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Charlotte Brontë and Her Circle by Clement King Shorter

Emily Bronte is the sphinx of our modern literature. She came into being
in the family of an obscure clergyman, and she went out of it at
twenty-nine years of age without leaving behind her one single
significant record which was any key to her character or to her mode of
thought, save only the one famous novel, _Wuthering Heights_, and a few
poems--some three or four of which will live in our poetic anthologies
for ever. And she made no single friend other than her sister Anne.
With Anne she must have corresponded during the two or three periods of
her life when she was separated from that much loved sister; and we may
be sure that the correspondence was of a singularly affectionate
character. Charlotte, who never came very near to her in thought or
sympathy, although she loved her younger sister so deeply, addressed her
in one letter 'mine own bonnie love'; and it is certain that her own
letters to her two sisters, and particularly to Anne, must have been
peculiarly tender and in no way lacking in abundant self-revelation.
When Emily and Anne had both gone to the grave, Charlotte, it is
probable, carefully destroyed every scrap of their correspondence, and,
indeed, of their literary effects; and thus it is that, apart from her
books and literary fragments, we know Emily only by two formal letters to
her sister's friend. Beyond these there is not one scrap of information
as to Emily's outlook upon life. In infancy she went with Charlotte to
Cowan Bridge, and was described by the governess as 'a pretty little
thing.' In girlhood she went to Miss Wooler's school at Roe Head; but
there, unlike Charlotte, she made no friends. She and Anne were
inseparable when at home, but of what they said to one another there is
no record. The sisters must have differed in many ways. Anne, gentle
and persuasive, grew up like Charlotte, devoted to the Christianity of
her father and mother, and entirely in harmony with all the conditions of
a parsonage. It is impossible to think that the author of 'The Old
Stoic' and 'Last Lines' was equally attached to the creeds of the
churches; but what Emily thought on religious subjects the world will
never know. Mrs. Gaskell put to Miss Nussey this very question: 'What
was Emily's religion?' But Emily was the last person in the world to
have spoken to the most friendly of visitors about so sacred a theme.
For a short time, as we know, Emily was in a school at Law Hill near
Halifax--a Miss Patchet's. {145a} She was, for a still longer period, at
the Heger Pensionnat at Brussels. Mrs. Gaskell's business was to write
the life of Charlotte Bronte and not of her sister Emily; and as a result
there is little enough of Emily in Mrs. Gaskell's book--no record of the
Halifax and Brussels life as seen through Emily's eyes. Time, however,
has brought its revenge. The cult which started with Mr. Sydney Dobell,
and found poetic expression in Mr. Matthew Arnold's fine lines on her,

'Whose soul
Knew no fellow for might,
Passion, vehemence, grief,
Daring, since Byron died,' {145b}

culminated in an enthusiastic eulogy by Mr. Swinburne, who placed her in
the very forefront of English women of genius.

We have said that Emily Bronte is a sphinx whose riddle no amount of
research will enable us to read; and this chapter, it may be admitted,
adds but little to the longed-for knowledge of an interesting
personality. One scrap of Emily's handwriting, of a personal character,
has indeed come to me--overlooked, I doubt not, by Charlotte when she
burnt her sister's effects. I have before me a little tin box about two
inches long, which one day last year Mr. Nicholls turned out from the
bottom of a desk. It is of a kind in which one might keep pins or beads,
certainly of no value whatever apart from its associations. Within were
four little pieces of paper neatly folded to the size of a sixpence.
These papers were covered with handwriting, two of them by Emily, and two
by Anne Bronte. They revealed a pleasant if eccentric arrangement on the
part of the sisters, which appears to have been settled upon even after
they had passed their twentieth year. They had agreed to write a kind of
reminiscence every four years, to be opened by Emily on her birthday.
The papers, however, tell their own story, and I give first the two which
were written in 1841. Emily writes at Haworth, and Anne from her
situation as governess to Mr. Robinson's children at Thorp Green. At
this time, at any rate, Emily was fairly happy and in excellent health;
and although it is five years from the publication of the volume of
poems, she is full of literary projects, as is also her sister Anne. The
_Gondaland Chronicles_, to which reference is made, must remain a mystery
for us. They were doubtless destroyed, with abundant other memorials of
Emily, by the heart-broken sister who survived her. We have plentiful
material in the way of childish effort by Charlotte and by Branwell, but
there is hardly a scrap in the early handwriting of Emily and Anne. This
chapter would have been more interesting if only one possessed _Solala
Vernon's Life_ by Anne Bronte, or the _Gondaland Chronicles_ by Emily!

[Picture: Facsimile of page of Emily Bronte's Diary]

_A PAPER to be opened_
_when Anne is_
25 _years old_,
_or my next birthday after_
_all be well_.

_Emily Jane Bronte_. _July the_ 30_th_, 1841.

_It is Friday evening_, _near 9 o'clock_--_wild rainy weather_. _I
am seated in the dining-room_, _having just concluded tidying our
desk boxes_, _writing this document_. _Papa is in the
parlour_--_aunt upstairs in her room_. _She has been reading
Blackwood's Magazine to papa_. _Victoria and Adelaide are ensconced
in the peat-house_. _Keeper is in the kitchen_--_Hero in his cage_.
_We are all stout and hearty_, _as I hope is the case with
Charlotte_, _Branwell_, _and Anne_, _of whom the first is at John
White_, _Esq._, _Upperwood House_, _Rawdon_; _the second is at
Luddenden Foot_; _and the third is_, _I believe_, _at Scarborough_,
_enditing perhaps a paper corresponding to this_.
_A scheme is at present in agitation for setting us up in a school of
our own_; _as yet nothing is determined_, _but I hope and trust it
may go on and prosper and answer our highest expectations_. _This
day four years I wonder whether we shall still be dragging on in our
present condition or established to our hearts' content_. _Time will

_I guess that at the time appointed for the opening of this paper
we_, i.e. _Charlotte_, _Anne_, _and I_, _shall be all merrily seated
in our own sitting-room in some pleasant and flourishing seminary_,
_having just gathered in for the midsummer ladyday_. _Our debts will
be paid off_, _and we shall have cash in hand to a considerable
amount_. _Papa_, _aunt_, _and Branwell will either_ _have been or be
coming to visit us_. _It will be a fine warm_, _summer evening_,
_very different from this bleak look-out_, _and Anne and I will
perchance slip out into the garden for a few minutes to peruse our
papers_. _I hope either this or something better will be the case_.

_The_ Gondaliand _are at present in a threatening state_, _but there
is no open rupture as yet_. _All the princes and princesses of the
Royalty are at the Palace of Instruction_. _I have a good many books
on hand_, _but I am sorry to say that as usual I make small progress
with any_. _However_, _I have just made a new regularity paper_!
_and I must verb sap to do great things_. _And now I close_,
_sending from far an exhortation of courage_, _boys_! _courage_, _to
exiled and harassed Anne_, _wishing she was here_.

Anne, as I have said, writes from Thorp Green.

_July the_ 30_th_, A.D. 1841.

_This is Emily's birthday_. _She has now completed her_ 23_rd_
_year_, _and is_, _I believe_, _at home_. _Charlotte is a governess
in the family of Mr. White_. _Branwell is a clerk in the railroad
station at Luddenden Foot_, _and I am a governess in the family of
Mr. Robinson_. _I dislike the situation and wish to change it for
another_. _I am now at Scarborough_. _My pupils are gone to bed and
I am hastening to finish this before I follow them_.

_We are thinking of setting up a school of our own_, _but nothing
definite is settled about it yet_, _and we do not know whether we
shall be able to or not_. _I hope we shall_. _And I wonder what
will be our condition and how or where we shall all be on this day
four years hence_; _at which time_, _all be well_, _I shall be_ 25
_years and_ 6 _months old_, _Emily will be_ 27 _years old_,
_Branwell_ 28 _years and_ 1 _month_, _and Charlotte_ 29 _years and a
quarter_. _We are now all separate and not likely to meet again for
many a weary week_, _but we are none of us ill_ _that I know of and
all are doing something for our own livelihood except Emily_, _who_,
_however_, _is as busy as any of us_, _and in reality earns her food
and raiment as much as we do_.

How little know we what we are_
_How less what we may be_!

_Four years ago I was at school_. _Since then I have been a
governess at Blake Hall_, _left it_, _come to Thorp Green_, _and seen
the sea and York Minster_. _Emily has been a teacher at Miss
Patchet's school_, _and left it_. _Charlotte has left Miss
Wooler's_, _been a governess at Mrs. Sidgwick's_, _left her_, _and
gone to Mrs. White's_. _Branwell has given up painting_, _been a
tutor in Cumberland_, _left it_, _and become a clerk on the
railroad_. _Tabby has left us_, _Martha Brown has come in her
place_. _We have got Keeper_, _got a sweet little cat and lost it_,
_and also got a hawk_. _Got a wild goose which has flown away_, _and
three tame ones_, _one of which has been killed_. _All these
diversities_, _with many others_, _are things we did not expect or
foresee in the July of_ 1837. _What will the next four years bring
forth_? _Providence only knows_. _But we ourselves have sustained
very little alteration since that time_. _I have the same faults
that I had then_, _only I have more wisdom and experience_, _and a
little more self-possession than I then enjoyed_. _How will it be
when we open this paper and the one Emily has written_? _I wonder
whether the Gondaliand will still be flourishing_, _and what will be
their condition_. _I am now engaged in writing the fourth volume of
Solala Vernon's Life_.

_For some time I have looked upon_ 25 _as a sort of era in my
existence_. _It may prove a true presentiment_, _or it may be only a
superstitious fancy_; _the latter seems most likely_, _but time will

_Anne Bronte_.

Let us next take up the other two little scraps of paper. They are dated
July the 30th, 1845, or Emily's twenty-seventh birthday. Many things
have happened, as she says. She has been to Brussels, and she has
settled definitely at home again. They are still keenly interested in
literature, and we still hear of the Gondals. There is wonderfully
little difference in the tone or spirit of the journals. The concluding
'best wishes for this whole house till July the 30th, 1848, and as much
longer as may be,' contain no premonition of coming disaster. Yet July
1848 was to find Branwell Bronte on the verge of the grave, and Emily on
her deathbed. She died on the 14th of December of that year.

_Haworth_, _Thursday_, _July_ 30_th_, 1845.

_My birthday_--_showery_, _breezy_, _cool_. _I am twenty-seven years
old to-day_. _This morning Anne and I opened the papers we wrote
four years since_, _on my twenty-third birthday_. _This paper we
intend_, _if all be well_, _to open on my thirtieth_--_three years
hence_, _in_ 1848. _Since the_ 1841 _paper the following events have
taken place_. _Our school scheme has been abandoned_, _and instead
Charlotte and I went to Brussels on the_ 8_th_ _of February_ 1842.
_Branwell left his place at Luddenden Foot_. _C. and I returned from
Brussels_, _November_ 8_th_ 1842, _in consequence of aunt's death_.

_Branwell went to Thorp Green as a tutor_, _where Anne still
continued_, _January_ 1843.

_Charlotte returned to Brussels the same month_, _and_, _after
staying a year_, _came back again on New Year's Day_ 1844.

_Anne left her situation at Thorp Green of her own accord_, _June_

_Anne and I went our first long journey by ourselves together_,
_leaving home on the_ 30_th_ _of June_, _Monday_, _sleeping at York_,
_returning to Keighley Tuesday evening_, _sleeping there and walking
home on Wednesday morning_. _Though the weather was broken we
enjoyed ourselves very much_, _except during a few hours at
Bradford_. _And during our_ _excursion we were_, _Ronald Macalgin_,
_Henry Angora_, _Juliet Augusteena_, _Rosabella Esmaldan_, _Ella and
Julian Egremont_, _Catharine Navarre_, _and Cordelia Fitzaphnold_,
_escaping from the palaces of instruction to join the Royalists who
are hard driven at present by the victorious Republicans_. _The
Gondals still flourish bright as ever_. _I am at present writing a
work on the First War_. _Anne has been writing some articles on
this_, _and a book by Henry Sophona_. _We intend sticking firm by
the rascals as long as they delight us_, _which I am glad to say they
do at present_. _I should have mentioned that last summer the school
scheme was revived in full vigour_. _We had prospectuses printed_,
_despatched letters to all acquaintances imparting our plans_, _and
did our little all_; _but it was found no go_. _Now I don't desire a
school at all_, _and none of us have any great longing for it_. _We
have cash enough for our present wants_, _with a prospect of
accumulation_. _We are all in decent health_, _only that papa has a
complaint in his eyes_, _and with the exception of B._, _who_, _I
hope_, _will be better and do better hereafter_. _I am quite
contented for myself_: _not as idle as formerly_, _altogether as
hearty_, _and having learnt to make the most of the present and long
for the future with the fidgetiness that I cannot do all I wish_;
_seldom or ever troubled with nothing to do_, _and merely desiring
that everybody could be as comfortable as myself and as
undesponding_, _and then we should have a very tolerable world of

_By mistake I find we have opened the paper on the_ 31_st_ _instead
of the_ 30_th_. _Yesterday was much such a day as this_, _but the
morning was divine_.

_Tabby_, _who was gone in our last paper_, _is come back_, _and has
lived with us two years and a half_; _and is in good health_.
_Martha_, _who also departed_, _is here too_. _We have got Flossy_;
_got and lost Tiger_; _lost the hawk Hero_, _which_, _with the
geese_, _was given away_, _and is doubtless dead_, _for when I came
back from Brussels I inquired on all hands and could_ _hear nothing
of him_. _Tiger died early last year_. _Keeper and Flossy are
well_, _also the canary acquired four years since_. _We are now all
at home_, _and likely to be there some time_. _Branwell went to
Liverpool on Tuesday to stay a week_. _Tabby has just been teasing
me to turn as formerly to_ '_Pilloputate_.' _Anne and I should have
picked the black currants if it had been fine and sunshiny_. _I must
hurry off now to my turning and ironing_. _I have plenty of work on
hands_, _and writing_, _and am altogether full of business_. _With
best wishes for the whole house till_ 1848, _July_ 30_th_, _and as
much longer as may be_,--_I conclude_.
_Emily Bronte_.

Finally, I give Anne's last fragment, concerning which silence is
essential. Interpretation of most of the references would be mere

_Thursday_, _July the_ 31_st_, 1845. _Yesterday was Emily's
birthday_, _and the time when we should have opened our_ 1845
_paper_, _but by mistake we opened it to-day instead_. _How many
things have happened since it was written_--_some pleasant_, _some
far otherwise_. _Yet I was then at Thorp Green_, _and now I am only
just escaped from it_. _I was wishing to leave it then_, _and if I
had known that I had four years longer to stay how wretched I should
have been_; _but during my stay I have had some very unpleasant and
undreamt-of experience of human nature_. _Others have seen more
changes_. _Charlotte has left Mr. White's and been twice to
Brussels_, _where she stayed each time nearly a year_. _Emily has
been there too_, _and stayed nearly a year_. _Branwell has left
Luddenden Foot_, _and been a tutor at Thorp Green_, _and had much
tribulation and ill health_. _He was very ill on Thursday_, _but he
went with John Brown to Liverpool_, _where he now is_, _I suppose_;
_and we hope he will be better and do better in future_. _This is a
dismal_, _cloudy_, _wet evening_. _We have had so far a very cold
wet summer_. _Charlotte has lately been to Hathersage_, _in_
_Derbyshire_, _on a visit of three weeks to Ellen Nussey_. _She is
now sitting sewing in the dining-room_. _Emily is ironing upstairs_.
_I am sitting in the dining-room in the rocking-chair before the fire
with my feet on the fender_. _Papa is in the parlour_. _Tabby and
Martha are_, _I think_, _in the kitchen_. _Keeper and Flossy are_,
_I do not know where_. _Little Dick is hopping in his cage_. _When
the last paper was written we were thinking of setting up a school_.
_The scheme has been dropt_, _and long after taken up again and dropt
again because we could not get pupils_. _Charlotte is thinking about
getting another situation_. _She wishes to go to Paris_. _Will she
go_? _She has let Flossy in_, _by-the-by_, _and he is now lying on
the sofa_. _Emily is engaged in writing the Emperor Julius's life_.
_She has read some of it_, _and I want very much to hear the rest_.
_She is writing some poetry_, _too_. _I wonder what it is about_?
_I have begun the third volume of Passages in the Life of an
Individual_. _I wish I had finished it_. _This afternoon I began to
set about making my grey figured silk frock that was dyed at
Keighley_. _What sort of a hand shall I make of it_? _E. and I have
a great deal of work to do_. _When shall we sensibly diminish it_?
_I want to get a habit of early rising_. _Shall I succeed_? _We
have not yet finished our Gondal Chronicles that we began three years
and a half ago_. _When will they be done_? _The Gondals are at
present in a sad state_. _The Republicans are uppermost_, _but the
Royalists are not quite overcome_. _The young sovereigns_, _with
their brothers and sisters_, _are still at the Palace of
Instruction_. _The Unique Society_, _above half a year ago_, _were
wrecked on a desert island as they were returning from Gaul_. _They
are still there_, _but we have not played at them much yet_. _The
Gondals in general are not in first-rate playing condition_. _Will
they improve_? _I wonder how we shall all be and where and how
situated on the thirtieth of July_ 1848, _when_, _if we are all
alive_, _Emily will be just_ 30. _I shall_ _be in my_ 29th _year_,
_Charlotte in her_ 33rd, _and Branwell in his_ 32nd; _and what
changes shall we have seen and known_; _and shall we be much changed
ourselves_? _I hope not_, _for the worse at least_. _I for my part
cannot well be flatter or older in mind than I am now_. _Hoping for
the best_, _I conclude_.

_Anne Bronte_.

Exactly fifty years were to elapse before these pieces of writing saw the
light. The interest which must always centre in Emily Bronte amply
justifies my publishing a fragment in facsimile; and it has the greater
moment on account of the rough drawing which Emily has made of herself
and of her dog Keeper. Emily's taste for drawing is a pathetic element
in her always pathetic life. I have seen a number of her sketches.
There is one in the possession of Mr. Nicholls of Keeper and Flossy, the
former the bull-dog which followed her to the grave, the latter a little
King Charlie which one of the Miss Robinsons gave to Anne. The sketch,
however, like most of Emily's drawings, is technically full of errors.
She was not a born artist, and possibly she had not the best
opportunities of becoming one by hard work. Another drawing before me is
of the hawk mentioned in the above fragment; and yet another is of the
dog Growler, a predecessor of Keeper, which is not, however, mentioned in
the correspondence. Upon Emily Bronte, the poet, I do not propose to
write here. She left behind her, and Charlotte preserved, a manuscript
volume containing the whole of the poems in the two collections of her
verse, and there are other poems not yet published. Here, for example,
are some verses in which the Gondals make a slight reappearance.

[Picture: Facsimile of two pages of Emily Bronte's Diary]

'_May_ 21_st_, 1838.


'Tell me, whether is it winter?
Say how long my sleep has been.
Have the woods I left so lovely
Lost their robes of tender green?

'Is the morning slow in coming?
Is the night time loth to go?
Tell me, are the dreary mountains
Drearier still with drifted snow?

'"Captive, since thou sawest the forest,
All its leaves have died away,
And another March has woven
Garlands for another May.

'"Ice has barred the Arctic waters;
Soft Southern winds have set it free;
And once more to deep green valley
Golden flowers might welcome thee."

'Watcher in this lonely prison,
Shut from joy and kindly air,
Heaven descending in a vision
Taught my soul to do and bear.
'It was night, a night of winter,
I lay on the dungeon floor,
And all other sounds were silent--
All, except the river's roar.

'Over Death and Desolation,
Fireless hearths, and lifeless homes;
Over orphans' heartsick sorrows,
Patriot fathers' bloody tombs;

'Over friends, that my arms never
Might embrace in love again;
Memory ponderous until madness
Struck its poniard in my brain.

'Deepest slumbers followed raving,
Yet, methought, I brooded still;
Still I saw my country bleeding,
Dying for a Tyrant's will.

'Not because my bliss was blasted,
Burned within the avenging flame;
Not because my scattered kindred
Died in woe or lived in shame.

'God doth know I would have given
Every bosom dear to me,
Could that sacrifice have purchased
Tortured Gondal's liberty!

'But that at Ambition's bidding
All her cherished hopes should wane,
That her noblest sons should muster,
Strive and fight and fall in vain.

'Hut and castle, hall and cottage,
Roofless, crumbling to the ground,
Mighty Heaven, a glad Avenger
Thy eternal Justice found.

'Yes, the arm that once would shudder
Even to grieve a wounded deer,
I beheld it, unrelenting,
Clothe in blood its sovereign's prayer.

'Glorious Dream! I saw the city
Blazing in Imperial shine,
And among adoring thousands
Stood a man of form divine.
'None need point the princely victim--
Now he smiles with royal pride!
Now his glance is bright as lightning,
Now the knife is in his side!

'Ah! I saw how death could darken,
Darken that triumphant eye!
His red heart's blood drenched my dagger;
My ear drank his dying sigh!

'Shadows come! what means this midnight?
O my God, I know it all!
Know the fever dream is over,
Unavenged, the Avengers fall!'

There are, indeed, a few fragments, all written in that tiny handwriting
which the girls affected, and bearing various dates from 1833 to 1840. A
new edition of Emily's poems, will, by virtue of these verses, have a
singular interest for her admirers. With all her gifts as a poet,
however, it is by _Wuthering Heights_ that Emily Bronte is best known to
the world; and the weirdness and force of that book suggest an inquiry
concerning the influences which produced it. Dr. Wright, in his
entertaining book, _The Brontes in Ireland_, recounts the story of
Patrick Bronte's origin, and insists that it was in listening to her
father's anecdotes of his own Irish experiences that Emily obtained the
weird material of _Wuthering Heights_. It is not, of course, enough to
point out that Dr. Wright's story of the Irish Brontes is full of
contradictions. A number of tales picked up at random from an illiterate
peasantry might very well abound in inconsistencies, and yet contain some
measure of truth. But nothing in Dr. Wright's narrative is confirmed,
save only the fact that Patrick Bronte continued throughout his life in
some slight measure of correspondence with his brothers and sisters--a
fact rendered sufficiently evident by a perusal of his will. Dr. Wright
tells of many visits to Ireland in order to trace the Bronte traditions
to their source; and yet he had not--in his first edition--marked the
elementary fact that the registry of births in County Down records the
existence of innumerable Bruntys and of not a single Bronte. Dr. Wright
probably made his inquiries with the stories of Emily and Charlotte well
in mind. He sought for similar traditions, and the quick-witted Irish
peasantry gave him all that he wanted. They served up and embellished
the current traditions of the neighbourhood for his benefit, as the
peasantry do everywhere for folklore enthusiasts. Charlotte Bronte's
uncle Hugh, we are told, read the _Quarterly Review_ article upon _Jane
Eyre_, and, armed with a shillelagh, came to England, in order to wreak
vengeance upon the writer of the bitter attack. He landed at Liverpool,
walked from Liverpool to Haworth, saw his nieces, who 'gathered round
him,' and listened to his account of his mission. He then went to London
and made abundant inquiries--but why pursue this ludicrous story further?
In the first place, the _Quarterly Review_ article was published in
December 1848--after Emily was dead, and while Anne was dying. Very soon
after the review appeared Charlotte was informed of its authorship, and
references to Miss Rigby and the _Quarterly_ are found more than once in
her correspondence with Mr. Williams. {158}

This is a lengthy digression from the story of Emily's life, but it is of
moment to discover whether there is any evidence of influences other than
those which her Yorkshire home afforded. I have discussed the matter
with Miss Ellen Nussey, and with Mr. Nicholls. Miss Nussey never, in all
her visits to Haworth, heard a single reference to the Irish legends
related by Dr. Wright, and firmly believes them to be mythical. Mr.
Nicholls, during the six years that he lived alone at the parsonage with
his father-in-law, never heard one single word from Mr. Bronte--who was
by no means disposed to reticence--about these stories, and is also of
opinion that they are purely legendary.

It has been suggested that Emily would have been guilty almost of a crime
to have based the more sordid part of her narrative upon her brother's
transgressions. This is sheer nonsense. She wrote _Wuthering Heights_
because she was impelled thereto, and the book, with all its morbid force
and fire, will remain, for all time, as a monument of the most striking
genius that nineteenth century womanhood has given us. It was partly her
life in Yorkshire--the local colour was mainly derived from her brief
experience as a governess at Halifax--but it was partly, also, the German
fiction which she had devoured during the Brussels period, that inspired
_Wuthering Heights_.

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