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Charlotte Brontë and Her Circle by Clement King Shorter

The devotion of Charlotte Bronte to Thackeray, or rather to Thackeray's
genius, is a pleasant episode in literary history. In 1848 he sent Miss
Bronte, as we have seen, a copy of _Vanity Fair_. In 1852 he sent her a
copy of _Esmond_, with the more cordial inscription which came of

[Picture: Second Thackeray Inscription]

The second edition of _Jane Eyre_ was dedicated to him as possessed of
'an intellect profounder and more unique than his contemporaries have yet
recognised,' and as 'the first social regenerator of the day.' And when
Currer Bell was dead, it was Thackeray who wrote by far the most eloquent
tribute to her memory. When a copy of Lawrence's portrait of Thackeray
{403} was sent to Haworth by Mr. George Smith, Charlotte Bronte stood in
front of it and, half playfully, half seriously, shook her fist,
apostrophising its original as 'Thou Titan!'

With all this hero-worship, it may be imagined that no favourable
criticism gave her more unqualified pleasure than that which came from
her 'master,' as she was not indisposed to consider one who was only
seven years her senior, and whose best books were practically
contemporaneous with her own.


'HAWORTH, _October_ 28_th_, 1847.

'DEAR SIR,--Your last letter was very pleasant to me to read, and is
very cheering to reflect on. I feel honoured in being approved by
Mr. Thackeray, because I approve Mr. Thackeray. This may sound
presumptuous perhaps, but I mean that I have long recognised in his
writings genuine talent, such as I admired, such as I wondered at and
delighted in. No author seems to distinguish so exquisitely as he
does dross from ore, the real from the counterfeit. I believed too
he had deep and true feelings under his seeming sternness. Now I am
sure he has. One good word from such a man is worth pages of praise
from ordinary judges.

'You are right in having faith in the reality of Helen Burns's
character; she was real enough. I have exaggerated nothing there. I
abstained from recording much that I remember respecting her, lest
the narrative should sound incredible. Knowing this, I could not but
smile at the quiet self-complacent dogmatism with which one of the
journals lays it down that "such creations as Helen Burns are very
beautiful but very untrue."

'The plot of _Jane Eyre_ may be a hackneyed one. Mr. Thackeray
remarks that it is familiar to him. But having read comparatively
few novels, I never chanced to meet with it, and I thought it
original. The work referred to by the critic of the _Athenaeum_, I
had not had the good fortune to hear of.

'The _Weekly Chronicle_ seems inclined to identify me with Mrs.
Marsh. I never had the pleasure of perusing a line of Mrs. Marsh's
in my life, but I wish very much to read her works, and shall profit
by the first opportunity of doing so. I hope I shall not find I have
been an unconscious imitator.

'I would still endeavour to keep my expectations low respecting the
ultimate success of _Jane Eyre_. But my desire that it should
succeed augments, for you have taken much trouble about the work, and
it would grieve me seriously if your active efforts should be baffled
and your sanguine hopes disappointed. Excuse me if I again remark
that I fear they are rather _too_ sanguine; it would be better to
moderate them. What will the critics of the monthly reviews and
magazines be likely to see in _Jane Eyre_ (if indeed they deign to
read it), which will win from them even a stinted modicum of
approbation? It has no learning, no research, it discusses no
subject of public interest. A mere domestic novel will, I fear, seem
trivial to men of large views and solid attainments.

'Still, efforts so energetic and indefatigable as yours ought to
realise a result in some degree favourable, and I trust they will.--I
remain, dear sir, yours respectfully,


'_October_ 28_th_, 1847.

'I have just received the _Tablet_ and the _Morning Advertiser_.
Neither paper seems inimical to the book, but I see it produces a
very different effect on different natures. I was amused at the
analysis in the _Tablet_, it is oddly expressed in some parts. I
think the critic did not always seize my meaning; he speaks, for
instance, of "Jane's inconceivable alarm at Mr. Rochester's repelling
manner." I do not remember that.'


'_December_ 11_th_, 1847.

'DEAR SIR,--I have delayed writing to you in the hope that the parcel
you sent would reach me; but after making due inquiries at the
Keighley, Bradford, and Leeds Stations and obtaining no news of it, I
must conclude that it has been lost.

'However, I have contrived to get a sight of _Fraser's Magazine_ from
another quarter, so that I have only to regret Mr. Home's kind
present. Will you thank that gentleman for me when you see him, and
tell him that the railroad is to blame for my not having acknowledged
his courtesy before?

'Mr. Lewes is very lenient: I anticipated a degree of severity which
he has spared me. This notice differs from all the other notices.
He must be a man of no ordinary mind: there is a strange sagacity
evinced in some of his remarks; yet he is not always right. I am
afraid if he knew how much I write from intuition, how little from
actual knowledge, he would think me presumptuous ever to have written
at all. I am sure such would be his opinion if he knew the narrow
bounds of my attainments, the limited scope of my reading.

'There are moments when I can hardly credit that anything I have done
should be found worthy to give even transitory pleasure to such men
as Mr. Thackeray, Sir John Herschel, Mr. Fonblanque, Leigh Hunt, and
Mr. Lewes--that my humble efforts should have had such a result is a
noble reward.

'I was glad and proud to get the bank bill Mr. Smith sent me
yesterday, but I hardly ever felt delight equal to that which cheered
me when I received your letter containing an extract from a note by
Mr. Thackeray, in which he expressed himself gratified with the
perusal of _Jane Eyre_. Mr. Thackeray is a keen ruthless satirist.
I had never perused his writings but with blended feelings of
admiration and indignation. Critics, it appears to me, do not know
what an intellectual boa-constrictor he is. They call him
"humorous," "brilliant"--his is a most scalping humour, a most deadly
brilliancy: he does not play with his prey, he coils round it and
crushes it in his rings. He seems terribly in earnest in his war
against the falsehood and follies of "the world." I often wonder
what that "world" thinks of him. I should think the faults of such a
man would be distrust of anything good in human nature--galling
suspicion of bad motives lurking behind good actions. Are these his

'They are, at any rate, the failings of his written sentiments, for
he cannot find in his heart to represent either man or woman as at
once good and wise. Does he not too much confound benevolence with
weakness and wisdom with mere craft?

'But I must not intrude on your time by too long a letter.--Believe
me, yours respectfully,


'I have received the _Sheffield Iris_, the _Bradford Observer_, the
_Guardian_, the _Newcastle Guardian_, and the _Sunday Times_ since
you wrote. The contrast between the notices in the two last named
papers made me smile. The _Sunday Times_ almost denounces _Jane
Eyre_ as something very reprehensible and obnoxious, whereas the
_Newcastle Guardian_ seems to think it a mild potion which may be
"safely administered to the most delicate invalid." I suppose the
public must decide when critics disagree.'


'HAWORTH, _December_ 23_rd_, 1847.

'DEAR SIR,--I am glad that you and Messrs. Smith & Elder approve the
second preface.

'I send an errata of the first volume, and part of the second. I
will send the rest of the corrections as soon as possible.

'Will the inclosed dedication suffice? I have made it brief, because
I wished to avoid any appearance of pomposity or pretension.

'The notice in the _Church of England Journal_ gratified me much, and
chiefly because it _was_ the _Church of England Journal_. Whatever
such critics as he of the _Mirror_ may say, I love the Church of
England. Her ministers, indeed, I do not regard as infallible
personages, I have seen too much of them for that, but to the
Establishment, with all her faults--the profane Athanasian creed
_ex_cluded--I am sincerely attached.

'Is the forthcoming critique on Mr. Thackeray's writings in the
_Edinburgh Review_ written by Mr. Lewes? I hope it is. Mr. Lewes,
with his penetrating sagacity and fine acumen, ought to be able to do
the author of _Vanity Fair_ justice. Only he must not bring him down
to the level of Fielding--he is far, far above Fielding. It appears
to me that Fielding's style is arid, and his views of life and human
nature coarse, compared with Thackeray's.

'With many thanks for your kind wishes, and a cordial reciprocation
of them,--I remain, dear sir, yours respectfully,


'On glancing over this scrawl, I find it so illegibly written that I
fear you will hardly be able to decipher it; but the cold is partly
to blame for this--my fingers are numb.'

The dedication here referred to is that to Thackeray. People had been
already suggesting that the book might have been written by Thackeray
under a pseudonym; others had implied, knowing that there was 'something
about a woman' in Thackeray's life, that it was written by a mistress of
the great novelist. Indeed, the _Quarterly_ had half hinted as much.
Currer Bell, knowing nothing of the gossip of London, had dedicated her
book in single-minded enthusiasm. Her distress was keen when it was
revealed to her that the wife of Mr. Thackeray, like the wife of
Rochester in _Jane Eyre_, was of unsound mind. However, a correspondence
with him would seem to have ended amicably enough. {408}


'HAWORTH, _January_ 28_th_, 1848.

'DEAR SIR,--I need not tell you that when I saw Mr. Thackeray's
letter inclosed under your cover, the sight made me very happy. It
was some time before I dared open it, lest my pleasure in receiving
it should be mixed with pain on learning its contents--lest, in
short, the dedication should have been, in some way, unacceptable to

'And, to tell you the truth, I fear this must have been the case; he
does not say so, his letter is most friendly in its noble simplicity,
but he apprises me, at the commencement, of a circumstance which both
surprised and dismayed me.

'I suppose it is no indiscretion to tell you this circumstance, for
you doubtless know it already. It appears that his private position
is in some points similar to that I have ascribed to Mr. Rochester;
that thence arose a report that _Jane Eyre_ had been written by a
governess in his family, and that the dedication coming now has
confirmed everybody in the surmise.

'Well may it be said that fact is often stranger than fiction! The
coincidence struck me as equally unfortunate and extraordinary. Of
course I knew nothing whatever of Mr. Thackeray's domestic concerns,
he existed for me only as an author. Of all regarding his
personality, station, connections, private history, I was, and am
still in a great measure, totally in the dark; but I am _very very_
sorry that my inadvertent blunder should have made his name and
affairs a subject for common gossip.

'The very fact of his not complaining at all and addressing me with
such kindness, notwithstanding the pain and annoyance I must have
caused him, increases my chagrin. I could not half express my regret
to him in my answer, for I was restrained by the consciousness that
that regret was just worth nothing at all--quite valueless for
healing the mischief I had done.

'Can you tell me anything more on this subject? or can you guess in
what degree the unlucky coincidence would affect him--whether it
would pain him much and deeply; for he says so little himself on the
topic, I am at a loss to divine the exact truth--but I fear.

'Do not think, my dear sir, from my silence respecting the advice you
have, at different times, given me for my future literary guidance,
that I am heedless of, or indifferent to, your kindness. I keep your
letters and not unfrequently refer to them. Circumstances may render
it impracticable for me to act up to the letter of what you counsel,
but I think I comprehend the spirit of your precepts, and trust I
shall be able to profit thereby. Details, situations which I do not
understand and cannot personally inspect, I would not for the world
meddle with, lest I should make even a more ridiculous mess of the
matter than Mrs. Trollope did in her _Factory Boy_. Besides, not one
feeling on any subject, public or private, will I ever affect that I
do not really experience. Yet though I must limit my sympathies;
though my observation cannot penetrate where the very deepest
political and social truths are to be learnt; though many doors of
knowledge which are open for you are for ever shut for me; though I
must guess and calculate and grope my way in the dark, and come to
uncertain conclusions unaided and alone where such writers as Dickens
and Thackeray, having access to the shrine and image of Truth, have
only to go into the temple, lift the veil a moment, and come out and
say what they have seen--yet with every disadvantage, I mean still,
in my own contracted way, to do my best. Imperfect my best will be,
and poor, and compared with the works of the true masters--of that
greatest modern master Thackeray in especial (for it is him I at
heart reverence with all my strength)--it will be trifling, but I
trust not affected or counterfeit.--Believe me, my dear sir, yours
with regard and respect,



'_March_ 29_th_, 1848.

'MY DEAR SIR,--The notice from the _Church of England Quarterly
Review_ is not on the whole a bad one. True, it condemns the
tendency of _Jane Eyre_, and seems to think Mr. Rochester should have
been represented as going through the mystic process of
"regeneration" before any respectable person could have consented to
believe his contrition for his past errors sincere; true, also, that
it casts a doubt on Jane's creed, and leaves it doubtful whether she
was Hindoo, Mahommedan, or infidel. But notwithstanding these
eccentricities, it is a conscientious notice, very unlike that in the
_Mirror_, for instance, which seemed the result of a feeble sort of
spite, whereas this is the critic's real opinion: some of the ethical
and theological notions are not according to his system, and he
disapproves of them.

'I am glad to hear that Mr. Lewes's new work is soon to appear, and
pleased also to learn that Messrs. Smith & Elder are the publishers.
Mr. Lewes mentioned in the last note I received from him that he had
just finished writing his new novel, and I have been on the look out
for the advertisement of its appearance ever since. I shall long to
read it, if it were only to get a further insight into the author's
character. I read _Ranthorpe_ with lively interest--there was much
true talent in its pages. Two thirds of it I thought excellent, the
latter part seemed more hastily and sketchily written.

'I trust Miss Kavanagh's work will meet with the success that, from
your account, I am certain she and it deserve. I think I have met
with an outline of the facts on which her tale is founded in some
periodical, _Chambers' Journal_ I believe. No critic, however rigid,
will find fault with "the tendency" of her work, I should think.

'I will tell you why you cannot fully sympathise with the French, or
feel any firm confidence in their future movements: because too few
of them are Lamartines, too many Ledru Rollins. That, at least, is
my reason for watching their proceedings with more dread than hope.
With the Germans it is different: to their rational and justifiable
efforts for liberty one can heartily wish well.

'It seems, as you say, as if change drew near England too. She is
divided by the sea from the lands where it is making thrones rock,
but earthquakes roll lower than the ocean, and we know neither the
day nor the hour when the tremor and heat, passing beneath our
island, may unsettle and dissolve its foundations. Meantime, one
thing is certain, all will in the end work together for good.

'You mention Thackeray and the last number of _Vanity Fair_. The
more I read Thackeray's works the more certain I am that he stands
alone--alone in his sagacity, alone in his truth, alone in his
feeling (his feeling, though he makes no noise about it, is about the
most genuine that ever lived on a printed page), alone in his power,
alone in his simplicity, alone in his self-control. Thackeray is a
Titan, so strong that he can afford to perform with calm the most
herculean feats; there is the charm and majesty of repose in his
greatest efforts; _he_ borrows nothing from fever, his is never the
energy of delirium--his energy is sane energy, deliberate energy,
thoughtful energy. The last number of _Vanity Fair_ proves this
peculiarly. Forcible, exciting in its force, still more impressive
than exciting, carrying on the interest of the narrative in a flow,
deep, full, resistless, it is still quiet--as quiet as reflection, as
quiet as memory; and to me there are parts of it that sound as solemn
as an oracle. Thackeray is never borne away by his own ardour--he
has it under control. His genius obeys him--it is his servant, it
works no fantastic changes at its own wild will, it must still
achieve the task which reason and sense assign it, and none other.
Thackeray is unique. I _can_ say no more, I _will_ say no
less.--Believe me, yours sincerely,

'C. BELL.'


'_March_ 2_nd_, 1849.

'Your generous indignation against the _Quarterly_ touched me. But
do not trouble yourself to be angry on Currer Bell's account; except
where the May-Fair gossip and Mr. Thackeray's name were brought in he
was never stung at all, but he certainly thought that passage and one
or two others quite unwarrantable. However, slander without a germ
of truth is seldom injurious: it resembles a rootless plant and must
soon wither away.

'The critic would certainly be a little ashamed of herself if she
knew what foolish blunders she had committed, if she were aware how
completely Mr. Thackeray and Currer Bell are strangers to each other,
that _Jane Eyre_ was written before the author had seen one line of
_Vanity Fair_, or that if C. Bell had known that there existed in Mr.
Thackeray's private circumstances the shadow of a reason for fancying
personal allusion, so far from dedicating the book to that gentleman,
he would have regarded such a step as ill-judged, insolent, and
indefensible, and would have shunned it accordingly.--Believe me, my
dear sir, yours sincerely,



'_August_ 14_th_, 1848.

'MY DEAR SIR,--My sister Anne thanks you, as well as myself, for your
just critique on _Wildfell Hall_. It appears to me that your
observations exactly hit both the strong and weak points of the book,
and the advice which accompanies them is worthy of, and shall
receive, our most careful attention.

'The first duty of an author is, I conceive, a faithful allegiance to
Truth and Nature; his second, such a conscientious study of Art as
shall enable him to interpret eloquently and effectively the oracles
delivered by those two great deities. The Bells are very sincere in
their worship of Truth, and they hope to apply themselves to the
consideration of Art, so as to attain one day the power of speaking
the language of conviction in the accents of persuasion; though they
rather apprehend that whatever pains they take to modify and soften,
an abrupt word or vehement tone will now and then occur to startle
ears polite, whenever the subject shall chance to be such as moves
their spirits within them.

'I have already told you, I believe, that I regard Mr. Thackeray as
the first of modern masters, and as the legitimate high priest of
Truth; I study him accordingly with reverence. He, I see, keeps the
mermaid's tail below water, and only hints at the dead men's bones
and noxious slime amidst which it wriggles; _but_, his hint is more
vivid than other men's elaborate explanations, and never is his
satire whetted to so keen an edge as when with quiet mocking irony he
modestly recommends to the approbation of the public his own
exemplary discretion and forbearance. The world begins to know
Thackeray rather better than it did two years or even a year ago, but
as yet it only half knows him. His mind seems to me a fabric as
simple and unpretending as it is deep-founded and enduring--there is
no meretricious ornament to attract or fix a superficial glance; his
great distinction of the genuine is one that can only be fully
appreciated with time. There is something, a sort of "still
profound," revealed in the concluding part of _Vanity Fair_ which the
discernment of one generation will not suffice to fathom. A hundred
years hence, if he only lives to do justice to himself, he will be
better known than he is now. A hundred years hence, some thoughtful
critic, standing and looking down on the deep waters, will see
shining through them the pearl without price of a purely original
mind--such a mind as the Bulwers, etc., his contemporaries have
_not_,--not acquirements gained from study, but the thing that came
into the world with him--his inherent genius: the thing that made
him, I doubt not, different as a child from other children, that
caused him, perhaps, peculiar griefs and struggles in life, and that
now makes him as a writer unlike other writers. Excuse me for
recurring to this theme, I do not wish to bore you.

'You say Mr. Huntingdon reminds you of Mr. Rochester. Does he? Yet
there is no likeness between the two; the foundation of each
character is entirely different. Huntingdon is a specimen of the
naturally selfish, sensual, superficial man, whose one merit of a
joyous temperament only avails him while he is young and healthy,
whose best days are his earliest, who never profits by experience,
who is sure to grow worse the older he grows. Mr. Rochester has a
thoughtful nature and a very feeling heart; he is neither selfish nor
self-indulgent; he is ill-educated, misguided; errs, when he does
err, through rashness and inexperience: he lives for a time as too
many other men live, but being radically better than most men, he
does not like that degraded life, and is never happy in it. He is
taught the severe lessons of experience and has sense to learn wisdom
from them. Years improve him; the effervescence of youth foamed
away, what is really good in him still remains. His nature is like
wine of a good vintage: time cannot sour, but only mellows him. Such
at least was the character I meant to pourtray.

'Heathcliffe, again, of _Wuthering Heights_ is quite another
creation. He exemplifies the effects which a life of continued
injustice and hard usage may produce on a naturally perverse,
vindictive, and inexorable disposition. Carefully trained and kindly
treated, the black gipsy-cub might possibly have been reared into a
human being, but tyranny and ignorance made of him a mere demon. The
worst of it is, some of his spirit seems breathed through the whole
narrative in which he figures: it haunts every moor and glen, and
beckons in every fir-tree of the Heights.

'I must not forget to thank you for the _Examiner_ and _Atlas_
newspapers. Poor Mr. Newby! It is not enough that the _Examiner_
nails him by both ears to the pillory, but the _Atlas_ brands a token
of disgrace on his forehead. This is a deplorable plight, and he
makes all matters worse by his foolish little answers to his
assailants. It is a pity that he has no kind friend to suggest to
him that he had better not bandy words with the _Examiner_. His plea
about the "printer" was too ludicrous, and his second note is
pitiable. I only regret that the names of Ellis and Acton Bell
should perforce be mixed up with his proceedings. My sister Anne
wishes me to say that should she ever write another work, Mr. Smith
will certainly have the first offer of the copyright.

'I hope Mrs. Williams's health is more satisfactory than when you
last wrote. With every good wish to yourself and your
family,--Believe me, my dear sir, yours sincerely,



'_October_ 19_th_, 1849.

'MY DEAR SIR,--I am again at home; and after the first sensations
consequent on returning to a place more dumb and vacant than it once
was, I am beginning to feel settled. I think the contrast with
London does not make Haworth more desolate; on the contrary, I have
gleaned ideas, images, pleasant feelings, such as may perhaps cheer
many a long winter evening.

'You ask my opinion of your daughters. I wish I could give you one
worth acceptance. A single evening's acquaintance does not suffice
with me to form an _opinion_, it only leaves on my mind an
_impression_. They impressed me, then, as pleasing in manners and
appearance: Ellen's is a character to which I could soon attach
myself, and Fanny and Louisa have each their separate advantages. I
can, however, read more in a face like Mrs. Williams's than in the
smooth young features of her daughters--time, trial, and exertion
write a distinct hand, more legible than smile or dimple. I was told
you had once some thoughts of bringing out Fanny as a professional
singer, and it was added Fanny did not like the project. I thought
to myself, if she does not like it, it can never be successfully
executed. It seems to me that to achieve triumph in a career so
arduous, the artist's own bent to the course must be inborn, decided,
resistless. There should be no urging, no goading; native genius and
vigorous will should lend their wings to the aspirant--nothing less
can lift her to real fame, and who would rise feebly only to fall
ignobly? An inferior artist, I am sure, you would not wish your
daughter to be, and if she is to stand in the foremost rank, only her
own courage and resolve can place her there; so, at least, the case
appears to me. Fanny probably looks on publicity as degrading, and I
believe that for a woman it is degrading if it is not glorious. If I
could not be a Lind, I would not be a singer.

'Brief as my visit to London was, it must for me be memorable. I
sometimes fancied myself in a dream--I could scarcely credit the
reality of what passed. For instance, when I walked into the room
and put my hand into Miss Martineau's, the action of saluting her and
the fact of her presence seemed visionary. Again, when Mr. Thackeray
was announced, and I saw him enter, looked up at his tall figure,
heard his voice, the whole incident was truly dream-like, I was only
certain it was true because I became miserably destitute of
self-possession. Amour propre suffers terribly under such
circumstances: woe to him that thinks of himself in the presence of
intellectual greatness! Had I not been obliged to speak, I could
have managed well, but it behoved me to answer when addressed, and
the effort was torture--I spoke stupidly.

'As to the band of critics, I cannot say they overawed me much; I
enjoyed the spectacle of them greatly. The two contrasts, Forster
and Chorley, have each a certain edifying carriage and conversation
good to contemplate. I by no means dislike Mr. Forster--quite the
contrary, but the distance from his loud swagger to Thackeray's
simple port is as the distance from Shakespeare's writing to
Macready's acting.

'Mr. Chorley tantalised me. He is a peculiar specimen--one whom you
could set yourself to examine, uncertain whether, when you had probed
all the small recesses of his character, the result would be utter
contempt and aversion, or whether for the sake of latent good you
would forgive obvious evil. One could well pardon his unpleasant
features, his strange voice, even his very foppery and grimace, if
one found these disadvantages connected with living talent and any
spark of genuine goodness. If there is nothing more than
acquirement, smartness, and the affectation of philanthropy, Chorley
is a fine creature.

'Remember me kindly to your wife and daughters, and--Believe me,
yours sincerely,



'HAWORTH, _December_ 19_th_, 1849.

'DEAR ELLEN,--Here I am at Haworth once more. I feel as if I had
come out of an exciting whirl. Not that the hurry or stimulus would
have seemed much to one accustomed to society and change, but to me
they were very marked. My strength and spirits too often proved
quite insufficient for the demand on their exertions. I used to bear
up as well and as long as I possibly could, for, whenever I flagged,
I could see Mr. Smith became disturbed; he always thought that
something had been said or done to annoy me, which never once
happened, for I met with perfect good breeding even from
antagonists--men who had done their best or worst to write me down.
I explained to him, over and over again, that my occasional silence
was only failure of the power to talk, never of the will, but still
he always seemed to fear there was another cause underneath.

'Mrs. Smith is rather stern, but she has sense and discrimination;
she watched me very narrowly. When surrounded by gentlemen she never
took her eye from me. I liked the surveillance, both when it kept
guard over me amongst many, or only with her cherished one. She
soon, I am convinced, saw in what light I received all, Thackeray
included. Her "George" is a very fine specimen of a young English
man of business; so I regard him, and I am proud to be one of his

'Thackeray is a Titan of mind. His presence and powers impress me
deeply in an intellectual sense; I do not see him or know him as a
man. All the others are subordinate to these. I have esteem for
some, and, I trust, courtesy for all. I do not, of course, know what
they thought of me, but I believe most of them expected me to come
out in a more marked eccentric, striking light. I believe they
desired more to admire and more to blame. I felt sufficiently at my
ease with all except Thackeray, and with him I was painfully stupid.

'Now, dear Nell, when can you come to Haworth? Settle, and let me
know as soon as you can. Give my best love to all.--Yours,

'C. B.'


'_January_ 10_th_, 1850.

'MY DEAR SIR,--Mrs. Ellis has made her "morning call." I rather
relished her chat about _Shirley_ and _Jane Eyre_. She praises
reluctantly and blames too often affectedly. But whenever a reviewer
betrays that he has been thoroughly influenced and stirred by the
work he criticises, it is easy to forgive the rest--hate and
personality excepted.

'I have received and perused the _Edinburgh Review_--it is very
brutal and savage. I am not angry with Lewes, but I wish in future
he would let me alone, and not write again what makes me feel so cold
and sick as I am feeling just now.

'Thackeray's Christmas Book at once grieved and pleased me, as most
of his writings do. I have come to the conclusion that whenever he
writes, Mephistopheles stands on his right hand and Raphael on his
left; the great doubter and sneerer usually guides the pen, the
Angel, noble and gentle, interlines letters of light here and there.
Alas! Thackeray, I wish your strong wings would lift you oftener
above the smoke of cities into the pure region nearer heaven!

'Good-bye for the present.--Yours sincerely,



'_January_ 25_th_, 1850.

'DEAR ELLEN,--Your indisposition was, I have no doubt, in a great
measure owing to the change in the weather from frost to thaw. I had
one sick-headachy day; but, for me, only a slight attack. You must
be careful of cold. I have just written to Amelia a brief note
thanking her for the cuffs, etc. It was a burning shame I did not
write sooner. Herewith are inclosed three letters for your perusal,
the first from Mary Taylor. There is also one from Lewes and one
from Sir J. K. Shuttleworth, both which peruse and return. I have
also, since you went, had a remarkable epistle from Thackeray, long,
interesting, characteristic, but it unfortunately concludes with the
strict injunction, _show this letter to no one_, adding that if he
thought his letters were seen by others, he should either cease to
write or write only what was conventional; but for this circumstance
I should have sent it with the others. I answered it at length.
Whether my reply will give satisfaction or displeasure remains yet to
be ascertained. Thackeray's feelings are not such as can be gauged
by ordinary calculation: variable weather is what I should ever
expect from that quarter, yet in correspondence as in verbal
intercourse, this would torment me.--Yours faithfully,

'C. B.'


'LONDON, _Thursday Morning_.

'DEAR PAPA,--I write one hasty line just to tell you that I got here
quite safely at ten o'clock last night without any damage or smash in
tunnels or cuttings. Mr. and Mrs. Smith met me at the station and
gave me a kind and cordial welcome. The weather was beautiful the
whole way, and warm; it is the same to-day. I have not yet been out,
but this afternoon, if all be well, I shall go to Mr. Thackeray's
lecture. I don't know when I shall see the Exhibition, but when I
do, I shall write and tell you all about it. I hope you are well,
and will continue well and cheerful. Give my kind regards to Tabby
and Martha, and--Believe me, your affectionate daughter,


It cannot be said that Charlotte Bronte and Thackeray gained by personal
contact. 'With him I was painfully stupid,' she says. It was the case
of Heine and Goethe over again. Heine in the presence of the king of
German literature could talk only of the plums in the garden. Charlotte
Bronte in the presence of her hero Thackeray could not express herself
with the vigour and intelligence which belonged to her correspondence
with Mr. Williams. Miss Bronte, again, was hyper-critical of the smaller
vanities of men, and, as has been pointed out, she emphasised in
_Villette_ a trivial piece of not unpleasant egotism on Thackeray's part
after a lecture--his asking her if she had liked it. This question,
which nine men out of ten would be prone to ask of a woman friend, was
'over-eagerness' and '_naivete_' in her eyes. Thackeray, on his side,
found conversation difficult, if we may judge by a reminiscence by his
daughter Mrs. Ritchie:--

'One of the most notable persons who ever came into our bow-windowed
drawing-room in Young Street is a guest never to be forgotten by
me--a tiny, delicate, little person, whose small hand nevertheless
grasped a mighty lever which set all the literary world of that day
vibrating. I can still see the scene quite plainly--the hot summer
evening, the open windows, the carriage driving to the door as we all
sat silent and expectant; my father, who rarely waited, waiting with
us; our governess and my sister and I all in a row, and prepared for
the great event. We saw the carriage stop, and out of it sprang the
active well-knit figure of Mr. George Smith, who was bringing Miss
Bronte to see our father. My father, who had been walking up and
down the room, goes out into the hall to meet his guests, and then,
after a moment's delay, the door opens wide, and the two gentlemen
come in, leading a tiny, delicate, serious, little lady, pale, with
fair straight hair, and steady eyes. She may be a little over
thirty; she is dressed in a little _barege_ dress, with a pattern of
faint green moss. She enters in mittens, in silence, in seriousness;
our hearts are beating with wild excitement. This, then, is the
authoress, the unknown power whose books have set all London talking,
reading, speculating; some people even say our father wrote the
books--the wonderful books. To say that we little girls had been
given _Jane Eyre_ to read scarcely represents the facts of the case;
to say that we had taken it without leave, read bits here and read
bits there, been carried away by an undreamed-of and hitherto
unimagined whirlwind into things, times, places, all utterly
absorbing, and at the same time absolutely unintelligible to us,
would more accurately describe our state of mind on that summer's
evening as we look at Jane Eyre--the great Jane Eyre--the tiny little
lady. The moment is so breathless that dinner comes as a relief to
the solemnity of the occasion, and we all smile as my father stoops
to offer his arm; for, though genius she may be, Miss Bronte can
barely reach his elbow. My own personal impressions are that she is
somewhat grave and stern, especially to forward little girls who wish
to chatter. Mr. George Smith has since told me how she afterwards
remarked upon my father's wonderful forbearance and gentleness with
our uncalled-for incursions into the conversation. She sat gazing at
him with kindling eyes of interest, lighting up with a sort of
illumination every now and then as she answered him. I can see her
bending forward over the table, not eating, but listening to what he
said as he carved the dish before him.

'I think it must have been on this very occasion that my father
invited some of his friends in the evening to meet Miss Bronte--for
everybody was interested and anxious to see her. Mrs. Crowe, the
reciter of ghost-stories, was there. Mrs. Brookfield, Mrs. Carlyle,
Mr. Carlyle himself was present, so I am told, railing at the
appearance of cockneys upon Scotch mountain sides; there were also
too many Americans for his taste, "but the Americans were as gods
compared to the cockneys," says the philosopher. Besides the
Carlyles, there were Mrs. Elliott and Miss Perry, Mrs. Procter and
her daughter, most of my father's habitual friends and companions.
In the recent life of Lord Houghton I was amused to see a note quoted
in which Lord Houghton also was convened. Would that he had been
present--perhaps the party would have gone off better. It was a
gloomy and a silent evening. Every one waited for the brilliant
conversation which never began at all. Miss Bronte retired to the
sofa in the study, and murmured a low word now and then to our kind
governess, Miss Truelock. The room looked very dark, the lamp began
to smoke a little, the conversation grew dimmer and more dim, the
ladies sat round still expectant, my father was too much perturbed by
the gloom and the silence to be able to cope with it at all. Mrs.
Brookfield, who was in the doorway by the study, near the corner in
which Miss Bronte was sitting, leant forward with a little
commonplace, since brilliance was not to be the order of the evening.
"Do you like London, Miss Bronte?" she said; another silence, a
pause, then Miss Bronte answers, "Yes and No," very gravely. Mrs.
Brookfield has herself reported the conversation. My sister and I
were much too young to be bored in those days; alarmed, impressed we
might be, but not yet bored. A party was a party, a lioness was a
lioness; and--shall I confess it?--at that time an extra dish of
biscuits was enough to mark the evening. We felt all the importance
of the occasion: tea spread in the dining-room, ladies in the
drawing-room. We roamed about inconveniently, no doubt, and
excitedly, and in one of my incursions crossing the hall, after Miss
Bronte had left, I was surprised to see my father opening the front
door with his hat on. He put his fingers to his lips, walked out
into the darkness, and shut the door quietly behind him. When I went
back to the drawing-room again, the ladies asked me where he was. I
vaguely answered that I thought he was coming back. I was puzzled at
the time, nor was it all made clear to me till long years afterwards,
when one day Mrs. Procter asked me if I knew what had happened once
when my father had invited a party to meet Jane Eyre at his house.
It was one of the dullest evenings she had ever spent in her life,
she said. And then with a good deal of humour she described the
situation--the ladies who had all come expecting so much delightful
conversation, and the gloom and the constraint, and how, finally,
overwhelmed by the situation, my father had quietly left the room,
left the house, and gone off to his club. The ladies waited,
wondered, and finally departed also; and as we were going up to bed
with our candles after everybody was gone, I remember two pretty Miss
L---s, in shiny silk dresses, arriving, full of expectation. . . . We
still said we thought our father would soon be back, but the Miss
L---s declined to wait upon the chance, laughed, and drove away again
almost immediately.' {423}


'_May_ 28_th_, 1851.

'DEAR PAPA,--I must write another line to you to tell you how I am
getting on. I have seen a great many things since I left home about
which I hope to talk to you at future tea-times at home. I have been
to the theatre and seen Macready in Macbeth. I have seen the
pictures in the National Gallery. I have seen a beautiful exhibition
of Turner's paintings, and yesterday I saw Mr. Thackeray. He dined
here with some other gentlemen. He is a very tall man--above six
feet high, with a peculiar face--not handsome, very ugly indeed,
generally somewhat stern and satirical in expression, but capable
also of a kind look. He was not told who I was, he was not
introduced to me, but I soon saw him looking at me through his
spectacles; and when we all rose to go down to dinner he just stepped
quietly up and said, "Shake hands"; so I shook hands. He spoke very
few words to me, but when he went away he shook hands again in a very
kind way. It is better, I should think, to have him for a friend
than an enemy, for he is a most formidable-looking personage. I
listened to him as he conversed with the other gentlemen. All he
says is most simple, but often cynical, harsh, and contradictory. I
get on quietly. Most people know me I think, but they are far too
well bred to show that they know me, so that there is none of that
bustle or that sense of publicity I dislike.

'I hope you continue pretty well; be sure to take care of yourself.
The weather here is exceedingly changeful, and often damp and misty,
so that it is necessary to guard against taking cold. I do not mean
to stay in London above a week longer, but I shall write again two or
three days before I return. You need not give yourself the trouble
of answering this letter unless you have something particular to say.
Remember me to Tabby and Martha.--I remain, dear papa, your
affectionate daughter,



'HYDE PARK, LONDON, _May_ 30_th_, 1851.

'DEAR PAPA,--I have now heard one of Mr. Thackeray's lectures and
seen the great Exhibition. On Thursday afternoon I went to hear the
lecture. It was delivered in a large and splendid kind of
saloon--that in which the great balls of Almacks are given. The
walls were all painted and gilded, the benches were sofas stuffed and
cushioned and covered with blue damask. The audience was composed of
the _elite_ of London society. Duchesses were there by the score,
and amongst them the great and beautiful Duchess of Sutherland, the
Queen's Mistress of the Robes. Amidst all this Thackeray just got up
and spoke with as much simplicity and ease as if he had been speaking
to a few friends by his own fireside. The lecture was truly good: he
has taken pains with the composition. It was finished without being
in the least studied; a quiet humour and graphic force enlivened it
throughout. He saw me as I entered the room, and came straight up
and spoke very kindly. He then took me to his mother, a fine,
handsome old lady, and introduced me to her. After the lecture
somebody came behind me, leaned over the bench, and said, "Will you
permit me, as a Yorkshireman, to introduce myself to you?" I turned
round, was puzzled at first by the strange face I met, but in a
minute I recognised the features. "You are the Earl of Carlisle," I
said. He smiled and assented. He went on to talk for some time in a
courteous, kind fashion. He asked after you, recalled the platform
electioneering scene at Haworth, and begged to be remembered to you.
Dr. Forbes came up afterwards, and Mr. Monckton Milnes, a Yorkshire
Member of Parliament, who introduced himself on the same plea as Lord

'Yesterday we went to the Crystal Palace. The exterior has a strange
and elegant but somewhat unsubstantial effect. The interior is like
a mighty Vanity Fair. The brightest colours blaze on all sides; and
ware of all kinds, from diamonds to spinning jennies and printing
presses, are there to be seen. It was very fine, gorgeous, animated,
bewildering, but I liked Thackeray's lecture better.

'I hope, dear papa, that you are keeping well. With kind regards to
Tabby and Martha, and hopes that they are well too,--I am, your
affectionate daughter,



'HYDE PARK, _June_ 7_th_, 1851.

'DEAR PAPA,--I was very glad to hear that you continued in pretty
good health, and that Mr. Cartman came to help you on Sunday. I fear
you will not have had a very comfortable week in the dining-room; but
by this time I suppose the parlour reformation will be nearly
completed, and you will soon be able to return to your old quarters.
The letter you sent me this morning was from Mary Taylor. She
continues well and happy in New Zealand, and her shop seems to answer
well. The French newspaper duly arrived. Yesterday I went for the
second time to the Crystal Palace. We remained in it about three
hours, and I must say I was more struck with it on this occasion than
at my first visit. It is a wonderful place--vast, strange, new, and
impossible to describe. Its grandeur does not consist in _one_
thing, but in the unique assemblage of _all_ things. Whatever human
industry has created, you find there, from the great compartments
filled with railway engines and boilers, with mill-machinery in full
work, with splendid carriages of all kinds, with harness of every
description--to the glass-covered and velvet-spread stands loaded
with the most gorgeous work of the goldsmith and silversmith, and the
carefully guarded caskets full of real diamonds and pearls worth
hundreds of thousands of pounds. It may be called a bazaar or a
fair, but it is such a bazaar or fair as Eastern genii might have
created. It seems as if magic only could have gathered this mass of
wealth from all the ends of the earth--as if none but supernatural
hands could have arranged it thus, with such a blaze and contrast of
colours and marvellous power of effect. The multitude filling the
great aisles seems ruled and subdued by some invisible influence.
Amongst the thirty thousand souls that peopled it the day I was
there, not one loud noise was to be heard, not one irregular movement
seen--the living tide rolls on quietly, with a deep hum like the sea
heard from the distance.

'Mr. Thackeray is in high spirits about the success of his lectures.
It is likely to add largely both to his fame and purse. He has,
however, deferred this week's lecture till next Thursday, at the
earnest petition of the duchesses and marchionesses, who, on the day
it should have been delivered, were necessitated to go down with the
Queen and Court to Ascot Races. I told him I thought he did wrong to
put it off on their account--and I think so still. The amateur
performance of Bulwer's play for the Guild of Literature has likewise
been deferred on account of the races. I hope, dear papa, that you,
Mr. Nicholls, and all at home continue well. Tell Martha to take her
scrubbing and cleaning in moderation and not overwork herself. With
kind regards to her and Tabby,--I am, your affectionate daughter,



'HYDE PARK, _June_ 14_th_, 1851.

'DEAR PAPA,--If all be well, and if Martha can get the cleaning,
etc., done by that time, I think I shall be coming home about the end
of next week or the beginning of the week after. I have been pretty
well in London, only somewhat troubled with headaches, owing, I
suppose, to the closeness and oppression of the air. The weather has
not been so favourable as when I was last here, and in wet and dark
days this great Babylon is not so cheerful. All the other sights
seem to give way to the great Exhibition, into which thousands and
tens of thousands continue to pour every day. I was in it again
yesterday afternoon, and saw the ex-royal family of France--the old
Queen, the Duchess of Orleans, and her two sons, etc., pass down the
transept. I almost wonder the Londoners don't tire a little of this
vast Vanity Fair--and, indeed, a new toy has somewhat diverted the
attention of the grandees lately, viz., a fancy ball given last night
by the Queen. The great lords and ladies have been quite wrapt up in
preparations for this momentous event. Their pet and darling, Mr.
Thackeray, of course sympathises with them. He was here yesterday to
dinner, and left very early in the evening in order that he might
visit respectively the Duchess of Norfolk, the Marchioness of
Londonderry, Ladies Chesterfield and Clanricarde, and see them all in
their fancy costumes of the reign of Charles II. before they set out
for the Palace! His lectures, it appears, are a triumphant success.
He says they will enable him to make a provision for his daughters;
and Mr. Smith believes he will not get less than four thousand pounds
by them. He is going to give two courses, and then go to Edinburgh
and perhaps America, but _not_ under the auspices of Barnum. Amongst
others, the Lord Chancellor attended his last lecture, and Mr.
Thackeray says he expects a place from him; but in this I think he
was joking. Of course Mr. T. is a good deal spoiled by all this, and
indeed it cannot be otherwise. He has offered two or three times to
introduce me to some of his great friends, and says he knows many
great ladies who would receive me with open arms if I would go to
their houses; but, seriously, I cannot see that this sort of society
produces so good an effect on him as to tempt me in the least to try
the same experiment, so I remain obscure.

'Hoping you are well, dear papa, and with kind regards to Mr.
Nicholls, Tabby, and Martha, also poor old Keeper and Flossy,--I am,
your affectionate daughter,


'_P.S._--I am glad the parlour is done and that you have got safely
settled, but am quite shocked to hear of the piano being dragged up
into the bedroom--there it must necessarily be absurd, and in the
parlour it looked so well, besides being convenient for your books.
I wonder why you don't like it.'

There are many pleasant references to Thackeray to be found in Mrs.
Gaskell's book, including a letter to Mr. George Smith, thanking him for
the gift of the novelist's portrait. 'He looks superb in his beautiful,
tasteful, gilded gibbet,' she says. A few years later, and Thackeray was
to write the eloquent tribute to his admirer, which is familiar to his
readers: 'I fancied an austere little Joan of Arc marching in upon us and
rebuking our easy lives, our easy morals.' 'She gave me,' he tells us,
'the impression of being a very pure, and lofty, and high-minded person.
A great and holy reverence of right and truth seemed to be with her
always. Who that has known her books has not admired the artist's noble
English, the burning love of truth, the bravery, the simplicity, the
indignation at wrong, the eager sympathy, the pious love and reverence,
the passionate honour, so to speak, of the woman? What a story is that
of the family of poets in their solitude yonder on the gloomy Yorkshire

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