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Selected English Letters (XV - XIX Centuries) online

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individual of whom I have not yet spoken - M. Héger, the husband of
Madame. He is professor of rhetoric, a man of power as to mind, but
very choleric and irritable in temperament. He is very angry with me
just at present, because I have written a translation which he chose
to stigmatize as '_peu correcte_'. He did not tell me so, but wrote
the word on the margin of my book, and asked, in brief stern phrase,
how it happened that my compositions were always better than my
translations? adding that the thing seemed to him inexplicable. The
fact is, some weeks ago, in a high-flown humour, he forbade me to use
either dictionary or grammar in translating the most difficult English
compositions into French. This makes the task rather arduous, and
compels me every now and then to introduce an English word, which
nearly plucks the eyes out of his head when he sees it. Emily and he
don't draw well together at all. Emily works like a horse, and she has
had great difficulties to contend with - far greater than I have
had. Indeed, those who come to a French school for instruction ought
previously to have acquired a considerable knowledge of the French
language, otherwise they will lose a great deal of time, for the
course of instruction is adapted to natives and not to foreigners;
and in these large establishments they will not change their ordinary
course for one or two strangers. The few private lessons that M. Héger
has vouchsafed to give us, are, I suppose, to be considered a great
favour; and I can perceive they have already excited much spite and
jealousy in the school.

You will abuse this letter for being short and dreary, and there are a
hundred things which I want to tell you, but I have not time. Brussels
is a beautiful city. The Belgians hate the English. Their external
morality is more rigid than ours. To lace the stays without a
handkerchief on the neck is considered a disgusting piece of
indelicacy.



To A FRIEND

_Curates to tea_


[1845.]

You thought I refused you coldly, did you? It was a queer sort of
coldness, when I would have given my ears to say Yes, and was obliged
to say No. Matters, however, are now a little changed. Anne is come
home, and her presence certainly makes me feel more at liberty. Then,
if all be well, I will come and see you. Tell me only when I must
come. Mention the week and the day. Have the kindness also to answer
the following queries, if you can. How far is it from Leeds to
Sheffield? Can you give me a notion of the cost? Of course, when I
come, you will let me enjoy your own company in peace, and not drag me
out a-visiting. I have no desire at all to see your curate. I think he
must be like all the other curates I have seen; and they seem to me
a self-seeking, vain, empty race. At this blessed moment, we have no
less than three of them in Haworth parish - and there is not one to
mend another. The other day, they all three, accompanied by Mr. S.,
dropped, or rather rushed, in unexpectedly to tea. It was Monday
(baking-day), and I was hot and tired; still, if they had behaved
quietly and decently, I would have served them out their tea in peace;
but they began glorifying themselves, and abusing Dissenters in such
a manner, that my temper lost its balance, and I pronounced a few
sentences sharply and rapidly, which struck them all dumb. Papa was
greatly horrified also, but I don't regret it.



To GEORGE HENRY LEWES

_Herself and Miss Austen_


12 _Jan_. 1848.

Dear Sir,

I thank you then sincerely for your generous review; and it is with
the sense of double content I express my gratitude, because I am now
sure the tribute is not superfluous or obtrusive. You were not severe
on _Jane Eyre_; you were very lenient. I am glad you told me my faults
plainly in private, for in your public notice you touch on them so
lightly, I should perhaps have passed them over, thus indicated, with
too little reflection.

I mean to observe your warning about being careful how I undertake new
works; my stock of materials is not abundant, but very slender; and
besides, neither my experience, my acquirements, nor my powers, are
sufficiently varied to justify my ever becoming a frequent writer. I
tell you this, because your article in _Fraser_ left in me an uneasy
impression that you were disposed to think better of the author of
_Jane Eyre_ than that individual deserved; and I would rather you had
a correct than a flattering opinion of me, even though I should never
see you.

If I ever _do_ write another book, I think I will have nothing of what
you call 'melodrama'; I _think_ so, but I am not sure. I _think_,
too, I will endeavour to follow the counsel which shines out of
Miss Austen's 'mild eyes', 'to finish more and be more subdued'; but
neither am I sure of that. When authors write best, or at least, when
they write most fluently, an influence seems to waken in them, which
becomes their master - which will have its own way - putting out of view
all behests but its own, dictating certain words, and insisting
on their being used, whether vehement or measured in their nature;
new-moulding characters, giving unthought-of turns to incidents,
rejecting carefully-elaborated old ideas, and suddenly creating and
adopting new ones.

Is it not so? And should we try to counteract this influence? Can we
indeed counteract it?

* * * * *

Why do you like Miss Austen so very much? I am puzzled on that point.
What induced you to say that you would have rather written _Pride and
Prejudice_, or _Tom Jones_, than any of the Waverley Novels?

I had not seen _Pride and Prejudice_ till I read that sentence of
yours, and then I got the book. And what did I find? An accurate,
daguerreotyped portrait of a commonplace face; a carefully-fenced,
highly-cultivated garden, with neat borders and delicate flowers; but
no glance of a bright, vivid physiognomy, no open country, no fresh
air, no blue hill, no bonny beck. I should hardly like to live with
her ladies and gentlemen, in their elegant but confined houses. These
observations will probably irritate you, but I shall run the risk.

Now I can understand admiration of George Sand; for though I never saw
any of her works which I admired throughout (even _Consuelo_, which
is the best, or the best that I have read, appears to me to couple
strange extravagance with wondrous excellence), yet she has a grasp of
mind, which, if I cannot fully comprehend, I can very deeply respect;
she is sagacious and profound; - Miss Austen is only shrewd and
observant.

Am I wrong - or, were you hasty in what you said? If you have time,
I should be glad to hear further on this subject; if not, or if you
think the questions frivolous, do not trouble yourself to reply.



TO THE SAME

_The argument continued_


18 _Jan_. 1848.

Dear Sir,

I must write you one more note, though I had not intended to trouble
you again so soon. I have to agree with you, and to differ from you.

You correct my crude remarks on the subject of the 'influence'; well,
I accept your definition of what the effects of that influence should
be; I recognize the wisdom of your rules for its regulation....

What a strange lecture comes next in your letter! You say I must
familiarize my mind with the fact, that 'Miss Austen is not a poetess,
has no "sentiment"' (you scornfully enclose the word in inverted
commas), 'no eloquence, none of the ravishing enthusiasm of
poetry', - and then you add, I _must_ 'learn to acknowledge her as _one
of the greatest artists, of the greatest painters of human character_,
and one of the writers with the nicest sense of means to an end that
ever lived'.

The last point only will I ever acknowledge.

Can there be a great artist without poetry?

What I call - what I will bend to, as a great artist then - cannot
be destitute of the divine gift. But by _poetry_, I am sure, you
understand something different to what I do, as you do by 'sentiment'.
It is _poetry_, as I comprehend the word, which elevates that
masculine George Sand, and makes out of something coarse, something
Godlike. It is 'sentiment', in my sense of the term - sentiment
jealously hidden, but genuine, which extracts the venom from that
formidable Thackeray, and converts what might be corrosive poison into
purifying elixir.

If Thackeray did not cherish in his large heart deep feeling for his
kind, he would delight to exterminate; as it is, I believe, he wishes
only to reform. Miss Austen being, as you say, without 'sentiment',
without _poetry_, maybe _is_ sensible, real (more _real_ than _true_),
but she cannot be great.

I submit to your anger, which I have now excited (for have I not
questioned the perfection of your darling?); the storm may pass over
me. Nevertheless, I will, when I can (I do not know when that will be,
as I have no access to a circulating library), diligently peruse all
Miss Austen's works, as you recommend.... You must forgive me for
not always being able to think as you do, and still believe me, Yours
gratefully.



TO A FRIEND

_Illness and death of Emily Brontë_


23 _Nov_. 1848.

I told you Emily was ill, in my last letter. She has not rallied yet.
She is _very_ ill. I believe, if you were to see her, your impression
would be that there is no hope. A more hollow, wasted, pallid aspect
I have not beheld. The deep tight cough continues; the breathing after
the least exertion is a rapid pant; and these symptoms are accompanied
by pains in the chest and side. Her pulse, the only time she allowed
it to be felt, was found to beat 115 per minute. In this state she
resolutely refuses to see a doctor; she will give no explanation of
her feelings, she will scarcely allow her feelings to be alluded to.
Our position is, and has been for some weeks, exquisitely painful. God
only knows how all this is to terminate. More than once, I have been
forced boldly to regard the terrible event of her loss as possible,
and even probable. But nature shrinks from such thoughts. I think
Emily seems the nearest thing to my heart in the world.

* * * * *

10 _Dec_.

I hardly know what to say to you about the subject which now interests
me the most keenly of anything in this world, for, in truth, I hardly
know what to think myself. Hope and fear fluctuate daily. The pain in
her side and chest is better; the cough, the shortness of breath, the
extreme emaciation, continue. I have endured, however, such tortures
of uncertainty on this subject that, at length, I could endure it
no longer; and as her repugnance to seeing a medical man continues
immutable, - as she declares 'no poisoning doctor' shall come near
her, - I have written, unknown to her, to an eminent physician in
London, giving as minute a statement of her case and symptoms as I
could draw up, and requesting an opinion. I expect an answer in a day
or two. I am thankful to say that my own health at present is very
tolerable. It is well such is the case; for Anne, with the best will
in the world to be useful, is really too delicate to do or bear much.
She too, at present, has frequent pains in the side. Papa is also
pretty well, though Emily's state renders him very anxious.

* * * * *

_[Tuesday.]_

I should have written to you before, if I had had one word of hope to
say; but I have not. She grows daily weaker. The physician's opinion
was expressed too obscurely to be of use. He sent some medicine, which
she would not take. Moments so dark as these I have never known. I
pray for God's support to us all. Hitherto He has granted it.

* * * * *

21 _Dec_. 1848.

Emily suffers no more from pain or weakness now. She never will suffer
more in this world. She is gone, after a hard, short conflict. She
died on _Tuesday_, the very day I wrote to you. I thought it very
possible she might be with us still for weeks; and a few hours
afterwards, she was in eternity. Yes; there is no Emily in time or
on earth now. Yesterday we put her poor, wasted, mortal frame quietly
under the church pavement. We are very calm at present. Why should we
be otherwise? The anguish of seeing her suffer is over; the spectacle
of the pains of death is gone by; the funeral day is past. We feel she
is at peace. No need now to tremble for the hard frost and the keen
wind. Emily does not feel them. She died in a time of promise. We saw
her taken from life in its prime. But it is God's will, and the place
where she is gone is better than that she has left.

God has sustained me, in a way that I marvel at, through such agony
as I had not conceived. I now look at Anne, and wish she were well and
strong; but she is neither; nor is papa. Could you now come to us for
a few days? I would not ask you to stay long. Write and tell me if you
could come next week, and by what train. I would try to send a gig for
you to Keighley. You will, I trust, find us tranquil. Try to come. I
never so much needed the consolation of a friend's presence. Pleasure,
of course, there would be none for you in the visit, except what your
kind heart would teach you to find in doing good to others.



To MR. G. SMITH

_Thackeray and 'Esmond'_


14 _Feb_. 1852.

MY DEAR SIR,

It has been a great delight to me to read Mr. Thackeray's work; and
I so seldom now express my sense of kindness that, for once, you must
permit me, without rebuke, to thank you for a pleasure so rare and
special. Yet I am not going to praise either Mr. Thackeray or his
book. I have read, enjoyed, been interested, and after all, feel full
as much ire and sorrow as gratitude and admiration. And still one
can never lay down a book of his without the two last feelings having
their part, be the subject or treatment what it may. In the first half
of the book, what chiefly struck me was the wonderful manner in which
the writer throws himself into the spirit and letters of the times
whereof he treats; the allusions, the illustrations, the style,
all seem to me so masterly in their exact keeping, their harmonious
consistency, their nice, natural truth, their pure exemption from
exaggeration. No second-rate imitator can write in that way; no coarse
scene-painter can charm us with an allusion so delicate and perfect.
But what bitter satire, what relentless dissection of diseased
subjects! Well, and this, too, is right, or would be right, if
the savage surgeon did not seem so fiercely pleased with his work.
Thackeray likes to dissect an ulcer or an aneurism; he has pleasure
in putting his cruel knife or probe into quivering, living flesh.
Thackeray would not like all the world to be good; no great satirist
would like society to be perfect.

As usual, he is unjust to women; quite unjust. There is hardly any
punishment he does not deserve for making Lady Castlewood peep through
a keyhole, listen at a door, and be jealous of a boy and a milkmaid.
Many other things I noticed that, for my part, grieved and exasperated
me as I read; but then, again, came passages so true, so deeply
thought, so tenderly felt, one could not help forgiving and
admiring....

But I wish he could be told not to care much for dwelling on the
political or religious intrigues of the times. Thackeray, in his
heart, does not value political or religious intrigues of any age or
date. He likes to show us human nature at home, as he himself daily
sees it; his wonderful observant faculty likes to be in action. In him
this faculty is a sort of captain and leader; and if ever any passage
in his writings lacks interest, it is when this master-faculty is for
a time thrust into a subordinate position. I think such is the case in
the former half of the present volume. Towards the middle, he throws
off restraint, becomes himself, and is strong to the close. Everything
now depends on the second and third volumes. If, in pith and interest,
they fall short of the first, a true success cannot ensue. If the
continuation be an improvement upon the commencement, if the stream
gather force as it rolls, Thackeray will triumph. Some people have
been in the habit of terming him the second writer of the day; it just
depends on himself whether or not these critics shall be justified in
their award. He need not be the second. God made him second to no man.
If I were he, I would show myself as I am, not as critics report me;
at any rate, I would do my best. Mr. Thackeray is easy and indolent,
and seldom cares to do his best. Thank you once more; and believe
me - &c.



TO THE SAME

'_Esmond' again_


10 _Nov_. 1852.

... I have read the third volume of _Esmond._ I found it both
entertaining and exciting to me; it seems to possess an impetus and
excitement beyond the other two, - that movement and brilliancy its
predecessors sometimes wanted, never fails here. In certain passages,
I thought Thackeray used all his powers; their grand, serious force
yielded a profound satisfaction. 'At last he puts forth his strength,'
I could not help saying to myself. No character in the book strikes
me as more masterly than that of Beatrix; its conception is fresh,
and its delineation vivid. It is peculiar; it has impressions of a
new kind - new at least, to me. Beatrix is not, in herself, all bad. So
much does she sometimes reveal of what is good and great as to suggest
this feeling - you would think she was urged by a Fate. You would think
that some antique doom presses on her house, and that once in so
many generations its brightest ornament was to become its greatest
disgrace. At times, what is good in her struggles against this
terrible destiny, but the Fate conquers. Beatrix cannot be an honest
woman and a good man's wife. She 'tries, and she _cannot_'. Proud,
beautiful, and sullied, she was born what she becomes, a king's
mistress. I know not whether you have seen the notice in the _Leader_;
I read it just after concluding the book. Can I be wrong in deeming
it a notice tame, cold, and insufficient? With all its professed
friendliness, it produced on me a most disheartening impression.
Surely, another sort of justice than this will be rendered to _Esmond_
from other quarters. One acute remark of the critic is to the effect
that Blanche Amory and Beatrix are identical - sketched from the same
original! To me they are about as identical as a weazel and a royal
tigress of Bengal; both the latter are quadrupeds, - both the former,
women.







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