Today is Remembrance Sunday, a day when we can remember the members of the armed forces, and civilians, across the world and throughout the centuries who have fought in conflicts for the country and causes they believed in. Many fought and were injured, many fought and died. Brontë relative Arthur Milton Cooper Branwell was one of the lucky ones to fight and survive.
Arthur Branwell was the son of Thomas Brontë Branwell, which makes him a first cousin once removed of the Brontë siblings. His grandmother was Charlotte Branwell, younger sister of Maria Branwell and the aunt after whom Charlotte Brontë was named. Arthur was born in 1862 and had a long military career in which he fought in the nineteenth century Boer War among other conflicts. At the start of World War One in 1914 he came out of retirement and initially served as an instructor preparing troops about to be sent to the front line. Eventually his skills were needed in the front line himself and he was sent to France – as this picture of him and his fellow officers shows:
This is surely a happy photograph amidst the conflict raging across Europe and beyond. Captain Branwell is seated at the front, with four fresh faced lieutenants around him. Did they, like Arthur, return to civilian life after the war? The caption on the Tatler photograph gives us a sad clue: ‘this group has, alas, suffered severely since the picture was taken.’
In fact today I reveal the tragic tale of this photograph – the truth is that everyone in it, except Captain Arthur Branwell, was killed. Here are their stories:
Lieutenant Herbert Stofford Maunsell
Herbert Maunsell was born in Ottawa, Canada – his father was Brigadier General G.S. Marshall. He died of his wounds on 1st September 1915 after fighting in the Pas-de-Calais, and is buried in Choques Military Cemetery.
2nd Lieutenant William Stanley Giles
William Giles was the son of J.G. Giles. Born in Cardiff he survived the battles of France and, showing the global nature of this conflict, he was sent to Palestine. He was killed in action there aged 29 on 2nd November 2017, and is buried in Gaza Military Cemetery.
2nd Lieutenant James Frederick Gamble
James Gamble was the son of Joseph Frederick Gamble of Middlesbrough. He was killed in action aged 25 at the Battle of the Somme on 25th June 1916, and is buried at Auchonvillers Military Cemetery.
Lieutenant James Harold Elliott
James Elliott was the son of Henry and Anne Elliott of Cheltenham. He too was killed at the Battle of the Somme, on 29th November 1916. He was just 18 years old. James is buried at Beaumont-Hamel Military Cemetery.
Five men posing for a photograph, ready to give their all for their country. Only one man would ever see it again – Brontë relative Arthur Branwell. Their tales are like so many, today they are just faces on a photograph but in 1916 and 1917 they were the dead sons of fathers and mothers; they were the subjects of terse telegrams that destroyed lives forever. They were men who could have had long years ahead of them, who had so much to see, so much to give, but instead they gave their lives. Let us remember them.
November 5th is bonfire night, although many places now choose to hold bonfires and loose their fireworks the weekend before, so the chances are that you’ve already experienced the ear shattering screams of a thousand sky rockets over the last day or two. It’s an experience loved by children especially, and it must also have been well known to the Brontës as Haworth would have held its own bonfire on an annual basis.
We can be sure of this because, until it was finally repealed in 1859, every parish in England was beholden to comply with the Observation of 5th November 1605 Act. This act was made law in the immediate aftermath of the foiling of the gunpowder plot, and it made the lighting of bonfires compulsory to commemorate the failure of the plot, and act as a reminder to people of how close the plot had come to succeed. The country was bitterly divided along religious times at the beginning of the seventeenth century, and the message behind the mandated bonfires was clear – be alert for people who are enemies of the state, and if you are one of the enemies, watch out lest you too end up on an earthly fire or in an eternal one.
The day to day violence on religious lines had long since ended by the nineteenth century, although anti-Catholic sentiment, and anti-Irish sentiment, still ran deep and this may be one of the factors behind Patrick changing the family name to Brontë from the more Irish sounding Brunty or Prunty. As his church and parsonage were at the high point of the village it would have made sense for the parish bonfire to be held nearby, and at the very least Patrick would have been expected to make an appearance at the event.
It leaves us wondering what the Brontës would have felt of bonfire night, and of Guy Fawkes? As the author of a book on Guy I’m often asked about him at this time of year, and it’s fair to say that perceptions of him have changed greatly since he was captured in the early hours of the 5th of November 1605, just hours before he lit the fuse which would have blown parliament, and the whole Westminster area, to smithereens, changing the course of history in the process.
He rapidly became the face of evil personified, with the Bishop of Rochester famously denouncing Guy from his pulpit as ‘the devil from the crypt’, and the word Guy quickly became synonymous with a wicked person, as in ‘he’s a complete guy!’. Over the centuries it has lost its pejorative meaning, but the use of guy as a generic term for man or person originates in the infamy attached to Guy Fawkes. Today, many see Guy as a hero and his face is among the most instantly recognisable in the world thanks to its use in the ‘V For Vendetta’ cartoons and film, and its adoption as a mask that can be found in protests across the globe.
As today, by the nineteenth century fireworks too had become synonymous with bonfire night, and we can imagine the young Brontës looking up as they exploded into the sky above Haworth’s moors. The most popular fireworks at the time were squibs and a piece known as the ‘firing pistol’, presumably because it made a cracking sound. They weren’t as spectacular as today’s fireworks but they were far more dangerous, and newspapers across the country in early November would be filled with tragic tales of adults and children maimed, or worse.
On 15th November 1838, for example, we can read of James Taylor, aged 17. He had been attending a bonfire at Mold Green near Huddersfield, and, the Bradford Observer reported, his pockets were filled with four dozen squibs and two ounces of gunpowder. A spark from the bonfire found its way into a trouser pocket, with predictably dire results.
Contemporary reports also reveal that bonfires could be a tinder box in more than one way. By the first half of the nineteenth century many people were already seeing Guy Fawkes as an example of righteous rebellion, and rallying to his cause, meaning that bonfires could be riotous affairs. Mindful of this, authorities in Wakefield, a city in the West Riding of Yorkshire, attempted to ban the bonfire of 5th November 1849. As this report in the Leeds Intelligencer reveals, a riot erupted in which police were attacked, prisoners freed, a bystander accused of being a police spy was nearly murdered, oh and the Mayor of Wakefield had his hat knocked off:
We know that Patrick Brontë was terrified of fire, and for that reason wouldn’t allow curtains in the parsonage. He probably wasn’t too enthused about riots either, so it could be that his children were left to watch the bonfire and fireworks through the safety of a parsonage window. Nevertheless, we know that the Brontës must have been interested in, or at least aware of, the story of Guy Fawkes as Charlotte Brontë refers to him in ‘Jane Eyre‘, as the young Jane recovers from her red room ordeal:
‘Bessie invited him to walk into the breakfast-room, and led the way out. In the interview which followed between him and Mrs. Reed, I presume, from after-occurrences, that the apothecary ventured to recommend my being sent to school; and the recommendation was no doubt readily enough adopted; for as Abbot said, in discussing the subject with Bessie when both sat sewing in the nursery one night, after I was in bed, and, as they thought, asleep, “Missis was, she dared say, glad enough to get rid of such a tiresome, ill-conditioned child, who always looked as if she were watching everybody, and scheming plots underhand.” Abbot, I think, gave me credit for being a sort of infantine Guy Fawkes.’
Whatever you do this bonfire night, have fun and stay safe (and of course keep your pets indoors, safe and sound). Guy was captured just after midnight on the 5th of November and by a coincidence at that exact same time this year I will be talking about him on Radio 2, so if you’re still up and need something to send you to sleep, do tune in.
I’m busy editing my new Anne Brontë book to mark her 200th birthday, more news of which will be with you soon, so unfortunately I haven’t had time to write a completely new post, as I like to do on Sundays. As today is once more International Black Cat Day however, it seems apt to re-visit a post on that subject from a couple of years ago. I love black cats, and the magical air about them, but apparently they’re the least likely cats to be adopted. Let’s give black cats the love they deserve, after all, as this revisited post shows, the Brontës were full of love for their very own black cat:
Today is International Cat Day, so it seems a perfect opportunity to take a look at the cat in the lives of the Brontë sisters! The wet nosed four legged friends of the Brontës are well known, and visitors to the Brontë Parsonage Museum can still see the collars of Grasper, Keeper and Anne Brontë’s beloved spaniel Flossy, a gift from her pupils in the Robinson household. Their cat, Tom, however is not as well known.
Tom was a black cat that was doted upon by the Brontë siblings, and it seems that he certainly knew how to charm visitors to the Parsonage, probably with the intention of gaining a cuddle or even a tasty morsel or two. The world may change, but cats never change!
We have three pieces of evidence for the Brontës love of cats. First is this picture that Emily Brontë painted, with their cat Tiger taking centre stage along with Keeper and Flossy:
We also see two cats taking centre stage in the early part of Agnes Grey, the début novel of Anne Brontë that was heavily influenced by her real life experiences. Agnes wants to be given more to do in the northern Parsonage where she lives, but her over protective family tell her:
‘Go and practice your music, or play with the kitten.’
When Agnes leaves home to become a governess for the first time, she seeks out this kitten for special attention:
‘I rose, washed, dressed, swallowed a hasty breakfast, received the fond embraces of my father, mother, and sister, kissed the cat – to the great scandal of Sally, the maid – shook hands with her, mounted the gig, drew the veil over my face, and then, but not til then, burst into a flood of tears.’
It’s easy to imagine Anne painting this season from memory, with Aunt Branwell playing the part of mother, and Tabby Aykroyd as Sally.
There’s another sign of Anne’s fondness for cats later in the book. In a moving and tender section, the poor old woman Nancy is worried because her cat has gone missing, and she fears the local gamekeeper will have shot it. Indeed that would have been its fate, but Reverend Weston rescues it and returns it to Nancy.
We also have an eyewitness account of the Brontë cat from Ellen Nussey’s report of 1833:
‘Black ‘Tom’, the tabby, was everybody’s favourite. It received such gentle treatment it seemed to have lost its cat’s nature, and subsided into luxurious amiability and contentment.’
It’s important to note here that Ellen, always a careful and fastidious writer, has put ‘Tom’ in quotation marks, meaning that this was the name that the Brontës had given it, rather than it being simply a tom cat.
Ellen goes on to explain that Aunt Branwell was rather less fond of pets, but on this particular point the Brontë girls would not be lectured to. We’ll return to our second part of the Aunt Branwell blog this weekend, looking at her relationship with Charlotte, Branwell, Emily and Anne Brontë, but as an animal lover myself I couldn’t let International Cat Day go by uncelebrated.
By the way, if you’re lucky enough to visit Haworth today, you’re sure to see a cat or two. One in particular hangs around the graveyard in front of the parsonage, its bright eyes gleaming out of the dark. As it was in the 1840s, so it is today.
I woke to the sound of my smoke detectors beeping angrily at six this morning. It’s never the perfect alarm call, and it sent me scurrying around the house in search of smoke or fire. None could be found thankfully, but as it then started beeping again there was no chance of further sleep. On the plus side, it’s provided me an ideal opportunity to write this week’s blog on the subject of fire and the Brontës.
There were no smoke detectors or fire alarms in the early nineteenth century of course, but if there were then you can be sure that Patrick Brontë would have filled the parsonage with them. Ellen Nussey, in her ‘Reminiscences’, recalled Patrick’s acute awareness of the dangers fire posed, and the actions he took to alleviate the risks:
‘Mr. Brontë’s horror of fire forbade curtains to the windows; they never had these accessories to comfort and appearance till long after Charlotte was the only inmate of the family sitting room, – she then ventured on her innovation when her friend was with her; it did not please her father but it was not forbidden.’
Ellen elucidated further on his fear, and the effect it had on his daughters:
‘The only dread he had was of fire [Ellen’s italics], and this dread was so intense it caused him to prohibit all but silk or woollen dresses for his daughters; indeed, for any one to wear any other kind of fabric was almost to forfeit his respect.’
Patrick’s fear was not an unfounded phobia, however, but based on the very real threats that were around him and his family. These were the days of open fireplaces and candle light, as well as the days of increasingly voluminous women’s clothing often made from highly flammable fabrics. As a parish priest Patrick would have had to bury many people, often girls, whose dress had fluttered across a flame and caught light. With many layers of clothing also worn, the effects of an encounter with fire in this way would often prove fatal.
Patrick’s response, as we have seen, was to ban curtains that could be ignited by a candle’s flame, and to insist that his daughters wore wool or silk as these were less immediately flammable. If we take a look through nineteenth century archives, or watch the excellent documentary ‘Hidden Killers Of The Victorian Home’, we soon see that many families were not so fortunate as the Brontës, and deaths by fire happened across the country on a daily basis.
I say ‘not so fortunate’ as, despite Patrick’s precautions, there was eventually a fire in Haworth Parsonage but thanks to the quick actions of Anne and Emily the consequences were less serious than they could so easily have been.
John Greenwood, the Haworth stationer who was a close family friend, recalled the story of how Anne, as was her wont, stopped to look in upon her brother on her way to bed one night, and found that Branwell had fallen asleep while trying to read by candlelight and his room was on fire. With the help of Emily, the tallest and strongest in the house, she dragged Branwell from the room and they doused the flames with pitchers of water. Without their quick thinking and quick actions it could have been so much worse.
This scene remained, quite understandably, on their minds, and Charlotte must have been well aware of it as well, because she used it for a powerful moment in ‘Jane Eyre’:
‘Something creaked: it was a door ajar; and that door was Mr. Rochester’s, and the smoke rushed in a cloud from thence. I thought no more of Mrs. Fairfax; I thought no more of Grace Poole, or the laugh: in an instant, I was within the chamber. Tongues of flame darted round the bed: the curtains were on fire. In the midst of blaze and vapour, Mr. Rochester lay stretched motionless, in deep sleep. “Wake! wake!” I cried. I shook him, but he only murmured and turned: the smoke had stupefied him. Not a moment could be lost: the very sheets were kindling, I rushed to his basin and ewer; fortunately, one was wide and the other deep, and both were filled with water. I heaved them up, deluged the bed and its occupant, flew back to my own room, brought my own water-jug, baptised the couch afresh, and, by God’s aid, succeeded in extinguishing the flames which were devouring it.’
Branwell has inspired Rochester and Bertha in this scene, he is the inadvertent fire starter and its potential victim, but thankfully Anne had been on hand to be the rescuing Jane. Later in Charlotte’s novel we find that Bertha has succeeded and burnt down Thornfield Hall, destroying herself, but not quite Rochester, in the process.
In Anne’s novels we see fire represent something very different – it is not danger, but passion, love. In the first section ‘The Tenant Of Wildfell Hall’, Gilbert calls upon Helen:
‘”How dismal you are, Helen! Why have you no fire?” I said, looking round on the gloomy apartment.
“It is summer yet,” she replied.
“But we always have a fire in the evenings, if we can bear it; and you especially require one in this cold house and dreary room.”
“You should have come a little sooner, and I would have had one lighted for you: but it is not worth while now.”’
Helen has no fire, metaphorically, because she has no love and at that point, no hope; her hearth and heart are cold, but as we see later, like the winter rose with snow upon its leaves it can still be rekindled.
In ‘Agnes Grey‘, Agnes is cheered by a chance encounter with Reverend Weston that to some may seem insignificant, but to Agnes it has warmed her world:
‘Well! what is there remarkable in all this? Why have I recorded it? Because, reader, it was important enough to give me a cheerful evening, a night of pleasing dreams, and a morning of felicitous hopes. Shallow-brained cheerfulness, foolish dreams, unfounded hopes, you would say; and I will not venture to deny it: suspicions to that effect arose too frequently in my own mind. But our wishes are like tinder: the flint and steel of circumstances are continually striking out sparks, which vanish immediately, unless they chance to fall upon the tinder of our wishes; then, they instantly ignite, and the flame of hope is kindled in a moment.’
Whatever our dreams, let us all keep the flame of hope alive, and let us all bask in the warm glow that comes from a Brontë book. Oh, and let’s all make sure that our smoke detectors are in good working order and not likely to wake us at an altogether unholy hour on a Sunday morning.
This is a special day for many in Britain, as today in the Vatican Pope Francis I is canonising John Henry Newman – better known as Cardinal Newman, but from today called Saint John Henry Newman. It’s particularly historic as he is the first British person to be made a Saint in 43 years, and he is the first ‘modern’ Brit to gain that honour as our previous most recent saint lived in the 17th century. He is of interest to this blog for his connection to Charlotte Brontë, so we’ll take a brief look at St. John (no, not St. John Rivers on this occasion), at how Charlotte knew him and why it’s strange that Charlotte should have felt such an affinity to his teachings.
Part of Newman’s great appeal is that he in many ways seems an ordinary person, for a saint. He is a man that it’s easy to relate to, and also one that unites faiths. He was born in 1801 in London and was to become a towering figure in nineteenth century theology. For a Catholic Saint, however, it is perhaps surprising that he was born into a Protestant family and his mother Jemima (formerly Jemima Fourdrinier) was of a Huguenot refugee family who, like many other Huguenots (French Protestants) had had to flee France in fear of their lives and after persecution from the Catholic church there.
As a child Newman impressed as a scholar, and he particularly loved to read the novels of Walter Scott – just as the Brontës did. At age 15, another strange event occurred for a man who would be canonised, as he became a convert not to Catholicism but to Calvinism. Calvinism was the hardline branch of Protestantism, whose proponents believed in the elect and the damned. If you were elect, you would be pre-destined to heaven, whatever you did on earth. All others, however, were destined to the eternal torments of hell if they sinned once. Unsurprisingly, most Calvinist preachers recognised themselves as the elect and their parishioners as the damned.
It was a harsh doctrine that despised Catholicism and denounced the Pope as the anti-Christ. They preached of punishment and hellfire, and a perfect example of a Calvinist was Reverend William Carus Wilson, who ran the Clergy Daughter’s School which tragically claimed the lives of the two eldest Brontë sisters Maria and Elizabeth. Charlotte revenged herself upon Wilson, and Calvinists in general, by depicting him as the cruel Mr. Brocklehurst in ‘Jane Eyre‘, and Anne Brontë also attacked them in a poem which she entitled, ‘A Word To The Calvinists’ and which was later changed to ‘A Word To The Elect’. In its opening we see Anne take aim at their hypocrisy and hit the target:
‘You may rejoice to think yourselves secure;
You may be grateful for the gift divine –
That grace unsought, which made your black hearts pure,
And fits your earth-born souls in Heaven to shine.
But, is it sweet to look around, and view
Thousands excluded from that happiness,
Which they deserved, at least, as much as you, –
Their faults not greater, nor their virtues less?’
Newman, then, had become a proponent of the most fervently anti-Catholic sect of them all, and in 1825 he took holy orders and was ordained a priest in the Church of England, one who still held Calvinist views. Rather than becoming a parish priest, however, he became an Oxford academic (and de facto priest of the University’s St. Mary’s church), preacher and theologian and gradually over the next decade his views began to change. He wrote on the need to find common ground between Anglicanism and Catholicism, the ‘middle way’ that he gave a series of popular lectures on.
By 1842, with his views causing increasing controversy in the church, Newman had retreated from University life and created an Anglican monastery (it’s now Oxford’s Newman College), but he had embarked upon a path that would change his life.
In 1843 he resigned from his post at St. Mary’s and published an advertisement in an Oxford paper retracting and apologising for his previously stated views on Catholicism. In 1845 the progression was completed as Newman was formally received into the Roman Catholic church, and a year later was ordained a Catholic priest. He now embarked on a further series of lectures in London and Birmingham called ‘The Present Position of Catholics in England’. In these lectures he denounced the anti-Catholic sentiment that was high in the country at that time, and the aggressive measures taken against Catholics.
During one such lecture Newman was said to have libelled a former Catholic who now vehemently preached against the faith, and he was arrested and expected to receive a prison sentence. Newman was found guilty, but escaped prison with a £100 fine and an admonishment from the judge about his ‘moral deterioration’ after his conversion to Catholicism. Newman’s response was ‘posterity shall be my judge’.
Newman’s notoriety increased, and he produced a series of works which sold in large numbers, as well as addressing large crowds wherever he went. In 1879 he was made a Cardinal of the Catholic Church, but as always he defied convention by not being a Bishop first and by refusing to be a Bishop once elevated to the Cardinal rank. It was also usual then for Cardinals to live in Rome, but the now Cardinal Newman insisted on remaining in Birmingham.
When Newman died in 1890 the nation mourned, and in the century and more that has followed increasingly people saw him as a figure of devotion. Miracles were attributed to him, and it is this that led to his beatification by Pope Benedict XVI in 2010. I was one of many tens of thousands of people who filled Hyde Park to see the Pope celebrate this beatification, and it was an incredibly moving event. Nine years later, after a further miracle was officially recognised by the church, he has been given the ultimate accolade of Sainthood.
Newman was known across Britain and beyond throughout the nineteenth century. He was a passionate and brilliant speaker, and we know that one person who attended his lectures was none other than Charlotte Brontë. The lectures she saw were in London in 1850, and were tellingly entitled ‘Certain Difficulties Felt By Anglicans In Submitting To The Catholic Church’. She later told Elizabeth Gaskell about them, who reported in a letter to Catherine Winkworth:
‘Miss Brontë agreed with me in liking Mr. Newman’s Soul, and in liking Modern Painters, and the idea of the Seven Lamps; and she told me about Father Newman’s lectures at the Oratory in a very quiet, concise, graphic way.’
It at first seems strange that Charlotte should profess such an admiration for Newman, and to attend his lectures, as some of her works express profound anti-Catholic sentiment. This was merely in common with many of the people at the time, but it can still be hard to read ‘The Professor’ particularly, with its passages such as:
‘I long to live once more among Protestants; they are more honest than Catholics; a Romish school is a building with porous walls, a hollow floor, a false ceiling; every room in this house, monsieur, has eyeholes and ear-holes, and what the house is, the inhabitants are, very treacherous; they all think it lawful to tell lies; they all call it politeness to profess friendship where they feel hatred.’
Nevertheless, Charlotte was attracted to Newman, and possibly even to Catholicism itself. One startling scene in ‘Villette’ sees Lucy Snowe heading in despair to a confessional in the Roman Catholic cathedral, and we know that Charlotte, in despair at her unrequited love for M. Heger, followed exactly the same course on 1st September 1843 in the grand St. Gudule’s Cathedral. She disclosed this to Emily, her confessor of a different kind:
‘An odd whim came into my head. In a solitary part of the Cathedral six or seven people still remained kneeling by the confessionals. In two confessionals I saw a priest. I felt as if I did not care what I did, provided it was not absolutely wrong, and that it served to vary my life and yield a moment’s interest. I took a fancy to change myself into a Catholic and go and make a real confession to see what it was like. Knowing me as you do, you will think this odd, but when people are by themselves they have singular fancies… I actually did confess – a real confession… I think you had better not tell Papa of this. He will not understand that it was only a freak, and will perhaps think I am going to turn Catholic.’
Was this a ‘freak’ as she called it, or was it something that deep down she had considered for a while and continued to consider? Was she considering it when she went to watch John Henry Newman deliver his lecture about Anglicans submitting to the Catholic church? I think it shows that Charlotte was at heart not bigoted against Catholics, and in fact not bigoted in any way at all. She was always looking to understand people, to find a Newman-like ‘middle way’.
Newman, like the Brontës, was also a keen poet. His most famous work is ‘The Dream Of Gerontius’. That’s a long, complex poem so I leave you with his poem ‘The Trance Of Time’, as we say thank you Saint John Henry Newman for showing us the importance of loving and understanding one another, whether we have faith, of any kind, or not:
‘In childhood, when with eager eyes
The season-measured year I view’d,
All garb’d in fairy guise,
Pledged constancy of good.
Spring sang of heaven; the summer flowers
Bade me gaze on, and did not fade;
Even suns o’er autumn’s bowers
Heard my strong wish, and stay’d.
They came and went, the short-lived four;
Yet, as their varying dance they wove,
To my young heart each bore
Its own sure claim of love.
Far different now; – the whirling year
Vainly my dizzy eyes pursue;
And its fair tints appear
All blent in one dusk hue.
Why dwell on rich autumnal lights,
Spring-time, or winter’s social ring?
Long days are fire-side nights,
Brown autumn is fresh spring.
Then what this world to thee, my heart?
Its gifts nor feed thee nor can bless.
Thou hast no owner’s part
In all its fleetingness.
The flame, the storm, the quaking ground,
Earth’s joy, earth’s terror, nought is thine,
Thou must but hear the sound
Of the still voice divine.
O priceless art! O princely state!
E’en while by sense of change opprest,
Within to antedate
Heaven’s Age of fearless rest.’
It is likely that we would have none of the Brontë books we so love today without the aid of their aunt, Elizabeth Branwell. Why so? Simply because it was the legacy that Aunt Branwell left Anne, Charlotte and Emily Brontë that allowed them to pay for their first book, ‘Poems by Currer, Ellis and Acton Bell’ to be published, and that allowed Anne and Emily to pay Thomas Cautley Newby to have ‘Agnes Grey’ and ‘Wuthering Heights’ published.
Aunt Branwell’s will came into effect in 1842, and after dividing her worldly goods between Anne, Charlotte, Emily and Branwell, she finishes by dividing her money: ‘after the aforesaid sums and articles shall have been paid and deducted, shall be put into some safe bank or lent on good landed security, and there left to accumulate for the sole benefit of my four nieces, Charlotte Brontë, Emily Jane Brontë, Anne Brontë, and Elizabeth Jane Kingston; and this sum or sums, and whatever other property I may have, shall be equally divided between them when the youngest of them living shall have arrived at the age of twenty-one years.’
Anne Brontë, the youngest of these four cousins, was 22 years of age at the time, meaning that they all came into their inheritance equally and immediately. Four cousins benefited but whilst the world knows three, the fourth remains obscure, and yet the story of Eliza Kingston is the most tragic of them all.
The Branwell family of Penzance was a large one, so why was Eliza the only other niece or nephew that Aunt Branwell remembered in her will, other than the Brontës with whom she had lived for more than 20 years? Eliza was the daughter of Jane Kingston, older sister of Elizabeth and of Maria, the mother of the Brontë siblings. She married a Methodist minister, and former missionary, named John Kingston in 1801 in Madron, Cornwall, but before long Reverend Kingston had been banished from the Methodist church and he, Jane and their family had to sail for Baltimore in America to start a new life together.
Sadly things went from bad to worse for the Kingston marriage and in April 1809 Jane Kingston set sail from New York and returned to her beloved Penzance. With her was the baby Elizabeth named after her sister, but forever called Eliza, born in America, but tragically she had to leave her three older children behind with their father.
Jane was back in Cornwall and living a short distance from the Branwell house on Chapel Street; due to an abusive marriage she’d had to leave her husband and wave goodbye forever to all but her baby. She was a single mother and her conduct at that time would have been seen by many as scandalous, but the way she was treated by her sister Elizabeth tells us much about her. We know from Aunt Branwell’s will that she had provided money to Jane to set up her own business, and it is clear to see that she had continued to look out for her niece Eliza as well. Elizabeth Branwell was a woman who would never turn her back when her family were in need. I believe that it is also clear that she told her Brontë nieces about this ill starred aunt and cousin in Penzance, for let’s boil Jane’s story down to its essentials: she married a man who was not what he seemed; she had to take her young child and leave her husband far behind, trying to make a new life with the help of a sibling who stood by her. It seems clear that Jane Kingston, aunt to Anne Brontë, was in fact the original of Helen, the Tenant of Wildfell Hall.
Jane Kingston died in 1855, but what happened to Eliza, the quarter share recipient from her Aunt Elizabeth’s will? It’s a story as sad as any in the Brontë cannon. She invested her inheritance in the Cornish tin mining industry made famous today by Poldark, and at first her investment flourished. We know from her letters to an American brother-in-law that she was aware of her Brontë cousins and had read her books, and she was also in correspondence with Patrick Brontë – in fact it’s thanks to a letter from Eliza that we see the last ever glimpse of Patrick, in 1860 the year before he died:
‘I had a letter from my Uncle Brontë last June. He says he was in his 83rd year, but, though feeble, was still able to preach once on Sunday, and sometimes to take occasional duty; his son-in-law, Mr. Nicholls will continue with him. He says strangers still continue to call, but he converses little with them, but keeps himself as quiet as he can. I understand the Brontës were beloved in their own neighbourhood.’
In 1854, Eliza gave a pen portrait of herself in a self-deprecating way very reminiscent of her Haworth cousin Charlotte:
‘My dear Brother, you ask me do I look like Anne [her by then deceased sister to whom Joseph was once married]. Alas, no! I fear I am neither like her in features, form, or disposition. My mother thinks she was her best child, and I am about the worst, but you shall judge for yourself. I am of middle stature, rather large boned, but not very fleshy, high shouldered, short necked, neither fair nor dark, high cheek bones, large mouth, irregular teeth, grey eyes, brown hair, very grey on the front part of my head… of an irritable temper, but frank and open with those I like, rather impudently so sometimes. To crown all, I am an Old Maid of 46, or shall be so on the 23rd of this month. It has cost me an effort, I assure you, to give this picture of myself, but as you wished to know particulars, I thought it best to be candid. I might have married, but I did not like the offers, nor did I think them suitable. When I tell you I have always greatly admired beauty under all circumstances, you may partly guess what mortifications and painful feelings I have had to endure.’
Before long however, Eliza’s investments became worthless and she began a descent into complete and utter poverty and despair. By 1866 she, in desperation, is writing to known philanthropists begging for help:
‘I thought some time since that there are institutions for the help of those in reduced circumstances, I would try to ascertain their rules. One, the National Benevolent Institution, does not help those under 60. I am not yet 58. I was advised to write Miss Burdett Coutts who is said to be the richest commoner in the United Kingdom. I did it on the 1st of this month… but received no reply, the case twice before to others.’
Eliza’s final letter to her brother in law Joseph is terrible and moving:
‘I feel very weak at times, if I over-exert myself or do not take sufficient nourishment; I require (if I could have it) animal food every day… I cannot live so low as I used to. I was informed that it was a case of nervous debility which I knew before… there is often a cobweb (or something like it) floating before my left eye… I live in constant dread of the future… I have no prospect of a home or rooms or indeed any money to pay rent… God only knows how it will end… I sometimes feel as if my heart would break.’
In 1878 Eliza Kingston died; she had lived a longer life than her Brontë cousins, but in no measure a happier life. The place of her final days is revealing; she was in a Penzance lunatic asylum. In her letters we see that Eliza is a fine writer in her own right, and after her death a distant relative gives us one final tragic glimpse of Eliza:
‘I think my mother asked Miss [Eliza] Kingston about Charlotte Brontë on more than one occasion. They talked about her together, and Miss Kingston spoke a good deal about what Charlotte Brontë had brought out in her works, and how she depicted characters. I have a vivid recollection of wonder that our poor cousin Eliza Jane could say such beautiful things and see so much in books, and yet look so plain and prosper so badly. Is there any record of the book she wrote, or was it only a part? Perhaps she destroyed it. She said no one would publish it.’
So now we see that just like Anne, Emily and Charlotte, cousin Eliza too used the money and freedom that Aunt Branwell’s legacy left them to write a book. But Eliza’s book is lost forever, nobody would publish it, and now nobody will ever see it, however brilliant it may have been. Even so, let’s keep the name of Eliza Kingston alive.
This is one of the most tragic of all days in the Brontë story, for on this day, the 24th of September 1848, Branwell Brontë died in Haworth at the age of 31. Not only was this a sad day in itself, it marked the beginning of just over eight months of mourning that would also see Emily and Anne Brontë die of the same condition: tuberculosis.
The man born Patrick Branwell Brontë in 1817 remains a controversial figure; yes, he had serious difficulties to deal with in later life, but thankfully more and more people are now returning to the positive aspects of Branwell and his work.
With that in mind, let’s pause today and think about what those who knew Branwell best had to say about him, his family and friends:
Patrick Brontë on Branwell Brontë
“My poor father naturally thought more of his only son than of his daughters, and much and long has he suffered on his account – he cried out for his loss like David for that of Absalom – My son! My son! And refused at first to be comforted.”
[This was from a letter of 2nd October from Charlotte to W.S. Williams. She was wrong that Patrick felt more of Branwell than his daughters, if anything it seems that Emily may have been closest to him, but it shows the depth of his grief for the man who had once been the great hope of the family. From his birth, it would have been expected that Branwell would make his way in life, and also provide enough money to look after his sisters too after their father’s death should they need it.]
Charlotte Brontë on Branwell Brontë
“When I looked on the noble face and forehead of my dear brother (Nature had favoured him with a fairer outside, as well as a finer constitution than his Sisters) and asked myself what had made him ever go wrong, tend ever downwards, when he had so many gifts to induce to, and aid in an upward course – I seemed to receive an oppressive revelation of the feebleness of humanity; of the inadequacy of even genius to lead to true greatness unaided by religion and principle… When the struggle was over – and a marble calm began to succeed the last dread agony – I felt as I had never felt before that there was peace and forgiveness for him in Heaven. All his errors – to speak plainly – all his vices seemed nothing to me in that moment; every wrong he had done, every pain he had caused, vanished; his sufferings only were remembered; the wrench to the natural affections only was felt… Had his sins been scarlet in their dye, I believe now they are as white as wool. He is at rest – and that comforts us all. Long before he quitted this world – Life had no happiness for him.”
[This moving letter, again to Williams, of 9th October shows Charlotte wrestling with her feelings. For a long time before her brother’s death she had ceased speaking to him, but she was facing demons of her own at the time and in their childhood they had been incredibly close. Only after his death did she realise how much she still loved him.]
Francis Grundy on Branwell Brontë
“This generous gentleman in all his ideas, this madman in many of his acts, died at twenty-eight of grief for a woman. But at twenty-two, what a splendid specimen of brain power running wild he was! What glorious talent he had still to waste!.. This plain specimen of humanity, who died unhonoured, might have made the world of literature and art ring with the name of which he was so proud… He was a dear old friend, who from the rich storehouse of his knowledge taught me much. I make my humble effort to do my duty to his memory. His letters to me revealed more of his soul’s struggles than probably was known to any other. Branwell Brontë was no domestic demon – he was just a man moving in a mist, who lost his way. More sinned against, mayhap, than sinning, at least he proved the reality of his sorrows. They killed him, and it needed not that his memory should have been tarnished… but Fiat Justitia! And I must say what I can in favour of my old friend.”
[Branwell Brontë met Francis Grundy during his days on the railway in Luddendenfoot near Halifax, and they became firm friends. This extract is from Grundy’s 1879 autobiography ‘Pictures Of The Past’ in which he launches a spirited defence of Branwell against the portrait of him in Elizabeth Gaskell’s ‘Life Of Charlotte Brontë‘]
Anne Brontë on Branwell Brontë
“I mourn with thee and yet rejoice
That thou shouldst sorrow so;
With Angel choirs I join my voice
To bless the sinner’s woe.
Though friends and kindred turn away
And laugh thy grief to scorn,
I hear the great Redeemer say
‘Blessed are ye that mourn’.
Hold on thy course nor deem it strange
That earthly cords are riven.
Man may lament the wondrous change
But ‘There is joy in Heaven’!”
Anne Brontë’s poem ‘The Penitent’ was composed in September 1845, while Branwell was still living, but at a time when both she and he had recently left their employment at Thorp Green Hall. Anne is clearly talking about her brother, and sharing her belief that he had a good heart and would be forgiven one day by the ‘great Redeemer’. She could not have known that this day would be just three years ahead of her, but Anne had faith in a kinder judgement waiting for the elder brother she loved, the one who had drawn pictures for her as a child, who had held her hand and led her across the moors. Let’s think of Branwell Brontë today and pass a kinder judgement on him ourselves, for we are none of us perfect, and perhaps at heart, to borrow Grundy’s words, we are all just moving in a mist and only a step from losing our way.
John Keats famously called autumn the ‘season of mists and mellow fruitfulness’, but he wasn’t the only writer to take inspiration from this russet-hued season of falling leaves and temperatures. Let’s face it, there’s been more than a hint of autumn in the air recently, at least up here in the chilly north of England, so it seems the perfect time to see what Anne Brontë and her sisters had to say about autumn.
Autumn in Yorkshire often brings windy conditions alongside cooler days and nights, but it can also be incredibly beautiful, especially if walking through parks and woodland where red and gold coloured leaves blanket the ground, crunching warmly beneath our feet. This is certainly something that Anne loved to do, and she got the perfect opportunity to experience it whilst living as a governess at Thorp Green Hall near York. As beautiful as Haworth is, the moorlands are largely devoid of trees, but the area around Thorp Green provided plentiful woodland for her to walk through, often in company with her dog Flossy that she was presented with whilst there. In 1843 she sat down and drew this lovely autumnal landscape:
Autumn weather at Thorp Green also inspired her poem ‘Lines Composed In A Wood On A Windy Day’:
“My soul is awakened, my spirit is soaring
And carried aloft on the wings of the breeze;
For above and around me the wild wind is roaring,
Arousing to rapture the earth and the seas.
The long withered grass in the sunshine is glancing,
The bare trees are tossing their branches on high;
The dead leaves, beneath them, are merrily dancing,
The white clouds are scudding across the blue sky.
I wish I could see how the ocean is lashing
The foam of its billows to whirlwinds of spray;
I wish I could see how its proud waves are dashing,
And hear the wild roar of their thunder today!”
We see from this how much Anne loved the wild weather of this season, but how it made her long to be at a place she loved even more: Scarborough with its crashing waves and stunning views across the seemingly infinite sea.
As we might expect, Emily Brontë loved autumn weather too, and the wilder the better. Even the world ‘wuthering’ that she made famous forever means a moaning gusty wind. This season, and its weather, also infused her verse. In autumn 1838, while teaching at Law Hill in Halifax, wrote a beautiful but little known poem beginning:
“Loud without the wind was roaring
Through the waned Autumnal sky,
Drenching wet, the cold rain pouring
Spoke of stormy winters nigh.
All too like that dreary eventually
Sighed without repining grief –
Sighed at first – but sighed not long
Sweet – how softly sweet it came!
Wild words of an ancient song –
Undefined, without a name –
‘It was spring, for the skylark was singing.’
Those words they awakened a spell –
They unlocked a deep fountain whose springing
Nor absence nor distance can quell.
In the gloom of a cloudy November
They uttered the music of May –
They kindled the perishing ember
Into fervour that could not decay
Awaken on all my dear moorlands
The wind in its glory and pride!
O call me from valleys and highlands
To walk by the hill-river’s side!”
This is just part of a lengthy poem, but Emily also had the knack of being able to write very succinct yet powerful poems, and in this next poem she captures the essence of autumn perhaps better than anyone other than Keats:
“Fall, leaves, fall; die, flowers, away;
Lengthen night and shorten day;
Every leaf speaks bliss to me
Fluttering from the autumn tree.
I shall smile when wreaths of snow
Blossom where the rose should grow;
I shall sing when night’s decay
Ushers in a drearier day.”
The importance of the seasons to the nature-loving Brontë sisters is clear, and Charlotte too wrote a verse that gives autumn a very different feel. Here we see Charlotte Brontë alone in a somber mood, but she embraces the gloom of autumn like an old friend. The autumn chill is as cold as she feels in her heart, she and autumn are akin. It’s a short verse, particularly by Charlotte’s standards as her poems tended to be epics spanning several pages, but I think it’s possibly her greatest poem:
“The Autumn day its course has run – the Autumn evening falls,
Already risen the Autumn moon gleams quiet on these walls,
And Twilight to my lonely house a silent guest is come,
In mask of gloom through every room she passes dusk and dumb.
Her veil is spread, her shadow shed o’er stair and chamber void,
And now I feel her presence steal even to my lone fireside,
Sit silent Nun – sit there and be,
Comrade and Confidant to me.”
Charlotte was at her most evocative in these eight lines, we can almost picture her alone by an autumn fire hearth. Autumn can certainly be melancholy, it is a time when we remember lost loved ones, and for Charlotte, Anne and Emily that was especially so on the 15th of September. Today is the anniversary of the death in 1821 of Maria Brontë, mother to the siblings we all know and love. On this day their thoughts must naturally turn to the woman who had loved them so much, and on dark, cold nights our thoughts can do the same. This is the season of fall, but as Anne and Emily knew it is also a season of rare beauty if we look for it, a season of hope, for the wheel of the year turns and those bare trees will bring fruit and leaves once more.
Whatever autumn brings you, I hope you embrace it and enjoy it. Wrap up warm, kick the leaves around as you walk, and return home to a warm drink and a great book.
This week marks the 177th anniversary of the passing of William Weightman. He died on 6th September 1842, and with his final breath the love of Anne Brontë’s life passed away too. There are some who want only to deal with indisputable facts when dealing with history, but without speculation, without listening to our hearts when the existing evidence is placed before us, we miss out on so much. We see history and historical figures as merely dry cardboard, two dimensional entities, a string of dates and figures, rather than the flesh and blood creatures they really were, ruled by passions and love just as much as we are. It seems clear to me that Anne Brontë was in love with William Weightman, and that she felt his loss greatly throughout her short life.
William was from Appleby in Westmorland (that’s it at the head of this post) and was just 26 when he died, and the nature of his death shows the kind of man he was – he had contracted cholera after visiting a sick parishioner, something he did regularly, sometimes taking them gifts as well to alleviate their want. This trait is also mirrored by Reverend Weston in ‘Agnes Grey‘, and Agnes’ love Weston is really a mirror image of Weightman.
Perhaps the best way to pay tribute to him is to listen to what those who knew him said, including the Brontës:
Charlotte Brontë on William Weightman
[Charlotte’s views on Weightman changed dramatically; she fell under his spell herself but finding her feelings not reciprocated accused him of falseness and christened him ‘Celia Amelia’. Later, however, as this letter to Ellen Nussey shows, she was confronted with his true character]
“There is one little trait respecting him which lately came to my knowledge, which gives a glimpse of the better side of his character. Last Saturday night he had been sitting an hour in the parlour with Papa; and as he went away, I heard Papa say to him – ‘What is the matter with you? You seem in very low spirits tonight.’ ‘Oh, I don’t know. I’ve been to see a poor young girl, who, I’m afraid, is dying.’ ‘Indeed, what is her name?’ ‘Susan Bland, the daughter of John Bland, the superintendent.’ Now Susan Bland is my oldest and best scholar in the Sunday-school; and when I heard that, I thought I would go as soon as I could to see her. I did go, on Monday afternoon, and found her very ill and weak, and seemingly far on her way to that bourne whence no traveller returns. After sitting with her some time, I happened to ask her mother if she thought a little port wine would do her good. She replied that the doctor had recommended it, and that when Mr. Weightman was last there, he had sent them a bottle of wine and a jar of preserves. She added, that he was always good-natured to poor folks, and seemed to have a deal of feeling and kind-heartedness about him. This proves that he is not all selfishness and vanity. No doubt, there are defects in his character, but there are also good qualities. God bless him!”
Branwell Brontë on William Weightman
[Charlotte wrote of how surprised she was that the usually reserved Emily Brontë quickly became friends with William, but he also made an impression on her brother Branwell and they became close companions. His death just days before that of Aunt Branwell dealt a double blow to Branwell Brontë]
“I have had a long attendance at the deathbed of the Rev. William Weightman, one of my dearest friends, and now I am attending at the deathbed of my aunt, who has been for twenty years as my mother. I expect her to die in a few hours… excuse this scrawl, my eyes are too dim with sorrow to see well.”
Patrick Brontë on William Weightman
[Patrick didn’t always get on with his assistant curates, but he was greatly impressed by William from the first. Perhaps if he had one day asked for the hand of a daughter of his, Patrick would have given him a better response than Arthur Bell Nicholls received? Patrick’s love for William can be found in the funeral sermon he preached for him.]
“In his preaching, and practising, he was, as very clergyman ought to be, neither distant nor austere, timid nor obtrusive, nor bigoted, exclusive, nor dogmatical. He was affable, but not familiar; open, but not too confiding. He thought it better, and more scriptural, to make the love of God, rather than the fear of hell, the ruling motive for obedience… For about three years, our Reverend Friend in his sacred office has laboured amongst us, faithfully preaching the doctrines expressed and implied in our text, There are many, who for a short time can please, and even astonish – but, who soon retrograde and fall into disrepute. His character wore well; the surest proof of real worth. He had, it is true, some peculiar advantages. Agreeable in person and manners, and constitutionally cheerful, his first introduction was prepossessing. But what he gained at first, he did not lose afterwards. He had those qualities that enabled him to gain ground. He had classical attainments of the first order, and above all, his religious principles were sound and orthodox… As it ought to be with every Incumbent, and his clerical coadjutor, we were always like father and son… He had the rare art of communicating information with diligence and strictness, without austerity, so as to render instruction, even to the youngest and most giddy, a pleasure, and not a task. The Sunday School Committee, and Teachers, as well as learners, have duly appreciated his talents in this way, and will long remember him with esteem and regret… As he was himself a friend to many, and an enemy to none, so by a kind of reaction, he had, I think I might say, no enemies and many friends… Our late lamented friend ran a bright, but short career. He died in the twenty-sixth year of his age. He had not attained the meridian of man’s life; amidst the joyous, and sanguine anticipations of friends, the good wishes of all, and, as may naturally be supposed, the glad hopes of himself, he was summoned for his removal from this world to the bar of eternity… When good men die early, in the full tide of their usefulness, there is bewildering amazement, till we read in the scriptures, they are taken away from the evil to come. In all such cases, we want faith, and strong faith too.”
The Haworth Parishioners On William Weightman
[The parishioners could be very hard to please, but they loved William, which is why they implored Patrick to publish his funeral sermon, above, and why they collected money to have a plaque raised in his honour. It remains the largest single tribute in Haworth’s church and bears these words:]
“This monument was erected by the inhabitants in memory of the late William Weightman, M.A. who died Sept. 6th 1842, aged 26 years and was buried in this church on the tenth of the same month. He was three years Curate of Haworth and by the congregation and parishioners in general was greatly respected for his orthodox principles, active zeal, moral habits, learning, mildness, and affability. His useful labours will long be gratefully remembered by the members of the congregation; and Sunday School teachers and scholars.”
The Leeds Intelligencer On William Weightman
“He was admired and beloved for his sterling piety, his amiability, and cheerfulness, and the loss of so zealous and useful a Minister of Christ is deeply felt by those among whom he lived and laboured. This discourse [the funeral sermon above], plain and touching in its language, simple yet expressive, pays a well deserved tribute to the memory of the preacher’s beloved and lamented fellow labourer.”
Anne Brontë On William Weightman
We will finish with a tribute to William Weightman from the woman who loved him, and who I believed was loved by him in return – our own beloved Anne Brontë. She not only made him the romantic hero of her first novel ‘Agnes Grey’ she also composed a series of mournful poems for the rest of her life, where the subject is clearly William Weightman. I leave you with just one of these; written in April 1844, ‘A Reminiscence’ marks the poets love for a man who is buried under the cold, damp stone of the church floor. William Weightman was not buried in Haworth’s churchyard, but beneath the floor of the church:
“Yes, thou art gone! and never more
Thy sunny smile shall gladden me;
But I may pass the old church door,
And pace the floor that covers thee,
May stand upon the cold, damp stone,
And think that, frozen, lies below
The lightest heart that I have known,
The kindest I shall ever know.
Yet, though I cannot see thee more,
‘Tis still a comfort to have seen;
And though thy transient life is o’er,
‘Tis sweet to think that thou hast been;
To think a soul so near divine,
Within a form, so angel fair,
United to a heart like thine,
Has gladdened once our humble sphere.”
Apologies for the late posting – I’ve spent the last week in London, a glorious hustle bustle of a city and one I always love to visit. There’s so much history there, and of course the streets are paved with literary history too in the form of Brontë gold.
I’ve looked before at how Anne Brontë came here with her sister Charlotte in July 1848, driven by a desire to prove their innocence after Charlotte’s publisher George Smith wrote that it was being said that the three Bell brothers, Currer, Ellis and Acton were one and the same man. Of course, the truth was very different, but it involved Anne and Charlotte finally throwing off their Bell masks and introducing the Brontë sisters to the world. This was the only time Anne travelled outside Yorkshire, and she must have delighted in the capital’s sights and sounds, but Charlotte Brontë visited London on numerous occasions.
In fact, Charlotte’s first visit to London was in 1842, accompanied by Emily and her father Patrick as they made their way to Brussels to attend school at the Pensionnat Heger. After the death of her sisters, Charlotte tried to forget her sorrows by writing, seeking the company of friends, and sometimes travelling, and so she returned to London more than once as the guest of George Smith. In his memoirs, Smith gave a compelling account of one of these visits, and we see Charlotte meeting her hero the Duke of Wellington, standing enraptured in the House of Commons, and even comforting a prisoner in Newgate. Here is his account:
“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.”
I myself followed Charlotte’s footsteps and visited Apsley House (that’s it at the head of this post). It’s incredibly grand; situated right next to the entrance to Hyde Park it demonstrates the affection that the first Duke of Wellington was held in right across Europe, and the wealth that his success as a General brought him. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to take pictures within the magnificent rooms which are open to the public, but there was more gold than Fort Knox and an incredible collection of art. Vast mirrors are actually panels that slide back in daytime to reveal windows looking out onto what was then Kensington Village. Quite simply, it’s the most breathtaking house I’ve seen, and I highly recommend it to anyone who visits London. Here’s a short video I made looking at Charlotte Brontë’s love of the man who once called Apsley House home, and whom she proudly called ‘a real grand old man’:
My final London video is at Apsley House as we look at Charlotte Bronte, the Duke of Wellington and some rather special toy soldiers! pic.twitter.com/bk5Y2sNsha
London is a magical place to visit, although may be a little too hectic (not to say expensive) to live in, and it’s made all the more magical by the knowledge that we walk in the footsteps of the likes of the Duke of Wellington, and of Charlotte and Anne Brontë.