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Charlotte Brontë and Her Circle by Clement King Shorter

In picturing the circle which surrounded Charlotte Bronte through her
brief career, it is of the utmost importance that a word of recognition
should be given, and that in no half-hearted manner, to Mr. William Smith
Williams, who, in her later years, was Charlotte Bronte's most intimate
correspondent. The letters to Mr. Williams are far and away the best
that Charlotte wrote, at least of those which have been preserved. They
are full of literary enthusiasm and of intellectual interest. They show
Charlotte Bronte's sound judgment and good heart more effectually than
any other material which has been placed at the disposal of biographers.
They are an honour both to writer and receiver, and, in fact, reflect the
mind of the one as much as the mind of the other. Charlotte has
emphasised the fact that she adapted herself to her correspondents, and
in her letters to Mr. Williams we have her at her very best. Mr.
Williams occupied for many years the post of 'reader' in the firm of
Smith & Elder. That is a position scarcely less honourable and important
than authorship itself. In our own days Mr. George Meredith and Mr. John
Morley have been 'readers,' and Mr. James Payn has held the same post in
the firm which published the Bronte novels.

Mr. Williams, who was born in 1800, and died in 1875, had an interesting
career even before he became associated with Smith & Elder. In his
younger days he was apprenticed to Taylor & Hessey of Fleet Street; and
he used to relate how his boyish ideals of Coleridge were shattered on
beholding, for the first time, the bulky and ponderous figure of the
great talker. When Keats left England, for an early grave in Rome, it
was Mr. Williams who saw him off. Hazlitt, Leigh Hunt, and many other
well-known men of letters were friendly with Mr. Williams from his
earliest days, and he had for brother-in-law, Wells, the author of
_Joseph and his Brethren_. In his association with Smith & Elder he
secured the friendship of Thackeray, of Mrs. Gaskell, and of many other
writers. He attracted the notice of Ruskin by a keen enthusiasm for the
work of Turner. It was he, in fact, who compiled that most interesting
volume of _Selections from the writings of John Ruskin_, which has long
gone out of print in its first form, but is still greatly sought for by
the curious. In connection with this volume I may print here a letter
written by John Ruskin's father to Mr. Williams, and I do so the more
readily, as Mr. Williams's name was withheld from the title-page of the


DENMARK HILL, 25_th November_, 1861.

'MY DEAR SIR,--I am requested by Mrs. Ruskin to return her very
sincere and grateful thanks for your kind consideration in presenting
her with so beautifully bound a copy of the _Selections_ from her
son's writings; and which she will have great pleasure in seeing by
the side of the very magnificent volumes which the liberality of the
gentlemen of your house has already enriched our library with.

'Mrs. Ruskin joins me in offering congratulations on the great
judgment you have displayed in your _Selections_, and, sending my own
thanks and those of my son for the handsome gift to Mrs. Ruskin,--I
am, my dear sir, yours very truly,


What Charlotte Bronte thought of Mr. Williams is sufficiently revealed by
the multitude of letters which I have the good fortune to print, and that
she had a reason to be grateful to him is obvious when we recollect that
to him, and to him alone, was due her first recognition. The parcel
containing _The Professor_ had wandered from publisher to publisher
before it came into the hands of Mr. Williams. It was he who recognised
what all of us recognise now, that in spite of faults it is really a most
considerable book. I am inclined to think that it was refused by Smith &
Elder rather on account of its insufficient length than for any other
cause. At any rate it was the length which was assigned to her as a
reason for non-acceptance. She was told that another book, which would
make the accredited three volume novel, might receive more favourable

Charlotte Bronte took Mr. Williams's advice. She wrote _Jane Eyre_, and
despatched it quickly to Smith & Elder's house in Cornhill. It was read
by Mr. Williams, and read afterwards by Mr. George Smith; and it was
published with the success that we know. Charlotte awoke to find herself
famous. She became a regular correspondent with Mr. Williams, and not
less than a hundred letters were sent to him, most of them treating of
interesting literary matters.

One of Mr. Williams's daughters, I may add, married Mr. Lowes Dickenson
the portrait painter; his youngest child, a baby when Miss Bronte was
alive, is famous in the musical world as Miss Anna Williams. The family
has an abundance of literary and artistic association, but the father we
know as the friend and correspondent of Charlotte Bronte. He still lives
also in the memory of a large circle as a kindly and attractive--a
singularly good and upright man.

Comment upon the following letters is in well-nigh every case


'_February_ 25_th_ 1848.

'MY DEAR SIR,--I thank you for your note; its contents moved me much,
though not to unmingled feelings of exultation. Louis Philippe
(unhappy and sordid old man!) and M. Guizot doubtless merit the sharp
lesson they are now being taught, because they have both proved
themselves men of dishonest hearts. And every struggle any nation
makes in the cause of Freedom and Truth has something noble in
it--something that makes me wish it success; but I cannot believe
that France--or at least Paris--will ever be the battle-ground of
true Liberty, or the scene of its real triumphs. I fear she does not
know "how genuine glory is put on." Is that strength to be found in
her which will not bend "but in magnanimous meekness"? Have not her
"unceasing changes" as yet always brought "perpetual emptiness"? Has
Paris the materials within her for thorough reform? Mean, dishonest
Guizot being discarded, will any better successor be found for him
than brilliant, unprincipled Thiers?

'But I damp your enthusiasm, which I would not wish to do, for true
enthusiasm is a fine feeling whose flash I admire wherever I see it.

'The little note inclosed in yours is from a French lady, who asks my
consent to the translation of _Jane Eyre_ into the French language.
I thought it better to consult you before I replied. I suppose she
is competent to produce a decent translation, though one or two
errors of orthography in her note rather afflict the eye; but I know
that it is not unusual for what are considered well-educated French
women to fail in the point of writing their mother tongue correctly.
But whether competent or not, I presume she has a right to translate
the book with or without my consent. She gives her address: Mdlle
B--- {373} W. Cumming, Esq., 23 North Bank, Regent's Park.

'Shall I reply to her note in the affirmative?

'Waiting your opinion and answer,--I remain, dear sir, yours

'C. BELL.'


'_February_ 28_th_, 1848.

'DEAR SIR,--I have done as you advised me respecting Mdlle B---,
thanked her for her courtesy, and explained that I do not wish my
consent to be regarded in the light of a formal sanction of the

'From the papers of Saturday I had learnt the abdication of Louis
Philippe, the flight of the royal family, and the proclamation of a
republic in France. Rapid movements these, and some of them
difficult of comprehension to a remote spectator. What sort of spell
has withered Louis Philippe's strength? Why, after having so long
infatuatedly clung to Guizot, did he at once ignobly relinquish him?
Was it panic that made him so suddenly quit his throne and abandon
his adherents without a struggle to retain one or aid the other?

'Perhaps it might have been partly fear, but I daresay it was still
more long-gathering weariness of the dangers and toils of royalty.
Few will pity the old monarch in his flight, yet I own he seems to me
an object of pity. His sister's death shook him; years are heavy on
him; the sword of Damocles has long been hanging over his head. One
cannot forget that monarchs and ministers are only human, and have
only human energies to sustain them; and often they are sore beset.
Party spirit has no mercy; indignant Freedom seldom shows forbearance
in her hour of revolt. I wish you _could_ see the aged gentleman
trudging down Cornhill with his umbrella and carpet-bag, in good
earnest; he would be safe in England: John Bull might laugh at him
but he would do him no harm.

'How strange it appears to see literary and scientific names figuring
in the list of members of a Provisional Government! How would it
sound if Carlyle and Sir John Herschel and Tennyson and Mr. Thackeray
and Douglas Jerrold were selected to manufacture a new constitution
for England? Whether do such men sway the public mind most
effectually from their quiet studies or from a council-chamber?

'And Thiers is set aside for a time; but won't they be glad of him
by-and-by? Can they set aside entirely anything so clever, so
subtle, so accomplished, so aspiring--in a word, so thoroughly
French, as he is? Is he not the man to bide his time--to watch while
unskilful theorists try their hand at administration and fail; and
then to step out and show them how it should be done?

'One would have thought political disturbance the natural element of
a mind like Thiers'; but I know nothing of him except from his
writings, and I always think he writes as if the shade of Bonaparte
were walking to and fro in the room behind him and dictating every
line he pens, sometimes approaching and bending over his shoulder,
_pour voir de ses yeux_ that such an action or event is represented
or misrepresented (as the case may be) exactly as he wishes it.
Thiers seems to have contemplated Napoleon's character till he has
imbibed some of its nature. Surely he must be an ambitious man, and,
if so, surely he will at this juncture struggle to rise.

'You should not apologise for what you call your "crudities." You
know I like to hear your opinions and views on whatever subject it
interests you to discuss.

'From the little inscription outside your note I conclude you sent me
the _Examiner_. I thank you therefore for your kind intention and am
sorry some unscrupulous person at the Post Office frustrated it, as
no paper has reached my hands. I suppose one ought to be thankful
that letters are respected, as newspapers are by no means sure of
safe conveyance.--I remain, dear sir, yours sincerely,

'C. BELL.'


'_May_ 12_th_, 1848.

'MY DEAR SIR,--I take a large sheet of paper, because I foresee that
I am about to write another long letter, and for the same reason as
before, viz., that yours interested me.

'I have received the _Morning Chronicle_, and was both surprised and
pleased to see the passage you speak of in one of its leading
articles. An allusion of that sort seems to say more than a regular
notice. I _do_ trust I may have the power so to write in future as
not to disappoint those who have been kind enough to think and speak
well of _Jane Eyre_; at any rate, I will take pains. But still,
whenever I hear my one book praised, the pleasure I feel is chastened
by a mixture of doubt and fear; and, in truth, I hardly wish it to be
otherwise: it is much too early for me to feel safe, or to take as my
due the commendation bestowed.

'Some remarks in your last letter on teaching commanded my attention.
I suppose you never were engaged in tuition yourself; but if you had
been, you could not have more exactly hit on the great
qualification--I had almost said the _one_ great
qualification--necessary to the task: the faculty, not merely of
acquiring but of imparting knowledge--the power of influencing young
minds--that natural fondness for, that innate sympathy with,
children, which, you say, Mrs. Williams is so happy as to possess.
He or she who possesses this faculty, this sympathy--though perhaps
not otherwise highly accomplished--need never fear failure in the
career of instruction. Children will be docile with them, will
improve under them; parents will consequently repose in them
confidence. Their task will be comparatively light, their path
comparatively smooth. If the faculty be absent, the life of a
teacher will be a struggle from beginning to end. No matter how
amiable the disposition, how strong the sense of duty, how active the
desire to please; no matter how brilliant and varied the
accomplishments; if the governess has not the power to win her young
charge, the secret to instil gently and surely her own knowledge into
the growing mind intrusted to her, she will have a wearing, wasting
existence of it. To _educate_ a child, as I daresay Mrs. Williams
has educated her children, probably with as much pleasure to herself
as profit to them, will indeed be impossible to the teacher who lacks
this qualification. But, I conceive, should circumstances--as in the
case of your daughters--compel a young girl notwithstanding to adopt
a governess's profession, she may contrive to _instruct_ and even to
instruct well. That is, though she cannot form the child's mind,
mould its character, influence its disposition, and guide its conduct
as she would wish, she may give lessons--even good, clear, clever
lessons in the various branches of knowledge. She may earn and
doubly earn her scanty salary as a daily governess. As a
school-teacher she may succeed; but as a resident governess she will
never (except under peculiar and exceptional circumstances) be happy.
Her deficiency will harass her not so much in school-time as in
play-hours; the moments that would be rest and recreation to the
governess who understood and could adapt herself to children, will be
almost torture to her who has not that power. Many a time, when her
charge turns unruly on her hands, when the responsibility which she
would wish to discharge faithfully and perfectly, becomes
unmanageable to her, she will wish herself a housemaid or kitchen
girl, rather than a baited, trampled, desolate, distracted governess.

'The Governesses' Institution may be an excellent thing in some
points of view, but it is both absurd and cruel to attempt to raise
still higher the standard of acquirements. Already governesses are
not half nor a quarter paid for what they teach, nor in most
instances is half or a quarter of their attainments required by their
pupils. The young teacher's chief anxiety, when she sets out in
life, always is to know a great deal; her chief fear that she should
not know enough. Brief experience will, in most instances, show her
that this anxiety has been misdirected. She will rarely be found too
ignorant for her pupils; the demand on her knowledge will not often
be larger than she can answer. But on her patience--on her
self-control, the requirement will be enormous; on her animal spirits
(and woe be to her if these fail!) the pressure will be immense.

'I have seen an ignorant nursery-maid who could scarcely read or
write, by dint of an excellent, serviceable, sanguine, phlegmatic
temperament, which made her at once cheerful and unmoveable; of a
robust constitution and steady, unimpassionable nerves, which kept
her firm under shocks and unharassed under annoyances--manage with
comparative ease a large family of spoilt children, while their
governess lived amongst them a life of inexpressible misery:
tyrannised over, finding her efforts to please and teach utterly
vain, chagrined, distressed, worried--so badgered, so trodden on,
that she ceased almost at last to know herself, and wondered in what
despicable, trembling frame her oppressed mind was prisoned, and
could not realise the idea of ever more being treated with respect
and regarded with affection--till she finally resigned her situation
and went away quite broken in spirit and reduced to the verge of
decline in health.

'Those who would urge on governesses more acquirements, do not know
the origin of their chief sufferings. It is more physical and mental
strength, denser moral impassibility that they require, rather than
additional skill in arts or sciences. As to the forcing system,
whether applied to teachers or taught, I hold it to be a cruel

'It is true the world demands a brilliant list of accomplishments.
For 20 pounds per annum, it expects in one woman the attainments of
several professors--but the demand is insensate, and I think should
rather be resisted than complied with. If I might plead with you in
behalf of your daughters, I should say, "Do not let them waste their
young lives in trying to attain manifold accomplishments. Let them
try rather to possess thoroughly, fully, one or two talents; then let
them endeavour to lay in a stock of health, strength, cheerfulness.
Let them labour to attain self-control, endurance, fortitude,
firmness; if possible, let them learn from their mother something of
the precious art she possesses--these things, together with sound
principles, will be their best supports, their best aids through a
governess's life.

'As for that one who, you say, has a nervous horror of exhibition, I
need not beg you to be gentle with her; I am sure you will not be
harsh, but she must be firm with herself, or she will repent it in
after life. She should begin by degrees to endeavour to overcome her
diffidence. Were she destined to enjoy an independent, easy
existence, she might respect her natural disposition to seek
retirement, and even cherish it as a shade-loving virtue; but since
that is not her lot, since she is fated to make her way in the crowd,
and to depend on herself, she should say: I will try and learn the
art of self-possession, not that I may display my accomplishments,
but that I may have the satisfaction of feeling that I am my own
mistress, and can move and speak undaunted by the fear of man.
While, however, I pen this piece of advice, I confess that it is much
easier to give than to follow. What the sensations of the nervous
are under the gaze of publicity none but the nervous know; and how
powerless reason and resolution are to control them would sound
incredible except to the actual sufferers.

'The rumours you mention respecting the authorship of _Jane Eyre_
amused me inexpressibly. The gossips are, on this subject, just
where I should wish them to be, _i.e._, as far from the truth as
possible; and as they have not a grain of fact to found their
fictions upon, they fabricate pure inventions. Judge Erle must, I
think, have made up his story expressly for a hoax; the other _fib_
is amazing--so circumstantial! called on the author, forsooth! Where
did he live, I wonder? In what purlieu of Cockayne? Here I must
stop, lest if I run on further I should fill another sheet.--Believe
me, yours sincerely,


'_P.S._--I must, after all, add a morsel of paper, for I find, on
glancing over yours, that I have forgotten to answer a question you
ask respecting my next work. I have not therein so far treated of
governesses, as I do not wish it to resemble its predecessor. I
often wish to say something about the "condition of women" question,
but it is one respecting which so much "cant" has been talked, that
one feels a sort of repugnance to approach it. It is true enough
that the present market for female labour is quite overstocked, but
where or how could another be opened? Many say that the professions
now filled only by men should be open to women also; but are not
their present occupants and candidates more than numerous enough to
answer every demand? Is there any room for female lawyers, female
doctors, female engravers, for more female artists, more authoresses?
One can see where the evil lies, but who can point out the remedy?
When a woman has a little family to rear and educate and a household
to conduct, her hands are full, her vocation is evident; when her
destiny isolates her, I suppose she must do what she can, live as she
can, complain as little, bear as much, work as well as possible.
This is not high theory, but I believe it is sound practice, good to
put into execution while philosophers and legislators ponder over the
better ordering of the social system. At the same time, I conceive
that when patience has done its utmost and industry its best, whether
in the case of women or operatives, and when both are baffled, and
pain and want triumph, the sufferer is free, is entitled, at last to
send up to Heaven any piercing cry for relief, if by that cry he can
hope to obtain succour.'


'_June_ 2, 1848.

'MY DEAR SIR,--I snatch a moment to write a hasty line to you, for it
makes me uneasy to think that your last kind letter should have
remained so long unanswered. A succession of little engagements,
much more importunate than important, have quite engrossed my time
lately, to the exclusion of more momentous and interesting
occupations. Interruption is a sad bore, and I believe there is
hardly a spot on earth, certainly not in England, quite secure from
its intrusion. The fact is, you cannot live in this world entirely
for one aim; you must take along with some single serious purpose a
hundred little minor duties, cares, distractions; in short, you must
take life as it is, and make the best of it. Summer is decidedly a
bad season for application, especially in the country; for the
sunshine seems to set all your acquaintances astir, and, once bent on
amusement, they will come to the ends of the earth in search thereof.
I was obliged to you for your suggestion about writing a letter to
the _Morning Chronicle_, but I did not follow it up. I think I would
rather not venture on such a step at present. Opinions I would not
hesitate to express to you--because you are indulgent--are not mature
or cool enough for the public; Currer Bell is not Carlyle, and must
not imitate him.

'Whenever you can write to me without encroaching too much on your
valuable time, remember I shall always be glad to hear from you.
Your last letter interested me fully as much as its two predecessors;
what you said about your family pleased me; I think details of
character always have a charm even when they relate to people we have
never seen, nor expect to see. With eight children you must have a
busy life; but, from the manner in which you allude to your two
eldest daughters, it is evident that they at least are a source of
satisfaction to their parents; I hope this will be the case with the
whole number, and then you will never feel as if you had too many. A
dozen children with sense and good conduct may be less burdensome
than one who lacks these qualities. It seems a long time since I
heard from you. I shall be glad to hear from you again.--Believe me,
yours sincerely,

'C. BELL.'


'HAWORTH, _June_ 15_th_, 1848.

'MY DEAR SIR,--Thank you for your two last letters. In reading the
first I quite realised your May holiday; I enjoyed it with you. I
saw the pretty south-of-England village, so different from our
northern congregations of smoke-dark houses clustered round their
soot-vomiting mills. I saw in your description, fertile, flowery
Essex--a contrast indeed to the rough and rude, the mute and sombre
yet well-beloved moors over-spreading this corner of Yorkshire. I
saw the white schoolhouse, the venerable school-master--I even
thought I saw you and your daughters; and in your second letter I see
you all distinctly, for, in describing your children, you
unconsciously describe yourself.

'I may well say that your letters are of value to me, for I seldom
receive one but I find something in it which makes me reflect, and
reflect on new themes. Your town life is somewhat different from any
I have known, and your allusions to its advantages, troubles,
pleasures, and struggles are often full of significance to me.

'I have always been accustomed to think that the necessity of earning
one's subsistence is not in itself an evil, but I feel it may become
a heavy evil if health fails, if employment lacks, if the demand upon
our efforts made by the weakness of others dependent upon us becomes
greater than our strength suffices to answer. In such a case I can
imagine that the married man may wish himself single again, and that
the married woman, when she sees her husband over-exerting himself to
maintain her and her children, may almost wish--out of the very force
of her affection for him--that it had never been her lot to add to
the weight of his responsibilities. Most desirable then is it that
all, both men and women, should have the power and the will to work
for themselves--most advisable that both sons and daughters should
early be inured to habits of independence and industry. Birds teach
their nestlings to fly as soon as their wings are strong enough, they
even oblige them to quit the nest if they seem too unwilling to trust
their pinions of their own accord. Do not the swallow and the
starling thus give a lesson by which man might profit?

'It seems to me that your kind heart is pained by the thought of what
your daughter may suffer if transplanted from a free and indulged
home existence to a life of constraint and labour amongst strangers.
Suffer she probably will; but take both comfort and courage, my dear
sir, try to soothe your anxiety by this thought, which is not a
fallacious one. Hers will not be a barren suffering; she will gain
by it largely; she will "sow in tears to reap in joy." A governess's
experience is frequently indeed bitter, but its results are precious:
the mind, feeling, temper are there subjected to a discipline equally
painful and priceless. I have known many who were unhappy as
governesses, but not one who regretted having undergone the ordeal,
and scarcely one whose character was not improved--at once
strengthened and purified, fortified and softened, made more enduring
for her own afflictions, more considerate for the afflictions of
others, by passing through it.

'Should your daughter, however, go out as governess, she should first
take a firm resolution not to be too soon daunted by difficulties,
too soon disgusted by disagreeables; and if she has a high spirit,
sensitive feelings, she should tutor the one to submit, the other to
endure, _for the sake of those at home_. That is the governess's
best talisman of patience, it is the best balm for wounded
susceptibility. When tried hard she must say, "I will be patient,
not out of servility, but because I love my parents, and wish through
my perseverance, diligence, and success, to repay their anxieties and
tenderness for me." With this aid the least-deserved insult may
often be swallowed quite calmly, like a bitter pill with a draught of
fair water.

'I think you speak excellent sense when you say that girls without
fortune should be brought up and accustomed to support themselves;
and that if they marry poor men, it should be with a prospect of
being able to help their partners. If all parents thought so, girls
would not be reared on speculation with a view to their making
mercenary marriages; and, consequently, women would not be so
piteously degraded as they now too often are.

'Fortuneless people may certainly marry, provided they previously
resolve never to let the consequences of their marriage throw them as
burdens on the hands of their relatives. But as life is full of
unforeseen contingencies, and as a woman may be so placed that she
cannot possibly both "guide the house" and earn her livelihood (what
leisure, for instance, could Mrs. Williams have with her eight
children?), young artists and young governesses should think twice
before they unite their destinies.

'You speak sense again when you express a wish that Fanny were placed
in a position where active duties would engage her attention, where
her faculties would be exercised and her mind occupied, and where, I
will add, not doubting that my addition merely completes your
half-approved idea, the image of the young artist would for the
present recede into the background and remain for a few years to come
in modest perspective, the finishing point of a vista stretching a
considerable distance into futurity. Fanny may feel sure of this: if
she intends to be an artist's wife she had better try an
apprenticeship with Fortune as a governess first; she cannot undergo
a better preparation for that honourable (honourable if rightly
considered) but certainly not luxurious destiny.

'I should say then--judging as well as I can from the materials for
forming an opinion your letter affords, and from what I can thence
conjecture of Fanny's actual and prospective position--that you would
do well and wisely to put your daughter out. The experiment might do
good and could not do harm, because even if she failed at the first
trial (which is not unlikely) she would still be in some measure
benefited by the effort.

'I duly received _Mirabeau_ from Mr. Smith. I must repeat, it is
really _too_ kind. When I have read the book, I will tell you what I
think of it--its subject is interesting. One thing a little annoyed
me--as I glanced over the pages I fancied I detected a savour of
Carlyle's peculiarities of style. Now Carlyle is a great man, but I
always wish he would write plain English; and to imitate his
Germanisms is, I think, to imitate his faults. Is the author of this
work a Manchester man? I must not ask his name, I suppose.--Believe
me, my dear sir, yours sincerely,



'_June_ 22_nd_, 1848.

'MY DEAR SIR,--After reading a book which has both interested and
informed you, you like to be able, on laying it down, to speak of it
with unqualified approbation--to praise it cordially; you do not like
to stint your panegyric, to counteract its effect with blame.

'For this reason I feel a little difficulty in telling you what I
think of _The Life of Mirabeau_. It has interested me much, and I
have derived from it additional information. In the course of
reading it, I have often felt called upon to approve the ability and
tact of the writer, to admire the skill with which he conducts the
narrative, enchains the reader's attention, and keeps it fixed upon
his hero; but I have also been moved frequently to disapprobation.
It is not the political principles of the writer with which I find
fault, nor is it his talents I feel inclined to disparage; to speak
truth, it is his manner of treating Mirabeau's errors that
offends--then, I think, he is neither wise nor right--there, I think,
he betrays a little of crudeness, a little of presumption, not a
little of indiscretion.

'Could you with confidence put this work into the hands of your son,
secure that its perusal would not harm him, that it would not leave
on his mind some vague impression that there is a grandeur in vice
committed on a colossal scale? Whereas, the fact is, that in vice
there is no grandeur, that it is, on whichever side you view it, and
in whatever accumulation, only a foul, sordid, and degrading thing.
The fact is, that this great Mirabeau was a mixture of divinity and
dirt; that there was no divinity whatever in his errors, they were
all sullying dirt; that they ruined him, brought down his genius to
the kennel, deadened his fine nature and generous sentiments, made
all his greatness as nothing; that they cut him off in his prime,
obviated all his aims, and struck him dead in the hour when France
most needed him.

'Mirabeau's life and fate teach, to my perception, the most
depressing lesson I have read for years. One would fain have hoped
that so many noble qualities must have made a noble character and
achieved noble ends. No--the mighty genius lived a miserable and
degraded life, and died a dog's death, for want of self-control, for
want of morality, for lack of religion. One's heart is wrung for
Mirabeau after reading his life; and it is not of his greatness we
think, when we close the volume, so much as of his hopeless
recklessness, and of the sufferings, degradation, and untimely end in
which it issued. It appears to me that the biographer errs also in
being too solicitous to present his hero always in a striking point
of view--too negligent of the exact truth. He eulogises him too
much; he subdues all the other characters mentioned and keeps them in
the shade that Mirabeau may stand out more conspicuously. This, no
doubt, is right in art, and admissible in fiction; but in history
(and biography is the history of an individual) it tends to weaken
the force of a narrative by weakening your faith in its accuracy.


'_July_ 8_th_, 1848.

'MY DEAR SIR,--Your invitation is too welcome not to be at once
accepted. I should much like to see Mrs. Williams and her children,
and very much like to have a quiet chat with yourself. Would it suit
you if we came to-morrow, after dinner--say about seven o'clock, and
spent Sunday evening with you?

'We shall be truly glad to see you whenever it is convenient to you
to call.--I am, my dear sir, yours faithfully,



'HAWORTH, _July_ 13_th_, 1848.

'MY DEAR SIR,--We reached home safely yesterday, and in a day or two
I doubt not we shall get the better of the fatigues of our journey.

'It was a somewhat hasty step to hurry up to town as we did, but I do
not regret having taken it. In the first place, mystery is irksome,
and I was glad to shake it off with you and Mr. Smith, and to show
myself to you for what I am, neither more nor less--thus removing any
false expectations that may have arisen under the idea that Currer
Bell had a just claim to the masculine cognomen he, perhaps somewhat
presumptuously, adopted--that he was, in short, of the nobler sex.

'I was glad also to see you and Mr. Smith, and am very happy now to
have such pleasant recollections of you both, and of your respective
families. My satisfaction would have been complete could I have seen
Mrs. Williams. The appearance of your children tallied on the whole
accurately with the description you had given of them. Fanny was the
one I saw least distinctly; I tried to get a clear view of her
countenance, but her position in the room did not favour my efforts.

'I had just read your article in the _John Bull_; it very clearly and
fully explains the cause of the difference obvious between ancient
and modern paintings. I wish you had been with us when we went over
the Exhibition and the National Gallery; a little explanation from a
judge of art would doubtless have enabled us to understand better
what we saw; perhaps, one day, we may have this pleasure.

'Accept my own thanks and my sister's for your kind attention to us
while in town, and--Believe me, yours sincerely,


'I trust Mrs. Williams is quite recovered from her indisposition.'


'HAWORTH, _July_ 31_st_, 1848.

'MY DEAR SIR,--I have lately been reading _Modern Painters_, and I
have derived from the work much genuine pleasure and, I hope, some
edification; at any rate, it made me feel how ignorant I had
previously been on the subject which it treats. Hitherto I have only
had instinct to guide me in judging of art; I feel more as if I had
been walking blindfold--this book seems to give me eyes. I _do_ wish
I had pictures within reach by which to test the new sense. Who can
read these glowing descriptions of Turner's works without longing to
see them? However eloquent and convincing the language in which
another's opinion is placed before you, you still wish to judge for
yourself. I like this author's style much: there is both energy and
beauty in it; I like himself too, because he is such a hearty
admirer. He does not give Turner half-measure of praise or
veneration, he eulogises, he reverences him (or rather his genius)
with his whole soul. One can sympathise with that sort of devout,
serious admiration (for he is no rhapsodist)--one can respect it; and
yet possibly many people would laugh at it. I am truly obliged to
Mr. Smith for giving me this book, not having often met with one that
has pleased me more.

'You will have seen some of the notices of _Wildfell Hall_. I wish
my sister felt the unfavourable ones less keenly. She does not _say_
much, for she is of a remarkably taciturn, still, thoughtful nature,
reserved even with her nearest of kin, but I cannot avoid seeing that
her spirits are depressed sometimes. The fact is, neither she nor
any of us expected that view to be taken of the book which has been
taken by some critics. That it had faults of execution, faults of
art, was obvious, but faults of intention or feeling could be
suspected by none who knew the writer. For my own part, I consider
the subject unfortunately chosen--it was one the author was not
qualified to handle at once vigorously and truthfully. The simple
and natural--quiet description and simple pathos are, I think, Acton
Bell's forte. I liked _Agnes Grey_ better than the present work.

'Permit me to caution you not to speak of my sisters when you write
to me. I mean, do not use the word in the plural. Ellis Bell will
not endure to be alluded to under any other appellation than the _nom
de plume_. I committed a grand error in betraying his identity to
you and Mr. Smith. It was inadvertent--the words, "we are three
sisters" escaped me before I was aware. I regretted the avowal the
moment I had made it; I regret it bitterly now, for I find it is
against every feeling and intention of Ellis Bell.

'I was greatly amused to see in the _Examiner_ of this week one of
Newby's little cobwebs neatly swept away by some dexterous brush. If
Newby is not too old to profit by experience, such an exposure ought
to teach him that "Honesty is indeed the best policy."

'Your letter has just been brought to me. I must not pause to thank
you, I should say too much. Our life is, and always has been, one of
few pleasures, as you seem in part to guess, and for that reason we
feel what passages of enjoyment come in our way very keenly; and I
think if you knew _how_ pleased I am to get a long letter from you,
you would laugh at me.

'In return, however, I smile at you for the earnestness with which
you urge on us the propriety of seeing something of London society.
There would be an advantage in it--a great advantage; yet it is one
that no power on earth could induce Ellis Bell, for instance, to
avail himself of. And even for Acton and Currer, the experiment of
an introduction to society would be more formidable than you,
probably, can well imagine. An existence of absolute seclusion and
unvarying monotony, such as we have long--I may say, indeed,
ever--been habituated to, tends, I fear, to unfit the mind for lively
and exciting scenes, to destroy the capacity for social enjoyment.

'The only glimpses of society I have ever had were obtained in my
vocation of governess, and some of the most miserable moments I can
recall were passed in drawing-rooms full of strange faces. At such
times, my animal spirits would ebb gradually till they sank quite
away, and when I could endure the sense of exhaustion and solitude no
longer, I used to steal off, too glad to find any corner where I
could really be alone. Still, I know very well, that though that
experiment of seeing the world might give acute pain for the time, it
would do good afterwards; and as I have never, that I remember,
gained any important good without incurring proportionate suffering,
I mean to try to take your advice some day, in part at least--to put
off, if possible, that troublesome egotism which is always judging
and blaming itself, and to try, country spinster as I am, to get a
view of some sphere where civilised humanity is to be contemplated.

'I smile at you again for supposing that I could be annoyed by what
you say respecting your religious and philosophical views; that I
could blame you for not being able, when you look amongst sects and
creeds, to discover any one which you can exclusively and implicitly
adopt as yours. I perceive myself that some light falls on earth
from Heaven--that some rays from the shrine of truth pierce the
darkness of this life and world; but they are few, faint, and
scattered, and who without presumption can assert that he has found
the _only_ true path upwards?

'Yet ignorance, weakness, or indiscretion, must have their creeds and
forms; they must have their props--they cannot walk alone. Let them
hold by what is purest in doctrine and simplest in ritual;
_something_, they _must_ have.

'I never read Emerson; but the book which has had so healing an
effect on your mind must be a good one. Very enviable is the writer
whose words have fallen like a gentle rain on a soil that so needed
and merited refreshment, whose influence has come like a genial
breeze to lift a spirit which circumstances seem so harshly to have
trampled. Emerson, if he has cheered you, has not written in vain.

'May this feeling of self-reconcilement, of inward peace and
strength, continue! May you still be lenient with, be just to,
yourself! I will not praise nor flatter you, I should hate to pay
those enervating compliments which tend to check the exertions of a
mind that aspires after excellence; but I must permit myself to
remark that if you had not something good and superior in you,
something better, whether more _showy_ or not, than is often met
with, the assurance of your friendship would not make one so happy as
it does; nor would the advantage of your correspondence be felt as
such a privilege.

'I hope Mrs. Williams's state of health may soon improve and her
anxieties lessen. Blameable indeed are those who sow division where
there ought to be peace, and especially deserving of the ban of

'I thank both you and your family for keeping our secret. It will
indeed be a kindness to us to persevere in doing so; and I own I have
a certain confidence in the honourable discretion of a household of
which you are the head.--Believe me, yours very sincerely,



'_October_ 18_th_, 1848.

'MY DEAR SIR,--Not feeling competent this evening either for study or
serious composition, I will console myself with writing to you. My
malady, which the doctors call a bilious fever, lingers, or rather it
returns with each sudden change of weather, though I am thankful to
say that the relapses have hitherto been much milder than the first
attack; but they keep me weak and reduced, especially as I am obliged
to observe a very low spare diet.

'My book, alas! is laid aside for the present; both head and hand
seem to have lost their cunning; imagination is pale, stagnant, mute.
This incapacity chagrins me; sometimes I have a feeling of cankering
care on the subject, but I combat it as well as I can; it does no

'I am afraid I shall not write a cheerful letter to you. A letter,
however, of some kind I am determined to write, for I should be sorry
to appear a neglectful correspondent to one from whose communications
I have derived, and still derive, so much pleasure. Do not talk
about not being on a level with Currer Bell, or regard him as "an
awful person"; if you saw him now, sitting muffled at the fireside,
shrinking before the east wind (which for some days has been blowing
wild and keen over our cold hills), and incapable of lifting a pen
for any less formidable task than that of writing a few lines to an
indulgent friend, you would be sorry not to deem yourself greatly his
superior, for you would feel him to be a poor creature.

'You may be sure I read your views on the providence of God and the
nature of man with interest. You are already aware that in much of
what you say my opinions coincide with those you express, and where
they differ I shall not attempt to bias you. Thought and conscience
are, or ought to be, free; and, at any rate, if your views were
universally adopted there would be no persecution, no bigotry. But
never try to proselytise, the world is not yet fit to receive what
you and Emerson say: man, as he now is, can no more do without creeds
and forms in religion than he can do without laws and rules in social
intercourse. You and Emerson judge others by yourselves; all mankind
are not like you, any more than every Israelite was like Nathaniel.

'"Is there a human being," you ask, "so depraved that an act of
kindness will not touch--nay, a word melt him?" There are hundreds
of human beings who trample on acts of kindness and mock at words of
affection. I know this though I have seen but little of the world.
I suppose I have something harsher in my nature than you have,
something which every now and then tells me dreary secrets about my
race, and I cannot believe the voice of the Optimist, charm he never
so wisely. On the other hand, I feel forced to listen when a
Thackeray speaks. I know truth is delivering her oracles by his

'As to the great, good, magnanimous acts which have been performed by
some men, we trace them up to motives and then estimate their value;
a few, perhaps, would gain and many lose by this test. The study of
motives is a strange one, not to be pursued too far by one fallible
human being in reference to his fellows.

'Do not condemn me as uncharitable. I have no wish to urge my
convictions on you, but I know that while there are many good,
sincere, gentle people in the world, with whom kindness is
all-powerful, there are also not a few like that false friend (I had
almost written _fiend_) whom you so well and vividly described in one
of your late letters, and who, in acting out his part of domestic
traitor, must often have turned benefits into weapons wherewith to
wound his benefactors.--Believe me, yours sincerely,



'_April_ 2_nd_, 1849.

'MY DEAR SIR,--My critics truly deserve and have my genuine thanks
for the friendly candour with which they have declared their opinions
on my book. Both Mr. Williams and Mr. Taylor express and support
their opinions in a manner calculated to command careful
consideration. In my turn I have a word to say. You both of you
dwell too much on what you regard as the _artistic_ treatment of a
subject. Say what you will, gentlemen--say it as ably as you
will--truth is better than art. Burns' Songs are better than
Bulwer's Epics. Thackeray's rude, careless sketches are preferable
to thousands of carefully finished paintings. Ignorant as I am, I
dare to hold and maintain that doctrine.

'You must not expect me to give up Malone and Donne too suddenly--the
pair are favourites with me; they shine with a chastened and pleasing
lustre in that first chapter, and it is a pity you do not take
pleasure in their modest twinkle. Neither is that opening scene
irrelevant to the rest of the book, there are other touches in store
which will harmonise with it.

'No doubt this handling of the surplice will stir up such
publications as the _Christian Remembrancer_ and the
_Quarterly_--those heavy Goliaths of the periodical press; and if I
alone were concerned, this possibility would not trouble me a second.
Full welcome would the giants be to stand in their greaves of brass,
poising their ponderous spears, cursing their prey by their gods, and
thundering invitations to the intended victim to "come forth" and
have his flesh given to the fowls of the air and the beasts of the
field. Currer Bell, without pretending to be a David, feels no awe
of the unwieldy Anakim; but--comprehend me rightly, gentlemen--it
would grieve him to involve others in blame: any censure that would
really injure and annoy his publishers would wound himself.
Therefore believe that he will not act rashly--trust his discretion.

'Mr. Taylor is right about the bad taste of the opening
apostrophe--that I had already condemned in my own mind. Enough said
of a work in embryo. Permit me to request in conclusion that the MS.
may now be returned as soon as convenient.

'The letter you inclosed is from Mary Howitt. It contained a
proposal for an engagement as contributor to an American periodical.
Of course I have negatived it. When I _can_ write, the book I have
in hand must claim all my attention. Oh! if Anne were well, if the
void Death has left were a little closed up, if the dreary word
_nevermore_ would cease sounding in my ears, I think I could yet do

'It is a long time since you mentioned your own family affairs. I
trust Mrs. Williams continues well, and that Fanny and your other
children prosper.--Yours sincerely,



'_July_ 3_rd_, 1849.

'MY DEAR SIR,--You do right to address me on subjects which compel
me, in order to give a coherent answer, to quit for a moment my
habitual train of thought. The mention of your healthy-living
daughters reminds me of the world where other people live--where I
lived once. Theirs are cheerful images as you present them--I have
no wish to shut them out.

'From all you say of Ellen, the eldest, I am inclined to respect her
much. I like practical sense which works to the good of others. I
esteem a dutiful daughter who makes her parents happy.

'Fanny's character I would take on second hand from nobody, least of
all from her kind father, whose estimate of human nature in general
inclines rather to what _ought_ to be than to what _is_. Of Fanny I
would judge for myself, and that not hastily nor on first

'I am glad to hear that Louisa has a chance of a presentation to
Queen's College. I hope she will succeed. Do not, my dear sir, be
indifferent--be earnest about it. Come what may afterwards, an
education secured is an advantage gained--a priceless advantage.
Come what may, it is a step towards independency, and one great curse
of a single female life is its dependency. It does credit both to
Louisa's heart and head that she herself wishes to get this
presentation. Encourage her in the wish. Your daughters--no more
than your sons--should be a burden on your hands. Your daughters--as
much as your sons--should aim at making their way honourably through
life. Do not wish to keep them at home. Believe me, teachers may be
hard-worked, ill-paid, and despised, but the girl who stays at home
doing nothing is worse off than the hardest-wrought and worst-paid
drudge of a school. Whenever I have seen, not merely in humble, but
in affluent homes, families of daughters sitting waiting to be
married, I have pitied them from my heart. It is doubtless
well--very well--if Fate decrees them a happy marriage; but, if
otherwise, give their existence some object, their time some
occupation, or the peevishness of disappointment and the listlessness
of idleness will infallibly degrade their nature.

'Should Louisa eventually go out as a governess, do not be uneasy
respecting her lot. The sketch you give of her character leads me to
think she has a better chance of happiness than one in a hundred of
her sisterhood. Of pleasing exterior (that is always an
advantage--children like it), good sense, obliging disposition,
cheerful, healthy, possessing a good average capacity, but no
prominent master talent to make her miserable by its cravings for
exercise, by its mutiny under restraint--Louisa thus endowed will
find the post of governess comparatively easy. If she be like her
mother--as you say she is--and if, consequently, she is fond of
children, and possesses tact for managing them, their care is her
natural vocation--she ought to be a governess.

'Your sketch of Braxborne, as it is and as it was, is sadly pleasing.
I remember your first picture of it in a letter written a year
ago--only a year ago. I was in this room--where I now am--when I
received it. I was not alone then. In those days your letters often
served as a text for comment--a theme for talk; now, I read them,
return them to their covers and put them away. Johnson, I think,
makes mournful mention somewhere of the pleasure that accrues when we
are "solitary and cannot impart it." Thoughts, under such
circumstances, cannot grow to words, impulses fail to ripen to

'Lonely as I am, how should I be if Providence had never given me
courage to adopt a career--perseverance to plead through two long,
weary years with publishers till they admitted me? How should I be
with youth past, sisters lost, a resident in a moorland parish where
there is not a single educated family? In that case I should have no
world at all: the raven, weary of surveying the deluge, and without
an ark to return to, would be my type. As it is, something like a
hope and motive sustains me still. I wish all your daughters--I wish
every woman in England, had also a hope and motive. Alas! there are
many old maids who have neither.--Believe me, yours sincerely,


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