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Smith, Elder & Co


Premises of Smith, Elder & Co.               The Chapter Coffee House
65, Cornhill, London                                Paternoster Row, London
The map was drawn by Patrick Brontë to indicate the location
of the Chapter Coffee House on Paternoster Row

The picture on the left shows number 65, Cornhill, London - the premises of Smith, Elder & Co. - Charlotte's publishers. It was into this building where she and Anne walked on Saturday, 8 July 1848, and shocked George Smith (who had already published Jane Eyre, but had never met its author) by presenting him with his own letter that he had addressed to 'Currer Bell': it took him several moments to realise that standing in front of him were Currer and Acton Bell - authors of Jane Eyre and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall.
On the right is a picture of the 'Chapter Coffee House' (on Paternoster Row - behind St. Paul's Cathedral), where the girls stayed on this occasion. It was also where Charlotte, Emily and Patrick stayed en route to Brussels in February 1842. The lodgings had been known to Patrick since 1806 when he stayed there while visiting London for his ordination. In this picture, the 'Coffee House' is the building on the left, being viewed from Paul's Alley; Paternoster Row runs across the picture (behind the lady), and St. Paul's Cathedral is situated behind the artist. The narrow Paul's Alley, as observed here, can be seen in the map below (direction of this view on the map: bottom to top).
In her biography, The Life of Charlotte Brontë, Elizabeth Gaskell gave a graphic description of the Chapter Coffee House. She had visited the building the previous June, but by this time it had become vacant: 'Paternoster Row was for many years sacred to publishers. It is a narrow flagged street, lying under the shadow of St. Paul's; at each end there are posts placed, so as to prevent the passage of carriages, and thus preserve a solemn silence . . . The dull warehouses on each side are mostly occupied at present by wholesale stationers; if they be publishers' shops, they show no attractive front to the dark and narrow street. Half-way up, on the left-hand side, is the Chapter Coffee-house. I visited it last June. . . It had the appearance of a dwelling-house, two hundred years old or so, such as one sometimes sees in ancient country towns; the ceilings of the small rooms were low, and had heavy beams running across them; the walls were wainscoted breast high; the staircase was shallow, broad, and dark, taking up much space in the centre of the house. This then was the Chapter Coffee-house, which, a century ago, was the resort of all the booksellers and publishers; and where the literary hacks, the critics, and even the wits, used to go in search of ideas or employment. . .'

George Smith                                          William Smith Williams

William Smith Williams was the literary advisor (or 'reader', as he was more commonly referred to) to Smith, Elder & Co. - Charlotte's publisher. The company's manager and joint owner was one George Smith. Charlotte ultimately became close friends with these gentlemen, writing frequently to them both. On one occasion, when she was ill, Anne wrote a letter on her behalf to Smith Williams (see 'The Letters of Anne Brontë' - from 'Main Page'). When Anne and Charlotte paid an uninvited visit to the publishers in July 1848 in order to dispel the rumour that the three 'Bell brothers' were in fact all one and the same person, they were greeted by a shocked George Smith. He did, however, take it upon himself to entertain the two ladies during their four-day stay in London. Both these gentlemen lived into old age, Smith Williams dying at the age of 77 in 1875, and George Smith, who went on to become 'the grand old man of English publishing' died in 1901 at the age of 78.
The title page of the firth edition                   The title page of the firth edition
of "Jane Eyre" by Charlotte Brontё           of "Shirley" by Charlotte Brontё
(Currer Bell), publishing by "Smith,          (Currer Bell), publishing by "Smith,
Elder & Co"                                            Elder & Co"


© Митрофанова Екатерина Борисовна, 2009 |