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The Life of Charlotte Brontë
Publication of the Poems of Currer, Ellis, and Acton Bell - Letter to Miss Wooler - Preparation for publishing the sisters' first fictions - Letter of advice to a young friend
Mr. Brontë afflicted with blindness, and relieved by a successful operation for cataract - Charlotte Brontë's first work of fiction, The Professor - She commences Jane Eyre - Circumstances attending its composition - Her ideas of a heroine - Her attachment to home - Haworth in December - A letter of confession and counsel
State of Charlotte Brontë's health at the commencement of 1847 - Family trials - Wuthering Heights and Agnes Grey accepted by a publisher - The Professor rejected - Completion of Jane Eyre, its reception and publication - The reviews of Jane Eyre, and the author's comments on them - Her father's reception of the book - Public interest excited by Jane Eyre - Dedication of the second edition to Mr. Thackeray - Correspondence of Currer Bell with Mr. Lewes on Jane Eyre - Publication of Wuthering Heights and Agnes Grey - Miss Brontë's account of the authoress of Wuthering Heights - Domestic anxieties of the Brontë sisters - Currer Bell's correspondence with Mr. Lewes - Unhealthy state of Haworth - Charlotte Brontë on the revolutions of 1848 - Her repudiation of authorship - Anne Brontë's second tale, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall - Misunderstanding as to the individuality of the three Bells, and its results - Currer and Acton Bell visit London - Charlotte Brontë's account of her visit - The Chapter Coffee House - The Clergy Daughters' School at Casterton - Death of Branwell Brontë - Illness and death of Emily Brontë
The Quarterly Review on Jane Eyre-Severe illness of Anne Brontë - "Her last verses - She is removed to Scarborough-Her last hours, and death and burial there-Charlotte's return to Haworth, and her loneliness
Commencement and completion of Shirley - Originals of the characters, and circumstances under which it was written - Loss on railway shares - Letters to Mr. Lewes and other friends on Shirley, and the reviews of it - Miss Brontë visits London, meets Mr. Thackeray, and makes the acquaintance of Miss Martineau - Her impressions of literary men
Currer Bell" identified as Miss Brontë at Haworth and the vicinity - Her letter to Mr. Lewes on his review of Shirley - Solitude and heavy mental sadness and anxiety - She visits Sir J. and Lady Kay Shuttleworth - Her comments on critics, and remarks on Thackeray's Pendennis and Scott's Suggestions on Female Education - Opinions of Shirley by Yorkshire readers
An unhealthy spring at Haworth - Miss Brontë's proposed visit to London - Her remarks on The Leader - Associations of her walks on the moors - Letter to an unknown admirer of her works - Incidents of her visit to London - Her impressions of a visit to Scotland - Her portrait, by Richmond - Anxiety about her father
Visit to Sir J. and Lady Kay Shuttleworth - The biographer's impressions of Miss Brontë - Miss Brontë's account of her visit to the Lakes of Westmoreland - Her disinclination for acquaintance and visiting - Remarks on Woman's Mission, Tennyson's In Memoriam, etc. - Impressions of her visit to Scotland - Remarks on a review in the Palladium .
Intended republication of Wuthering Heights and Agnes Grey - Reaction after her visit to Scotland - Her first meeting with Mr. Lewes - Her opinion of Balzac and George Sand - A characteristic incident - Account of a friendly visit to Haworth Parsonage - Remarks on The Roman, by Sydney Dobell, and on the character of Dr. Arnold - Letter to Mr. Dobell
Miss Brontë's visit to Miss Martineau, and estimate of her hostess - Remarks on Mr. Ruskin's Stones of Venice - Preparations for another visit to London - Letter to Mr. Sydney Dobell: the moors in autumn - Mr. Thackeray's second lecture at Willis's Rooms, and sensation produced by Currer Bell's appearance there - Her account of her visit to London - She breakfasts with Mr. Rogers, visits the Great Exhibition, and sees Lord Westminster's pictures - Return to Haworth and letter thence - Her comment on Mr. Thackeray's Lecture - Counsel on development of character
Remarks on friendship - Letter to Mrs. Gaskell on her and Miss Martineau's views of the Great Exhibition and Mr. Thackeray's lecture, and on the Saint's Tragedy - Miss Brontë's feelings towards children - Her comments on Mr. J. S. Mill's article on the Emancipation of Women - More illness at Haworth Parsonage - Letter on Emigration - Periodical returns of illness - Miss Wooler visits Haworth - Miss Brontë's impressions of her visit to London - Her account of the progress of Villette - Her increasing illness and sufferings during winter - Her letter on Mr. Thackeray's Esmond - Revival of sorrows and accessions of low spirits - Remarks on some recent books - Retrospect of the winter of 1851-2 - Letter to Mrs. Gaskell on Ruth
Miss Brontë revisits Scarborough - Serious illness and ultimate convalescence of her father - Her own illness - Villette nearly completed - Further remarks on Esmond and Uncle Tom's Cabin - Letter respecting Villette - Another letter about Villette - Instance of extreme sensibility
The biographer's difficulty - Deep and enduring attachment of Mr. Nicholls for Miss Brontë - Instance of her self-abnegation - She again visits London - Impressions of this visit - Letter to Mrs. Gaskell - Reception of the critiques on Villette - Misunderstanding with Miss Martineau - Letter on Mr. Thackeray's portrait - Visit of the Bishop of Ripon to Haworth Parsonage - Her wish to see the unfavourable critiques on her works - Her nervous shyness of strangers, and its cause - Letter on Mr. Thackeray's lectures
Letter to Mrs. Gaskell on writing fiction, etc. - The biographer's account of her visit to Haworth, and reminiscences of conversations with Miss Brontë - Letters from Miss Brontë to her friends - Her engagement to Mr. Nicholls, and preparations for the marriage - The marriage ceremony and wedding tour - Her happiness in the married state - New symptoms of illness, and their cause - The two last letters written by Mrs. Nicholls - An alarming change - Her death
Mourners at the funeral - Conclusion
Immediately after the republication of her sisters' book she went to Miss Martineau's.
"I can write to you now, dear E----, for I am away from home) and relieved, temporarily, at least, by change of air and scene, from the heavy burden of depression which, I confess, has for nearly three months been sinking me to the earth. I never shall forget last autumn! Some days and nights have been cruel; but now, having once told you this, I need say no more on the subject. My loathing of solitude grew extreme; my recollection of my sisters intolerably poignant. I am better now. I am at Miss Martineau's for a week. Her house is very pleasant, both within and without; arranged at all points with admirable neatness and comfort. Her visitors enjoy the most perfect liberty; what she claims for herself she allows them. I rise at my own hour, breakfast alone (she is up at five, takes a cold bath, and a walk by starlight, and has finished breakfast and got to her work by seven o'clock). I pass the morning in the drawing-room - she, in her study. At two o'clock we meet - work, talk, and walk together till five, her dinner-hour, spend the evening together, when she converses fluently and abundantly, and with the most complete frankness. I go to my own room soon after ten, - she sits up writing letters till twelve. She appears exhaustless in strength and spirits, and indefatigable in the faculty of labour. She is a great and a good woman; of course not without peculiarities, but I have seen none as yet that annoy me. She is both hard and warm-hearted, abrupt and affectionate, liberal and despotic. I believe she is not at all conscious of her own absolutism. When I tell her of it, she denies the charge warmly; then I laugh at her. I believe she almost rules Ambleside. Some of the gentry dislike her, but the lower orders have a great regard for her. . . . I thought I should like to spend two or three days with you before going home, so, if it is not inconvenient to you, I will (D. V.) come on Monday and stay till Thursday. . . . I have truly enjoyed my visit here. I have seen a good many people, and all have been so marvellously kind; not the least so, the family of Dr. Arnold. Miss Martineau I relish inexpressibly."
Miss Brontë paid the visit she here proposes to her friend, but only remained two or three days. She then returned home, and immediately began to suffer from her old enemy, sickly and depressing headache.
This was all the more trying to bear, as she was obliged to take an active share in the household work, - one servant being ill in bed, and the other, Tabby, aged upwards of eighty.This visit to Ambleside did Miss Brontë much good, and gave her a stock of pleasant recollections, and fresh interests, to dwell upon in her solitary life. There are many references in her letters to Miss Martineau's character and kindness.
"She is certainly a woman of wonderful endowments, both intellectual and physical; and though I share few of her opinions, and regard her as fallible on certain points of judgment, I must still award her my sincerest esteem. The manner in which she combines the highest mental culture with the nicest discharge of feminine duties filled me with admiration; while her affectionate kindness earned my gratitude." "I think her good and noble qualities far outweigh her defects. It is my habit to consider the individual apart from his (or her) reputation, practice independent of theory, natural disposition isolated from acquired opinions. Harriet Martineau's person, practice, and character, inspire me with the truest affection and respect." "You ask me whether Miss Martineau made me a convert to mesmerism? Scarcely; yet I heard miracles of its efficacy, and could hardly discredit the whole of what was told me. I even underwent a personal experiment; and though the result was not absolutely clear, it was inferred that in time I should prove an excellent subject. The question of mesmerism will be discussed with little reserve, I believe, in a forthcoming work of Miss Martineau's; and I have some painful anticipations of the manner in which other subjects, offering less legitimate ground for speculation, will be handled."
"Your last letter evinced such a sincere and discriminating admiration for Dr. Arnold, that perhaps you will not be wholly uninterested in hearing that, during my late visit to Miss Martineau, I saw much more of Fox How and its inmates, and daily admired, in the widow and children of one of the greatest and best men of his time, the possession of qualities the most estimable and endearing. Of my kind hostess herself, I cannot speak in terms too high. Without being able to share all her opinions, philosophical, political, or religious, - without adopting her theories, - I yet find a worth and greatness in herself, and a consistency, benevolence, perseverance in her practice, such as wins the sincerest esteem and affection. She is not a person to be judged by her writings alone, but rather by her own deeds and life, than which nothing can be more exemplary or nobler. She seems to me the benefactress of Ambleside, yet takes no sort of credit to herself for her active and indefatigable philanthropy. The government of her household is admirably administered: all she does is well done, from the writing of a history down to the quietest female occupation. No sort of carelessness or neglect is allowed under her rule, and yet she is not over-strict, nor too rigidly exacting: her servants and her poor neighbours love as well as respect her.
"I must not, however, fall into the error of talking too much about her merely because my own mind is just now deeply impressed with what I have seen of her intellectual power and moral worth. Faults she has; but to me they appear very trivial weighed in the balance against her excellences."
"Your account of Mr. A---- tallies exactly with Miss M----'s. She, too, said that placidity and mildness (rather than originality and power) were his external characteristics. She described him as a combination of the antique Greek sage with the European modern man of science. Perhaps it was mere perversity in me to get the notion that torpid veins, and a cold, slow-beating heart, lay under his marble outside. But he is a materialist: he serenely denies us our hope of immortality, and quietly blots from man's future Heaven and the Life to come. That is why a savour of bitterness seasoned my feeling towards him.
"All you say of Mr. Thackeray is most graphic and characteristic. He stirs in me both sorrow and anger. Why should he lead so harassing a life? Why should his mocking tongue so perversely deny the better feelings of his better moods?"
For some time, whenever she was well enough in health and spirits, she had been employing herself upon Villette; but she was frequently unable to write, and was both grieved and angry with herself for her inability. In February, she writes as follows to Mr. Smith: -
"Something you say about going to London; but the words are dreamy, and fortunately I am not obliged to hear or answer them. London and summer are many months away: our moors are all white with snow just now, and little redbreasts come every morning to the window for crumbs. One can lay no plans three or four months beforehand. Besides, I don't deserve to go to London; nobody merits a change or a treat less. I secretly think, on the contrary, I ought to be put in prison, and kept on bread and water in solitary confinement - without even a letter from Cornhill - till I had written a book. One of two things would certainly result from such a mode of treatment pursued for twelve months; either I should come out at the end of that time with a three-volume MS. in my hand, or else with a condition of intellect that would exempt me ever after from literary efforts and expectations."
Meanwhile, she was disturbed and distressed by the publication of Miss Martineau's Letters, etc.; they came down with a peculiar force and heaviness upon a heart that looked, with fond and earnest faith, to a future life as to the meeting-place with those who were "loved and lost awhile."
"Feb. 11th, 1851,
"MY DEAR SIR, - Have you yet read Miss Martineau's and Mr. Atkinson's new work, Letters on the Nature and Development of Man? If you have not, it would be worth your while to do so.
"Of the impression this book has made on me, I will not now say much. It is the first exposition of avowed atheism and materialism I have ever read; the first unequivocal declaration of disbelief in the existence of a God or a future life I have ever seen. In judging of such exposition and declaration, one would wish entirely to put aside the sort of instinctive horror they awaken, and to consider them in an impartial spirit and collected mood. This I find it difficult to do. The strangest thing is, that we are called on to rejoice over this hopeless blank - to receive this bitter bereavement as great gain - to welcome this unutterable desolation as a state of pleasant freedom. Who could do this if he would? Who would do it if he could?
"Sincerely, for my own part, do I wish to find and know the Truth; but if this be Truth, well may she guard herself with mysteries, and cover herself with a veil. If this be Truth, man or woman who beholds her can but curse the day he or she was born. I said, however, I would not dwell on what I thought; I wish to hear, rather, what some other person thinks, - some one whose feelings are unapt to bias his judgment. Read the book, then, in an unprejudiced spirit, and candidly say what you think of it. I mean, of course, if you have time - not otherwise."
And yet she could not bear the contemptuous tone in which this work was spoken of by many critics; it made her more indignant than almost any other circumstance during my acquaintance with her. Much as she regretted the publication of the book, she could not see that it had given any one a right to sneer at an action, certainly prompted by no worldly motive, and which was but one error - the gravity of which she admitted - in the conduct of a person who had, all her life long, been striving, by deep thought and noble words, to serve her kind.
"Your remarks on Miss Martineau and her book pleased me greatly, from their tone and spirit. I have even taken the liberty of transcribing for her benefit one or two phrases, because I know they will cheer her; she likes sympathy and appreciation (as all people do who deserve them); and most fully do I agree with you in the dislike you express of that hard, contemptuous tone in which her work is spoken of by many critics.
Before I return from the literary opinions of the author to the domestic interests of the woman, I must copy out what she felt and thought about The Stones of Venice.
"The Stones of Venice seem nobly laid and chiselled. How grandly the quarry of vast marbles is disclosed! Mr. Ruskin seems to me one of the few genuine writers, as distinguished from book-makers, of this age. His earnestness even amuses me in certain passages; for I cannot help laughing to think how utilitarians will fume and fret over his deep, serious (and as they will think), fanatical reverence for Art. That pure and severe mind you ascribed to him speaks in every line. He writes like a consecrated Priest of the Abstract and Ideal.
"I shall bring with me The Stones of Venice; all the foundations of marble and of granite, together with the mighty quarry out of which they were hewn; and, into the bargain, a small assortment of crotchets and dicta - the private property of one John Ruskin, Esq."
As spring drew on, the depression of spirits to which she was subject began to grasp her again, and "to crush her with a day- and night-mare." She became afraid of sinking as low as she had done in the autumn; and to avoid this, she prevailed on her old friend and schoolfellow to come and stay with her for a few weeks in March. She found great benefit from this companionship, - both from the congenial society in itself, and from the self-restraint of thought imposed by the necessity of entertaining her and looking after her comfort. On this occasion, Miss Brontë said, "It will not do to get into the habit of running away from home, and thus temporarily evading an oppression instead of facing, wrestling with and conquering it or being conquered by it."
I shall now make an extract from one of her letters, which is purposely displaced as to time. I quote it because it relates to a third offer of marriage which she had, and because I find that some are apt to imagine, from the extraordinary power with which she represented the passion of love in her novels, that she herself was easily susceptible of it.
"Could I ever feel enough for ----, to accept of him as a husband? Friendship - gratitude - esteem - I have; but each moment he came near me, and that I could see his eyes fastened on me, my veins ran ice. Now that he is away, I feel far more gently towards him, it is only close by that I grow rigid, stiffening with a strange mixture of apprehension and anger, which nothing softens but his retreat, and a perfect subduing of his manner. I did not want to be proud, nor intend to be proud, but I was forced to be so. Most true it is, that we are over-ruled by One above us; that in His hands our very will is as clay in the hands of the potter."
I have now named all the offers of marriage she ever received, until that was made which she finally accepted. The gentle-man referred to in this letter retained so much regard for her as to be her friend to the end of her life; a circumstance to his credit and to hers.
Before her friend E---- took her departure, Mr. Brontë caught cold, and continued for some weeks much out of health, with an attack of bronchitis. His spirits, too, became much depressed; and all his daughter's efforts were directed towards cheering him.
When he grew better, and had regained his previous strength, she resolved to avail herself of an invitation which she had received some time before, to pay a visit in London. This year, 1851, was, as every one remembers, the time of the great Exhibition; but even with that attraction in prospect, she did not intend to stay there long; and, as usual, she made an agreement with her friends, before finally accepting their offered hospitality, that her sojourn at their house was to be as quiet as ever, since any other way of proceeding disagreed with her both mentally and physically. She never looked excited except for a moment, when something in conversation called her out; but she often felt so, even about comparative trifles, and the exhaustion of reaction was sure to follow. Under such circumstances, she always became extremely thin and haggard; yet she averred that the change invariably did her good afterwards.
Her preparations in the way of dress for this visit, in the gay time of that gay season, were singularly in accordance with her feminine taste; quietly anxious to satisfy her love for modest, dainty, neat attire, and not regardless of the becoming, yet remembering consistency, both with her general appearance and with her means, in every selection she made.
"By the bye, I meant to ask you when you went to Leeds, to do a small errand for me, but fear your hands will be too full of business. It was merely this: in case you chanced to be in any shop where the lace cloaks, both black and white, of which I spoke, were sold, to ask their price. I suppose they would hardly like to send a few to Haworth to be looked at; indeed, if they cost very much, it would be useless, but if they are reasonable and they would send them, I should like to see them; and also some chemisettes of small size (the full woman's size don't fit me), both of simple style for every day and good quality for best." "It appears I could not rest satisfied when I was well off. I told you I had taken one of the black lace mantles, but when I came to try it with the black satin dress, with which I should chiefly want to wear it, I found the effect was far from good; the beauty of the lace was lost, and it looked somewhat brown and rusty; I wrote to Mr. ----, requesting him to change it for a white mantle of the same price; he was extremely courteous, and sent to London for one, which I have got this morning. The price is less, being but Ž¼Ž¥1 14s.; it is pretty, neat and light, looks well on black; and upon reasoning the matter over, I came to the philosophic conclusion, that it would be no shame for a person of my means to wear a cheaper thing; so I think I shall take it, and if you ever see it and call it 'trumpery' so much the worse."
"Do you know that I was in Leeds on the very same day with you - last Wednesday? I had thought of telling you where I was going, and having your help and company in buying a bonnet, etc., but then I reflected this would merely be making a selfish use of you, so I determined to manage or mismanage the matter alone. I went to Hurst and Hall's for the bonnet, and got one which seemed grave and quiet there amongst all the splendours; but now it looks infinitely too gay with its pink lining. I saw some beautiful silks of pale sweet colours, but had not the spirit nor the means to launch out at the rate of five shillings per yard, and went and bought a black silk at three shillings after all. I rather regret this, because papa says he would have lent me a sovereign if he had known. I believe, if you had been there, you would have forced me to get into debt. . . . I really can no more come to B---- before I go to London than I can fly. I have quantities of sewing to do, as well as household matters to arrange, before I leave, as they will clean, etc., in my absence. Besides, I am grievously afflicted with headache, which I trust to change of air for relieving; but meantime, as it proceeds from the stomach, it makes me very thin and grey; neither you nor anybody else would fatten me up or put me into good condition for the visit; it is fated otherwise. No matter. Calm your passion; yet I am glad to see it. Such spirit seems to prove health. Good-bye, in haste.
"Your poor mother is like Tabby, Martha and Papa; all these fancy I am somehow, by some mysterious process, to be married in London, or to engage myself to matrimony. How I smile internally How groundless and improbable is the idea! Papa seriously told me yesterday, that if I married and left him he should give up housekeeping and go into lodgings!"
I copy the following, for the sake of the few words describing the appearance of the heathery moors in late summer.
TO SYDNEY DOBELL, ESQ.
"May 24th, 1851.
"MY DEAR SIR, - I hasten to send Mrs. Dobell the autograph. It was the word 'Album' that frightened me I thought she wished me to write a sonnet on purpose for it, which I could not do.
"Your proposal respecting a journey to Switzerland is deeply kind; it draws me with the force of a mighty Temptation, but the stern Impossible holds me back. No! I cannot go to Switzerland this summer.
"Why did the editor of the Eclectic erase that most powerful and pictorial passage? He could not be insensible to its beauty; perhaps he thought it profane. Poor man!
"I know nothing of such an orchard-country as you describe. I have never seen such a region. Our hills only confess the coming of summer by growing green with young fern and moss, in secret little hollows. Their bloom is reserved for autumn; then they burn with a kind of dark glow, different, doubtless, from the blush of garden blossoms. About the close of next month, I expect to go to London, to pay a brief and quiet visit. I fear chance will not be so propitious as to bring you to town while I am there; otherwise, how glad I should be if you would call. With kind regards to Mrs. Dobell, - Believe me, sincerely yours,
Her next letter is dated from London.
"I came here on Wednesday, being summoned a day sooner than I expected, in order to be in time for Thackeray's second lecture, which was delivered on Thursday afternoon. This, as you may suppose, was a genuine treat to me, and I was glad not to miss it. It was given in Willis' Rooms, where the Almacks balls are held - a great painted and gilded saloon with long sofas for benches. The audience was said to be the cream of London society, and it looked so. I did not at all expect the great lecturer would know me or notice me under these circumstances, with admiring duchesses and countesses seated in rows before him; but he met me as I entered - shook hands - took me to his mother, whom I had not before seen, and introduced me. She is a fine, handsome, young-looking old lady; was very gracious, and called with one of her grand-daughters next day.
"Thackeray called too, separately. I had a long talk with him, and I think he knows me now a little better than he did: but of this I cannot yet be sure; he is a great and strange man. There is quite a furor for his lectures. They are a sort of essays, characterised by his own peculiar originality and power, and delivered with a finished taste and ease, which is felt, but cannot be described. Just before the lecture began, somebody came behind me, leaned over and said, 'Permit me, as a Yorkshireman, to introduce myself.' I turned round - saw a strange, not handsome, face, which puzzled me for half a minute, and then I said, 'You are Lord Carlisle.' He nodded and smiled; he talked a few minutes very pleasantly and courteously.
"Afterwards came another man with the same plea, that he was a Yorkshireman, and this turned out to be Mr. Monckton Milnes. Then came Dr. Forbes, whom I was sincerely glad to see. On Friday, I went to the Crystal Palace; it is a marvellous, stirring, bewildering sight - a mixture of a genii palace, and a mighty bazaar, but it is not much in my way; I liked the lecture better. On Saturday I saw the Exhibition at Somerset House; about half a dozen of the pictures are good and interesting, the rest of little worth. Sunday - yesterday - was a day to be marked with a white stone; through most of the day I was very happy, without being tired or over-excited. In the afternoon, I went to hear D'Aubigne, the great Protestant French preacher; it was pleasant - half sweet, half sad - and strangely suggestive to hear the French language once more. For health, I have so far got on very fairly, considering that I came here far from well."
The lady, who accompanied Miss Brontë to the lecture at Thackeray's alluded to, says that, soon after they had taken their places, she was aware that he was pointing out her companion to several of his friends, but she hoped that Miss Brontë herself would not perceive it. After some time, however, during which many heads had been turned round, and many glasses put up, in order to look at the author of Jane Eyre, Miss Brontë said, "I am afraid Mr. Thackeray has been playing me a trick;" but she soon became too much absorbed in the lecture to notice the attention which was being paid to her, except when it was directly offered, as in the case of Lord Carlisle and Mr. Monckton Milnes. When the lecture was ended, Mr. Thackeray came down from the platform, and making his way towards her, asked her for her opinion. This she mentioned to me not many days afterwards, adding remarks almost identical with those which I subsequently read in Villette, where a similar action on the part of M. Paul Emanuel is related.
"As our party left the Hall, he stood at the entrance; he saw and knew me, and lifted his hat; he offered his hand in passing, and uttered the words 'Qu'en dites-vous?' - question eminently characteristic, and reminding me, even in this his moment of triumph, of that inquisitive restlessness, that absence of what I considered desirable self-control, which were amongst his faults. He should not have cared just then to ask what I thought, or what anybody thought; but he did care, and he was too natural to conceal, too impulsive to repress his wish. Well! if I blamed his over-eagerness, I liked his naïveté. I would have praised him; I had plenty of praise in my heart; but alas I no words on my lips. Who has words at the right moment? I stammered some lame expressions; but was truly glad when other people, coming up with profuse congratulations, covered my deficiency by their redundancy.
As they were preparing to leave the room, her companion saw with dismay that many of the audience were forming themselves into two lines, on each side of the aisle down which they had to pass before reaching the door. Aware that any delay would only make the ordeal more trying, her friend took Miss Brontë's arm in hers, and they went along the avenue of eager and admiring faces. During this passage through the "cream of society," Miss Brontë's hand trembled to such a degree, that her companion feared lest she should turn faint and be unable to proceed; and she dared not express her sympathy or try to give her strength by any touch or word, lest it might bring on the crisis she dreaded.
Surely, such thoughtless manifestation of curiosity is a blot on the scutcheon of true politeness! The rest of the account of this, her longest visit to London, shall be told in her own words.
"I sit down to write to you this morning in an inexpressibly flat state; having spent the whole of yesterday and the day before in a gradually increasing headache, which grew at last rampant and violent, ended with excessive sickness, and this morning I am quite weak and washy. I hoped to leave my headaches behind me at Haworth; but it seems I brought them carefully packed in my trunk, and very much have they been in my way since I came. . . . Since I wrote last, I have seen various things worth describing; Rachel, the great French actress, amongst the number. But to-day I really have no pith for the task. I can only wish you good-bye with all my heart."
"I cannot boast that London has agreed with me well this time; the oppression of frequent headache, sickness, and a low tone of spirits, has poisoned many moments which might otherwise have been pleasant. Sometimes I have felt this hard, and been tempted to murmur at Fate, which compels me to comparative silence and solitude for eleven months in the year, and in the twelfth, while offering social enjoyment, takes away the vigour and cheerfulness which should turn it to account. But circumstances are ordered for us, and we must submit."
"Your letter would have been answered yesterday, but I was already gone out before post time, and was out all day. People are very kind, and perhaps I shall be glad of what I have seen afterwards, but it is often a little trying at the time. On Thursday, the Marquis of Westminster asked me to a great party, to which I was to go with Mrs. D----, a beautiful, and, I think, a kind woman too; but this I resolutely declined. On Friday I dined at the ----'s, and met Mrs. D---- and Mr. Monckton Milnes. On Saturday I went to hear and see Rachel; a wonderful sight - terrible as if the earth had cracked deep at your feet, and revealed a glimpse of hell. I shall never forget it. She made me shudder to the marrow of my bones; in her some fiend has certainly taken up an incarnate home. She is not a woman; she is a snake; she is the ----. On Sunday I went to the Spanish Ambassador's Chapel, where Cardinal Wiseman, in his archiepiscopal robes and mitre, held a confirmation. The whole scene was impiously theatrical. Yesterday (Monday) I was sent for at ten to breakfast with Mr. Rogers, the patriarch-poet. Mrs. D---- and Lord Glenelg were there; no one else this certainly proved a most calm, refined, and intellectual treat. After breakfast, Sir David Brewster came to take us to the Crystal Palace. I had rather dreaded this, for Sir David is a man of profoundest science, and I feared it would be impossible to understand his explanations of the mechanism, etc.; indeed, I hardly knew how to ask him questions. I was spared all trouble without being questioned, he gave information in the kindest and simplest manner. After two hours spent at the Exhibition, and where, as you may suppose, I was very tired, we had to go to Lord Westminster's, and spend two hours more in looking at the collection of pictures in his splendid gallery."
To another friend she writes: -
"---- may have told you that I have spent a month in London this summer. When you come, you shall ask what questions you like on that point, and I will answer to the best of my stammering ability. Do not press me much on the subject of the 'Crystal Palace.' I went there five times, and certainly saw some interesting things, and the 'coup d'oeil' is striking and bewildering enough; but I never was able to get up any raptures on the subject, and each renewed visit was made under coercion rather than my own free will. It is an excessively bustling place; and, after all, its wonders appeal too exclusively to the eye, and rarely touch the heart or head. I make an exception to the last assertion, in favour of those who possess a large range of scientific knowledge. Once I went with Sir David Brewster, and perceived that he looked on objects with other eyes than mine."
Miss Brontë returned from London by Manchester, and paid us a visit of a couple of days at the end of June. The weather was so intensely hot, and she herself so much fatigued with her London sight-seeing, that we did little but sit in-doors, with open windows, and talk. The only thing she made a point of exerting herself to procure was a present for Tabby. It was to be a shawl, or rather a large handkerchief, such as she could pin across her neck and shoulders, in the old-fashioned country manner. Miss Brontë took great pains in seeking out one which she thought would please the old woman.On her arrival at home, she addressed the following letter to the friend with whom she had been staying in London: -
"Haworth, July 1st, 1851.
"MY DEAR MRS. SMITH, - Once more I am at home, where, I am thankful to say, I found my father very well. The journey to Manchester was a little hot and dusty, but otherwise pleasant enough. The two stout gentlemen, who filled a portion of the carriage when I got in, quitted it at Rugby, and two other ladies and myself had it to ourselves the rest of the way. The visit to Mrs. Gaskell formed a cheering break in the journey. Haworth Parsonage is rather a contrast, yet even Haworth Parsonage does not look gloomy in this bright summer weather; it is some - what still, but with the windows open I can hear a bird or two singing on certain thorn-trees in the garden. My father and the servants think me looking better than when I lelt home, and I certainly feel better myself for the change. You are too much like your son to render it advisable I should say much about your kindness during my visit. However, one cannot help (like Captain Cuttle) making a note of these matters. Papa says I am to thank you in his name, and offer you his respects, which I do accordingly. - With truest regards to all your circle, believe me very sincerely yours,
"July 8th, 1851.
"MY DEAR SIR, - Thackeray's last lecture must, I think, have been his best. What he says about Sterne is true. His observations on literary men, and their social obligations and individual duties, seem to me also true and full of mental and moral vigour. . . . The International Copyright Meeting seems to have had but a barren result, judging from the report in the Literary Gazette. I cannot see that Sir E. Bulwer and the rest did anything; nor can I well see what it is in their power to do. The argument brought forward about the damage accruing to American national literature from the present piratical system, Is a good and sound argument, but I am afraid the publishers - honest men - are not yet mentally prepared to give such reasoning due weight. I should think, that which refers to the injury inflicted upon themselves, by an oppressive competition in piracy, would influence them more; but, I suppose, all established matters, be they good or evil, are difficult to change. About the 'Phrenological Character' I must not say a word. Of your own accord, you have found the safest point from which to view it: I will not say 'look higher!' I think you see the matter as it is desirable we should all see what relates to ourselves. If I had a right to whisper a word of counsel, it should be merely this: whatever your present self may be, resolve with all your strength of resolution, never to degenerate thence. Be jealous of a shadow of falling off. Determine rather to look above that standard, and to strive beyond it. Everybody appreciates certain social properties, and likes his neighbour for possessing them; but perhaps few dwell upon a friend's capacity for the intellectual, or care how this might expand, if there were but facilities allowed for cultivation, and space given for growth. It seems to me that, even should such space and facilities be denied by stringent circumstances and a rigid fate, still it should do you good fully to know, and tenaciously to remember, that you have such a capacity. When other people overwhelm you with acquired knowledge, such as you have not had opportunity, perhaps not application, to gain - derive not pride, but support from the thought. If no new books had ever been written, some of these minds would themselves have remained blank pages: they only take an impression; they were not born with a record of thought on the brain, or an instinct of sensation on the heart. If I had never seen a printed volume, Nature would have offered my perceptions a varying picture of a continuous narrative, which, without any other teacher than herself, would have schooled me to knowledge, unsophisticated, but genuine.
"Before I received your last, I had made up my mind to tell you that I should expect no letter for three months to come ( intending afterwards to extend this abstinence to six months, for I am jealous of becoming dependent on this indulgence: you doubtless cannot see why, because you do not live my life). Nor shall I now expect a letter; but since you say that you would like to write now and then, I cannot say ' never write,' without imposing on my real wishes a falsehood which they reject, and doing to them a violence, to which they entirely refuse to submit. I can only observe that when it pleases you to write, whether seriously or for a little amusement, your notes, if they come to me, will come where they are welcome. Tell ---- I will try to cultivate good spirits, as assiduously as she cultivates her geraniums."
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