The big day is fast approaching, so I hope you have everything in hand and can look forward to a relaxed Christmas Eve evening? Tomorrow I will bring you my traditional festive post, but today we turn to something very much sadder.
Christmas should be time for love, a time for joy, but in one household in particular the Christmas of 1848 was a mournful one: Haworth Parsonage. Emily Brontë died aged 30 on December 19th of that year, and was buried in the Brontë family tomb, beneath the church floor, just three days before Christmas.
To us, Emily Brontë was a towering genius. A brilliant poet and author of just one novel – but in my opinion it, Wuthering Heights, is the greatest book ever written. To those who knew her, however, it was a deeply personal loss. She ‘died in a time of promise’, as Charlotte said. She knew how great her younger sister was, and knew that she had the talent to achieve anything in the world of literature, yet at the time of Emily’s death her work had received little praise and her name was unknown. Charlotte, and Emily’s younger sister Anne Brontë, could never have guessed how Emily’s name would endure, how she would be loved the world over more than two centuries after her birth.
To Anne this was the greatest loss of all. She and Emily had been ferociously close throughout their childhood and youth, in a twin-like sympathy as friend Ellen Nussey said. They would walk through the parsonage, around Haworth and across the moors arm in arm, but now those walks were at an end. Anne herself had little time left to live, within weeks of Emily’s passing she too was diagnosed with consumption (tuberculosis) and just over six months later Anne too would be laid to rest.
There was one other who was especially devastated by Emily’s passing, her beloved and loyal mastiff dog Keeper. In a letter Ellen Nussey sent to Elizabeth Gaskell, who had asked for an account of Emily’s character whilst she was writing her brilliant biography of Charlotte Brontë, she gave an account of Emily’s funeral on 22nd December 1848. Ellen was present, she had been one of the few, perhaps the only, friends the fiercely shy Emily made outside her own family. In the letter Ellen gives this moving account of another who was present:
‘Keeper was a solemn mourner at Emily’s funeral & never regained his cheerfulness.’
Charlotte later recalled how both Keeper and Flossy, Anne’s devoted spaniel, would thereafter wait mournfully outside their departed mistresses’ rooms, but became excited when Charlotte returned from visits. They thought that others would be returning with her, but Charlotte noted they would never see them again, ‘and nor will I.’
On the 23rd December Charlotte Brontë wrote to Ellen to tell her the dreadful news, in an understated, quiet, moving letter:
‘Emily suffers no more either from pain or weakness now. She never will suffer more in this world – she is gone after a hard, short conflict. She died on Tuesday, the very day I wrote to you. I thought it very possible then she might be with us still for weeks and a few hours afterwards she was in Eternity – yes, there is no Emily in Time or on Earth now. Yesterday, we put her poor, wasted mortal frame quietly under the church pavement. We are very calm at present, why should we be otherwise? The anguish of seeing her suffer – the spectacle of the pains of Death is gone by – the funeral day is past – we feel she is at peace – no need now to tremble for the hard frost and the keen wind – Emily does not feel them. She has died in a time of promise – we saw her torn from life in its prime – but it is God’s will, and the place where she is gone is better than that she has left.’
I know that Christmas is a hard time for many, as we think of loved ones no longer here. May you find peace and the hope of everlasting love. Emily was indeed torn from life in her prime, so we must all live every day to the best, and let those we love know just how much they mean to us. I hope to see you tomorrow for a Christmas Day post, a rather more joyful one as we look at music on Christmas morning.