Charlotte Brontë: By The People Who Knew Her

The last week or so has seen a plethora of Brontë related births and baptisms. As we saw in the previous post, it was Maria Branwell’s birthday on 15th April. 20th April saw the birthday of Ellen Nussey, born in 1817, whilst 22nd April was the birthday of longtime Brontë servant Martha Brown, born in 1828. The 23rd April was the anniversary of the 1814 baptism of Maria Brontë, the eldest Brontë sibling, although her date of birth is unknown. In today’s post, however, we take a special birthday look at a woman whose special day was sandwiched by that of Ellen and Martha: Charlotte Brontë, whose 205th birthday fell on Wednesday of this week.

What can we say about Charlotte Brontë? She is one of the leading novelists of all time, a fine poet and a great letter writer. What did those who knew Charlotte Brontë say about her? Let’s take a look:

Matthew Arnold

‘I talked to Miss Brontë (past thirty and plain, with expressive grey eyes, though) of her curates, of French novels, and her education a school at Brussels.’

Arnold was a poet and critic who later wrote an elegy to the Brontes, ‘Haworth Churchyard’.

Haworth Churchyard by Matthew Arnold

George Smith

‘Charlotte Brontë stayed with us several times. The utmost was, of course, done to entertain and please her. We arranged for dinner-parties, at which artistic and literary notabilities, whom she wished to meet, were present. We took her to places which we thought would interest her – The Times office, the General Post Office, the Bank of England, Newgate, Bedlam. At Newgate she rapidly fixed her attention on an individual prisoner. This was a poor girl with an interesting face, and an expression of the deepest misery. She had, I believe, killed her illegitimate child. Miss Brontë walked up to her, took her hand, and began to talk to her. She was, of course, quickly interrupted by the prison warder with the formula, ‘Visitors are not allowed to speak to the prisoners.’ Sir David Brewster took her round the Great Exhibition, and made the visit a very interesting one to her. One thing which impressed her very much was the lighted rooms of the newspaper offices in Fleet Street and the Strand, as we drove home in the middle of the night from some City expedition.

On one occasion I took Miss Brontë to the Ladies Gallery of the House of Commons. The Ladies’ Gallery of those days was behind the Strangers’ Gallery, and from it one could see the eyes of the ladies above, nothing more. I told Miss Brontë that if she felt tired and wished to go away, she had only to look at me – I should know by the expression of her eyes what she meant – and that I would come round for her. After a time I looked and looked. There were many eyes, they all seemed to be flashing signals to me, but much as I admired Miss Brontë’s eyes I could not distinguish them from the others. I looked so earnestly from one pair of eyes to another that I am afraid that more than one lady must have regarded me as a rather impudent fellow. At length I went round and took my lady away. I expressed my hope that I did not keep her long waiting, and said something about the difficulty of getting out after I saw her signal. ‘I made no signal,’ she said. ‘I did not wish to come away. Perhaps there were other signals from the Gallery.’

Miss Brontë and her father had a passionate admiration for the Duke of Wellington, and I took her to the Chapel Royal, St. James’s, which he generally attended on Sunday, in order that she might see him. We followed him out of the Chapel, and I indulged Miss Brontë by so arranging our walk that she met him twice on his way to Apsley House. I also took her to a Friends’ meeting-house in St. Martin’s Court, Leicester Square. I am afraid this form of worship afforded her more amusement than edification.’

George Smith
George Smith, publisher of Charlotte Bronte

Smith, although Charlotte’s publisher and a successful businessman, was eight years younger than Charlotte Brontë. They became great friends, and it’s believed that the character of Graham Bretton in Villette is based on him.

Abraham Holroyd

‘As to Miss Charlotte Brontë, I never saw to her to speak to but once. It was in the summer of 1853. I had sometime before returned from a sixteen years’ absence from home, and, while residing in the souther part of the United States, I met with and read her ‘Jane Eyre’ and ‘Shirley.’ So, led by curiosity, I one Sunday went to Haworth, with the desire to see the author of such remarkable works. I was late in arriving at the church, and found a pale young man reading the morning service – I think it was Mr G. de Renzy. Mr Brontë was also in the pulpit, for I knew him at once, having seen him before during my childhood at Thornton Church. The sexton, Mr Brown, had given me a very good place for seeing every one in the lower part of the church, and during the singing of the hymn before the sermon, my eyes wandered off in search of the person I had come to see. Face after face I scanned, until at length, in a large square pew near the communion table and under the organ, I saw ‘Jane Eyre,’ or, rather, I should say, Charlotte Brontë. I had not a doubt of it, for there was not such another face in the whole church; and I called to mind the following conversation in the novel where ‘Jane Eyre’ lies in a state of prostration at Mr St. John’s:-

“She is so ill, St. John.”

“Ill or well, she would always be plain. The grace and harmony of beauty are quite wanting in those features.”

And yet there was great breadth and volume in her forehead; some resemblance to the portraits of Miss Harriet Martineau, I thought, might also be traced. The cheek-bones appeared to me rather prominent, but the entire face gave me the idea that she had much goodness and gentleness of disposition, and possibly great power over those with whom she might come in contact. Her dress was very plain. It was a gown without any flounce, and had plain narrow sleeves. Over her shoulders was thrown a velvet cape – also very plain. Her bonnet was neat in appearance, but not in the fashion.’

Abraham Holroyd was a local historian of some repute in Bradford in the late ninenteenth century, and he also ran a bookshop in Thornton.

Richard Hengist Horne

‘A fragile form is now before my minds eye as distinctly as it was in reality more than twenty years ago! The slender figure is seated by a fire in the drawing-room of Mr G. S., the publisher of a novel which had brought the authoress at one bound to the top of popular admiration. There has been a dinner-party, and all the literary men whom the lady had expressed a wish to meet, had been requested to respect the Publisher’s desire, and the lady’s desire that she should remain ‘unknown’ as to her public position. Nobody was to know that this was the authoress of ‘Jane Eyre’. She was simply Miss Brontë on a visit to the family of her host. The dinner-party went off as gaily as could be expected where several people are afraid of each other without knowing why, and Miss Brontë sat very modestly and rather on her guard, but quietly taking measure of les monstres de talent, who were talking and taking wine, and sometimes bantering each other. Once only she issued from her shell, with brightening looks, when somebody made a slightly disparaging remark concerning the Duke of Wellington, for whom Miss Brontë declared she had the highest admiration; and she appeared quite ready to do battle with one gentleman who smilingly suggested that perhaps it was “because the Duke was an Irishman”….

‘A very gentle, brave, and noble spirited woman was Charlotte Brontë. Fragile of form, and tremulous as an aspen leaf, she had an energy of mind, and a heroism of character capable of real things in private life, as admirable as any of the fine delineations in her works of fiction.’

Hengist Horne
Richard Hengist Horne was greatly impressed by Charlotte Bronte.

Richard Hengist Horne, a one time mercenary, was a popular writer of the time, most noted for his long poem Orion which was much admired by Charlotte.

James Chesterton Bradley

‘All the three sisters were very shy, but perhaps Emily and Anne were worse than Charlotte in that respect. The latter, as I remember her, was a lively talker when once drawn out, a girl of about ordinary stature, or perhaps below it, with features neither very dark nor fair, but with striking expressive eyes and mouth. She had a particular way of suddenly lifting her eyes and looking straight at you with a quick, searching glance whilst you spoke to her.’

Reverend James Chesterton Bradley
Reverend James Chesterton Bradley, sans flute

Reverend Bradley was curate of nearby Oakworth; noted for playing a flute, he was immortalised by Charlotte as the flute playing Reverend David Sweeting in Shirley.

Elizabeth Gaskell

‘Miss Brontë I like… She is very little & very plain. Her stunted appearance she ascribes to the scanty supply of food she had as a growing girl, when at that school of the Daughters of the Clergy… She is truth itself, and of a very noble sterling nature, which has never been called out by anything kind or genial… She is very silent & very shy; and when she speaks chiefly remarkable for the admirable use she makes of simple words, & the way in which she makes language express her ideas. She and I quarrelled and differed about almost every thing, – she calls me a democrat, & can not bear Tennyson – but we like each other heartily I think & I hope we shall ripen into friends.’

Elizabeth Gaskell
Charlotte’s friend and biographer Elizabeth Gaskell

This was Gaskell’s opinion after her first meeting with Charlotte in August 1850. They did indeed become friends, and Elizabeth paid tribute to Charlotte in her The Life Of Charlotte Brontë.

John Robinson

‘Charlotte Brontë also took an interest in the needlework of the school, and was the principal support of the girls’ Sunday school, and so much was she beloved by those in her class that many remained in attendance at the Sunday school long after their marriage, even when they had children attending the lower classes at the school… I often watched Miss Brontë when examining the work of the girls in the needlework classes, and also watched her from the Church tower when she was sitting at her writing-desk in the little room over the top of the front door at the parsonage. It was always necessary for her, on account of her short-sightedness, to have her face within a very few inches of the paper.’

John Robinson of Haworth was being trained to be a teacher by Arthur Bell Nicholls at the time of his marriage to Charlotte Brontë. He was present at their wedding, and gave a very moving and fulsome account of it.

Sir James Roberts BT

‘I heard Mr Brontë preach, and remember him as a man most tolerant to divergencies of religious conviction. Above all these memorabilia there rises before me the frail and unforgettable figure of Charlotte Brontë, who more than once stopped to speak a kindly word to the little lad who now stands a patriarch before you. These early associations, still very dear to me, were followed in after years by exceeding delight in those creations of imaginative genius which Charlotte and her sisters have left to us.’

Sir James Roberts
Sir James Roberts BT, Bronte benefactor

James Roberts vividly remembered his encounters with Charlotte Brontë when he was a young Haworth boy; little could she have known what a part he would play in preserving her legacy. Roberts became a successful and wealthy businessman, and was made a Baronet. It was he who purchased Haworth Parsonage from the Church of England and gifted it to the Brontë Society to house their museum in.

Finally let’s close with the accounts of a person who knew Charlotte perhaps better than anyone, and who, but for a few hours, almost shared a birthday with her:

Ellen Nussey

‘Turning to the window to observe the look-out I became aware for the first that I was not alone; there was a silent, weeping, dark little figure in the large bay window; she must, I thought, have risen from the floor. As soon as I had recovered from my surprise, I went from the far end of the room, where the book-shelves were, the contents of which I must have contemplated with a little awe in anticipation of coming studies. A crimson cloth covered the long table down the centre of the room, which helped, no doubt, to hide the shrinking little figure from my view. I was touched and troubled at once to see her so sad and tearful…

‘She never shirked a duty because it was irksome, or advised another to do what she herself did not fully count the cost of doing, above all, when her goodness was not of the stand-still order, when there was new beauty, when there were new developments and growths of goodness to admire and attract in every succeeding renewal of intercourse, when daily she was a Christian heroine, who bore her cross with the firmness of a martyr-saint…

‘She was so painfully shy she could not bear any special notice. One day, on being led into dinner by a stranger, she trembled and nearly burst into tears; but not withstanding her excessive shyness, which was often painful to others as well as to herself, she won the respect and affection of all who had opportunity enough to become acquainted with her. Charlotte’s shyness did not arise, I am sure, either from vanity or self-consciousness, as some suppose shyness to arise; its source was in her not being understood. She felt herself apart from others; they did not understand her, and she keenly felt the distance.’

Ellen Nussey, by Charlotte Bronte
Ellen Nussey, drawn by Charlotte Bronte

What is clear is that Charlotte Brontë was small, she was shy, but above all she was kind and loving, and much loved in return by people of all social classes. You can find many more first person encounters with Charlotte and her sisters on this blog and in my book Crave The Rose: Anne Brontë At 200. I hope you can join me again next Sunday for another new Brontë blog post, and in the meantime let’s say a belated Happy Birthday, Charlotte Brontë!

The Branwell Journeys To Yorkshire

This week marked the 238th birthday of a very special woman indeed – for on the 15th April 1783 Maria Branwell was born in Penzance; between 1814 and 1820 she became the mother of Maria, Elizabeth, Charlotte, Branwell, Emily and Anne Brontë.

The story is well known of how Maria made her journey north to Yorkshire in the summer of 1812, where she had been offered a position at Woodhouse Grove School near Rawdon, a Methodist school recently opened by John and Jane Fennell, Maria’s uncle and aunt. The distance travelled between Penzance and Yorkshire was more than 400 miles; to put that into perspective it’s a greater distance, as the crow flies, than the journey Charlotte and Emily Brontë took from Haworth to Brussels.

Maria Bronte
Maria Branwell in 1799

It was also an arduous, and potentially dangerous, journey, as we shall see. There were two ways to travel from Penzance to Yorkshire at this time, well before the world changing 1825 opening of the rail line running between Stockton and Darlington of course; firstly, the passenger could sail from Cornwall, around the Welsh coast, and up to Liverpool, before taking a horse drawn coach from Liverpool across the Pennines; alternatively, passengers could travel by coach from Cornwall to Yorkshire – a long journey involving many changes, but it is likely that Maria Branwell opted for this more cost effective solution, with her possessions to be sent after her by ship.

This coach journey typically took around ten days, and brought with it such challenges that some passengers made wills before embarking upon such an endeavour. The dangers of travelling by sea, in particular, were brought home to Maria not long after her arrival in Yorkshire, as we see in one of the early letters that she sent to the beau in her life – Patrick Brontë:

‘I mentioned having sent for my books, clothes, etc. On Saturday evening about the time you were writing the description of your imaginary shipwreck, I was reading and feeling the effects of a real one, having then received a letter from my sister giving me an account of the vessel in which she had sent my box being stranded upon the coast of Devonshire, in consequence of which the box was dashed to pieces with the violence of the sea, and all my little property, with the exception of a very few articles, being swallowed up by the mighty deep.’

25 Chapel Street at night
25 Chapel Street, Penzance at night – former home of Maria Branwell

It seems likely that Maria had entrusted the job of sending on her property to her elder sister Elizabeth, later famous as Aunt Branwell. The ship was wrecked, and most of Maria’s possessions ended up in ‘Davy Jones’s locker’. We get a clue to Maria’s priorities in life, and her character, by the order in which she lists her lost items – first and in the position of importance are her books. One book of Maria’s which was rescued from the sea was a religious biography called The Remains Of Henry Kirke White (that’s it at the head of this post). White was a popular poet at the time noted for his piety, whom had died at the young age of 21. Maria’s copy was recently sold at auction for the sum of £200,000 – largely thanks to the writing made within the book by her daughter Charlotte. Ironically, the author of the book was a man who had discouraged Charlotte Brontë from writing at all: Robert Southey.

Robert Southey
Robert Southey, whose book was dear to Maria Bronte

The aforementioned Elizabeth Branwell also followed in Maria’s carriage steps by travelling from Penzance to Yorkshire not once but twice – firstly she joined her sister, and brother-in-law Patrick, in Thornton for over a year in 1815 and 1816. Returning to Penzance she must have thought she would never see her sister and nieces again, but of course as Maria entered her final illness in 1821 Elizabeth Branwell answered the call once more; this time there would be no return, and Aunt Branwell remained in Haworth, far from her Cornish home, from 1821 until her death 21 years later.

Elizabeth Branwell by James Tonkin
Elizabeth Branwell travelled to Yorkshire at least twice

It seems likely, however, that Maria and Elizabeth were not the only members of the Branwell family of Penzance who had made the long journey to the West Riding of Yorkshire. Benjamin Branwell was born in 1775, a year before his sister Elizabeth, and was the only son in the Branwell family who survived infancy. He became a successful local businessman, magistrate and politician – being made Mayor of Penzance in 1809. He was also a very pious man, and very loyal to the Methodist cause that was so popular in Cornwall, and it is that cause which seems to have brought Benjamin Branwell to another area of the country where Methodism had hold: Yorkshire.

In his 1898 book Thornton and the Brontës William Scruton asserted that Benjamin Branwell had travelled to Yorkshire to speak to Methodist ministers and theologians there, and that he met Patrick Brontë there prior to 1812. Scruton also says that Benjamin Branwell travelled with one of his sisters, although there is no evidence for this assertion: could this have been the moment when Patrick Brontë first met Elizabeth Branwell, or even his future wife Maria?

It’s an interesting speculation, but whenever it happened we can be very thankful that Maria did make the long journey northwards – setting in chain the events that changed literary history forever.

You may have noticed that this Anne Brontë blog has changed appearance lately, I felt it was a time for a spring freshen. I hope you will join me again next week for another new Brontë blog post.

The Six Proposals Of Charlotte Brontë

As the UK prepares to enter the next stage of its long walk to freedom and safety, many will reflect on the lessons they’ve learnt during this strange, often unsettling and sometimes tragic year. Many will have learnt what’s truly important to them: the people they love, those who have been there for them through the ups and downs of 2020. That’s why the year to come could see a surge in engagements, and a raft of weddings, which will be wonderful for all concerned. Rather fittingly today marks the 167th anniversary of the date on which Charlotte Brontë accepted the proposal of Arthur Bell Nicholls; as we shall see in this post, it was far from her first proposal of marriage.

As far as we can tell, and there may have been other proposals that have been lost to posterity, Charlotte’s first proposal of marriage came on 1st March 1839 from the Reverend Henry Nussey. This looked a promising match at first – Henry was elder brother to Charlotte’s best friend Ellen Nussey, and Charlotte knew and liked him. There was one crucial element missing however: romance.

Ellen Nussey, by Charlotte Bronte
Ellen could have become Charlotte’s sister in law

Henry was looking for a wife, but he didn’t really care who that wife was. In fact, he wrote proposing marriage to Charlotte just a week after he had received a refusal from a proposal he had made to Margaret Lutwidge (whose nephew Charles later became famous as Wonderland creator Lewis Carroll). Ellen was obviously aware of Henry’s plans and had asked Charlotte about them, for on 12th March Charlotte wrote:

‘You ask me dear Ellen whether I have received a letter from Henry. I have about a week since, the contents I confess did a little surprise me, but I kept them to myself, and unless you had questioned me on the subject I would never have adverted to it. Henry says he is comfortably settled in Sussex, that his health is much improved & that it is his intention to take pupils after Easter – he then intimates that in due time he shall want a Wife to take care of his pupils and frankly asks me to be that Wife… I asked myself two questions – ‘Do I love Henry Nussey as much as a woman ought to love her husband? Am I the person best qualified to make him happy?’ Alas Ellen my Conscience answered no to both these questions. I felt that though I esteemed Henry, though I had a kindly leaning towards him because he is an amiable well-disposed man, yet I had not, and never could have that intense attachment which would make me willing to die for him – and if ever I marry it must be in that light of adoration that I will regard my Husband. Ten to one I shall never have the chance again but n’importe. Moreover, I was aware that Henry knew so little of me he could hardly be conscious to whom he was writing – why it would startle him to see me in my natural home-character, he would think me a wild, romantic enthusiast indeed. I could not sit all day long making a grave face before my husband – I would laugh and satirize and say whatever came into my head first – and if he were a clever man & loved me the whole world weighed in the balance against his smallest wish should be light as air. Could I, knowing my mind to be such as that, could I consciously say that I would take a grave quiet young man like Henry? No it would have been deceiving him.’

This grave young man was in search of a wife to help him in his ministerial duties, and whilst vicar of Hathersage he married Emily Prescott. Hathersage is the Morton of Jane Eyre and Henry Nussey undoubtedly inspired St. John Rivers. Alas, Henry could not defeat the illness Charlotte alluded to in her letter, and he died in an asylum in 1860.

Hathersage Vicarage, visited by Charlotte Bronte

Charlotte Brontë did not have to wait long for her next proposal of marriage, and once more it came out of the blue. On 4th August 1839, she was again writing to Ellen:

‘I have an odd circumstance to relate to you, prepare for a hearty laugh – the other day Mr Hodgson, Papa’s former curate, now a Vicar, came over to spend the day with us, bringing with him his own curate. The latter Gentleman by name Mr Price is a young Irish clergyman fresh from Dublin University – it was the first time we had any of us seen him, but however after the manner of his Countrymen he soon made himself at home. His character quickly appeared in his conversation – witty, lively, ardent, clever too – but deficient in the dignity & discretion of an Englishman. At home you know Ellen I talk with ease and am never shy – never weighed down & oppressed by that miserable mauvais honte which torments and constrains me elsewhere, so I conversed with this Irishman & laughed at his jests – & though I saw faults in his character excused them because of the amusement his originality afforded. I cooled a little indeed & drew in towards the latter part of the evening, because he began to season his conversation with something of Hibernian flattery which I did not quite relish, however they went away and no more was thought about them.

A few days after I got a letter the direction of which puzzled me, it being in a hand I was not accustomed to see. Evidently it was neither from you nor Mary Taylor, my only Correspondents. Having opened & read it, it proved to be a declaration of attachment & proposal of Matrimony expressed in the ardent language of the sapient young Irishman!

Well thought I – I’ve heard of love at first sight but this beats all… I hope you are laughing heartily… I’m certainly doomed to be an old maid Ellen – I can’t expect another chance – never mind I made up my mind to that fate ever since I was twelve years old.’

This article from Britannia and Eve of 1st May 1952 looked at Charlotte’s loves

It was Reverend David Pryce (not ‘Price’ as Charlotte spelled it) who was rebuffed in late 1839; he died suddenly less than a year later aged 28. Charlotte had resigned herself to receiving no further proposals, but she was quite wrong to do so.

In April 1851 it seems that Charlotte received her third proposal of marriage. By this time she had lost her siblings, and had also found great success as the writer Currer Bell. This time she had enchanted one of the management team at her publisher Smith, Elder & Co named Joe Taylor. It was Taylor who was sent to Haworth to collect the completed manuscript of Shirley from Charlotte in September 1849, and they met on a number of prior and subsequent occasions. Joe, like others before him, clearly fell head over heels for Charlotte, but Charlotte loved handsome men, and he didn’t fit the bill – as we can see from her letter to Ellen of 5th December 1849:

‘Mr Taylor – the little man – has again shewn his parts. Of him I have not yet come to a clear decision: abilities he has for he rules the firm – he keeps 40 young men under strict control by his iron will. His young superior [George Smith] likes him which, to speak the truth, is more than I do at present. In fact, I suspect he is of the Helstone order of men [the Reverend Helstone appears in Shirley] – rigid, despotic and self-willed. He tries to be very kind and even to express sympathy sometimes, and he does not manage it. He has a determined, dreadful nose in the middle of his face which when poked into my countenance cuts into my soul like iron. Still, he is horribly intelligent.’

Rejected by Charlotte, Joe Taylor started a new life in Mumbai

In the spring of 1851 Joe Taylor left England for India to expand the Smith publishing business there. He visited Charlotte before leaving on 9th April, and it is thought that he proposed marriage to her on this occasion. Charlotte met his proposal with anger, and he sailed away to Mumbai, where he died in 1874.

Once again marriage proposals followed hot on the heels of each other, and the next came via a visitor from the Brontë motherland – Penzance in Cornwall. Thomas Brontë Branwell arrived at Haworth Parsonage in September 1851, and remained there for a week. He was Charlotte’s cousin, the son of the woman after whom she had been named: Charlotte Branwell, younger sister of Maria. Why did Thomas make that 400 mile journey?

The most likely explanation seems to me that he intended to propose to Charlotte; after all his own mother and father, Charlotte and Joseph Branwell, were themselves cousins. Thomas too was rebuffed; he later married Sarah Hannah Jones. Thomas had failed to marry Charlotte Brontë, but his son did – in a way. In 1897 Arthur Milton Cooper Branwell married his cousin – one Charlotte Brontë Jones.

There is no doubt about Charlotte’s next proposal, in December 1852, and we all know how it turned out. Arthur Bell Nicholls, her father’s assistant curate, proposed twice. His first proposal was rather less than well received as we see in this letter to Ellen:

A rejected and dejected Arthur pledged to leave Haworth forever. In his final appearance at Haworth’s church he had to be led shaking from the pulpit, unable to speak, and Charlotte later found him ‘sobbing as women never sob.’ Arthur, however, continued to write to Charlotte and returned in triumph on this day in 1854 when the woman he loved accepted his second proposal.

Charlotte Brontë was not destined to be an ‘old maid’ after all, and love had won the day. I propose that you join me next Sunday for another new Brontë blog post.

An Easter Celebration With The Brontës

Easter Sunday is here, and it must have been both a joyous and tiring day for the Brontës of Haworth. As perpetual curate of Haworth, Patrick Brontë would have carried out a number of paschal services, and his daughters would also doubtless have been called upon at this time to assist in his duties, or at least to sit in their positions of prominence within St. Michael’s and All Angels church. For Anne Brontë this would have been far from a chore, as she was perhaps the most pious of the Brontë siblings, and the celebration of her faith was always something she welcomed.

There are many other things associated with Easter today, alongside its original religious significance. We may think of the advent of spring, of flowers, or of chocolates. In today’s Easter post we can all enjoy poems by Anne, Emily and Charlotte that have a suitably floral theme – interspersed by some Victorian Easter cards. As you may expect from Victorian cards, their choice of subject is really rather odd – it seems that in the nineteenth century, military themes were thought a more than suitable choice to mark Easter day:

Anne Brontë – The Bluebell

A fine and subtle spirit dwells
In every little flower,
Each one its own sweet feeling breathes
With more or less of power.
There is a silent eloquence
In every wild bluebell
That fills my softened heart with bliss
That words could never tell.
Yet I recall not long ago
A bright and sunny day,
‘Twas when I led a toilsome life
So many leagues away;
That day along a sunny road
All carelessly I strayed,
Between two banks where smiling flowers
Their varied hues displayed.
Before me rose a lofty hill,
Behind me lay the sea,
My heart was not so heavy then
As it was wont to be.
Less harassed than at other times
I saw the scene was fair,
And spoke and laughed to those around,
As if I knew no care.
But when I looked upon the bank
My wandering glances fell
Upon a little trembling flower,
A single sweet bluebell.
Whence came that rising in my throat,
That dimness in my eye?
Why did those burning drops distil —
Those bitter feelings rise?
O, that lone flower recalled to me
My happy childhood’s hours
When bluebells seemed like fairy gifts
A prize among the flowers,
Those sunny days of merriment
When heart and soul were free,
And when I dwelt with kindred hearts
That loved and cared for me.
I had not then mid heartless crowds
To spend a thankless life
In seeking after others’ weal
With anxious toil and strife.
‘Sad wanderer, weep those blissful times
That never may return!’
The lovely floweret seemed to say,
And thus it made me mourn.

Emily Brontë – The Blue Bell

The blue bell is the sweetest flower
That waves in summer air;
Its blossoms have the mightiest power
To soothe my spirit’s care.
There is a spell in purple heath
Too wildly, sadly dear;
The violet has a fragrant breath
But fragrance will not cheer.
The trees are bare, the sun is cold;
And seldom, seldom seen;
The heavens have lost their zone of gold
The earth its robe of green;
And ice upon the glancing stream
Has cast its sombre shade
And distant hills and valleys seem
In frozen mist arrayed –
The blue bell cannot charm me now
The heath has lost its bloom,
The violets in the glen below
They yield no sweet perfume.
But though I mourn the heather-bell
‘Tis better far, away;
I know how fast my tears would swell
To see it smile today;
And that wood flower that hides so shy
Beneath the mossy stone
Its balmy scent and dewy eye:
‘Tis not for them I moan.
It is the slight and stately stem,
The blossom’s silvery blue,
The buds hid like a sapphire gem
In sheaths of emerald hue.
‘Tis these that breathe upon my heart
A calm and softening spell
That if it makes the tear-drop start
Has power to soothe as well.
For these I weep, so long divided
Through winter’s dreary day,
In longing weep – but most when guided
On withered banks to stray.
If chilly then the light should fall
Adown the dreary sky
And gild the dank and darkened wall
With transient brilliancy,
How do I yearn, how do I pine
For the time of flowers to come,
And turn me from that fading shine
To mourn the fields of home –

Charlotte Brontë – Life

Life, believe, is not a dream
So dark as sages say;
Oft a little morning rain
Foretells a pleasant day.
Sometimes there are clouds of gloom,
But these are transient all;
If the shower will make the roses bloom,
O why lament its fall?
Rapidly, merrily,
Life’s sunny hours flit by,
Gratefully, cheerily
Enjoy them as they fly!
What though Death at times steps in,
And calls our Best away?
What though sorrow seems to win,
O’er hope, a heavy sway?
Yet Hope again elastic springs,
Unconquered, though she fell;
Still buoyant are her golden wings,
Still strong to bear us well.
Manfully, fearlessly,
The day of trial bear,
For gloriously, victoriously,
Can courage quell despair!

We have finished with a particularly apt poem by Charlotte Brontë, as this week marked the anniversary of her death on the 31st March 1855. As she prophesied in this poem, however, the shower of that tragic event has not stopped the roses of her work blooming. It is a poem of courage and final triumph, which also lies at the heart of the Easter message.

Whatever your beliefs, whether this is a day for choirs or chocolates, I hope you have a very happy day, and I hope you can join me next Sunday for another new Brontë blog.