therefore be tedious. I am happy to say
that her health appeared to be greatly improved by the change of air
and regular exercise. I am still at home, as I have not yet heard of
any situation which meets with the approbation of my friends. I
begin, however, to grow exceedingly impatient of a prolonged period
of inaction. I feel I ought to be doing something for myself, for my
health is now so perfectly re-established by this long rest that it
affords me no further pretext for indolence. With every wish for
your future welfare, and with the hope that whenever your proposed
union takes place it may contribute in the highest sense to your good
and happiness,--Believe me, your sincere friend,
'_P.S._--Remember me to your sister Mercy, who, I understand, is for
the present your companion and housekeeper.'
The correspondence did not end here. Indeed, Charlotte was so excellent
a letter-writer, that it must have been hard indeed for any one who had
had any experience of her in that capacity to readily forgo its
TO REV. HENRY NUSSEY
'HAWORTH, _May_ 26_th_, 1840.
'DEAR SIR,--In looking over my papers this morning I found a letter
from you of the date of last February with the mark upon it
unanswered. Your sister Ellen often accuses me of want of
punctuality in answering letters, and I think her accusation is here
justified. However, I give you credit for as much considerateness as
will induce you to excuse a greater fault than this, especially as I
shall hasten directly to repair it.
'The fact is, when the letter came Ellen was staying with me, and I
was so fully occupied in talking to her that I had no time to think
of writing to others. This is no great compliment, but it is no
insult either. You know Ellen's worth, you know how seldom I see
her, you partly know my regard for her; and from these premises you
may easily draw the inference that her company, when once obtained,
is too valuable to be wasted for a moment. One woman can appreciate
the value of another better than a man can do. Men very often only
see the outside gloss which dazzles in prosperity, women have
opportunities for closer observation, and they learn to value those
qualities which are useful in adversity.
'There is much, too, in that mild even temper and that placid
equanimity which keep the domestic hearth always bright and
peaceful--this is better than the ardent nature that changes twenty
times in a day. I have studied Ellen and I think she would make a
good wife--that is, if she had a good husband. If she married a fool
or a tyrant there is spirit enough in her composition to withstand
the dictates of either insolence or weakness, though even then I
doubt not her sense would teach her to make the best of a bad
'You will see my letters are all didactic. They contain no news,
because I know of none which I think it would interest you to hear
repeated. I am still at home, in very good health and spirits, and
uneasy only because I cannot yet hear of a situation.
'I shall always be glad to have a letter from you, and I promise when
you write again to be less dilatory in answering. I trust your
prospects of happiness still continue fair; and from what you say of
your future partner I doubt not she will be one who will help you to
get cheerfully through the difficulties of this world and to obtain a
permanent rest in the next; at least I hope such may be the case.
You do right to conduct the matter with due deliberation, for on the
step you are about to take depends the happiness of your whole
'You must not again ask me to write in a regular literary way to you
on some particular topic. I cannot do it at all. Do you think I am
a blue-stocking? I feel half inclined to laugh at you for the idea,
but perhaps you would be angry. What was the topic to be?
Chemistry? or astronomy? or mechanics? or conchology? or entomology?
or what other ology? I know nothing at all about any of these. I am
not scientific; I am not a linguist. You think me far more learned
than I am. If I told you all my ignorance, I am afraid you would be
shocked; however, as I wish still to retain a little corner in your
good opinion, I will hold my tongue.--Believe me, yours respectfully,
TO REV. HENRY NUSSEY
'_January_ 11th, 1841.
'DEAR SIR,--It is time I should reply to your last, as I shall fail
in fulfilling my promise of not being so dilatory as on a former
'I shall be glad to receive the poetry which you offer to send me.
You ask me to return the gift in kind. How do you know that I have
it in my power to comply with that request? Once indeed I was very
poetical, when I was sixteen, seventeen, eighteen, and nineteen years
old, but I am now twenty-four, approaching twenty-five, and the
intermediate years are those which begin to rob life of some of its
superfluous colouring. At this age it is time that the imagination
should be pruned and trimmed, that the judgment should be cultivated,
and a few, at least, of the countless illusions of early youth should
be cleared away. I have not written poetry for a long while.
'You will excuse the dulness, morality, and monotony of this epistle,
and--Believe me, with all good wishes for your welfare here and
hereafter, your sincere friend,
This letter closes the correspondence; but, as we have seen, Charlotte
spent three pleasant weeks in Mr. Nussey's home with his sister Ellen
when that gentleman became vicar of Hathersage, in Derbyshire. She thus
congratulates her friend when Mr. Nussey is appointed to the latter
TO MISS ELLEN NUSSEY
'_July_ 29_th_, 1844.
'DEAR NELL,--I am very glad to hear of Henry's good fortune. It
proves to me what an excellent thing perseverance is for getting on
in the world. Calm self-confidence (not impudence, for that is
vulgar and repulsive) is an admirable quality; but how are those not
naturally gifted with it to attain it? We all here get on much as
usual. Papa wishes he could hear of a curate, that Mr. Smith may be
at liberty to go. Good-bye, dear Ellen. I wish to you and yours
happiness, health, and prosperity.
'Write again before you go to Burlington. My best love to Mary.
Meanwhile, as I have said, a second lover appeared on the field in this
same year, 1839, and the quickness of his wooing is a remarkable
testimony to the peculiar fascination which Miss Bronte must have
TO MISS ELLEN NUSSEY
'_August_ 4_th_, 1839.
'MY DEAREST ELLEN,--I have an odd circumstance to relate to
you--prepare for a hearty laugh! The other day Mr. Hodgson, papa's
former curate, now a vicar, came over to spend the day with us,
bringing with him his own curate. The latter gentleman, by name Mr.
Price, 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, Ellen, 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 Taylor, 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! Well! 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. When we meet I'll show you the
letter. I hope you are laughing heartily. This is not like one of
my adventures, is it? It more nearly resembles Martha Taylor'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. Write soon.
It was not many months after this that we hear the last of poor Mr.
TO MISS ELLEN NUSSEY
'_January_ 24_th_, 1840.
'MY DEAR ELLEN,--Mr. Price is dead. He had fallen into a state of
delicate health for some time, and the rupture of a blood-vessel
carried him off. He was a strong, athletic-looking man when I saw
him, and that is scarcely six months ago. Though I knew so little of
him, and of course could not be deeply or permanently interested in
what concerned him, I confess, when I suddenly heard he was dead, I
felt both shocked and saddened: it was no shame to feel so, was it?
I scold you, Ellen, for writing illegibly and badly, but I think you
may repay the compliment with cent per cent interest. I am not in
the humour for writing a long letter, so good-bye. God bless you.
There are many thoughts on marriage scattered through Charlotte's
correspondence. It was a subject upon which she never wearied of asking
questions, and of finding her own answers. 'I believe it is better to
marry _to_ love than to marry _for_ love,' she says on one occasion. And
in reference to the somewhat uncertain attitude of the admirer of one of
her friends, she thus expresses herself to Miss Nussey:
TO MISS ELLEN NUSSEY
'_November_ 20_th_, 1840.
'MY DEAREST NELL,--That last letter of thine treated of matters so
high and important I cannot delay answering it for a day. Now I am
about to write thee a discourse, and a piece of advice which thou
must take as if it came from thy grandmother. But in the first
place, before I begin with thee, I have a word to whisper in the ear
of Mr. Vincent, and I wish it could reach him. In the name of St.
Chrysostom, St. Simon, and St. Jude, why does not that amiable young
gentleman come forward like a man and say all that he has to say
personally, instead of trifling with kinsmen and kinswomen. "Mr.
Vincent," I say, "go personally, and say: 'Miss ---, I want to speak
to you.' Miss --- will of course civilly answer: 'I am at your
service, Mr. Vincent.' And then, when the room is cleared of all but
yourself and herself, just take a chair nearer. Insist upon her
laying down that silly . . . work, and listening to you. Then begin,
in a clear, distinct, deferential, but determined voice: 'Miss ---, I
have a question to put to you--a very important question: "Will you
take me as your husband, for better, for worse. I am not a rich man,
but I have sufficient to support us. I am not a great man, but I
love you honestly and truly. Miss ---, if you knew the world better
you would see that this is an offer not to be despised--a kind
attached heart and a moderate competency." Do this, Mr. Vincent, and
you may succeed. Go on writing sentimental and love-sick letters to
---, and I would not give sixpence for your suit." So much for Mr.
Vincent. Now Miss ---'s turn comes to swallow the black bolus,
called a friend's advice. Say to her: "Is the man a fool? is he a
knave? a humbug, a hypocrite, a ninny, a noodle? If he is any or all
of these, of course there is no sense in trifling with him. Cut him
short at once--blast his hopes with lightning rapidity and keenness.
Is he something better than this? has he at least common sense, a
good disposition, a manageable temper? Then consider the matter."
Say further: "You feel a disgust towards him now--an utter
repugnance. Very likely, but be so good as to remember you don't
know him; you have only had three or four days' acquaintance with
him. Longer and closer intimacy might reconcile you to a wonderful
extent. And now I'll tell you a word of truth, at which you may be
offended or not as you like." Say to her: "From what I know of your
character, and I think I know it pretty well, I should say you will
never love before marriage. After that ceremony is over, and after
you have had some months to settle down, and to get accustomed to the
creature you have taken for your worse half, you will probably make a
most affectionate and happy wife; even if the individual should not
prove all you could wish, you will be indulgent towards his little
follies and foibles, and will not feel much annoyance at them. This
will especially be the case if he should have sense sufficient to
allow you to guide him in important matters." Say also: "I hope you
will not have the romantic folly to wait for what the French call
'une grande passion.' My good girl, 'une grande passion' is 'une
grande folie.' Mediocrity in all things is wisdom; mediocrity in the
sensations is superlative wisdom." Say to her: "When you are as old
as I am (I am sixty at least, being your grandmother), you will find
that the majority of those worldly precepts, whose seeming coldness
shocks and repels us in youth, are founded in wisdom."
'No girl should fall in love till the offer is actually made. This
maxim is just. I will even extend and confirm it: No young lady
should fall in love till the offer has been made, accepted, the
marriage ceremony performed, and the first half-year of wedded life
has passed away. A woman may then begin to love, but with great
precaution, very coolly, very moderately, very rationally. If she
ever loves so much that a harsh word or a cold look cuts her to the
heart she is a fool. If she ever loves so much that her husband's
will is her law, and that she has got into a habit of watching his
looks in order that she may anticipate his wishes, she will soon be a
'I have two studies: you are my study for the success, the credit,
and the respectability of a quiet, tranquil character; Mary is my
study for the contempt, the remorse, the misconstruction which follow
the development of feelings in themselves noble, warm, generous,
devoted, and profound, but which, being too freely revealed, too
frankly bestowed, are not estimated at their real value. I never
hope to see in this world a character more truly noble. She would
die willingly for one she loved. Her intellect and her attainments
are of the very highest standard. Yet I doubt whether Mary will ever
marry. Mr. Weightman expresses himself very strongly on young ladies
saying "No," when they mean "Yes." He assures me he means nothing
personal. I hope not. Assuredly I quite agree with him in his
disapprobation of such a senseless course. It is folly indeed for
the tongue to stammer a negative when the heart is proclaiming an
affirmative. Or rather, it is an act of heroic self-denial, of which
_I_ for one confess myself wholly incapable. _I would not tell such
a lie_ to gain a thousand pounds. Write to me again soon. What made
you say I admired Hippocrates? It is a confounded "fib." I tried to
find something admirable in him, and failed.'
'He is perhaps only like the majority of men' (she says of an
acquaintance). 'Certainly those men who lead a gay life in their
youth, and arrive at middle-age with feelings blunted and passions
exhausted, can have but one aim in marriage--the selfish advancement
of their interest. Hard to think that such men take as wives--as
second-selves--women young, modest, sincere, pure in heart and life,
with feelings all fresh and emotions all unworn, and bind such virtue
and vitality to their own withered existence, such sincerity to their
own hollowness, such disinterestedness to their own haggard
avarice--to think this, troubles the soul to its inmost depths.
Nature and justice forbid the banns of such wedlock.'
TO MISS ELLEN NUSSEY
'_August_ 9_th_, 1846.
'DEAR NELL,--Anne and I both thank you for your kind invitation. And
our thanks are not mere words of course--they are very sincere, both
as addressed to yourself and your mother and sisters. But we cannot
accept it; and I _think_ even _you_ will consider our motives for
declining valid this time.
'In a fortnight I hope to go with papa to Manchester to have his eyes
couched. Emily and I made a pilgrimage there a week ago to search
out an operator, and we found one in the person of Mr. Wilson. He
could not tell from the description whether the eyes were ready for
an operation. Papa must therefore necessarily take a journey to
Manchester to consult him. If he judges the cataract ripe, we shall
remain; if, on the contrary, he thinks it not yet sufficiently
hardened, we shall have to return--and Papa must remain in darkness a
'There is a defect in your reasoning about the feelings a wife ought
to experience. Who holds the purse will wish to be master, Ellen,
depend on it, whether man or woman. Who provided the cash will now
and then value himself, or herself, upon it, and, even in the case of
ordinary minds, reproach the less wealthy partner. Besides, no
husband ought to be an object of charity to his wife, as no wife to
her husband. No, dear Ellen; it is doubtless pleasant to marry
_well_, as they say, but with all pleasures are mixed bitters. I do
not wish for my friend a very rich husband. I should not like her to
be regarded by any man ever as "a sweet object of charity." Give my
sincere love to all.--Yours,
Many years were to elapse before Charlotte Bronte received her third
offer of marriage. These were the years of Brussels life, and the year
during which she lost her sisters. It came in the period of her early
literary fame, and indeed was the outcome of it. Mr. James Taylor was in
the employment of Smith & Elder. He was associated with the literary
department, and next in command to Mr. W. S. Williams as adviser to the
firm. Mr. Williams appears to have written to Miss Bronte suggesting
that Mr. Taylor should come to Haworth in person for the manuscript of
her new novel, _Shirley_, and here is Charlotte's reply.
TO W. S. WILLIAMS
'_August_ 24_th_, 1849.
'MY DEAR SIR,--I think the best title for the book would be
_Shirley_, without any explanation or addition--the simpler and
briefer, the better.
'If Mr. Taylor calls here on his return to town he might take charge
of the Ms.; I would rather intrust it to him than send it by the
ordinary conveyance. Did I see Mr. Taylor when I was in London? I
cannot remember him.
'I would with pleasure offer him the homely hospitalities of the
Parsonage for a few days, if I could at the same time offer him the
company of a brother, or if my father were young enough and strong
enough to walk with him on the moors and show him the neighbourhood,
or if the peculiar retirement of papa's habits were not such as to
render it irksome to him to give much of his society to a stranger,
even in the house. Without being in the least misanthropical or
sour-natured, papa habitually prefers solitude to society, and custom
is a tyrant whose fetters it would now be impossible for him to
break. Were it not for difficulties of this sort, I believe I should
ere this have asked you to come down to Yorkshire. Papa, I know,
would receive any friend of Mr. Smith's with perfect kindness and
goodwill, but I likewise know that, unless greatly put out of his
way, he could not give a guest much of his company, and that,
consequently, his entertainment would be but dull.
'You will see the force of these considerations, and understand why I
only ask Mr. Taylor to come for a day instead of requesting the
pleasure of his company for a longer period; you will believe me
also, and so will he, when I say I shall be most happy to see him.
He will find Haworth a strange uncivilised little place, such as, I
daresay, he never saw before. It is twenty miles distant from Leeds;
he will have to come by rail to Keighley (there are trains every two
hours I believe). He must remember that at a station called Shipley
the carriages are changed, otherwise they will take him on to Skipton
or Colne, or I know not where. When he reaches Keighley, he will yet
have four miles to travel; a conveyance may be hired at the
Devonshire Arms--there is no coach or other regular communication.
'I should like to hear from him before he comes, and to know on what
day to expect him, that I may have the MS. ready; if it is not quite
finished I might send the concluding chapter or two by post.
'I advise you to send this letter to Mr. Taylor--it will save you the
trouble of much explanation, and will serve to apprise him of what
lies before him; he can then weigh well with himself whether it would
suit him to take so much trouble for so slight an end.--Believe me,
my dear sir, yours sincerely,
TO JAMES TAYLOR, CORNHILL.
'_September_ 3_rd_, 1849.
'MY DEAR SIR,--It will be quite convenient to my father and myself to
secure your visit on Saturday the 8th inst.
'The MS. is now complete, and ready for you.
'Trusting that you have enjoyed your holiday and derived from your
excursion both pleasure and profit,--I am, dear sir, yours sincerely,
Mr. Taylor was small and red-haired. There are two portraits of him
before me. They indicate a determined, capable man, thick-set, well
bearded: on the whole a vigorous and interesting personality. In any
case, Mr. Taylor lost his heart to Charlotte, and was much more
persistent than earlier lovers. He had also the advantage of Mr.
Bronte's goodwill. This is all there is to add to the letters
TO MISS ELLEN NUSSEY
'_September_ 14_th_, 1850.
'DEAR ELLEN,--I found after sealing my last note to you that I had
forgotten after all to inclose Amelia's letter; however, it appears
it does not signify. While I think of it I must refer to an act of
petty larceny committed by me when I was last at Brookroyd. Do you
remember lending me a parasol, which I should have left with you when
we parted at Leeds? I unconsciously carried it away in my hand. You
shall have it when you next come to Haworth.
'I wish, dear Ellen, you would tell me what is the "twaddle about my
marrying, etc.," which you hear. If I knew the details I should have
a better chance of guessing the quarter from which such gossip
comes--as it is, I am quite at a loss. Whom am I to marry? I think
I have scarcely seen a single man with whom such a union would be
possible since I left London. Doubtless there are men whom, if I
chose to encourage, I might marry; but no matrimonial lot is even
remotely offered me which seems to me truly desirable. And even if
that were the case, there would be many obstacles. The least
allusion to such a thing is most offensive to papa.
'An article entitled _Currer Bell_ has lately appeared in the
_Palladium_, a new periodical published in Edinburgh. It is an
eloquent production, and one of such warm sympathy and high
appreciation as I had never expected to see. It makes mistakes about
authorships, etc., but these I hope one day to set right. Mr. Taylor
(the little man) first informed me of this article. I was somewhat
surprised to receive his letter, having concluded nine months ago
that there would be no more correspondence from that quarter. I
inclose you a note from him received subsequently, in answer to my
acknowledgment. Read it and tell me exactly how it impresses you
regarding the writer's character, etc. His little newspaper
disappeared for some weeks, and I thought it was gone to the tomb of
the Capulets; however, it has reappeared, with an explanation that he
had feared its regular transmission might rather annoy than gratify.
I told him this was a mistake--that I was well enough pleased to
receive it, but hoped he would not make a task of sending it. For
the rest, I cannot consider myself placed under any personal
obligation by accepting this newspaper, for it belongs to the
establishment of Smith & Elder. This little Taylor is deficient
neither in spirit nor sense.
'The report about my having published again is, of course, an arrant
'Give my kind regards to all, and--Believe me, yours faithfully,
Her friend's reference to _Jupiter_ is to another suggested lover, and
the kindly allusion to the 'little man' may be taken to imply that had he
persevered, or not gone off to India, whither he was sent to open a
branch establishment in Bombay for Smith & Elder, Mr. Taylor might
possibly have been successful in the long run.
TO MISS ELLEN NUSSEY
'_January_ 30_th_, 1851.
'DEAR NELL,--I am very sorry to hear that Amelia is again far from
well; but I think both she and I should try and not be too anxious.
Even if matters do not prosper this time, all may go as well some
future day. I think it is not these _early_ mishaps that break the
constitution, but those which occur in a much later stage. She must
take heart--there may yet be a round dozen of little Joe Taylors to
look after--run after--to sort and switch and train up in the way
they should go--that is, with a generous use of pickled birch. From
whom do you think I have received a couple of notes lately? From
Alice. They are returned from the Continent, it seems, and are now
at Torquay. The first note touched me a little by what I thought its
subdued tone; I trusted her character might be greatly improved.
There were, indeed, traces of the "old Adam," but such as I was
willing to overlook. I answered her soon and kindly. In reply I
received to-day a longish letter, full of clap-trap sentiment and
humbugging attempts at fine writing. In each production the old
trading spirit peeps out; she asks for autographs. It seems she had
read in some paper that I was staying with Miss Martineau; thereupon
she applies for specimens of her handwriting, and Wordsworth's, and
Southey's, and my own. The account of her health, if given by any
one else, would grieve and alarm me. She talks of fearing that her
constitution is almost broken by repeated trials, and intimates a
doubt as to whether she shall live long: but, remembering her of old,
I have good hopes that this may be a mistake. Her "beloved papa and
mama" and her "precious sister," she says, are living, and "gradely."
(That last is my word. I don't know whether they use it in Birstall
as they do here--it means in a middling way.)
'You are to say no more about "Jupiter" and "Venus"--what do you mean
by such heathen trash? The fact is, no fallacy can be wilder, and I
won't have it hinted at even in jest, because my common sense laughs
it to scorn. The idea of the "little man" shocks me less--it would
be a more likely match if "matches" were at all in question, which
_they are not_. He still sends his little newspaper; and the other
day there came a letter of a bulk, volume, pith, judgment, and
knowledge, worthy to have been the product of a giant. You may laugh
as much and as wickedly as you please; but the fact is, there is a
quiet constancy about this, my diminutive and red-haired friend,
which adds a foot to his stature, turns his sandy locks dark, and
altogether dignifies him a good deal in my estimation. However, I am
not bothered by much vehement ardour--there is the nicest distance
and respect preserved now, which makes matters very comfortable.
'This is all nonsense, Nell, and so you will understand it.--Yours
'The name of Miss Martineau's coadjutor is Atkinson. She often writes to
me with exceeding cordiality.'
TO JAMES TAYLOR, CORNHILL
'_March_ 22_nd_, 1851.
'MY DEAR SIR,--Yesterday I despatched a box of books to Cornhill,
including the number of the _North British Review_ which you kindly
lent me. The article to which you particularly directed my attention
was read with pleasure and interest, and if I do not now discuss it
more at length, it is because I am well aware how completely your
attention must be at present engrossed, since, if I rightly
understood a brief paragraph in Mr. Smith's last note, you are now on
the eve of quitting England for India.
'I will limit myself, then, to the expression of a sincere wish for
your welfare and prosperity in this undertaking, and to the hope that
the great change of climate will bring with it no corresponding risk
to health. I should think you will be missed in Cornhill, but
doubtless "business" is a Moloch which demands such sacrifices.
'I do not know when you go, nor whether your absence is likely to be
permanent or only for a time; whichever it be, accept my best wishes
for your happiness, and my farewell, if I should not again have the
opportunity of addressing you.--Believe me, sincerely yours,
TO JAMES TAYLOR, CORNHILL
'_March_ 24_th_, 1851.
'MY DEAR SIR,--I had written briefly to you before I received yours,
but I fear the note would not reach you in time. I will now only say
that both my father and myself will have pleasure in seeing you on
your return from Scotland--a pleasure tinged with sadness certainly,
as all partings are, but still a pleasure.
'I do most entirely agree with you in what you say about Miss
Martineau's and Mr. Atkinson's book. I deeply regret its publication
for the lady's sake; it gives a death-blow to her future usefulness.
Who can trust the word, or rely on the judgment, of an avowed
'May your decision in the crisis through which you have gone result
in the best effect on your happiness and welfare; and indeed, guided
as you are by the wish to do right and a high sense of duty, I trust
it cannot be otherwise. The change of climate is all I fear; but
Providence will over-rule this too for the best--in Him you can
believe and on Him rely. You will want, therefore, neither solace
nor support, though your lot be cast as a stranger in a strange
land.--I am, yours sincerely,
'When you shall have definitely fixed the time of your return
southward, write me a line to say on what day I may expect you at
TO MISS ELLEN NUSSEY
'_April_ 5_th_, 1851.
'DEAR ELLEN,--Mr. Taylor has been and is gone; things are just as
they were. I only know in addition to the slight information I
possessed before, that this Indian undertaking is necessary to the
continued prosperity of the firm of Smith, Elder, & Co., and that he,
Taylor, alone was pronounced to possess the power and means to carry
it out successfully--that mercantile honour, combined with his own
sense of duty, obliged him to accept the post of honour and of danger
to which he has been appointed, that he goes with great personal
reluctance, and that he contemplates an absence of five years.
'He looked much thinner and older. I saw him very near, and once
through my glass; the resemblance to Branwell struck me forcibly--it
is marked. He is not ugly, but very peculiar; the lines in his face
show an inflexibility, and, I must add, a hardness of character which
do not attract. As he stood near me, as he looked at me in his keen
way, it was all I could do to stand my ground tranquilly and
steadily, and not to recoil as before. It is no use saying anything
if I am not candid. I avow then, that on this occasion, predisposed
as I was to regard him very favourably, his manners and his personal
presence scarcely pleased me more than at the first interview. He
gave me a book at parting, requesting in his brief way that I would
keep it for his sake, and adding hastily, "I shall hope to hear from
you in India--your letters _have_ been and _will_ be a greater
refreshment than you can think or I can tell."
'And so he is gone; and stern and abrupt little man as he is--too
often jarring as are his manners--his absence and the exclusion of
his idea from my mind leave me certainly with less support and in
deeper solitude than before.
'You see, dear Nell, though we are still precisely on the same
level--_you_ are not isolated. I feel that there is a certain
mystery about this transaction yet, and whether it will ever be
cleared up to me I do not know; however, my plain duty is to wean my
mind from the subject, and if possible to avoid pondering over it.
In his conversation he seemed studiously to avoid reference to Mr.
Smith individually, speaking always of the "house"--the "firm." He
seemed throughout quite as excited and nervous as when I first saw
him. I feel that in his way he has a regard for me--a regard which I
cannot bring myself entirely to reciprocate in kind, and yet its
withdrawal leaves a painful blank.'
TO MISS ELLEN NUSSEY
'_April_ 9_th_, 1851.
'DEAR NELL,--Thank you for your kind note; it was just like you to
write it _though_ it was your school-day. I never knew you to let a
slight impediment stand in the way of a friendly action.
'Certainly I shall not soon forget last Friday, and _never_, I think,
the evening and night succeeding that morning and afternoon. Evils
seldom come singly. And soon after Mr. Taylor was gone, papa, who
had been better, grew much worse. He went to bed early, and was very
sick and ill for an hour; and when at last he began to doze, and I
left him, I came down to the dining-room with a sense of weight,
fear, and desolation hard to express and harder to endure. A wish
that you were with me _did_ cross my mind, but I repulsed it as a
most selfish wish; indeed, it was only short-lived: my natural
tendency in moments of this sort is to get through the struggle
alone--to think that one is burdening and racking others makes all
'You speak to me in soft consolating accents, but I hold far sterner
language to myself, dear Nell.
'An absence of five years--a dividing expanse of three oceans--the
wide difference between a man's active career and a woman's passive
existence--these things are almost equivalent to an eternal
separation. But there is another thing which forms a barrier more
difficult to pass than any of these. Would Mr. Taylor and I ever
suit? Could I ever feel for him enough love to accept him as a
husband? Friendship--gratitude--esteem I have, but each moment he
came near me, and that I could see his eyes fastened on me, my veins
ran ice. Now that he is away I feel far more gently towards him; it
is only close by that I grow rigid--stiffening with a strange mixture
of apprehension and anger, which nothing softens but his retreat and
a perfect subduing of his manner. I did not want to be proud, nor
intend to be proud, but I was forced to be so.
'Most true is it that we are over-ruled by one above us--that in his
hands our very will is as clay in the hands of the potter.
'Papa continues very far from well, though yesterday, and I hope this
morning, he is a little better. How is your mother? Give my love to
her and your sister. How are you? Have you suffered from tic since
you returned home? Did they think you improved in looks?
'Write again soon.--Yours faithfully,
TO MISS ELLEN NUSSEY
'_April_ 23_rd_, 1851.
'MY DEAR ELLEN,--I have heard from Mr. Taylor to-day--a quiet little
note. He returned to London a week since on Saturday; he has since
kindly chosen and sent me a parcel of books. He leaves England May
20th. His note concludes with asking whether he has any chance of
seeing me in London before that time. I must tell him that I have
already fixed June for my visit, and therefore, in all human
probability, we shall see each other no more.
'There is still a want of plain mutual understanding in this
business, and there is sadness and pain in more ways than one. My
conscience, I can truly say, does not _now_ accuse me of having
treated Mr. Taylor with injustice or unkindness. What I once did
wrong in this way, I have endeavoured to remedy both to himself and
in speaking of him to others--Mr. Smith to wit, though I more than
doubt whether that last opinion will ever reach him. I am sure he
has estimable and sterling qualities; but with every disposition and
with every wish, with every intention even to look on him in the most
favourable point of view at his last visit, it was impossible to me
in my inward heart to think of him as one that might one day be
acceptable as a husband. It would sound harsh were I to tell even
_you_ of the estimate I felt compelled to form respecting him. Dear
Nell, I looked for something of the gentleman--something I mean of
the _natural_ gentleman; you know I can dispense with acquired
polish, and for looks, I know myself too well to think that I have
any right to be exacting on that point. I could not find one gleam,
I could not see one passing glimpse of true good-breeding. It is
hard to say, but it is true. In mind too, though clever, he is
second-rate--thoroughly second-rate. One does not like to say these
things, but one had better be honest. Were I to marry him my heart
would bleed in pain and humiliation; I could not, _could not_ look up
to him. No; if Mr. Taylor be the only husband fate offers to me,
single I must always remain. But yet, at times I grieve for him, and
perhaps it is superfluous, for I cannot think he will suffer much: a
hard nature, occupation, and change of scene will befriend him.
'With kind regards to all,--I am, dear Nell, your middle-aged friend,
TO MISS ELLEN NUSSEY
'_May_ 5_th_, 1851.
'MY DEAR ELLEN,--I have had a long kind letter from Miss Martineau
lately. She says she is well and happy. Also, I have had a very
long letter from Mr. Williams. He speaks with much respect of Mr.
Taylor. I discover with some surprise, papa has taken a decided
liking to Mr. Taylor. The marked kindness of his manner when he bid
him good-bye, exhorting him to be "true to himself, his country, and
his God," and wishing him all good wishes, struck me with some
astonishment. Whenever he has alluded to him since, it has been with
significant eulogy. When I alluded that he was no gentleman, he
seemed out of patience with me for the objection. You say papa has
penetration. On this subject I believe he has indeed. I have told
him nothing, yet he seems to be _au fait_ to the whole business. I
could think at some moments his guesses go farther than mine. I
believe he thinks a prospective union, deferred for five years, with
such a decorous reliable personage, would be a very proper and
'How has your tic been lately? I had one fiery night when this same
dragon "tic" held me for some hours with pestilent violence. It
still comes at intervals with abated fury. Owing to this and broken
sleep, I am looking singularly charming, one of my true London
looks--starved out and worn down. Write soon, dear Nell.--Yours
TO MISS ELLEN NUSSEY
'112 GLOUCESTER PLACE,
'HYDE PARK, _June_ 2_nd_, 1851.
'DEAR ELLEN,--Mr. Taylor has gone some weeks since. I hear more open
complaints now about his temper. Of Mr. Williams' society I have
enjoyed one evening's allowance, and liked it and him as usual. On
such occasions his good qualities of ease, kindliness, and
intelligence are seen, and his little faults and foibles hidden. Mr.
Smith is somewhat changed in appearance. He looks a little older,
darker, and more careworn; his ordinary manner is graver, but in the
evening his spirits flow back to him. Things and circumstances seem
here to be as usual, but I fancy there has been some crisis in which
his energy and filial affection have sustained them all. This I
judge from the fact that his mother and sisters are more peculiarly
bound to him than ever, and that his slightest wish is an
unquestioned law.--Faithfully yours,
TO MISS ELLEN NUSSEY
'November 4_th_, 1851.
'DEAR ELLEN,--Papa, Tabby, and Martha are at present all better, yet
none of them well. Martha at present looks feeble. I wish she had a
better constitution. As it is, one is always afraid of giving her
too much to do; and yet there are many things I cannot undertake
myself, and we do not like to change when we have had her so long.
How are you getting on in the matter of servants? The other day I
received a long letter from Mr. Taylor. I told you I did not expect
to hear thence, nor did I. The letter is long, but it is worth your
while to read it. In its way it has merit, that cannot be denied;
abundance of information, talent of a certain kind, alloyed (I think)
here and there with errors of taste. He might have spared many of
the details of the bath scene, which, for the rest, tallies exactly
with Mr. Thackeray's account of the same process. This little man
with all his long letters remains as much a conundrum to me as ever.
Your account of the domestic joys at Hunsworth amused me much. The
good folks seem very happy--long may they continue so! It somewhat
cheers me to know that such happiness _does_ exist on the earth.
Return Mr. Taylor's letter when you have read it. With love to your
mother,--I am, dear Nell, sincerely yours,
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