A. Mary F. (Agnes Mary Frances) Robinson.

Emily Brontë online

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the parishioners who would not drain the village, and the women who
would dry their linen on the tombstones. Anne was still as transparently
pretty, as pensive and pious as of old; but over the hope of the house,
the dashing, clever Branwell, who was to make the name of Brontë famous
in art, a dim, tarnishing change had come. Emily must have seen it with
fresh eyes, left more and more in Branwell's company, when, after the
Christmas holidays, Anne returned with Charlotte to Roe Head.

There is in none of Charlotte's letters any further talk of sending
Branwell to the Royal Academy. He earnestly desired to go, and for him,
the only son, any sacrifice had willingly been made. But there were
reasons why that brilliant unprincipled lad should not be trusted now,
alone in London. Too frequent had been those visits to the "Black Bull,"
undertaken, at first, to amuse the travellers from London, Leeds and
Manchester, who found their evenings dull. The Vicar's lad was following
the proverbial fate of parsons' sons. Little as they foreboded the end
in store, greatly as they hoped all his errors were a mere necessary
attribute of manliness, the sisters must have read in his shaken nerves
the dissipation for which their clever Branwell was already remarkable
in Haworth. It is true that to be sometimes the worse for drink was no
uncommon fault fifty years ago in Yorkshire; but the gradual coarsening
of Branwell's nature, the growing flippancy, the altered health, must
have given a cruel awakening to his sisters' dreams for his career. In
1836 this deterioration was at the beginning; a weed in bud that could
only bear a bitter and poisonous fruit. Emily hoped the best; his father
did not seem to see his danger; Miss Branwell spoiled the lad; and the
village thought him a mighty pleasant young gentleman with a smile and a
bow for every one, fond of a glass and a chat in the pleasant parlour of
the "Black Bull" at nights; a gay, feckless, red-haired, smiling young
fellow, full of ready courtesies to all his friends in the village; yet,
none the less as full of thoughtless cruelties to his friends at home.

For the rest, he had nothing to do, and was scarcely to blame if he
could not devote sixteen hours a day to writing verses for the _Leeds
Mercury_, his only ostensible occupation. It seems incredible that Mr.
Brontë, who well understood the peculiar temptations to which his son
lay open, could have suffered him to loaf about the village, doing
nothing, month after month, lured into ill by no set purpose, but by a
weak social temper and foolish friends. Yet so it was, and with such
training, little hope of salvation could there be for that vain,
somewhat clever, untruthful, fascinating boy.

So things went on, drearily enough in reality, though perhaps more
pleasantly in seeming - for Branwell, with his love of approbation and
ready affectionateness, took all trouble consistent with self-indulgence
to avoid the noise of his misdemeanours reaching home. Thus things went
on till Charlotte returned from Miss Wooler's with little Anne in the
midsummer holidays of 1836.

An interval of happiness to lonely Emily; Charlotte's friend came to the
grey cold-looking Parsonage, enlivening that sombre place with her gay
youth and sweet looks. Home with four young girls in it was more
attractive to Branwell than the alluring parlour of the "Black Bull."
The harvest moon that year can have looked on no happier meeting. "It
would not be right," says the survivor of those eager spirits, "to pass
over one record which should be made of the sisters' lives together,
after their school-days, and before they were broken in health by their
efforts to support themselves, that at this time they had all a taste of
happiness and enjoyment. They were beginning to feel conscious of their
powers, they were rich in each other's companionship, their health was
good, their spirits were high, there was often joyousness and mirth;
they commented on what they read; analysed articles and their writers
also; the perfection of unrestrained talk and intelligence brightened
the close of the days which were passing all too swiftly. The evening
march in the sitting-room, a constant habit learned at school, kept time
with their thoughts and feelings, it was free and rapid; they marched in
pairs, Emily and Anne, Charlotte and her friend, with arms twined round
each other in child-like fashion, except when Charlotte, in an
exuberance of spirit, would for a moment start away, make a graceful
pirouette (though she had never learned to dance) and return to her

So the evenings passed and the days, in happy fashion for a little
while. Then Charlotte and Anne went back to Miss Wooler's, and Emily,
too, took up the gauntlet against necessity. She was not of a character
to let the distastefulness of any duty hinder her from undertaking it.
She was very stern in her dealings with herself, though tender to the
erring, and anxious to bear the burdens of the weak. She allowed no one
but herself to decide what it behoved her to do. She could not see
Charlotte labour, and not work herself. At home she worked, it is true,
harder than servants; but she felt it right not only to work, but to
earn. So, having recovered her natural strength, she left Haworth in
September, and Charlotte writes from school to her friend: "My sister
Emily has gone into a situation as teacher in a large school near
Halifax. I have had one letter from her since her departure; it gives an
appalling account of her duties; hard labour from six in the morning to
eleven at night, with only one half-hour of exercise between. This is
slavery. I fear she can never stand it."

She stood it, however, all that term; came back to Haworth for a brief
rest at Christmas, and again left it for the hated life she led,
drudging among strangers. But when spring came back, with its feverish
weakness, with its beauty and memories, to that stern place of exile,
she failed. Her health broke down, shattered by long-resisted
homesickness. Weary and mortified at heart, Emily again went back to
seek life and happiness on the wild moors of Haworth.


[Footnote 4: Mrs. Gaskell.]



The next two years passed very solitarily for Emily at Haworth; the
Brontës were too poor for all to stay at home, and since it was
definitely settled that Emily could not live away, she worked hard at
home while her sisters went out in the world to gain their bread. She
had no friend besides her sisters; far-off Anne was her only confidant.
Outside her own circle the only person that she cared to meet was
Charlotte's friend Ellen, and, of course, Ellen did not come to Haworth
while Charlotte was away. Branwell, too, was absent. His first
engagement was as usher in a school; but, mortified by the boys'
sarcasms on his red hair and "downcast smallness," he speedily threw up
his situation and returned to Haworth to confide his wounded vanity to
the tender mercies of the rough and valiant Emily, or to loaf about the
village seeking readier consolation.

Then he went as private tutor to a family in Broughton-in-Furness. One
letter of his thence despatched to some congenial spirit in Haworth,
long since dead, has been lent to me by the courtesy of Mr. William
Wood, one of the last of Branwell's companions, in whose possession the
torn, faded sheet remains. Much of it is unreadable from accidental
rents and the purposed excision of private passages, and part of that
which can be read cannot be quoted; such as it is, the letter is
valuable as showing what things in life seemed desirable and worthy of
attainment to this much-hoped-in brother of the austere Emily, the
courageous Charlotte, the pious Anne.

"Broughton-in-Furness, March 15.


"Don't think I have forgotten you though I have delayed so
long in writing to you. It was my purpose to send you a yarn
as soon as I could find materials to spin one with. And it
is only just now I have had time to turn myself round and
know where I am.

"If you saw me now you would not know me, and you would
laugh to hear the character the people give me. Oh, the
falsehood and hypocrisy of this world! I am fixed in a
little town retired by the seashore, embowered in woody
hills that rise round me, huge, rocky, and capped with
clouds. My employer is a retired county magistrate and large
landholder, of a right hearty, generous disposition. His
wife is a quiet, silent, amiable woman; his sons are two
fine, spirited lads. My landlord is a respectable surgeon,
and six days out of seven as drunk as a lord; his wife is a
bustling, chattering, kind-hearted soul; his daughter - oh!
death and damnation! Well, what am I? that is, what do they
think I am? - a most sober, abstemious, patient,
mild-hearted, virtuous, gentlemanly philosopher, the picture
of good works, the treasure-house of righteous thought.
Cards are shuffled under the tablecloth, glasses are thrust
into the cupboard, if I enter the room. I take neither
spirit, wine, nor malt liquors. I dress in black, and smile
like a saint or martyr. Every lady says, 'What a good young
gentleman is the Postlethwaites' tutor.' This is fact, as I
am a living soul, and right comfortably do I laugh at them;
but in this humour do I mean them to continue. I took a
half-year's farewell of old friend whisky at Kendal the
night after I [left]. There was a party of gentlemen at the
Royal Hotel; I joined them and ordered in supper and 'toddy
as hot as Hell.' They thought I was a physician, and put me
into the chair. I gave them some toasts of the stiffest sort
... washing them down at the same time till the room spun
round and the candles danced in their eyes. One was a
respectable old gentleman with powdered head, rosy cheeks,
fat paunch, and ringed fingers ... he led off with a speech,
and in two minutes, in the very middle of a grand sentence,
stopped, wagged his head, looked wildly round, stammered,
coughed, stopped again, called for his slippers, and so the
waiter helped him to bed. Next a tall Irish squire and a
native of the land of Israel began to quarrel about their
countries, and in the warmth of argument discharged their
glasses each at his neighbour's throat, instead of his own.
I recommended blisters, bleeding [here illegible], so I
flung my tumbler on the floor, too, and swore I'd join old
Ireland. A regular rumpus ensued, but we were tamed at last,
and I found myself in bed next morning, with a bottle of
porter, a glass, and corkscrew beside me. Since then I have
not tasted anything stronger than milk and water, nor, I
hope, shall I till I return at Midsummer, when we will see
about it. I am getting as fat as Prince Win at Springhead
and as godly as his friend Parson Winterbottom. My hand
shakes no longer: I write to the bankers at Ulverston with
Mr. Postlethwaite, and sit drinking tea and talking slander
with old ladies. As to the young ones, I have one sitting by
me just now, fair-faced, blue-eyed, dark-haired, sweet
eighteen. She little thinks the Devil is as near her. I was
delighted to see thy note, old Squire, but don't understand
one sentence - perhaps you will know what I mean............
.......................... How are all about you? I long...
[all torn next] everything about Haworth folk. Does little
Nosey think I have forgotten him. No, by Jupiter! nor is
Alick either. I'll send him a remembrance one of these days.
But I must talk to some one prettier; so good night, old
boy. Write directly, and believe me to be thine,


Branwell's boasted reformation was not kept up for long. Soon he came
back as heartless, as affectionate, as vain, as unprincipled as ever, to
laugh and loiter about the steep street of Haworth. Then he went to
Bradford as a portrait-painter, and - so impressive is audacity - actually
succeeded for some months in gaining a living there, although his
education was of the slenderest, and, judging from the specimens still
treasured in Haworth, his natural talent on a level with that of the
average new student in any school of art. His tawny mane, his pose of
untaught genius, his verses in the poet's corner of the paper could not
for ever keep afloat this untaught and thriftless portrait-painter of
twenty. Soon there came an end to his painting there. He disappeared
from Bradford suddenly, heavily in debt, and was lost to sight, until
unnerved, a drunkard, and an opium-eater, he came back to home and Emily
at Haworth.

Meanwhile impetuous Charlotte was growing nervous and weak, gentle Anne
consumptive and dejected, in their work away from home; and Emily was
toiling from dawn till dusk with her old servant Tabby for the old aunt
who never cared for her, and the old father always courteous and

They knew the face of necessity more nearly than any friend's, those
Brontë girls, and the pinch of poverty was for their own foot; therefore
were they always considerate to any that fell into the same plight.
During the Christmas holidays of 1837, old Tabby fell on the steep and
slippery street and broke her leg. She was already nearly seventy, and
could do little work; now her accident laid her completely aside,
leaving Emily, Charlotte, and Anne to spend their Christmas holidays in
doing the housework and nursing the invalid. Miss Branwell, anxious to
spare the girls' hands and her brother-in-law's pocket, insisted that
Tabby should be sent to her sister's house to be nursed and another
servant engaged for the Parsonage. Tabby, she represented, was fairly
well off, her sister in comfortable circumstances; the Parsonage kitchen
might supply her with broths and jellies in plenty, but why waste the
girls' leisure and scanty patrimony on an old servant competent to keep
herself. Mr. Brontë was finally persuaded, and his decision made known.
But the girls were not persuaded. Tabby, so they averred, was one of the
family, and they refused to abandon her in sickness. They did not say
much, but they did more than say - they starved. When the tea was served,
the three sat silent, fasting. Next morning found their will yet stronger
than their hunger - no breakfast. They did the day's work, and dinner came.
Still they held out, wan and sunk. Then the superiors gave in.

The girls gained their victory - no stubborn freak, but the right to make
a generous sacrifice, and to bear an honourable burden.

That Christmas, of course, there could be no visiting nor the next.
Tabby was slow in getting well; but she did not outweary the patience of
her friends.

Two years later, Charlotte writes to her old schoolfellow: -

"December 21, 1839.

"We are at present, and have been during the last month,
rather busy, as for that space of time we have been without
a servant, except a little girl to run errands. Poor Tabby
became so lame that she was at length obliged to leave us.
She is residing with her sister, in a little house of her
own, which she bought with her own savings a year or two
since. She is very comfortable, and wants nothing. As she is
near we see her very often. In the meantime, Emily and I are
sufficiently busy, as you may suppose: I manage the ironing
and keep the rooms clean; Emily does the baking and attends
to the kitchen. We are such odd animals that we prefer this
mode of contrivance to having a new face among us. Besides,
we do not despair of Tabby's return, and she shall not be
supplanted by a stranger in her absence. I excited aunt's
wrath very much by burning the clothes the first time I
attempted to iron; but I do better now. Human feelings are
queer things; I am much happier blackleading the stoves,
making the beds, and sweeping the floors at home than I
should be living like a fine lady anywhere else."[5]

The year 1840 found Emily, Branwell, and Charlotte all at home together.
Unnerved and dissipated as he was, Branwell was still a welcome presence;
his gay talk still awakened glad promises in the ambitious and loving
household which hoped all things from him. His mistakes and faults they
pardoned; thinking, poor souls, that the strong passions which led him
astray betokened a strong character and not a powerless will.

It was still to Branwell that they looked for the fame of the family.
Their poems, their stories, were to these girls but a legitimate means
of amusement and relief. The serious business of their life was to
teach, to cook, to clean; to earn or save the mere expense of their
existence. No dream of literary fame gave a purpose to the quiet days of
Emily Brontë. Charlotte and Branwell, more impulsive, more ambitious,
had sent their work to Southey, to Coleridge, to Wordsworth, in vain,
pathetic hope of encouragement, or recognition. Not so the sterner
Emily, to whom expression was at once a necessity and a regret. Emily's
brain, Emily's locked desk, these and nothing else knew the degree of
her passion, her genius, her power. And yet acknowledged power would
have been sweet to that dominant spirit.

Meanwhile the immediate difficulty was to earn a living. Even those
patient and courageous girls could not accept the thought of a whole
lifetime spent in dreary governessing by Charlotte and Anne, in solitary
drudgery by homekeeping Emily. One way out of this hateful vista seemed
not impossible of attainment. For years it was the wildest hope, the
cherished dream of the author of 'Wuthering Heights' and the author of
'Villette.' And what was this dear and daring ambition? - to keep a
ladies' school at Haworth.

Far enough off, difficult to reach, it looked to them, this paltry
common-place ideal of theirs. For the house with its four bedrooms would
have to be enlarged; for the girls' education, with its Anglo-French and
stumbling music, would have to be adorned by the requisite
accomplishments. This would take time; time and money; two luxuries most
hard to get for the Vicar of Haworth's harassed daughters. They would
sigh, and suddenly stop in their making of plans and drawing up of
circulars. It seemed so difficult.

One person, indeed, might help them. Miss Branwell had saved out of her
annuity of £50 a year. She had a certain sum; small enough, but to
Charlotte and Emily it seemed as potent as the fairy's wand. The
question was, would she risk it?

It seemed not. The old lady had always chiefly meant her savings for the
dear prodigal who bore her name, and Emily and Charlotte were not her
favourites. The girls indeed only asked for a loan, but she doubted,
hesitated, doubted again. They were too proud to take an advantage so
grudgingly proffered; and while their talk was still of what means they
might employ, while they still painfully toiled through improper French
novels as "the best substitute for French conversation," they gave up
the dream for the present, and Charlotte again looked out for a
situation. Nearly a year elapsed before she found it - a happy year, full
of plans and talks with Emily and free from any more pressing anxiety
than Anne's delicate health always gave her sisters. Branwell was away
and doing well as station-master at Luddendenfoot, "set off to seek
his fortune in the wild, wandering, adventurous, romantic,
knight-errant-like capacity of clerk on the Leeds and Manchester
Railway." Ellen came to stay at Haworth in the summer; it was quite
sociable and lively now in the grey house on the moors; for, compelled
by failing health, Mr. Brontë had engaged the help of a curate, and the
Haworth curate brought his clerical friends about the house, to the
great disgust of Emily, and the half-sentimental fluttering of pensive
Anne, which laid on Charlotte the responsibility of talking for all

In the holidays when Anne was at home all the old glee and enjoyment of
life returned. There was, moreover, the curate, "bonnie, pleasant,
light-hearted, good-tempered, generous, careless, crafty, fickle, and
unclerical," to add piquancy to the situation. "He sits opposite to Anne
at church, sighing softly, and looking out of the corners of his
eyes - and she is so quiet, her look so downcast; they are a picture,"
says merry Charlotte. This first curate at Haworth was exempted from
Emily's liberal scorn; he was a favourite at the vicarage, a clever,
bright-spirited, and handsome youth, greatly in Miss Branwell's good
graces. He would tease and flatter the old lady with such graciousness
as made him ever sure of a welcome; so that his daily visits to Mr.
Brontë's study were nearly always followed up by a call in the opposite
parlour, when Miss Branwell would frequently leave her upstairs retreat
and join in the lively chatter. She always presided at the tea-table, at
which the curate was a frequent guest, and her nieces would be kept well
amused all through the tea hour by the curate's piquant sallies,
baffling the old lady in her little schemes of control over the three
high-spirited girls. None enjoyed the fun more than quiet Emily, always
present and amused, "her countenance glimmering as it always did when
she enjoyed herself," Miss Ellen Nussey tells me. Many happy legends,
too familiar to be quoted here, record the light heart and gay spirit
that Emily bore in those untroubled days. Foolish, pretty little stories
of her dauntless protection of the other girls from too pressing
suitors. Never was duenna so gallant, so gay, and so inevitable. In
compliment to the excellence of her swashing and martial outside on such
occasions, the little household dubbed her "The Major," a name that
stuck to her in days when the dash and gaiety of her soldiery bearing
was sadly sobered down, and only the courage and dauntless heart

But in these early days of 1841, Emily was as happy as other healthy
country girls in a congenial home. "She did what we did," says Miss
Nussey, "and never absented herself when she could avoid it - life at
this period must have been sweet and pleasant to her." An equal
unchequered life, in which trifles seemed of great importance. We hear
of the little joys and adventures of those days, so faithfully and long
remembered, with a pathetic pleasurableness. So slight they are, and all
their colour gone, like pressed roses, though a faint sweetness yet
remains. The disasters when Miss Branwell was cross and in no humour to
receive her guests; the long-expected excitement of a walk over the
moors to Keighley where the curate was to give a lecture, the alarm and
flurry when the curate, finding none of the four girls had ever received
a valentine, proposed to send one to each on the next Valentine's Day.
"No, no, the elders would never allow it, and yet it would certainly be
an event to receive a valentine; still, there would be such a lecture
from Miss Branwell." "Oh no," he said, "I shall post them at Bradford."
And to Bradford he walked, ten miles and back again, so that on the
eventful 14th of February the anxiously-expected postman brought four
valentines, all on delicately tinted paper, all enhanced by a verse of
original poetry, touching on some pleasant characteristic in each
recipient. What merriment and comparing of notes! What pleased feigning
of indignation! The girls determined to reward him with a Rowland for
his Oliver, and Charlotte wrote some rhymes full of fun and raillery
which all the girls signed - Emily entering into all this with much
spirit and amusement - and finally despatched in mystery and secret glee.

At last this pleasant fooling came to an end. Charlotte advertised for a
place, and found it. While she was away she had a letter from Miss
Wooler, offering Charlotte the goodwill of her school at Dewsbury Moor.
It was a chance not to be lost, although what inducement Emily and
Charlotte could offer to their pupils it is not easy to imagine. But it
was above all things necessary to make a home where delicate Anne might
be sheltered, where homesick Emily could be happy, where Charlotte could
have time to write, where all might live and work together. Miss
Wooler's offer was immediately accepted. Miss Branwell was induced to
lend the girls £100. No answer came from Miss Wooler. Then ambitious
Charlotte, from her situation away, wrote to Miss Branwell at

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Online LibraryA. Mary F. (Agnes Mary Frances) RobinsonEmily Brontë → online text (page 5 of 17)