The Bronte Sisters
THE story of the Brontes is one of the saddest in the annals of literature. They were the children of a father who was both cold and violent, and of a gentle, sickly mother, early lost. They were reared amid surroundings the most gloomy and unhealthful, and cursed as they grew older with a brother who brought them shame and sorrow in return for the love they lavished upon him. Their very genius seemed a product of disease, and often their finest pages are marred by a bitter savor of its origin. Their stories deal with suffering, endurance, or rebellion against fate; with violence, with crime and its punishment. In treating such subjects, these three quiet, patient daughters of a country parson found themselves quite at home.
Their father was a clergyman of the Church of England, an Irishman by birth, who had had the good sense to change his original name of Prunty to the more pleasing appellation since made famous by his
His father, Hugh Prunty, was a peasant proprietor of Ahaderg, county Down, the owner of a few acres of potato land, and the father of ten children, of whom the handsomest, strongest, and most intelligent was Patrick, afterward the Reverend Patrick Bronte. At the age of six-
teen lie left his father's house and went to the neighboring village of Drumgooland, where he taught school and spent his leisure hours in study.
He worked so hard to perfect himself in the necessary branches that at twenty-five he was enabled to enter Cambridge University, upon leaving which, four years later, he was ordained to a curacy in Essex. From Essex he went to Hartshead in Yorkshire, where he married Miss
Maria Branwell, a young lady of Cornish parentage.
Three years later he removed with his wife and two little baby girls, Maria and Elizabeth, to Thornton in the same county, where four other children were born, one every year. Charlotte, the most famous, was the eldest; she was born in 1816. A son, Patrick Branwell, came next; then Emily Jane; then Anne. In 1820, the year after Anne's birth, the family moved to Haworth Vicarage, in the village of Haworth, near Keighley, in Yorkshire. A
year later the mother, always weak and ailing, died, leaving her six young children to their father's care.
Mr. Bronte apparently intended to do his duty to his children; but he was a hard, vain, dull man, fond of solitude, eccentric, and possessed of many strange notions in regard to education. He never cared for his children's society, desired only to have them keep quiet and learn their lessons, allowed them no meat, required them to dine upon potatoes, and ate his own dinner alone in his room. Their dress, too, had to be of the simplest. It was not forgotten in the family that a silk dress of his wife's which displeased him he cut into shreds; nor that some colored shoes given the children by a cousin he threw into the fire.
He possessed a furious temper, which he usually kept under control; but occasionally, when he found it necessary to give some vent to his feelings, he would fire pistols out
of the back door in rapid succession. Almost his only communication with the children was at breakfast and supper; his only method of entertaining them was to relate, at the breakfast table, wild and horrible Irish tales of massacre, blood, and banshees. Yet the children loved him, and rendered him an obedience and devotion which much kinder and wiser parents can not always obtain.
Thus the six little Brontes, motherless, and denied the intimacy and companionship of their father, clung to each other with a love far beyond that of most brothers and sisters of their age. They were wonderfully "good," poor little things, the boy being the only one who showed any evidences of vigor.
They spent much of their time wandering silently about the old house and the bleak moors beyond it, hand in hand, Maria, the eldest, a pale, small creature of seven, assuming the charge of the others, and trying her best to be a mother to them. Their surroundings were sombre and dreary. Haworth Parsonage stands upon a hill which slopes sharply down to the village in one direction, and in the other, after a slight further ascent, merges into an apparently interminable expanse of moorland. The church and school-house stand close by, while above the house, and surrounding it upon three sides, lies the graveyard, crowded with upright tombstones. The parsonage itself is a low stone building, ancient, draughty, and picturesque, with heavy, flagged roof made to resist the winds that sweep across the moor, with chilly flagged floors, old-fashioned windows with small, glittering panes, and a few hardy flowers, some elder and lilac bushes, growing beneath shelter of its walls.
The sounds with which the children were most familiar were the rushing and moaning of the wind around the chimneys, the bell of the church, ringing to service or tolling for funerals, and, whenever the house was still, the constant chip! chip! of the stone-mason who lived near the gate, cutting an epitaph upon one of the slates which he kept piled in his shed. The sights they loved were the firelight and the broad moor. Games, like those
of ordinary children, they never played. The elder children read the papers, including the Parliamentary debates, and amused themselves by discussing, in hushed voices, the rival merits of Bonaparte and the Duke of Wellington. They had no story books. The Duke of Wellington was their hero of romance, whom they worshiped with absolute devotion. One thing at least they enjoyed, perfect liberty, and they were happy in their own way.
This lasted for a year; then Miss Branwell arrived, a kind and efficient, if somewhat fastidious little maiden aunt, who undertook to reclaim them from their wildness and instruct them in civilized accomplishments. Submission to her rule was not easy after such entire freedom; but she did them much good, and they soon learned to like and respect her. They learned lessons which they recited to their father, and the five little girls were
instructed in sewing, cooking, and housework. Their leisure they still employed in long rambles on the moor, and in telling each other wonderful stories of heroism, adventure, or magic. One spring, they were all taken sick with a complication of measles and whooping cough, and on their recovery, Mr. Bronte thought a change of air desirable for the elder ones. In July, 1824, he sent Maria and Elizabeth to a school for clergymen's daughters at Cowan's Bridge; in September they were joined by Emily and Charlotte.
To the readers of Charlotte Bronte it would be superfluous to describe this school—the "Lowood" of " Jane Eyre." Its miserable diet, unhealthy situation, long lessons, rigid discipline, low type of religion, and continual sermons upon humility—nothing is there forgotten, nor is anything exaggerated. Moreover, the descriptions of both teachers and pupils are most of them portraits. Miss Temple and Miss Scatcherd are drawn from the life;
and the pathetic figure of Helen Burns is a delineation of Maria Bronte, whose death from consumption was directly due to the hardships she underwent at Cowan's Bridge. A single incident related to Mrs. Gaskell by a fellow pupil of the Bronte girls of the way in which this studious and sickly child was treated, shows effectually that Charlotte's picture of Lowood is not overdrawn, and fully justifies the anguish and burning indignation with which she always recalled her sojourn there.
Maria had been ill—so ill that it had been necessary to apply a blister to her side, the sore from which was not yet healed. On hearing the rising bell one morning, while in this condition, she said to some of her companions in the dormitory that she did not feel well enough to get up, and wished she might remain in bed. They advised her to do so, but she dared not for fear of the teacher known to us as Miss Scatcherd, who disliked her and seized
every opportunity to treat her harshly. She was yet sitting upon the edge of the bed, shivering with cold and slowly drawing on her stockings over her thin feet, when this woman suddenly entered the room and, without waiting for any explanation, seized her by the arm, and with a single movement whirled her into the center of the floor, abusing her at the same time for her untidy habits. She then left the room, and Maria made no reference to the occurrence, except to beg a few of the more indignant girls to be calm. Slowly and painfully
she finished dressing and went down to breakfast, only to be punished because she was late.
This poor little martyr remained at Cowan's Bridge until she was so ill that the authorities notified her father, who came and took her home with him, where she died within a few days. Her sisters remained behind; but Elizabeth had already developed consumptive symptoms, and it was not long before she too was sent home to die. Charlotte and Emily then began to fail, and the authorities, remembering the fate of the elder sisters, sent word to Mr. Bronte that the damp situation of the house did not agree with them, and they had better be removed. They therefore returned to Haworth in the autumn of 1825, when Charlotte was a little over nine years of age.
In 1831 Charlotte, then fifteen, was again sent to school —this time to a Miss Wooler of Roehead, a kind lady and an excellent teacher. At this school she became a favorite with the other girls, although they laughed at her odd ways, told her how ugly she was, and found her unable to share in their amusements. These serious defects were counterbalanced by her scholarship, which they admired, by her obliging disposition, and by her story-telling gift, which she would exercise for their benefit as they lay in bed at night, with such success as to frighten them all nearly out of their wits. Two of her fellow pupils especially attached themselves to her, and remained her life-long friends. One of them thus described her to Mrs. Gaskell, as she appeared at this time:
"She looked like a little old woman, so short-sighted that she always appeared to be seeking something, and moving her heed from side to side to catch a sight of it.
She was very shy and nervous, and spoke with a strong Irish accent. When a book was given her, she dropped her head over it till her nose nearly touched it, and when she was told to hold up her head, up went the book after it, still close to her nose, so that it was not possible to help laughing."
Her other friend, Miss Ellen Nussey, whose sweet and gentle character Charlotte afterward attempted to depict in Caroline Helstone, was drawn toward her by compassion on the first day of her arrival, upon seeing her standing alone by the school-room window watching the other girls at play yin the snow without, and crying from loneliness.
Upon returning to Haworth Charlotte at once set to work to teach her sisters all that she had learned at school, giving them regular instruction from nine until half-past twelve every day. In 1835 she returned to Miss Wooler's, this time in the capacity of assistant teacher, accompanied by Emily as a pupil. But Emily was obliged to return to Haworth at the end of three months, completely overcome by homesickness—not a mere sentimental feeling, but a longing, stoutly resisted, yet so powerful as to darken all her days, break down her health, and threaten her with rapid decline if she did not yield. Charlotte remained behind with Anne, who came to take Emily's place, but the work was too hard for her, and she, too, began to fail and pine, and to be tormented besides by nervous fears, gloomy forbodings, and an irritability which she could scarcely control.
Emily, meanwhile, had gone as a teacher to Halifax, where she was obliged to labor from six in the morning until eleven at night, with only a half-hour of exercise between. But, in the Christmas holidays, the three sisters again met at their home, and discussed their hopes
and prospects. About this time it was that Charlotte first conceived the idea that her writings might have a public interest; might open to her a road of escape from the slavery to which she was condemned. She mustered up all her courage, and sent sonic specimens of her
poetry to Southey, requesting his opinion upon their merits. The poet returned her a kind but discouraging letter, to which she replied gratefully and humbly, telling him that she should continue to write for her own pleasure and improvement, but that she should never again feel ambitious to see her name in print. She asked no reply to this second letter, but Southey wrote to her again, this time most cordially, and invited her to come and see him
if ever she were near his home. She afterwards sent some of her poems to Coleridge and Wordsworth.
It is not necessary to dwell in detail upon the various occupations of the Bronte girls after Charlotte finally left Roehead. When at home they wrote, read, wandered on the moor, and pursued their household avocations. Emily remained continuously at Haworth, but Anne and Charlotte obtained situations as governesses. Anne's experiences in this capacity may be divined by the readers of "Agnes Grey," her first novel; Charlotte's are indicated in
"Shirley," in that passage where Mrs. Pryor describes her early life. In speaking of this period to Mrs. Gaskell, Charlotte related how, in one family, just as she was beginning to gain some ascendancy over a group of children who had been perfect little savages when she arrived, the youngest, and to her the dearest, said to her one day at table in a sudden burst of affection, putting his chubby hand in hers:
"I love 'ou, Miss Bronte! "
Instantly the mother exclaimed, in a tone of astonishment and reproach:
"Love the governess, my dear!"
It is a relief to hear, after this incident, that in the last family where she occupied this situation, her treatment was far different. As she herself said, they could not make enough of her, and they remained her friends as long as she lived.
But, at the best, going out as governess did not prove remunerative, and the work overtaxed the feeble strength of both Anne and Charlotte. It was a slavery from which they longed to escape, and in concert with Emily, they gradually formed the plan of keeping a girls' boarding-school at their own home. To this end, however, they considered a better knowledge of French and German necessary; and, at length, in 1842, Charlotte and Emily went to Brussels to the school of M. and Madame Heger, in the Rue d'Isabelle—a happy circumstance, which gave to Charlotte the materials for what is perhaps her masterpiece, the novel of "Villette."
Charlotte enjoyed Brussels, in her quiet way. She had Emily for company, she entered eagerly into her lessons, she liked the oddities and imperiousness of her brilliant teacher, M. Heger—the original of Paul Emanuel. Her near-sighted grey eyes lost none of the characteristics of the blooming Belgian school girls by whom she was surrounded, with their smooth hair, their romping ways, their devotion to dress, and their excellent appetites.
But Emily pined for Haworth and her beloved moor. Brussels was nothing to her; M. Heger only exasperated her, although she performed her tasks faithfully—finding, indeed, her only refuge from homesickness in labor. For his part, he recognized at once the exceptional talents of both his reserved, oddly dressed English pupils, but he considered Emily as the greater genius of the two; and indeed, her exercises were far superior to Charlotte's. His praise could not touch her, however; she cared only to do the work that must be done, and get home as quickly as possible. Sitting at twilight in the deserted schoolroom her thoughts turned to her home with the same passionate longing that had compelled her return from
Roehead, and she tried one evening to give her feeling expression in verse:
"A little while, a little while,
The weary task is put away,
And I can sing and I can smile
Alike, while I have holiday.
" Where wilt thou go, my harassed heart--
What thought, what scene invites thee now?
What spot, or near or far apart,
Has rest for thee, my weary brow?
"There is a spot mid barren hills
Where winter howls and driving rain;
But, if the dreary tempest chills,
There is a light that warms again.
"The house is old, the trees are bare,
Moonless above bends twilight's dome;
But what on earth is half so dear
So longed for—as the hearth of home?
"The mute bird sitting on the stone,
The dark moss dripping from the wall,
The thorn-tree gaunt, the walks o'ergrown,
I love them; how I love them all!
"And, as I mused, the naked room,
The alien firelight died away,
And from the midst of cheerless gloom
I passed to bright, unclouded day.
"A little and a lone green lane
That opened on a common wide,
A distant, dreary, dim, blue chain
Of mountains circling every side;
"A heaven so dear, an earth so calm,
So sweet, so soft, so hushed an air,
And deepening still the dream-like charm
Wild moor-sheep feeding everywhere.
"That was the scene, I knew it well;
I knew the turfy pathway's sweep,
That, winding o'er each billowy swell,
Marked out the tracks of wandering sheep."
Dark days followed the return of the sisters from Brussels. Their long-cherished scheme of the girls' boarding school was destined never to be realized. Haworth was too remote in situation and too forbidding in aspect to attract scholars, and, in spite of the neatly printed circulars which they issued, and of the earnest efforts of their few friends, they did not succeed in securing a single pupil. This was a bitter disappointment, but it was as nothing compared with a household sorrow that had been slowly coming upon them for a long
Their brother, Branwell Bronte, who should have been the comfort and support of the family, had become its burthen and disgrace. Always brilliant in conversation, pleasure-loving, and slight of character, he had easily fallen into dissipated ways, and had gone from bad to
worse. After filling several situations, which he lost one after another through his incompetence and bad habits, he had been engaged as a tutor in the family where Anne held the position of governess. The master of this house was an invalid; his wife it is not necessary to characterize. Branwell fell in love with her, and she reciprocated his
passion. For some time poor Anne suspected this miserable intrigue, and her health, always delicate, declined under such a weight of anxiety and sorrow. But, at length, everything was discovered, and Branwell was dismissed in disgrace. He returned to his home a desperate man. His dissipation, formerly secret, now became open and reckless; he drank and took opium; he
was violent and childish by turns, raving of his lost mistress one moment and threatening suicide the next.
The shame and horror of this conduct fell with peculiar force upon such honorable, laborious, even austere women as these, accustomed to spare themselves nothing in the performance of their duty. Charlotte's affection did not survive the shock of the disclosure of her brother's treachery. It was afterward painful for her to be in the room with him, and "forced work " (her own words) for her to speak to him. Anne, gentler and weaker than her
sister, still loved, but feared him. The stronger Emily pitied him, and did not shrink from giving him her assistance and companionship even in his worst moments, when he was scarcely less than a madman.
Readers of "Jane Eyre " will remember the incident of Rochester's insane wife setting his bed on fire, and of his rescue by Jane. It has been considered extravagant, but Charlotte found the suggestion for it in her own home. One night, when the three sisters were passing
along the upper entry to their rooms, they noticed a bright light coming from Branwell's chamber. Immediately Emily, after warning the others with a finger on her lip not to wake Mr. Bronte, who was singularly afraid of fire, darted down the stairs and soon reappeared with a pail of water in each hand. She entered the burning room; the bright flare subsided, and presently her terrified sisters saw her come out, pate, panting, and scorched, half-dragging, half-carrying in her arms her helpless brother, who was stupefied with drink.
Their great venture of the school having failed, Charlotte's thoughts once more turned to literature. She found one day some poems of Emily's which seemed to her meritorious; Anne, finding Emily's verses approved, produced some of hers; Charlotte added her own, and
the three sisters formed the bold resolution to have the little collection printed, published, and if possible sold. It was a long and difficult task to find a publisher; but
at last they succeeded, and in 1846 the slender little volume was issued under the title of "Poems, by Currer, Ellis, and Acton Bell;" Currer Bell being Charlotte; Ellis, Emily; and Acton, Anne. The volume attracted little attention, but the few reviewers who noticed it awarded higher rank to the work of Ellis Bell than to that of her brothers, as the discerning critics called them. The book was, however, an evident failure; it brought the sisters little reputation and less money.
But they were used to disappointments, and they met this new one bravely. They next tried romance. Anne wrote "Agnes Grey," Charlotte "The Professor," and Emily "Wuthering Heights." When these tales were completed, all three were sent in one parcel from publisher to publisher, only to return as often to the hands of their unhappy authors. Then it occurred to them to try their fate separately, and after further waiting and discouragement, "Wuthering Heights" and "Agnes Grey" found a firm willing to take the risk of printing them. "The Professor" was not so fortunate.
Meanwhile, another sorrow had come into the melancholy parsonage: Mr. Bronte had begun to lose his eyesight. He could still grope his way about, but he could not read nor use his eyes for many of the ordinary purposes of life, and it was evident that unless the cataract could be removed his sight would soon be entirely destroyed. So, in August of 1846, Charlotte accompanied him to Manchester for the purpose of having an operation performed. Upon the very day on which the operation was to take place, Charlotte, lonely, anxious, and miserable, had "The Professor" once more returned to her, "declined," by some busy publisher without even the usual thanks. She was in the room with her father while the cataract was removed, sitting breathless and quiet in a corner, and she nursed him through the illness of the following days, when he was confined to his bed in a darkened room, hoping, but not yet certain, that his sight was restored to him.
And it was at this time, in the midst of sorrow, suffering, anxiety, and disappointment, alone with her invalid father in a great, black, strange city—it was at this time, on the evening of the day of the operation, that Charlotte Bronte, her brave spirit still undaunted, sent forth her old story for another trial, and, sitting down in her bare, ugly little boarding-house room, wrote swiftly,and with few pauses, the opening chapter of "Jane
At last, after her return to Haworth, came a piece of good fortune. Messrs. Smith & Elder, to whom she had sent "The Professor" (omitting, in her innocence, even to obliterate upon the parcel the names of the publishing houses to whom it had previously been addressed),
sent her a letter in which, to be sure, the unlucky tale was once more rejected, but in which, as she afterwards declared, its merits and demerits were discussed "so courteously, so considerately, in a spirit so rational, with a discrimination so enlightened, that this very refusal cheered the author better than a vulgarly-worded acceptance would have done." In addition, they stated that a work in three volumes from her pen would receive careful attention. She sent them "Jane Eyre."
This famous novel, begun in such gloomy circumstances, was written amid difficulties of every kind. For long periods, sometimes for weeks, even months at a time, Charlotte would find herself unable to write; then, suddenly, the inspiration would seize her and she would
write for as long a time as her duties permitted, holding her paper close to her eyes upon a bit of board. She wrote in a cramped, minute hand, in pencil, upon loose scraps of paper, sometimes sitting before the fire at twilight, often in her own room at night, when her restless imagination forbade her to sleep. In the day-time household affairs frequently interrupted her at the most critical moment. Tabby, the servant, who had been in the family
for many years, was so old that she could not see to remove the "eyes" from the potatoes which she peeled for dinner; yet Charlotte was unwilling to hurt her feelings by asking the younger servant maid to look them over. Often, therefore, while under the full force of
inspiration, she would lay aside her manuscript and gliding quietly into the kitchen, abstract the bowl of potatoes when Tabby was not looking, and remove the "eyes" herself. Never once did she omit to perform a duty, nor even the smallest act of kindness or courtesy, on account of her literary work.
The success of " Jane Eyre" was great and immediate. Messrs. Smith & Elder had every reason to be glad of their connection with that "C. Bell. Esquire," to whom they addressed their business letters under cover to Miss Bronte. C. Bell herself was glad and proud, in a quiet
way, and thought it time to tell her father of her success—for he had not been the confidante of his children in their literary ventures. One day, she went in to him in his study, taking with her a copy of her novel and several reviews of it, one adverse, the others favorable. Mrs. Gaskell relates the conversation that followed, as it was told to her by Charlotte.
"Papa," said the daughter, ''I've been writing a book."
"Have you, my dear."
"Yes, and l want you to read it."
"I am afraid, it will try my eyes too much."
"But it is not in manuscript; it is printed."
"My dear! you've never thought of the expense it will be! It will he almost sure to be a loss, for how can you get a book sold? No one knows you or your name."
"But, papa, l don't think it will be a loss; no more will you if you will let me read you a review or two, and tell you more about it."
She read him the reviews and left him "Jane Eyre." When he came down that evening to tea he said to his daughters:
"Girls, do you know Charlotte has been writing a book, and it is much better than likely!"
It was not until after the publication of "Jane Eyre" that "Wuthering Heights" and "Agnes Gray," long as they had been in the hands of the publishers, were given to the world. " Agnes Grey " was a carefully written study of the life of a governess, and was, perhaps, something above the average novel of the day. " Wuthering Heights" was far different. It is a tale of horror, violence and crime, relieved only by two brief love scenes at the end, brightly and delicately drawn and novel in conception. It is a book which, once taken up, it is not easy to lay clown unfinished; which people sit up late at night to read, and which haunts them in their sleep, bringing them evil and fantastic dreams. It is a morbid book,
real in its very unreality, but its power is incontestable. Emily has been blamed for choosing a subject so forbidding; but remembering her gloomy and wild environment, her
solitary nature, and the drunken, desperate brother ever present in her home, we can scarcely wonder at her choice. Besides, as has been beautifully and truly said by Miss Robinson, a lady who has recently related the story of Emily's life with rare truth and insight:
"From the clear spirit which inspires the end of her work, we know that the storm is over; we know that her next tragedy would be less violent."
"Agnes Gray " and "Wuthering Heights" met with little favor from the public. Anne wrote one other novel, "The Tenant of Wildfell Hall," in which she attempted, with some success, to depict her brother Branwell; and this work succeeded better. But Emily, whose genius,
though widely different, was scarcely less than that of her more famous sister Charlotte, wrote no more.
Trouble was coming again upon the patient sisters. Branwell grew worse and worse, his sufferings and paroxysms more and more terrible, until, in 1848, the end came. By a last strange exercise of will he insisted upon meeting his death standing. He died erect upon his feet, after a struggle of twenty minutes. Emily, whose health had for some time been failing, went to his funeral and sat for the last time in the damp, melancholy church;
indeed, it was the last time that she ever left the house. She was dying of consumption.
We can imagine no sadder record than that of Emily Bronte's illness and death. Every hope of her life had been blighted. The school, which was to keep herself and her sisters together in the home she loved, had failed her novel, into which she had put her heart and her
ambition, had failed too; her dearly beloved brother, for whom she had dreamed of fortune and fame, had just died disgraced, despised, and miserable. Now she felt herself dying. With a last exercise of will stranger and sadder than his, with a courage and endurance almost
incredible, she refused even to own that she was not well, and went about her daily duties, pale, thin, and panting creeping slowly down the stairs with her hand against the wall in the morning, toiling at household labors throughout the day, and dragging herself painfully to her bed at night.
She refused to see a doctor; she refused to take medicine; she refused to rest; and her sisters, who did not dare to cross her, looked on with breaking hearts as she grew weaker day by day. On the day of her death she rose as usual and sat down before the fire to comb her long, brown hair; but she was too weak, and the comb fell from her hand and dropped into the hot ashes, where it lay for some time giving forth the nauseous odor of burning bone. When the servant came in Emily said to her, pointing to it, " Martha, my comb's down there. I was too weak to stoop and pick it up."
Nevertheless she finished dressing, tottered dizzily down the stairs, and taking up a piece of work attempted to sew. Towards noon she turned to her sisters, saying in a gasping whisper, for she could no longer speak aloud:
" If you will send for a doctor, I will see him now."
But it was too late, and her sufferings rapidly increased. At two o'clock Charlotte and Anne implored her to let them get her to her room and to her bed.
"No! no!" she exclaimed, and tried to rise, leaning heavily upon the sofa. In that act she died.
Mr. Bronte, Charlotte, and Anne, who was already dying of the same disease, followed her to the grave; and with them walked Emily's great mastiff, "Keeper," following them even into the church, where he lay quietly throughout the services. After the funeral he went up to
Emily's room and laid himself down across the threshhold of her door, where he remained for many days, howling piteously when they tried to entice him away.
Charlotte's next novel was "Shirley;" the heroine of which, the gay and independent Shirley Keeldar, is a portrait of Emily Bronte, as her loving sister believed she would have been had she been fortunate and happy. Many of Emily's traits, some even of the incidents of her
life, are given in this book. "Keeper" figures in it as Tartar; Shirley's habit of sitting upon a rug, reading with her arm about the great dog's neck, was also Emily's; and in "Captain Keeldar," we recognize an alteration of Emily's nickname of the Major. The famous incident of the mad dog, too, happened to Emily as well as to Shirley, It was no fiction. But, although Shirley is a pleasing and a noble girl, and shows Emily in a more attractive
light than ever shone upon her in real life, yet we miss some of the real Emily's most striking characteristics. We miss her patient endurance of hard drudgery, her faithful household affections, and her thoughtful kindnesses for others. It is not easy to imagine a Shirley Keeldar rising early in the morning and performing the hardest portion of the household labor in order to spare an aged servant; yet that was what Emily Bronte did.
Excepting her early tale, "The Professor," which has been given to the public since her death, Charlotte wrote but one other novel—"Gillette." This work, of which the scene is laid in Belgium, is regarded by many as her best. Its incidents are less thrilling than those of "Jane Eyre," its style less fiery. Nevertheless it is not lacking in passion; and if Lucy Snowe attracts us less than Jane, who would exchange Monsieur Paul Emanuel—imperious,
whimsical, extravagant, and thoroughly natural—for such an impossible hero as Rochester ? Ginevra Fanshawe, too, and Madame Beck, are characters more true and striking than any to be found in "Jane Eyre."
The public, after the publication of "Jane Eyre," became deeply interested in discovering the identity of Currer Bell, and in discussing the question of her sex. Nor was the riddle soon solved. Miss Martineau, who was one of the earliest to know the truth, gives an
interesting account of the beginning of her acquaintance with the unknown, yet famous author. She received one day, while residing in London, a parcel accompanied by a note.
This parcel contained a copy of "Shirley," then just published, and the note ran as follows:
"Currer Bell offers a copy of 'Shirley' to Miss Martineau's acceptance, in acknowledgment of the pleasure and profit she (sic) he has derived from her works. When C. B. first read 'Deerbrook' he tasted a new and keen pleasure, and experienced a genuine benefit. In his
mind, Deerbrook ranks with the writings that have really done him good, added to his stock of ideas, and rectified his views of life."
This masculine note did not, in Miss Martineau's eyes, determine the sex of the writer. The half-erased "she" in it, might, to be sure, have had reference to Miss Martineau herself, and the form of the sentence might have been subsequently altered. Still, it left everything uncertain, and when, a little later, she received an intimation that Currer Bell would call upon her, she did not know whether to expect a gentleman or a lady. It was, therefore, with interest and excitement that she awaited at the appointed hour the arrival of her distinguished visitor.
"Precisely as the time-piece struck six," says Miss Martineau, relating the incident in her Autobiography, "a carriage stopped at the door; and, after a minute of suspense, the footman announced Miss Brogden; whereupon my cousin informed me that it was Miss Bronte; for we had heard the name before, among others, in the way of conjecture. I thought her the smallest creature I had ever seen (except at a fair), and her eyes blazed, as it seemed to me. She glanced quickly round; and my trumpet pointing me out, she held out her hand frankly
and pleasantly. I introduced her, of course, to the family; and then came a moment which I had not anticipated. When she was seated by me on the sofa, she cast up at me such a look—so loving, so appealing—that, in connection with her deep mourning dress and the
knowledge that she was the sole survivor of her family, I could with. the utmost difficulty return her smile, or keep my composure. I should have been heartily glad to cry."
It was perhaps as high a compliment as Miss Martineau ever received, for her society to be thus sought by Charlotte Bronte. She was so painfully shy that, when she spoke in company at all, she would gradually wheel around in her chair until she was seated almost with her
back toward the person whom she was addressing.
Miss Bronte was always plain; she considered herself repulsively ugly. Her features were indeed large and irregular, and her mouth a little crooked, but her expression was so animated and intelligent when she talked, that her face became most attractive. Even in secluded Haworth she was not without admirers; she had received several proposals of marriage, which she hastily but firmly declined. At length a curate of her father's, Mr.
Nicholls, asked her hand. He had loved her for several years. She knew him well and esteemed him deeply, and, although she had never before thought of him as a lover, she felt as though she could be contented as his wife. Before accepting him, however, she consulted her father. Mr. Bront objected, and Charlotte quietly put aside the happiness within her reach, and gave an unfavorable answer. But Mr. Bront gradually changed his mind, and in a year's time gave his consent to the marriage; although, with characteristic perversity, he refused at the
last minute to go to the church and give his daughter away.
Charlotte Bronte was married on the twenty-ninth of June, 1854. The wedding was of the quietest, but the pale, delicate little bride was very happy as she left the old church on her husband's arm, followed by the good wishes of the villagers who had gathered to see her pass. She was dressed in soft white, with no color about her save green leaves, looking, as one who was there told Mrs. Gaskell, like a snow-drop.
Her happy married life lasted but eight months. She died in March, 1855. Waking after a long delirium, she saw her husband bending above her with a face of anguish, murmuring some broken prayer that God would spare her.
"Oh!" she whispered, looking up at him, "I am not going to die, am I ? He will not separate us; we have been so happy."