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Charlotte Brontë and Her Circle by Clement King Shorter
 
 
CHAPTER V: PATRICK BRANWELL BRONTE

The younger Patrick Bronte was always known by his mother's family name
of Branwell. The name derived from the patron Saint of Ireland, with
which the enthusiastic Celt, Romanist and Protestant alike, delights to
disfigure his male child, was speedily banished from the Yorkshire
Parsonage. Branwell was a year younger than Charlotte, and it is clear
that she and her brother were 'chums,' in the same way as Emily and Anne
were 'chums,' in the earlier years, before Charlotte made other friends.
Even until two or three years from Branwell's death, we find Charlotte
writing to him with genuine sisterly affection, and, indeed, the only two
family letters addressed to Branwell which are extant are from her. One
of them, written from Brussels, I have printed elsewhere. The other,
written from Roe Head, when Charlotte, aged sixteen, was at school there,
was partly published by Mrs. Gaskell, but may as well be given here,
copied direct from the original.
[Picture: Patrick Branwell Bronte]

TO BRANWELL BRONTE

'ROE HEAD, _May_ 17_th_, 1832.

'DEAR BRANWELL,--As usual I address my weekly letter to you, because
to you I find the most to say. I feel exceedingly anxious to know
how and in what state you arrived at home after your long and (I
should think) very fatiguing journey. I could perceive when you
arrived at Roe Head that you were very much tired, though you refused
to acknowledge it. After you were gone, many questions and subjects
of conversation recurred to me which I had intended to mention to
you, but quite forgot them in the agitation which I felt at the
totally unexpected pleasure of seeing you. Lately I had begun to
think that I had lost all the interest which I used formerly to take
in politics, but the extreme pleasure I felt at the news of the
Reform Bill's being thrown out by the House of Lords, and of the
expulsion or resignation of Earl Grey, etc., etc., convinced me that
I have not as yet lost _all_ my penchant for politics. I am
extremely glad that aunt has consented to take in _Fraser's
Magazine_, for though I know from your description of its general
contents it will be rather uninteresting when compared with
_Blackwood_, still it will be better than remaining the whole year
without being able to obtain a sight of any periodical publication
whatever; and such would assuredly be our case, as in the little
wild, moorland village where we reside, there would be no possibility
of borrowing or obtaining a work of that description from a
circulating library. I hope with you that the present delightful
weather may contribute to the perfect restoration of our dear papa's
health, and that it may give aunt pleasant reminiscences of the
salubrious climate of her native place.

'With love to all,--Believe me, dear Branwell, to remain your
affectionate sister,

CHARLOTTE.'

'As to you I find the most to say' is significant. And to Branwell,
Charlotte refers again and again in most affectionate terms in many a
later letter. It is to her enthusiasm, indeed that we largely owe
the extravagant estimate of Branwell's ability which has found so
abundant expression in books on the Brontes.

Branwell has himself been made the hero of at least three biographies.
{121} Mr. Francis Grundy has no importance for our day other than that
he prints certain letters from Branwell in his autobiography. Miss Mary
F. Robinson, whatever distinction may pertain to her verse, should never
have attempted a biography of Emily Bronte. Her book is mainly of
significance because, appearing in a series of _Eminent Women_, it served
to emphasise the growing opinion that Emily, as well as Charlotte, had a
place among the great writers of her day. Miss Robinson added nothing to
our knowledge of Emily Bronte, and her book devoted inordinate space to
the shortcomings of Branwell, concerning which she had no new
information.

Mr. Leyland's book is professedly a biography of Branwell, and is,
indeed, a valuable storehouse of facts. It might have had more success
had it been written with greater brightness and verve. As it stands, it
is a dull book, readable only by the Bronte enthusiast. Mr. Leyland has
no literary perception, and in his eagerness to show that Branwell was a
genius, prints numerous letters and poems which sufficiently demonstrate
that he was not.

Charlotte never hesitated in the earlier years to praise her brother as
the genius of the family. We all know how eagerly the girls in any home
circle are ready to acknowledge and accept as signs of original power the
most impudent witticisms of a fairly clever brother. The Bronte
household was not exceptionally constituted in this respect. It is
evident that the boy grew up with talent of a kind. He could certainly
draw with more idea of perspective than his sisters, and one or two
portraits by him are not wanting in merit. But there is no evidence of
any special writing faculty, and the words 'genius' and 'brilliant' which
have been freely applied to him are entirely misplaced. Branwell was
thirty-one years of age when he died, and it was only during the last
year or two of his life that opium and alcohol had made him
intellectually hopeless. Yet, unless we accept the preposterous
statement that he wrote _Wuthering Heights_, he would seem to have
composed nothing which gives him the slightest claim to the most
inconsiderable niche in the temple of literature.

Branwell appears to have worked side by side with his sisters in the
early years, and innumerable volumes of the 'little writing' bearing his
signature have come into my hands. Verdopolis, the imaginary city of his
sisters' early stories, plays a considerable part in Branwell's. _Real
Life in Verdopolis_ bears date 1833. _The Battle of Washington_ is
evidently a still more childish effusion. _Caractacus_ is dated 1830,
and the poems and tiny romances continue steadily on through the years
until they finally stop short in 1837--when Branwell is twenty years
old--with a story entitled _Percy_. By the light of subsequent events it
is interesting to note that a manuscript of 1830 bears the title of _The
Liar Detected_.

It would be unfair to take these crude productions of Branwell Bronte's
boyhood as implying that he had no possibilities in him of anything
better, but judging from the fact that his letters, as a man of eight and
twenty, are as undistinguished as his sister's are noteworthy at a like
age, we might well dismiss Branwell Bronte once and for all, were not
some epitome of his life indispensable in an account of the Bronte
circle.

Branwell was born at Thornton in 1817. When the family removed to
Haworth he studied at the Grammar School, although, doubtless, he owed
most of his earlier tuition to his father. When school days were over it
was decided that he should be an artist. To a certain William Robinson,
of Leeds, he was indebted for his first lessons. Mrs. Gaskell describes
a life-size drawing of Charlotte, Emily, and Anne which Branwell painted
about this period. The huge canvas stood for many years at the top of
the staircase at the parsonage. {123} In 1835 Branwell went up to London
with a view to becoming a pupil at the Royal Academy Art Schools. The
reason for his almost immediate reappearance at Haworth has never been
explained. Probably he wasted his money and his father refused supplies.
He had certainly been sufficiently in earnest at the start, judging from
this letter, of which I find a draft among his papers.
TO THE SECRETARY, ROYAL ACADEMY OF ARTS

'SIR,--Having an earnest desire to enter as probationary student in
the Royal Academy, but not being possessed of information as to the
means of obtaining my desire, I presume to request from you, as
Secretary to the Institution, an answer to the questions--

'Where am I to present my drawings?

'At what time?

and especially,

'Can I do it in August or September?

--Your obedient servant,

BRANWELL BRONTE.'

In 1836 we find him as 'brother' of the 'Lodge of the Three Graces' at
Haworth. In the following year he is practising as an artist in
Bradford, and painting a number of portraits of the townsfolk. At this
same period he wrote to Wordsworth, sending verses, which he was at the
time producing with due regularity. In January 1840 Branwell became
tutor in the family of Mr. Postlethwaite at Broughton-in-Furness. It was
from that place that he wrote the incoherent and silly letter which has
been more than once printed, and which merely serves to show that then,
as always, he had an ill-regulated mind. It was from
Broughton-in-Furness also that he addresses Hartley Coleridge, and the
letters are worth printing if only on account of the similar destiny of
the two men.

TO HARTLEY COLERIDGE

'BROUGHTON-IN-FURNESS,
'LANCASHIRE, _April_ 20_th_, 1840.

'SIR,--It is with much reluctance that I venture to request, for the
perusal of the following lines, a portion of the time of one upon
whom I can have no claim, and should not dare to intrude, but I do
not, personally, know a man on whom to rely for an answer to the
questions I shall put, and I could not resist my longing to ask a man
from whose judgment there would be little hope of appeal.

'Since my childhood I have been wont to devote the hours I could
spare from other and very different employments to efforts at
literary composition, always keeping the results to myself, nor have
they in more than two or three instances been seen by any other. But
I am about to enter active life, and prudence tells me not to waste
the time which must make my independence; yet, sir, I like writing
too well to fling aside the practice of it without an effort to
ascertain whether I could turn it to account, not in _wholly_
maintaining myself, but in aiding my maintenance, for I do not sigh
after fame, and am not ignorant of the folly or the fate of those
who, without ability, would depend for their lives upon their pens;
but I seek to know, and venture, though with shame, to ask from one
whose word I must respect: whether, by periodical or other writing, I
could please myself with writing, and make it subservient to living.
'I would not, with this view, have troubled you with a composition in
verse, but any piece I have in prose would too greatly trespass upon
your patience, which, I fear, if you look over the verse, will be
more than sufficiently tried.

'I feel the egotism of my language, but I have none, sir, in my
heart, for I feel beyond all encouragement from myself, and I hope
for none from you.

'Should you give any opinion upon what I send, it will, however
condemnatory, be most gratefully received by,--Sir, your most humble
servant,

'P. B. BRONTE.

'_P.S._--The first piece is only the sequel of one striving to depict
the fall from unguided passion into neglect, despair, and death. It
ought to show an hour too near those of pleasure for repentance, and
too near death for hope. The translations are two out of many made
from Horace, and given to assist an answer to the question--would it
be possible to obtain remuneration for translations for such as those
from that or any other classic author?'

Branwell would appear to have gone over to Ambleside to see Hartley
Coleridge, if we may judge by that next letter, written from Haworth upon
his return.

TO HARTLEY COLERIDGE

'HAWORTH, _June_ 27_th_, 1840.

'SIR,--You will, perhaps, have forgotten me, but it will be long
before I forget my first conversation with a man of real intellect,
in my first visit to the classic lakes of Westmoreland.

'During the delightful day which I had the honour of spending with
you at Ambleside, I received permission to transmit to you, as soon
as finished, the first book of a translation of Horace, in order
that, after a glance over it, you might tell me whether it was worth
further notice or better fit for the fire.

'I have--I fear most negligently, and amid other very different
employments--striven to translate two books, the first of which I
have presumed to send to you. And will you, sir, stretch your past
kindness by telling me whether I should amend and pursue the work or
let it rest in peace?

'Great corrections I feel it wants, but till I feel that the work
might benefit me, I have no heart to make them; yet if your judgment
prove in any way favourable, I will re-write the whole, without
sparing labour to reach perfection.
'I dared not have attempted Horace but that I saw the utter
worthlessness of all former translations, and thought that a better
one, by whomsoever executed, might meet with some little
encouragement. I long to clear up my doubts by the judgment of one
whose opinion I should revere, and--but I suppose I am dreaming--one
to whom I should be proud indeed to inscribe anything of mine which
any publisher would look at, unless, as is likely enough, the work
would disgrace the name as much as the name would honour the work.

'Amount of remuneration I should not look to--as anything would be
everything--and whatever it might be, let me say that my bones would
have no rest unless by written agreement a division should be made of
the profits (little or much) between myself and him through whom
alone I could hope to obtain a hearing with that formidable
personage, a London bookseller.

'Excuse my unintelligibility, haste, and appearance of presumption,
and--Believe me to be, sir, your most humble and grateful servant,

'P. B. BRONTE.

'If anything in this note should displease you, lay it, sir, to the
account of inexperience and _not_ impudence.'

In October 1840, we find Branwell clerk-in-charge at the Station of
Sowerby Bridge on the Leeds and Manchester Railway, and the following
year at Luddenden Foot, where Mr. Grundy, the railway engineer, became
acquainted with him, and commenced the correspondence contained in
_Pictures of the Past_.

I have in my possession a small memorandum book, evidently used by
Branwell when engaged as a railway clerk. There are notes in it upon the
then existing railways, demonstrating that he was trying to prime himself
with the requisite facts and statistics for a career of that kind. But
side by side with these are verses upon 'Lord Nelson,' 'Robert Burns,'
and kindred themes, with such estimable sentiments as this:--

'Then England's love and England's tongue
And England's heart shall reverence long
The wisdom deep, the courage strong,
Of English Johnson's name.'

Altogether a literary atmosphere had been kindled for the boy had he had
the slightest strength of character to go with it. The railway company,
however, were soon tired of his vagaries, and in the beginning of 1842 he
returns to the Haworth parsonage. The following letter to his friend Mr.
Grundy is of biographical interest.

TO FRANCIS H. GRUNDY

'_October_ 25_th_, 1842.

'MY DEAR SIR,--There is no misunderstanding. I have had a long
attendance at the death-bed of the Rev. Mr. Weightman, one of my
dearest friends, and now I am attending at the deathbed of my aunt,
who has been for twenty years as my mother. I expect her to die in a
few hours.

'As my sisters are far from home, I have had much on my mind, and
these things must serve as an apology for what was never intended as
neglect of your friendship to us.

'I had meant not only to have written to you, but to the Rev. James
Martineau, gratefully and sincerely acknowledging the receipt of his
most kindly and truthful criticism--at least in advice, though too
generous far in praise; but one sad ceremony must, I fear, be gone
through first. Give my most sincere respects to Mr. Stephenson, and
excuse this scrawl--my eyes are too dim with sorrow to see
well.--Believe me, your not very happy but obliged friend and
servant,

'P. B. BRONTE.'

A week later he writes to the same friend:--

'I am incoherent, I fear, but I have been waking two nights
witnessing such agonising suffering as I would not wish my worst
enemy to endure; and I have now lost the guide and director of all
the happy days connected with my childhood. I have suffered much
sorrow since I last saw you at Haworth.'

Charlotte and Anne, it will be remembered, were at this time on their way
home from Brussels, and Anne had to seek relief from her governess bonds
at Mrs. Robinson's. Branwell would seem to have returned with Anne to
Thorp Green, as tutor to Mr. Robinson's son. He commenced his duties in
December 1842.

It would not be rash to assume--although it is only an assumption--that
Branwell took to opium soon after he entered upon his duties at Thorp
Green. I have already said something of the trouble which befel Mrs.
Gaskell in accepting the statements of Charlotte Bronte, and--after
Charlotte's death--of her friends, to the effect that Branwell became the
prey of a designing woman, who promised to marry him when her husband--a
venerable clergyman--should be dead. The story has been told too often.
Branwell was dismissed, and returned to the parsonage to rave about his
wrongs. If Mr. Robinson should die, the widow had promised to marry him,
he assured his friends. Mr. Robinson did die (May 26, 1846), and then
Branwell insisted that by his will he had prohibited his wife from
marrying, under penalties of forfeiting the estate. A copy of the
document is in my possession:

_The eleventh day of September_ 1846 _the Will of the Reverend Edmund
Robinson_, _late of Thorp Green_, _in the Parish of Little Ouseburn_,
_in the County of York_, _Clerk_, _deceased_, _was proved in the
Prerogative Court of York by the oaths of Lydia Robinson_, _Widow_,
_his Relict_; _the Venerable Charles Thorp and Henry Newton_, _the
Executors_, _to whom administration was granted_.

Needless to say, the will, a lengthy document, put no restraint whatever
upon the actions of Mrs. Robinson. Upon the publication of Mrs.
Gaskell's Life she was eager to clear her character in the law-courts,
but was dissuaded therefrom by friends, who pointed out that a withdrawal
of the obnoxious paragraphs in succeeding editions of the Memoir, and the
publication of a letter in the _Times_, would sufficiently meet the case.

Here is the letter from the advertisement pages of the Times.

'8 BEDFORD ROW,
'LONDON, _May_ 26_th_, 1857.

'DEAR SIRS,--As solicitor for and on behalf of the Rev. W. Gaskell
and of Mrs. Gaskell, his wife, the latter of whom is authoress of the
_Life of Charlotte Bronte_, I am instructed to retract every
statement contained in that work which imputes to a widowed lady,
referred to, but not named therein, any breach of her conjugal, of
her maternal, or of her social duties, and more especially of the
statement contained in chapter 13 of the first volume, and in chapter
2 of the second volume, which imputes to the lady in question a
guilty intercourse with the late Branwell Bronte. All those
statements were made upon information which at the time Mrs. Gaskell
believed to be well founded, but which, upon investigation, with the
additional evidence furnished to me by you, I have ascertained not to
be trustworthy. I am therefore authorised not only to retract the
statements in question, but to express the deep regret of Mrs.
Gaskell that she should have been led to make them.--I am, dear sirs,
yours truly,

'WILLIAM SHAEN.

'Messrs. Newton & Robinson, Solicitors, York.'

A certain 'Note' in the _Athenaeum_ a few days later is not without
interest now.

'We are sorry to be called upon to return to Mrs. Gaskell's _Life of
Charlotte Bronte_, but we must do so, since the book has gone forth
with our recommendation. Praise, it is needless to point out,
implied trust in the biographer as an accurate collector of facts.
This, we regret to state, Mrs. Gaskell proves not to have been. To
the gossip which for weeks past has been seething and circulating in
the London _coteries_, we gave small heed; but the _Times_ advertises
a legal apology, made on behalf of Mrs. Gaskell, withdrawing the
statements put forth in her book respecting the cause of Mr. Branwell
Bronte's wreck and ruin. These Mrs. Gaskell's lawyer is now fain to
confess his client advanced on insufficient testimony. The telling
of an episodical and gratuitous tale so dismal as concerns the dead,
so damaging to the living, could only be excused by the story of sin
being severely, strictly true; and every one will have cause to
regret that due caution was not used to test representations not, it
seems, to be justified. It is in the interest of Letters that
biographers should be deterred from rushing into print with mere
impressions in place of proofs, however eager and sincere those
impressions may be. They _may be_ slanders, and as such they may
sting cruelly. Meanwhile the _Life of Charlotte Bronte_ must undergo
modification ere it can be further circulated.'
Meanwhile let us return to Branwell Bronte's life as it is contained in
his sister's correspondence.

TO MISS ELLEN NUSSEY

'_January_ 3_rd_, 1846.

'DEAR ELLEN,--I must write to you to-day whether I have anything to
say or not, or else you will begin to think that I have forgotten
you; whereas, never a day passes, seldom an hour, that I do not think
of you, _and the scene of trial_ in which you live, move, and have
your being. Mary Taylor's letter was deeply interesting and strongly
characteristic. I have no news whatever to communicate. No changes
take place here. Branwell offers no prospect of hope; he professes
to be too ill to think of seeking for employment; he makes comfort
scant at home. I hold to my intention of going to Brookroyd as soon
as I can--that is, provided you will have me.

'Give my best love to your mother and sisters.--Yours, dear Nell,
always faithful,

'C. BRONTE.'

TO MISS ELLEN NUSSEY

'_January_ 13_th_, 1845.

'MY DEAR ELLEN,--I have often said and thought that you have had many
and heavy trials to bear in your still short life. You have always
borne them with great firmness and calm so far--I hope fervently you
will still be enabled to do so. Yet there is something in your
letter that makes me fear the present is the greatest trial of all,
and the most severely felt by you. I hope it will soon pass over and
leave no shadow behind it. I do earnestly desire to be with you, to
talk to you, to give you what comfort I can. Branwell and Anne leave
us on Saturday. Branwell has been quieter and less irritable on the
whole this time than he was in summer. Anne is as usual--always
good, mild, and patient. I think she too is a little stronger than
she was.--Good-bye, dear Ellen,

'C. BRONTE.'

TO MISS ELLEN NUSSEY

'_December_ 31_st_, 1845.

'DEAR ELLEN,--I don't know whether most to thank you for the very
pretty slippers you have sent me or to scold you for occasioning
yourself, in the slightest degree, trouble or expense on my account.
I will have them made up and bring them with me, if all be well, when
I come to Brookroyd.

'Never doubt that I shall come to Brookroyd as soon as I can, Nell.
I dare say my wish to see you is equal to your wish to see me.

'I had a note on Saturday from Ellen Taylor, informing me that
letters have been received from Mary in New Zealand, and that she was
well and in good spirits. I suppose you have not yet seen them, as
you do not mention them; but you will probably have them in your
possession before you get this note.

'You say well in speaking of Branwell that no sufferings are so awful
as those brought on by dissipation. Alas! I see the truth of this
observation daily proved.

'Your friends must have a weary and burdensome life of it in waiting
upon _their_ unhappy brother. It seems grievous, indeed, that those
who have not sinned should suffer so largely.

'Write to me a little oftener, Ellen--I am very glad to get your
notes. Remember me kindly to your mother and sisters.--Yours
faithfully,

'C. BRONTE.'

TO MISS WOOLER

'_January_ 30_th_, 1846.

'MY DEAR MISS WOOLER,--I have not yet paid my usual visit to
Brookroyd, but I frequently hear from Ellen, and she did not fail to
tell me that you were gone into Worcestershire. She was unable,
however, to give me your address; had I known it I should have
written to you long since.

'I thought you would wonder how we were getting on when you heard of
the Railway Panic, and you may be sure I am very glad to be able to
answer your kind inquiries by an assurance that our small capital is
as yet undiminished. The "York and Midland" is, as you say, a very
good line, yet I confess to you I should wish, for my part, to be
wise in time. I cannot think that even the very best lines will
continue for many years at their present premiums, and I have been
most anxious for us to sell our shares ere it be too late, and to
secure the proceeds in some safer, if, for the present, less
profitable investment. I cannot, however, persuade my sisters to
regard the affair precisely from my point of view, and I feel as if I
would rather run the risk of loss than hurt Emily's feelings by
acting in direct opposition to her opinion. She managed in a most
handsome and able manner for me when I was at Brussels, and prevented
by distance from looking after my own interests; therefore, I will
let her manage still, and take the consequences. Disinterested and
energetic she certainly is, and if she be not quite so tractable or
open to conviction as I could wish, I must remember perfection is not
the lot of humanity. And as long as we can regard those we love, and
to whom we are closely allied, with profound and very unshaken
esteem, it is a small thing that they should vex us occasionally by,
what appear to us, unreasonable and headstrong notions. You, my dear
Miss Wooler, know full as well as I do the value of sisters'
affection to each other; there is nothing like it in this world, I
believe, when they are nearly equal in age, and similar in education,
tastes, and sentiments.

'You ask about Branwell. He never thinks of seeking employment, and
I begin to fear he has rendered himself incapable of filling any
respectable station in life; besides, if money were at his disposal
he would use it only to his own injury; the faculty of
self-government is, I fear, almost destroyed in him. You ask me if I
do not think men are strange beings. I do, indeed--I have often
thought so; and I think too that the mode of bringing them up is
strange, they are not half sufficiently guarded from temptations.
Girls are protected as if they were something very frail and silly
indeed, while boys are turned loose on the world as if they, of all
beings in existence, were the wisest and the least liable to be led
astray.

'I am glad you like Bromsgrove. I always feel a peculiar
satisfaction when I hear of your enjoying yourself, because it proves
to me that there is really such a thing as retributive justice even
in this life; now you are free, and that while you have still, I
hope, many years of vigour and health in which you can enjoy freedom.
Besides, I have another and very egotistical motive for being
pleased: it seems that even "a lone woman" can be happy, as well as
cherished wives and proud mothers. I am glad of that--I speculate
much on the existence of unmarried and never-to-be married woman
now-a-days, and I have already got to the point of considering that
there is no more respectable character on this earth than an
unmarried woman who makes her own way through life quietly,
perseveringly, without support of husband or mother, and who, having
attained the age of forty-five or upwards, retains in her possession
a well-regulated mind, a disposition to enjoy simple pleasures,
fortitude to support inevitable pains, sympathy with the sufferings
of others, and willingness to relieve want as far as her means
extend. I wish to send this letter off by to-day's post, I must
therefore conclude in haste.--Believe me, my dear Miss Wooler, yours,
most affectionately,

'C. BRONTE.'

TO MISS ELLEN NUSSEY

'_November_ 4_th_, 1845.

'DEAR ELLEN,--You do not reproach me in your last, but I fear you
must have thought me unkind in being so long without answering you.
The fact is, I had hoped to be able to ask you to come to Haworth.
Branwell seemed to have a prospect of getting employment, and I
waited to know the result of his efforts in order to say, "Dear
Ellen, come and see us"; but the place (a secretaryship to a Railroad
Committee) is given to another person. Branwell still remains at
home, and while he is here you shall not come. I am more confirmed
in that resolution the more I know of him. I wish I could say one
word to you in his favour, but I cannot, therefore I will hold my
tongue.

'Emily and Anne wish me to tell you that they think it very unlikely
for little Flossy to be expected to rear so numerous a family; they
think you are quite right in protesting against all the pups being
preserved, for, if kept, they will pull their poor little mother to
pieces.--Yours faithfully,

'C. B.'

TO MISS ELLEN NUSSEY

'_April_ 14_th_, 1846.

'DEAR ELLEN,--I assure you I was very glad indeed to get your last
note; for when three or four days elapsed after my second despatch to
you and I got no answer, I scarcely doubted something was wrong. It
relieved me much to find my apprehensions unfounded. I return you
Miss Ringrose's notes with thanks. I always like to read them, they
appear to me so true an index of an amiable mind, and one not too
conscious of its own worth; beware of awakening in her this
consciousness by undue praise. It is the privilege of
simple-hearted, sensible, but not brilliant people, that they can
_be_ and _do_ good without comparing their own thoughts and actions
too closely with those of other people, and thence drawing strong
food for self-appreciation. Talented people almost always know full
well the excellence that is in them. I wish I could say anything
favourable, but how can we be more comfortable so long as Branwell
stays at home, and degenerates instead of improving? It has been
lately intimated to him, that he would be received again on the
railroad where he was formerly stationed if he would behave more
steadily, but he refuses to make an effort; he will not work; and at
home he is a drain on every resource--an impediment to all happiness.
But there is no use in complaining.

'My love to all. Write again soon.

'C. B.'

TO MISS ELLEN NUSSEY

'_June_ 17_th_, 1846.

'DEAR ELLEN,--I was glad to perceive, by the tone of your last
letter, that you are beginning to be a little more settled. We, I am
sorry to say, have been somewhat more harassed than usual lately.
The death of Mr. Robinson, which took place about three weeks or a
month ago, served Branwell for a pretext to throw all about him into
hubbub and confusion with his emotions, etc., etc. Shortly after
came news from all hands that Mr. Robinson had altered his will
before he died, and effectually prevented all chance of a marriage
between his widow and Branwell, by stipulating that she should not
have a shilling if she ever ventured to re-open any communication
with him. Of course he then became intolerable. To papa he allows
rest neither day nor night, and he is continually screwing money out
of him, sometimes threatening that he will kill himself if it is
withheld from him. He says Mrs. Robinson is now insane; that her
mind is a complete wreck owing to remorse for her conduct towards Mr.
Robinson (whose end it appears was hastened by distress of mind) and
grief for having lost him. I do not know how much to believe of what
he says, but I fear she is very ill. Branwell declares that he
neither can nor will do anything for himself. Good situations have
been offered him more than once, for which, by a fortnight's work, he
might have qualified himself, but he will do nothing, except drink
and make us all wretched. I had a note from Ellen Taylor a week ago,
in which she remarks that letters were received from New Zealand a
month since, and that all was well. I should like to hear from you
again soon. I hope one day to see Brookroyd again, though I think it
will not be yet--these are not times of amusement. Love to all.

'C. B.'

TO MISS ELLEN NUSSEY

'HAWORTH, _March_ 1_st_, 1847.

'DEAR ELLEN,--Branwell has been conducting himself very badly lately.
I expect from the extravagance of his behaviour, and from mysterious
hints he drops (for he never will speak out plainly), that we shall
be hearing news of fresh debts contracted by him soon. The Misses
Robinson, who had entirely ceased their correspondence with Anne for
half a year after their father's death, have lately recommenced it.
For a fortnight they sent her a letter almost every day, crammed with
warm protestations of endless esteem and gratitude. They speak with
great affection too of their mother, and never make any allusion
intimating acquaintance with her errors. We take special care that
Branwell does not know of their writing to Anne. My health is
better: I lay the blame of its feebleness on the cold weather more
than on an uneasy mind, for, after all, I have many things to be
thankful for. Write again soon.

'C. BRONTE.'

TO MISS ELLEN NUSSEY

'_May_ 12_th_, 1847.

'DEAR ELLEN,--We shall all be glad to see you on the Thursday or
Friday of next week, whichever day will suit you best. About what
time will you be likely to get here, and how will you come? By coach
to Keighley, or by a gig all the way to Haworth? There must be no
impediments now? I cannot do with them, I want very much to see you.
I hope you will be decently comfortable while you stay.

'Branwell is quieter now, and for a good reason: he has got to the
end of a considerable sum of money, and consequently is obliged to
restrict himself in some degree. You must expect to find him weaker
in mind, and a complete rake in appearance. I have no apprehension
of his being at all uncivil to you; on the contrary, he will be as
smooth as oil. I pray for fine weather that we may be able to get
out while you stay. Goodbye for the present. Prepare for much
dulness and monotony. Give my love to all at Brookroyd.

'C. BRONTE.'

TO MISS ELLEN NUSSEY

'_July_ 28_th_, 1848.

'DEAR ELLEN,--Branwell is the same in conduct as ever. His
constitution seems much shattered. Papa, and sometimes all of us,
have sad nights with him: he sleeps most of the day, and consequently
will lie awake at night. But has not every house its trial?

'Write to me very soon, dear Nell, and--Believe me, yours sincerely,

'C. BRONTE.'

Branwell Bronte died on Sunday, September the 24th, 1848, {138} and the
two following letters from Charlotte to her friend Mr. Williams are
peculiarly interesting.

TO W. S. WILLIAMS

'_October_ 2_nd_, 1848.

'MY DEAR SIR,--"We have hurried our dead out of our sight." A lull
begins to succeed the gloomy tumult of last week. It is not
permitted us to grieve for him who is gone as others grieve for those
they lose. The removal of our only brother must necessarily be
regarded by us rather in the light of a mercy than a chastisement.
Branwell was his father's and his sisters' pride and hope in boyhood,
but since manhood the case has been otherwise. It has been our lot
to see him take a wrong bent; to hope, expect, wait his return to the
right path; to know the sickness of hope deferred, the dismay of
prayer baffled; to experience despair at last--and now to behold the
sudden early obscure close of what might have been a noble career.

'I do not weep from a sense of bereavement--there is no prop
withdrawn, no consolation torn away, no dear companion lost--but for
the wreck of talent, the ruin of promise, the untimely dreary
extinction of what might have been a burning and a shining light. My
brother was a year my junior. I had aspirations and ambitions for
him once, long ago--they have perished mournfully. Nothing remains
of him but a memory of errors and sufferings. There is such a
bitterness of pity for his life and death, such a yearning for the
emptiness of his whole existence as I cannot describe. I trust time
will allay these feelings.

'My poor father naturally thought more of his _only_ son than of his
daughters, and, much and long as he had suffered on his account, he
cried out for his loss like David for that of Absalom--my son my
son!--and refused at first to be comforted. And then when I ought to
have been able to collect my strength and be at hand to support him,
I fell ill with an illness whose approaches I had felt for some time
previously, and of which the crisis was hastened by the awe and
trouble of the death-scene--the first I had ever witnessed. The past
has seemed to me a strange week. Thank God, for my father's sake, I
am better now, though still feeble. I wish indeed I had more general
physical strength--the want of it is sadly in my way. I cannot do
what I would do for want of sustained animal spirits and efficient
bodily vigour.

'My unhappy brother never knew what his sisters had done in
literature--he was not aware that they had ever published a line. We
could not tell him of our efforts for fear of causing him too deep a
pang of remorse for his own time mis-spent, and talents misapplied.
Now he will _never_ know. I cannot dwell longer on the subject at
present--it is too painful.

'I thank you for your kind sympathy, and pray earnestly that your
sons may all do well, and that you may be spared the sufferings my
father has gone through.--Yours sincerely,

'C. BRONTE.'

TO W. S. WILLIAMS

'HAWORTH, _October_ 6_th_, 1848.

'MY DEAR SIR,--I thank you for your last truly friendly letter, and
for the number of _Blackwood_ which accompanied it. Both arrived at
a time when a relapse of illness had depressed me much. Both did me
good, especially the letter. I have only one fault to find with your
expressions of friendship: they make me ashamed, because they seem to
imply that you think better of me than I merit. I believe you are
prone to think too highly of your fellow-creatures in general--to see
too exclusively the good points of those for whom you have a regard.
Disappointment must be the inevitable result of this habit. Believe
all men, and women too, to be dust and ashes--a spark of the divinity
now and then kindling in the dull heap--that is all. When I looked
on the noble face and forehead of my dead brother (nature had
favoured him with a fairer outside, as well as a finer constitution,
than his sisters) and asked myself what had made him go ever wrong,
tend ever downwards, when he had so many gifts to induce to, and aid
in, an upward course, I seemed to receive an oppressive revelation of
the feebleness of humanity--of the inadequacy of even genius to lead
to true greatness if unaided by religion and principle. In the
value, or even the reality, of these two things he would never
believe till within a few days of his end; and then all at once he
seemed to open his heart to a conviction of their existence and
worth. The remembrance of this strange change now comforts my poor
father greatly. I myself, with painful, mournful joy, heard him
praying softly in his dying moments; and to the last prayer which my
father offered up at his bedside he added, "Amen." How unusual that
word appeared from his lips, of course you, who did not know him,
cannot conceive. Akin to this alteration was that in his feelings
towards his relations--all the bitterness seemed gone.

'When the struggle was over, and a marble calm began to succeed the
last dread agony, I felt, as I had never felt before, that there was
peace and forgiveness for him in Heaven. All his errors--to speak
plainly, all his vices--seemed nothing to me in that moment: every
wrong he had done, every pain he had caused, vanished; his sufferings
only were remembered; the wrench to the natural affections only was
left. If man can thus experience total oblivion of his fellow's
imperfections, how much more can the Eternal Being, who made man,
forgive His creature?

'Had his sins been scarlet in their dye, I believe now they are white
as wool. He is at rest, and that comforts us all. Long before he
quitted this world, life had no happiness for him.

'_Blackwood's_ mention of _Jane Eyre_ gratified me much, and will
gratify me more, I dare say, when the ferment of other feelings than
that of literary ambition shall have a little subsided in my mind.

'The doctor has told me I must not expect too rapid a restoration to
health; but to-day I certainly feel better. I am thankful to say my
father has hitherto stood the storm well; and so have my _dear_
sisters, to whose untiring care and kindness I am chiefly indebted
for my present state of convalescence.--Believe me, my dear sir,
yours faithfully,

'C. BRONTE.'

The last letter in order of date that I have concerning Branwell is
addressed to Ellen Nussey's sister:--

TO MISS MERCY NUSSEY

'HAWORTH, _October_ 25_th_, 1848.

'MY DEAR MISS NUSSEY,--Accept my sincere thanks for your kind letter.
The event to which you allude came upon us with startling suddenness,
and was a severe shock to us all. My poor brother has long had a
shaken constitution, and during the summer his appetite had been
diminished, and he had seemed weaker, but neither we, nor himself,
nor any medical man who was consulted on the case, thought it one of
immediate danger. He was out of doors two days before death, and was
only confined to bed one single day.

'I thank you for your kind sympathy. Many, under the circumstances,
would think our loss rather a relief than otherwise; in truth, we
must acknowledge, in all humility and gratitude, that God has greatly
tempered judgment with mercy. But yet, as you doubtless know from
experience, the last earthly separation cannot take place between
near relatives without the keenest pangs on the part of the
survivors. Every wrong and sin is forgotten then, pity and grief
share the heart and the memory between them. Yet we are not without
comfort in our affliction. A most propitious change marked the few
last days of poor Branwell's life: his demeanour, his language, his
sentiments were all singularly altered and softened. This change
could not be owing to the fear of death, for till within half-an-hour
of his decease he seemed unconscious of danger. In God's hands we
leave him: He sees not as man sees.

'Papa, I am thankful to say, has borne the event pretty well. His
distress was great at first--to lose an only son is no ordinary
trial, but his physical strength has not hitherto failed him, and he
has now in a great measure recovered his mental composure; my dear
sisters are pretty well also. Unfortunately, illness attacked me at
the crisis when strength was most needed. I bore up for a day or
two, hoping to be better, but got worse. Fever, sickness, total loss
of appetite, and internal pain were the symptoms. The doctor
pronounced it to be bilious fever, but I think it must have been in a
mitigated form; it yielded to medicine and care in a few days. I was
only confined to my bed a week, and am, I trust, nearly well now. I
felt it a grievous thing to be incapacitated from action and effort
at a time when action and effort were most called for. The past
month seems an overclouded period in my life.

'Give my best love to Mrs. Nussey and your sister, and--Believe me,
my dear Miss Nussey, yours sincerely,

'C. BRONTE.'

_My unhappy brother never knew what his sisters had done in
literature_--_he was not aware that they had ever published a line_.

Who that reads these words addressed to Mr. Williams can for a moment
imagine that Charlotte is speaking other than the truth? And yet we have
Mr. Grundy writing:

_Patrick Bronte declared to me that he wrote a great portion of_
'_Wuthering Heights_' _himself_.

And Mr. George Searle Phillips, {142} with more vivid imagination,
describes Branwell holding forth to his friends in the parlour of the
Black Bull at Haworth, upon the genius of his sisters, and upon the
respective merits of _Jane Eyre_ and other works. Mr. Leyland is even so
foolish as to compare Branwell's poetry with Emily's, to the advantage of
the former--which makes further comment impossible. 'My unhappy brother
never knew what his sisters had done in literature'--these words of
Charlotte's may be taken as final for all who had any doubts concerning
the authorship of _Wuthering Heights_.


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