Transcriber's note: In 1898 Mary Arnold Ward (Mrs Humphry Ward), author of 'Robert Elsmere', 'Marcella', and 'Helbeck of Bannisdale,' was commissioned by Smith & Elder to write a series of critical introductions to the novels of the Brontė sisters for the publisher's famed "Haworth Edition," a seven volume set. The resulting six prefaces—none was written for Anne's 'Agnes Grey'—duly appeared in 1899 and 1900 to much critical acclaim. Of all the prefaces, that written for Emily's 'Wuthering Heights' merits particular interest; it played a significant role in establishing that novel's place as one of the great works of English literature.
'Jane Eyre' was first published in October 1847. Half a century—since this tale of the North by an unknown writer stole upon London, and, in the very midst of the serial publication of 'Vanity Fair,' took the town by storm, obtaining for its author in the course of a few weeks a success which, as the creator of Becky Sharp afterwards said to her, a little sadly and sharply, 'it took me the work of ten years to achieve.'
Half a century, in the view of the Roman Church, is often hardly sufficient to decide even the first step in the process of canonisation; it is generally amply sufficient to decide all matters of literary rank and permanence. How has the verdict gone in the case of Currer Bell? Have these fifty years 'cut all meaning from the name,' or have they but filled it with a fuller content, wreathed it with memories and associations that will for ever keep it luminous and delightful amid the dim tracts of the past?
Judging by the books that have been written and read in recent years, by the common verdict as to the Brontė sisters, their story, and their work, which prevails, almost without exception, in the literary criticism of the present day; by the tone of personal tenderness, even of passionate homage, in which many writers speak of Charlotte and of Emily; and by the increasing recognition which their books have obtained abroad, one may say with some confidence that the name and memory of the Brontės were never more alive than now, that 'Honour and Fame have got about their graves' for good and all, and that Charlotte and Emily Brontė are no less secure, at any rate, than Jane Austen or George Eliot or Mrs. Browning of literary recollection in the time to come.
But if the Brontės live, their books live also. There are some names of the past—Byron—Voltaire—that are far greater now, more full of magic and of spell, than the books associated with them—that are, in fact, separable from the books, and could almost live on without them. But Charlotte Brontė is Jane Eyre and Lucy Snowe. You cannot think of her apart from what she has written, and everything that she wrote has the challenging quality of personal emotion or of passion, moving in a narrow range among very concrete things, and intimately fused throughout with the incidents and feelings of one small, intense experience: so that, if one finds, as one does find abundantly, that the Brontės are remembered, it must be that their books are read, that people still sit up into the night with 'Jane Eyre,' and are still as angry as they were at the first, that they can get no one to assure them of Paul Emmanuel's safe return.
So it must be; and so, indeed, the personal experience of most of us can vouch that it is. Nevertheless, here and there one may hear a protesting voice. Here and there a reader—and generally a reader of more subtlety and range than his fellows—struck with the union of certain extravagances and certain dogmatisms in Charlotte Brontė's work, with the weakness of Anne's and the crudity of Emily's, will dare to say, 'Not at all! The vitality of the Brontė fame does not mean primarily the vitality of the Brontė books. It is a vitality which springs from the English love of the pathetic and the picturesque, and the English tendency to subordinate matters of art to matters of sentiment. Mrs. Gaskell, herself an accomplished novelist, wrote an account of these lonely girls on a Yorkshire moor, struggling with poverty and consumption, developing genius in the very wrestle with death, taking the heaven of fame by violence, and perishing in the effort. She showed them to us oppressed by poverty and by daily contact with a vicious brother, and yet, through it all, remaining dutiful, loving, and virtuous, as the good English public likes them to be: she describes the deaths—the piteous deaths—of two of the sisters in the very moment, or on the very threshold, of success, and, finally, her narrative brought us to the death of Charlotte herself—Charlotte snatched from happiness and from motherhood, after one brief year of married life: and so skilful is the telling, so touching the story, that the great English heart goes out to it, and forthwith the Brontė books must be books of genius, because the Brontės are so interesting and their story so tragic.'
Perhaps this explanation is put forward to account rather for the continuance of the Brontės' fame than for their original success. Such a critic would admit that 'Jane Eyre' is at least a vivid and exciting story; that 'Villette' has at least passages of extraordinary brilliance: but he will obstinately maintain, none the less, that other books, now forgotten, have had as much, and that the Brontė 'legend' has unfairly strengthened the claim of the Brontė stories upon posterity.
Let us see how such a contention stands in the case of 'Jane Eyre.' 'Jane Eyre'—to run through a summary of the plot—is the story of an orphan girl, reared at a Charity School amid many hardships, going out into the world as a governess, and falling in love with her employer, Mr. Rochester. She yields herself to her own passion and to his masterful love-making with an eager, an over-eager abandonment. The wedding-day is fixed; the small marriage party assembles. But in the very church, and at the moment of the ceremony, it is revealed to Jane Eyre that Mr. Rochester has a wife living, a frenzied lunatic who has been confined for months in a corner of the same house where she and Rochester have had their daily dwelling; that Rochester has deliberately entrapped her, and that she stands on the edge of an abyss. The marriage party breaks up in confusion; and Rochester's next endeavour is to persuade the stunned and miserable Jane to scout law and convention, and fly with him to love and foreign parts. He shows her the lunatic, in all the odious horror of her state, and Jane forgives him on the spot, having never indeed, so far as appears, felt any deep resentment of his conduct. Nevertheless, she summons up courage to leave him. She steals away by night, and, after days of wandering and starvation, she finds a home with the Rivers family, who ultimately turn out to be her cousins. St. John Rivers, the brother of the family, an Evangelical clergyman possessed with a fanatical enthusiasm for missionary life, observes the girl's strong and energetic nature, and makes up his mind to marry her, not in the least because he loves her, but because he thinks her fitted to be a missionary's wife. Her will is on the point of yielding to his, when she hears a mysterious midnight call from Rochester; she hurries back to her master, to find him blinded and maimed by the fire which has destroyed his house and his mad wife together; and of course the end is happiness.
Now certainly there never was a plot, which pretended to be a plot, of looser texture than that of 'Jane Eyre.' It abounds with absurdities and inconsistencies. The critics of Charlotte Brontė's time had no difficulty in pointing them out; they lie, indeed, on the surface for all to see. That such incidents should have happened to Jane Eyre in Mr. Rochester's house as did happen, without awakening her suspicions; that the existence of a lunatic should have been commonly known to all the servants of the house, yet wholly concealed from the governess; that Mr. Rochester should have been a man of honour and generosity, a man with whom not only Jane Eyre, but clearly the writer herself, is in love, and yet capable of deliberately betraying and deceiving a girl of twenty placed in a singularly helpless position;—these are the fundamental puzzles of the story. Mrs. Fairfax is a mystery throughout. How, knowing what she did, did she not inevitably know more?—what was her real relation to Rochester?—to Jane Eyre? These are questions that no one can answer—out of the four corners of the book. The country-house party is a tissue of extravagance throughout; the sarcasms and brutalities of the beautiful Miss Ingram are no more credible than the manners assumed by the aristocratic Rochester from the beginning towards his ward's governess, or the amazing freedom with which he pours into the ears of the same governess—a virtuous girl of twenty, who has been no more than a few weeks under his roof—the story of his relations with Adele's mother.
Turn to the early scenes, for instance, between Jane and Rochester. They have been 'several days' under the same roof; it is Jane's second interview with her employer. Mr. Rochester, in Sultan fashion, sends for her and her pupil after dinner. He sits silent, while Jane's quick eye takes note of him. Suddenly he turns upon her.
'You examine me, Miss Eyre,' said he; 'do you think me handsome?'
Jane, taken by surprise, delivers a stout negative, whereupon her employer, in caprice or pique, pursues the subject further:
'—Criticise me: does my forehead not please you?'
He lifted up the sable waves of hair which lay horizontally over his brow, and showed a solid enough mass of intellectual organs, but an abrupt deficiency where the suave sign of benevolence should have risen.
'Now, ma'am, am I a fool?'
Poor Jane gets out of the dilemma as best she can, and gradually this astonishing gentleman thaws, becomes conversational and kind. And this is how he puts the little governess at her ease:—
'You look very much puzzled. Miss Eyre; and though you are not pretty, any more than I am handsome, yet a puzzled air becomes you; besides, it is convenient, for it keeps those searching eyes of yours away from my physiognomy, and busies them with the worsted flowers of the rug; so puzzle on. Young lady, I am disposed to be gregarious and communicative to-night.'
'Young lady, I am disposed to be gregarious and communicative to-night!' Not even 'Mr. Rawchester' could exceed this. Parody has nothing to add.
The country-house party is equally far from anything known, either to realistic or romantic truth, even to the truth as it existed in the days of 'Jane Eyre's' Quarterly Reviewer and the Cowan Bridge School. Listen to the badinage of the beautiful and accomplished Miss Ingram. She is making brutal fun of governesses, in order to be overheard by the shy and shrinking Jane behind the window-curtain. Miss Ingram, it should be remarked, has never seen Jane before, has no grievance against her, and can only be supposed to be displaying the aristocratic temper as such. It pleases her to describe a love affair that her childhood had discovered between her own governess and her brother's tutor. She tells how she and her precious brothers and sisters employed it—the love affair—'as a sort of lever to hoist our dead-weights from the house.'
' . . . Dear mamma, there, as soon as she got an inkling of the business, found out that it was of an immoral tendency. Did you not, my lady-mother?'
'Certainly, my best. And I was quite right, depend on that; there are a thousand reasons why liaisons between governesses and tutors should never be tolerated a moment in any well-regulated house; firstly——'
'Oh, gracious, mamma! spare us the enumeration! Au reste, we all know them: danger of bad example to the innocence of childhood—distractions and consequent neglect of duty—on the part of the attached—mutual alliance and reliance; confidence thence resulting—insolence accompanying—mutiny and general blow-up. Am I right, Baroness Ingram, of Ingram Park?'
Baroness Ingram, of Ingram Park!
But Miss Ingram can also show herself as the gay and sprightly trifler with Rochester's well-bred homage.
'Whenever I marry,' she continued, after a pause which none interrupted, 'I am resolved that my husband shall not be a rival, but a foil. Mr. Rochester, now sing, and I will play for you.'
'I am all obedience,' was the response.
'Here, then, is a Corsair-song. Know that I doat on Corsairs; and for that reason sing it "con spirito."'
'Commands from Miss Ingram's lips would put spirit into a mug of milk and water.'
And so on. The whole scene from beginning to end is a piece of heavy grotesque, without either the truth or the fun of good satire. It was these pages, of course, and certain others like them in the book, that set George Henry Lewes preaching the 'mild eyes,' the 'truth,' and 'finish' of Miss Austen to the new and stormy genius which had produced 'Jane Eyre.' And one may see, perhaps, in Charlotte's soreness, in the very vehemence that she shows under this particular criticism, that, secretly, the shaft has gone home. She is, after all, infinitely shrewd, sensitive, and, in the end, just. She wrote a petulant letter to Mr. Lewes; but she sent for 'Pride and Prejudice,' which she had never read, and the probability is that, in spite of a natural antipathy, her quick eye took note at once of the fineness of stroke that goes to caricature itself in that immortal book; that she pondered Mr. Collins and Lady Catharine de Burgh; and that in the comparative ease and urbanity which marked the painting of manners in 'Shirley,' the influence of her tilt with Lewes counts for something.
As to the other weaknesses of plot and conception, they are very obvious and very simple. The 'arrangements' by which Jane Eyre is led to find a home in the Rivers household, and becomes at once her uncle's heiress, and the good angel of her newly discovered cousins; the device of the phantom voice that recalls her to Rochester's side; the fire that destroys the mad wife, and delivers into Jane's hands a subdued and helpless Rochester;—all these belong to that more mechanical and external sort of plot-making, which the modern novelist of feeling and passion—as distinguished from the novelist of adventure—prides himself on renouncing. To him the painting of a situation like that, say, in Benjamin Constant's 'Adolphe'—infinitely true, and wholly insoluble—where the writer scorns to apply any coercive framework, any rough-and-ready 'plot' to his material, is the admirable and important thing. The true subject of 'Jane Eyre' is the courage with which a friendless and loving girl confronts her own passion, and, in the interest of some strange social instinct which she knows as 'duty,' which she cannot explain and can only obey, tramples her love underfoot, and goes out miserable into the world. Beside this wrestle of the human will, everything else is trivial or vulgar. The various expedients—legacies, uncles, fires, and coincidences—by which Jane Eyre is ultimately brought to happiness, cheapen and degrade the book without convincing the reader. In fact—to return to our advocatus diaboli—'"Jane Eyre" is on the one side a rather poor novel of incident, planned on the conventional pattern, and full of clumsy execution; on another side it is a picture of passion and of ideas, for which in truth the writer had no sufficient equipment; she moves imprisoned, to quote Mr. Leslie Stephen, in "a narrow circle of thoughts;" if you press it, the psychology of the book is really childish; Rochester is absurd, Jane Eyre, in spite of the stir that she makes, only half-realised and half-conscious. Still, as a study of feeling, adapted to some extent to modern realist demands, the novel came at a happy moment. It is one of the signs, no doubt, that mark the transition from the old novel to the new, from the old novel of plot and coincidence to the new novel of psychology and character. But, given the defects of the book, how is it possible to assign it a high place in the history of that great modern art which has commanded the knowledge of a Tolstoy, and the mind of a Turguénieff, which is the subtle interpreter and not the vulgar stage-manager of nature, which shrinks from the merely obvious and vigorous, and is ever pressing forward toward that more delicate, more complex, more elusive expression, satisfying in proportion to its incompleteness, which is the highest response of human genius to this unintelligible world?'
So far the objector; yet, in spite of it all, 'Jane Eyre' persists, and Charlotte Brontė is with the immortals. What is it that a critic of this type forgets—what item does he drop out of the reckoning which yet, in the addition, decides the sum?
Simply, one might say, Charlotte Brontė herself. Literature, says Joubert, has been called the expression of society; and so no doubt it is, looked at as a whole. In the single writer, however, it appears rather as the expression of studies, or temper, or personality. 'And this last is the best. There are books so fine that literature in them is but the expression of those that write them.' In other words, there are books where the writer seems to be everything, the material employed, the environment, almost nothing. The main secret of the charm that clings to Charlotte Brontė's books is, and will always be, the contact which they give us with her own fresh, indomitable, surprising personality—surprising, above all. In spite of its conventionalities of scheme, 'Jane Eyre' has, in detail, in conversation, in the painting of character, that perpetual magic of the unexpected which overrides a thousand faults, and keeps the mood of the reader happy and alert. The expedients of the plot may irritate or chill the artistic sense; the voice of the story-teller, in its inflections of passion, or feeling or reverie, charms and holds the ear, almost from first to last. The general plan may be commonplace, the ideas even of no great profundity; but the book is original. How often in the early scenes of childhood or school-life does one instinctively expect the conventional solution, the conventional softening, the conventional prettiness or quaintness, that so many other story-tellers, of undoubted talent, could not have resisted! And it never comes. Hammer-like, the blows of a passionate realism descend. Jane Eyre, the little helpless child, is "never comforted; Mrs. Reid, the cruel aunt, is never sorry for her cruelties; Bessie, the kind nurse, is not very kind, she does not break the impression, she satisfies no instinct of poetic compensation, she only just makes the story credible, the reader's assent possible. So, at Lowood, Helen Burns is not a suffering angel; there is nothing consciously pretty or touching in the wonderful picture of her; reality, with its discords, its infinite novelties, lends word and magic to the passion of Charlotte's memory of her dead sister; all is varied, living, poignant, full of the inexhaustible savour of truth, and warm with the fire of the heart. So that at last, when pure pathos comes, when Helen sleeps herself to death in Jane's arms, when the struggle is over, and room is made for softness, for pity, the mind of the reader yields itself wholly, without reserve, to the working of an artist so masterful, so self-contained, so rightly frugal as to the great words and great emotions of her art. We are in the presence of the same kind of power as that which drew the death of Bazarov in 'Fathers and Sons'—a power which, in the regions covered by the experience of the mind behind it, 'nothing common does nor mean,' which shrinks from the borrowed and the imitated and the insincere, as the patriot shrinks from treason.
Personality then—strong, free, passionate personality—is the sole but the sufficient spell of these books. Can we analyse some of its elements?—so far, at least, as their literary expression is concerned?
In the first place, has it ever been sufficiently recognised that Charlotte Brontė is first and foremost an Irishwoman that her genius is at bottom a Celtic genius? When she first appeared at the Roehead school in 1831, as a child of fourteen, it was noticed by the schoolfellow to whom we owe so many early remembrances of her, that she 'spoke with a strong Irish accent.' Her father came from an Irish cabin in County Down; her mother was of a Cornish family. The main characteristics indeed of the Celt are all hers—disinterestedness, melancholy, wildness, a wayward force and passion, for ever wooed by sounds and sights to which other natures are insensible—by murmurs from the earth, by colours in the sky, by tones and accents of the soul, that speak to the Celtic sense as to no other. 'We shall never build the Parthenon,' said Renan of his own Breton race; 'marble is not for us; but we know how to grip the heart and the soul; we have an art of piercing that belongs to us alone; we plunge our hands into the entrails of man, and, like the witches of "Macbeth," we draw them back full of the secrets of the infinite. The great marvel of our art is to know how to make a charm out of the very disease that plagues us. A spring of eternal madness rises in the heart of our race. The "realm of faery," the most beautiful on earth, is our domain.'—Idealism, understood as a life-long discontent; passion, conceived as an inner thirst and longing that wears and kills more often than it makes happy; a love of home and kindred entwined with the very roots of life, so that home-sickness may easily exhaust and threaten life; an art directed rather to expression than to form—ragged often and broken, but always poignant, always suggestive, touched with reverie and emotion; who does not recognize in these qualities, these essentially Celtic qualities, the qualities of the Brontės?
Take this passage from Charlotte's letter to Miss Nussey, announcing Emily's death:
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.
I cannot forget Emily's death-day.—It was very terrible. She was torn, conscious, panting, reluctant, though resolute, out of a happy life.
Or, take the well-known outburst in 'Shirley,' where Charlotte, writing in the desolate Haworth home after her sisters' deaths, turns from the description of Jessy Yorke, to think of Martha Taylor, Jessy Yorke's original, and of Martha's burial-day in Brussels:—
But, Jessy, I will write about you no more. This is an autumn evening, wet and wild. There is only one cloud in the sky; but it curtains it from pole to pole. The wind cannot rest; it hurries, sobbing, over hills of sullen outline, colourless with twilight and mist. Rain has beat all day on that church tower—
[—one thinks of her, lifting her eyes from her small writing, as she looks down the bare strip of garden to Haworth Church—];
—it rises dark from the stony enclosure of its graveyard; the nettles, the long grass, and the tombs all drip with wet. This evening reminds me too forcibly of another evening some years ago: a howling, rainy, autumn evening, too,—when certain who had that day performed a pilgrimage to a grave new-made in a heretic cemetery, sat near a wood fire on the hearth of a foreign dwelling. They were merry and social, but they each knew that a gap, never to be filled, had been made in their circle. They knew they had lost something whose absence could never be quite atoned for, so long as they lived; and they knew that heavy falling rain was soaking into the wet earth which covered their lost darling; and that the sad, sighing gale was mourning above her buried head. The fire warmed them; Life and Friendship yet blessed them: but Jessy lay cold, coffined, solitary—only the sod screening her from the storm.
These passages surely have the Celtic quality, if ever writing had. Rapid, yearning, broken speech!—there is no note more penetrating in our literature.
Then, as to the Celtic pride, the Celtic shyness, the Celtic endurance,—Charlotte Brontė was rich in them all. Her nature loves to give—recoils from gifts. She will owe nothing to anyone; she half enjoys, half dislikes, the kindnesses even of her friendly and considerate publisher; and in society she will neither be exhibited nor patronised. Nor will she submit her judgment or taste; she will swear to no man's words. Nothing is more curious than to mark the resolute, and even haughty, independence with which the little countrywoman approached for the first time the literary world and the celebrities of London. She breaks her shy silence at a dinner-table crowded with Macready worshippers to denounce Macready's acting; when Thackeray comes to see her for the first time, she herself says, 'The giant sate before me; I was moved to speak to him of some of his shortcomings (literary, of course); one by one the faults came into my head, and one by one I brought them out and sought some explanation or defence;'—so that Mr. Smith, sitting by, may well describe it as 'a queer scene.' She will have nothing to say to Miss Barrett's poetry; and when she returns to Haworth, she says, with a touch of quiet and confident scorn, that London people talk a great deal of writers and books who mean nothing in the country, nothing to England at large. As to the shyness, it was the torment of both her physical and mental life. The Celtic craving for solitude, the Celtic shrinking from all active competitive existence—they were part of Charlotte's inmost nature, although perpetually crossed and checked, no doubt, by other influences driving her to utterance, to production, to sustained effort. And for endurance—did not her short life, divided between labour, fame, and calamity, make, first and chief upon all who knew it, the impression of an unshaken and indomitable spirit? The 'chainless soul' was hers no less than Emily's, though she was far saner and sweeter than Emily.
And all three qualities—pride, shrinking, endurance—are writ large in her books. With passion added, they are Jane Eyre and Lucy Snowe. They supply the atmosphere, the peculiar note, of all the stories. A contempt for mean and easy living, for common gains, and common luxuries, breathes in them, and makes them harsh and bracing as the air of her own moors.
And one other Celtic quality there is in Charlotte Brontė and her books, which is responsible perhaps for half their defects. It is a quality of exuberance, of extravagance, of what her contemporaries called 'bad taste.' Charles Kingsley threw 'Shirley' aside because the opening seemed to him vulgar. Miss Martineau expressed much the same judgment on 'Villette.' And there can be no doubt that there was in Miss Brontė a curious vein of recklessness, roughness, one might also say—hoydenism—that exists side by side with an exquisite delicacy and a true dignity, and is none the less Irish and Celtic for that. It disappears, so far as one can see, with the publication of 'Shirley;' but, up till then, it has to be reckoned with. It is conspicuous in the whole episode of 'the curates,' both in real life and in the pages of 'Shirley;' it is visible especially in certain recently published letters to Miss Nussey, which one could wish had been left imprinted; and it makes the one shadow of excuse for the inexcusable 'Quarterly' article. There is one sentence in the first chapter of 'Shirley,' which may serve both as an illustration of this defect, and as a landmark pointing to certain radical differences of feeling that separate 1900 from 1850. It occurs in the course of an address to the reader, warning him to expect neither sentiment, poetry, nor passion from the book before him. 'Calm your expectations; reduce them to a lowly standard. . . . It is not positively affirmed that you shall not have a taste of the exciting, perhaps towards the middle and close of the meal, but it is resolved that the first dish set upon the table shall be one that a Catholic—aye, even an Anglo-Catholic--might eat on Good Friday on Passion Week: it shall be cold lentils and vinegar without oil; it shall be unleavened bread with bitter herbs, and no roast lamb.'
These lines that I have thrown into italics were written in 1850, five years after Newman's secession, in the midst no doubt of a swelling tide of Liberal reaction, destined, however, as we all know now, to interfere very little with the spread and power of those deep undercurrents setting from the Oxford Movement. The hasty arrogance, the failure in feeling and right instinct, which the passage shows, mark the chief limitation and weakness in the artist who wrote it. It is a weakness of taste, a limitation, as Mr. Leslie Stephen would perhaps insist, of thought and idea. Taken together with the country-house scenes in 'Jane Eyre,' with some of the curate scenes in 'Shirley,' with various passages of raw didactic and rather shrill preaching, this utterance, and some others like it, suggest a lack of social intelligence, of a wide outlook, of that sense, above all, for measure and urbanity which belongs to other and more perfect art—like George Sand's—or to a more exquisitely tempered instinct—like that of Burns. One returns to Renan's explanation: 'We Celts shall never build a Parthenon; marble is not for us.' Our art is uncertain and wavering; liable to many lapses and false notes. But!—'we lay our grip on heart and soul, we bring up from the depths of the human spirit the secrets of the infinite.'
The Irish and Celtic element in Charlotte Brontė, however, is not all. Far from it. Crossing, controlling the wild impetuous temper of the Irishwoman is an influence from another world, an influence of habit and long association, breathed from Yorkshire, and the hard, frugal, persistent North. One has but to climb her Haworth hills to feel it flowing around one. Let it be in the winter, on some frosty white-rimed day, when the tops of the moors are lost in the cold mist, while a dim sun steals along their sides showing the great mills in the hollows, the ice-fringed streams, the bare half-poisoned woods, the rows of stone cottages, while the horse's hoofs ring sharp on the paving-stones of this Haworth Street that mounts stern and steep, without a relenting slope or zig-zag, heedless of the strained muscles of man or beast, from the busy factories below to the towered church and the little parsonage on the hill-top. The small stone houses mount with you on either hand, low, ugly, solid, without a trace of colour or ornament, the decent yet unlovely homes of a sturdy industrious race. The chimneys pour out their smoke, the valley hums with life and toil. You stand at the top of the hill and look around you. Manchester and the teeming Lancashire world are behind you. Bradford and Leeds in front of you. You can see nothing through the sun-lit fog, save the rolling forms of the moors bearing their dim ever-growing burden of houses; but you know that you stand in the heart of working England, the England that goes through its labour and its play, its trade-unionism and its football, its weaving or its coal-mining, with equal vigour and tenacity, with all the English love of gain and the English thirst for success—watchful, jealous, thrifty, absorbed in this very tangible earth, and the struggle to subdue it, stained with many coarse and brutal things, scornful of the dreamer and the talker, and yet, by virtue of its very strength of striving life, its very excesses of rough force and will, holding in its deep breast powers of passion and of drama unsuspected even by itself.
Amid this rude full-blooded keen-brained world grew up the four wonderful children who had survived their fragile mother and their two elder sisters. From the beginning they showed the Celtic qualities—the Celtic vision that remakes the world, throws it into groups and pictures, seen with a magical edge and sharpness. Are they gathered on a winter's night round the kitchen fire with Tabby for a companion? Charlotte—a mere child—sees the little scene as a whole, as a poet or a painter would see it, notes the winter storm and wind outside, the glow within, the quick-witted children, the old servant, throws it all into a fragment of vivid dialogue and writes it down—realised, on record, for ever. Or a tramp, talking the language of religious mania, comes to the door. Again Charlotte marks him, stamps him into words, makes a permanent representative figure out of him, a figure of the imagination. Yet all the time there are secret bonds between these four small creatures—the children of an Irish father and a Cornish mother—and the stern practical Yorkshire world about them. For they come not from the typical and Catholic Ireland, but from the Ireland of the North, on which commerce and Protestantism have set their grasp, the Ireland which has half yielded itself to England. In the girls, at any rate, the Bible and Puritanism have mingled with their Celtic blood. Economy, self-discipline, constancy, self-repression, order,—these things come easily to them, so far as the outer conduct of life is concerned. They take their revenge in dreams,—in the whims and passions of the imagination. But they cook and clean and sew, they learn all the household arts that their aunt and Tabby can teach them. They are docile, hard-working, hard-living. They are poor, saving, industrious, keenly alive to the value of money and of work, like the world about them.
And it is this mixture of Celtic dreaming with English realism and self-control which gives value and originality to all they do—to Emily's 'Wuthering Heights,' to Charlotte's four stories. Lady Caroline Lamb, an Irishwoman like Charlotte, could tear you a passion to tatters, in 'Glenarvon,' with a certain wild power. Take a passage at random:—
'Many can deceive,' said Glenarvon, mournfully gazing on Calantha whilst she wept; 'but is your lover like the common herd? Oh! we have loved, my gentle mistress, better than they know how; we have dared the utmost: your mind and mine must not even be compared with theirs. Let the vulgar dissemble and fear—let them talk idly in the unmeaning jargon they admire; they never felt what we have felt; they never dared what we have done: to win, and to betray, is with them an air—a fancy; and fit is the delight for the beings who can enjoy it.—But if once I show myself again, the rabble must shrink at last; they dare not stand before Glenarvon. Heaven or hell, I care not which, have cast a ray so bright around my brow that not all the perfidy of a heart as lost as mine, of a heart loaded, as you know too well, with crimes man shudders even to imagine—not all the envy and malice of those whom my contempt has stung can lower me to their level. And you, Calantha, do you think you will ever learn to hate me, even were I to leave and to betray you?—Poor blighted flower—to thy last wretched hour thou wouldst pine in unavailing recollection and regret; as Clytie, though bound and fettered to the earth, still fixes her uplifted eyes upon her own sun, who passes over regardless in his course, nor deigns to cast a look below!'
This was passion, masterful passion, as a woman, Byron's pupil, conceived it, in 1816, the year of Charlotte Brontė's birth. It is instructive sometimes to look back at landmarks of this lesser kind. There is vigour in these sentences, but compare their vague and mouthing falsity with any conversation in 'Jane Eyre'—above all, with the touches in the last scene between Jane and Rochester. Dwell on the moment when Jane, carrying the tray, enters the blind man's presence; notice how clear and true—with the clearness and truth of poetry—are all the stages of recognition and of rapture—till Rochester says:
'Hitherto I have hated to be helped—to be led; henceforth, I feel I shall hate it no more, I did not like to put my hand into a hireling's; but it is pleasant to feel it circled by Jane's little fingers. I preferred utter loneliness to the constant attendance of servants; but Jane's soft ministry will be a perpetual joy. Jane suits me; do I suit her?'
'To the finest fibre of my nature, sir.' . . . Reverently lifting his hat from his brow, and bending his sightless eyes to the earth, he stood in mute devotion. Only the last words of the worship were audible.
'I thank my Maker that in the midst of judgment He has remembered mercy. I humbly entreat my Redeemer to give me strength to lead henceforth a purer life than I have done hitherto.'
Then he stretched out his hand to be led. I took that dear hand, held it a moment to my lips, then let it pass round my shoulder; being so much lower of stature than he, I served both for his prop and guide. We entered the wood and wended homeward.
What feeling, and what truth!—a truth all Charlotte's own, not Jane Austen's nor another's—in which we may, if we will, detect the fusion of two races, the mingling of two worlds.
As to the outer and material history of 'Jane Eyre,' it is written to some extent in Mrs. Gaskell's 'Life,' and has employed the pens of many a critic and local antiquary since. We all know that Lowood is Cowan Bridge, that Helen Burns stands for Maria Brontė, that 'Miss Temple' and 'Miss Scatcherd' were drawn from real people; we are told that Thornfield Hall was suggested by one old Yorkshire house, and Ferndean Manor by another; that St. John Rivers had an original: we may take for granted that Charlotte's own experiences as a governess have passed into the bitterness with which the rich and 'society' are described; and Mrs. Gaskell has recorded that, according to Charlotte's own testimony, the incident of the midnight voice heard by Rochester and Jane was 'true' and 'really happened.'
Such identifications and researches will always have their interest, though the artist never sees as the critic sees, and is often filled with a secret amazement when he or she is led back to the scene or the person which is supposed to have furnished—which did indeed furnish—the germ, and the clay. The student will collect these details; the reader will do well not to pay too much attention to them. The literary affiliations and connections of the book would be far more important and significant if one could trace them. But they are not easy to trace.
If one gathers together the information to be gleaned from Mrs. Gaskell's 'Life' and elsewhere, as to Charlotte's book education—that voracious and continuous reading to which we have many references, one may arrive at a general outline, something of this kind.—There were no children's books in Haworth Parsonage. The children there were nourished upon the food of their elders: the Bible, Shakspeare, Addison, Johnson, Sheridan, Cowper, for the past; Scott, Byron, Southey, Wordsworth, Coleridge, 'Blackwood's Magazine,' 'Fraser's Magazine,' and Leigh Hunt for the moderns; on a constant supply of newspapers, Whig and Tory—Charlotte once said to a friend that she had taken an interest in politics since she was five years old—on current biographies, such as Lockhart's Life of Burns, Moore's Lives of Byron and Sheridan, Southey's 'Nelson,' Wolfe's 'Remains;' and on miscellaneous readings of old Methodist magazines containing visions and miraculous conversions, Mrs. Rowe's 'Letters from the Dead to the Living,' the 'British Essayists,' collected from the 'Rambler,' the 'Mirror,' and elsewhere, and stories from the 'Lady's Magazine.' They breathed, therefore, as far as books were concerned a bracing and stimulating air from the beginning. Nothing was softened or adapted for them. Before little Maria, the eldest girl, died, at the age of eleven, her father could discuss with her any current topic in which he himself was interested, as though she were grown-up and his equal.
The Duke of Wellington was their nursery-hero, and Charlotte, a child of twelve, recorded at the time the emotions with which the news of Catholic Emancipation was received at Haworth Parsonage, and spent her leisure time at school, when she was fifteen, in fighting a Radical schoolfellow on behalf of the Duke and against Reform.
Thus strongly were the foundations laid, deep in the rich main soil of English life and letters. The force and freedom with which these lonely girls wrote and thought from the beginning they owed largely to this first training. Later on, both in Charlotte and in Emily, certain foreign influences come in. Just as Emily certainly owed something to Hofmann's Tales, so Charlotte probably owed much—more, I am inclined to believe, than has yet been recognised—to the books of French Romanticism, that great movement starting from Chateaubriand at the beginning of the century, and already at its height before 'Jane Eyre' was written. There are one or two pieces of evidence that bear on this point. In 1840, before the visit to Brussels, Charlotte writes that she has received 'another bale of French books from G——'—apparently from the Taylors—'containing upwards of forty volumes. They are like the rest, clever, wicked, sophistical and immoral. The best of it is, that they give one a thorough idea of France and Paris.' If these were contemporary books, as, from the last sentence, one might suppose they were, it is worth while to inquire what writers were probably among them. By 1840 Victor Hugo had written 'Marion Delorme,' 'Hernani,' 'Le Roi s'amuse,' 'Ruy Bias,' six volumes of poems, 'Notre Dame de Paris,' and much else. Alfred de Musset, who was thirty in 1840, had done all his work of importance, and sunk into premature exhaustion; 'Premičres Poésies,' 'Rolla,' 'Confession d'un Enfant du Sičcle,' 'Espoir en Dieu'—were they in the packet that reached Charlotte in 1840? George Sand, making her first great success with 'Indiana' in 1832, had produced 'Valentine,' 'Lélia,' 'Jacques,' 'Léone Leoni,' 'André,' 'Mauprat,' and some others. Balzac, herald of another age and another world, had been ten years at work on the 'Comédie Humaine.' We know, however, from a letter of Charlotte's in 1848, that she never read a novel of Balzac's till after the publication of 'Jane Eyre.'
But she did read George Sand, as the same letter informs us, and the influence of that great romantic artist in whom restless imagination went hand in hand with a fine and chosen realism, was probably of some true importance in the development of Charlotte Brontė's genius. During her two years in Brussels, under the teaching of M. Héger—who gave her passages from Victor Hugo to study as models of style, and was himself a keen reader, critic, and lecturer—there can be little question that she made wide acquaintance with the French books of the day, and it was the day of Victor Hugo, Alfred de Musset and George Sand. It has not yet, I think, been pointed out that there is in 'Jacques'—a novel written in 1834—a very curious anticipation of the cry of Rochester to Jane. The passage occurs in a letter from Sylvia, the sisterly friend, to Jacques, about to become the husband of Fernande:—
Mon āme est habituée ą vivre seule, Dieu le veut ainsi; que vient faire la tienne dans ma solitude? Viens-tu m'avertir de quelque danger, ou m'annoncer quelque malheur plus épouvantable que tous ceux auxquels a suffi mon courage? L'autre soir j'étais assise au pied de la montagne; le ciel était voilé, et le vent gémissait dans les arbres; j'ai entendu distinctement, au milieu de ces sons d'une triste harmonie, le son de ta voix. Elle a jeté trois ou quatre notes dans l'espace, faibles, mais si pures et si saisissables que j'ai été voir les buissons d'oł elle était partie pour m'assurer que tu n'y étais pas. Ces choses-lą m'ont rarement trompée; Jacques, il faut qu'il y ait un orage sur nos tźtes.
The suggestion, the romantic suggestion of these sentences may very possibly have come in Charlotte Brontė's way, may have mingled with, perhaps given birth to, some later fancy or experience, of which she spoke to Mrs. Gaskell, and so found shape ultimately in the thrilling scene of 'Jane Eyre.' Of direct imitation of George Sand there is nowhere any trace; but in certain parts of 'Shirley,' in the 'Marriage of Genius and Humanity,' for instance, the stimulating influence of certain famous passages in 'Lélia' suggests itself readily; and throughout 'Villette' there is constantly something in her mode of approaching her subject, even in the turn of the sentences, especially in the use of participles, which is French rather than English. All the books testify to her pride in her French culture. She had won it at great cost; it had opened fresh worlds to her, and she makes free use of it in numerous scenes of 'Shirley' and 'Villette,' and in the whole portraiture of the Moores.
The differences, of course, between her and the author of 'Jacques' are great and fundamental. Charlotte Brontė's main stuff is English, Protestant, law-respecting, conventional even. No judgment was ever more foolish than that which detected a social rebel in the writer of 'Jane Eyre.' She thought the French books, as we have seen, 'clever, wicked, sophistical, and immoral.' But she read them; and for all her revolt from them, they quickened and fertilised her genius. More than this. The influence which she absorbed from them has given her a special place in our literature of imagination. She stands between Jane Austen, the gentle and witty successor of Miss Barney and Richardson, and George Eliot, upon whom played influences of quite another kind—German, critical, scientific—representing the world which succeeded the world of 'Hernani.' Midway appears the work of Charlotte Brontė, linked in various significant ways with the French romantic movement, which began with 'Atala' in 1801, and had run its course abroad before 1847, the year of 'Jane Eyre.' One may almost say of it, indeed, that it belongs more to the European than to the special English tradition. For all its strongly marked national and provincial elements, it was very early understood and praised in France; and it was of a French critic, and a French critic only, that Charlotte Brontė said with gratitude, in the case of Shirley, 'he follows Currer Bell through every winding, discerns every point, discriminates every shade, proves himself master of the subject, and lord of the aim.'
'Shirley' was published in the autumn of 1849, two years after the appearance of 'Jane Eyre.' No book was ever written under more pathetic, more torturing conditions. It was begun very soon after the publication of 'Jane Eyre,' amid the first rushings of the blast of fame; it was continued all through those miserable and humiliating months of 1848, when the presence of Branwell at the parsonage was a perpetual shadow on his sisters' lives, when they never knew what a day might bring forth and would lie trembling and wakeful at night, listening for sounds from their father's room where Branwell slept—Branwell who had often threatened them in the delirium of an opium-eater and a drunkard that either his father or he would be dead by the morning.
'Wuthering Heights' and 'Agnes Grey' had appeared in December 1847, a few weeks after 'Jane Eyre.' During 1848 they seem to have been generally regarded as earlier efforts from the pen of the writer of 'Jane Eyre'; and it was this misconception, in fact, which led to the first hurried visit of Charlotte and Anne to London in July, when Charlotte put into the hands of her astonished publisher the letter from himself, addressed to Currer Bell, which had reached Haworth Parsonage the day before, and so, nine months after its publication, disclosed the secret of 'Jane Eyre.'
In these first interviews with her publisher—thenceforward her friend also—she was able to tell him that 'Shirley,' her second story, was well advanced. The second volume, indeed, was nearly finished by September, when Branwell died. The end of the year, or the beginning of the next, should have seen its publication. The poor sisters may well have hoped, now that Branwell's vices and sufferings distracted them no more, to pass into quieter and happier hours, hours of home peace and fruitful work.
Alas! one needs only to put down the bare dates and facts of the six months that followed, to realise the havoc that they made at once in Charlotte's heart, and in the history of English genius. Emily, the strong, indomitable Emily—who had borne with Branwell throughout more patiently, more indulgently than the other two—developed tuberculosis, the family scourge, at the very moment of Branwell's last struggle, and she left the house only once after his death. The tragic, the unbearable story of those three months, during which Emily fought with death and would let no one help her, has been often told. The memory of them haunts any visitor to the little parsonage to-day. As one mounts the stone staircase, with one's hand on the old rail, suddenly ghosts are there. Emily mounts before one, clinging to the rail, dragging her wasted frame from step to step. The laboured breath sounds once more through the small, quiet house, and the sisters in the dining-room below turn to each other in misery as they hear it. For it is Emily's spirit that still holds the parsonage; amid all the memories of the house—hers, fierce, passionate, inscrutable—is still pre-eminent. For she is the mystery. The others 'abide our question.' We can know Charlotte and understand poor Anne; we shall never either know or understand Emily.
For three months she battled for her life, in her own cruel way. The sisters, who saw her perishing, were helpless. She would accept nothing at their hands, and when the last whisper came—'If you send for a doctor I will see him now'—it was too late. The suffering of the elder sister has left many piteous traces in her letters, and in 'Shirley' itself. 'Moments so dark as these I have never known,'—she writes on the very morning of Emily's death—'I think Emily seems the nearest thing to my heart in the world.' And when Emily is gone, and Anne also has set her feet upon the road that leads to the last shadow, Charlotte's poor heart is crushed between longing for the dead and fear for the living. She talks in March 1849—three months after Emily's death, two months before Anne's—of the 'intense attachment' with which 'our hearts clung to Emily,' and then she adds: 'she was scarce buried when Anne's health failed—her decline is gradual and fluctuating, but its nature is not doubtful.' Yet in these spring days, between the two deaths, she has taken up her pen again. And she is cheered by the praise given to the early volumes of 'Shirley' by Mr. Smith and Mr. Williams. 'Oh! if Anne were well,' she cries, 'if the void death has left were a little closed up, if the dreary word nevermore would cease sounding in my ears, I think I could yet do something.'
But May comes, and Charlotte takes Anne to Scarborough, thinks no more of her book—hangs day by day, and hour by hour, on the last looks and words of this gentle creature, this ardent Christian, who yet is of the indomitable Brontė clay like the rest of them, and leaves behind her no record of soft and pious imaginings, but a warning tale of drunkenness and profligacy, steadily carried out through all its bitter truth. By the end of May, Anne is in her grave, and Charlotte stays on a while by the sea, waiting for the mere passage of the days that may give her strength to go home and take up her work again.
By the beginning of July, however, she had returned to Haworth. She writes to her friend in words that paint the very heart of grief:
'All received me with an affection that should have consoled. The dogs were in strange ecstasy. I am certain they regarded me as the harbinger of others. The dumb creatures thought that as I was returned, those who had been so long absent were not far behind.
'I left papa soon, and went into the dining-room: I shut the door—I tried to be glad that I was come home. . . But . . . I felt that the house was all silent—the rooms were all empty. I remembered where the three were laid—in what narrow dark dwellings—never more to reappear on earth. . . . The agony that was to be undergone and was not to be avoided, came on. I underwent it, and passed a dreary evening and night, and a mournful morrow. To-day I am better.'
During the weeks that followed she resolutely set herself to finish 'Shirley,' and some months later she bears passionate testimony to the supporting, stimulating power of her great gift. 'The faculty of imagination' she says to Mr. Williams, 'lifted me when I was sinking, three months ago (i.e. immediately after the death of Anne); its active exercise has kept my head above water since.'
It was at the 24th chapter of her story that she began again; it was with the description of Caroline's wrestle with death, Caroline's discovery of her mother, Caroline's rescue from the destroyer at the hands of Tenderness and Hope, that the poor forsaken sister filled her first lonely hours, cheating her grief by dreams, by 'making out,' as she had often consoled the physical and moral trouble of her girlhood, Mrs. Pryor's agony of nursing and of dread is Charlotte's.
Not always do those who dare such divine conflict prevail. Night after night the sweat of agony may burst dark on the forehead; the supplicant may cry for mercy with that soundless voice the soul utters when its appeal is to the Invisible. 'Spare my beloved,' it may implore. 'Heal my life's life. Rend not from me what long affection entwines with my whole nature. God of heaven—bend—hear—be clement!' And after this cry and strife, the sun may rise and see him worsted. That opening morn which used to salute him with the whisper of zephyrs, the carol of skylarks, may breathe as its first accents, from the dear lips which colour and heat have quitted—'Oh! I have had a suffering night. This morning I am worse. I have tried to rise. I cannot. Dreams I am unused to have troubled me.'
Then the watcher approaches the patient's pillow, and sees a new and strange moulding of the familiar features, feels at once that the insufferable moment draws nigh, knows that it is God's will his idol shall be broken, and bends his head, and subdues his soul to the sentence he cannot avert, and scarce can bear.
Happy Mrs. Pryor! She was still praying, unconscious that the summer sun hung above the hills, when her child softly woke in her arms. No piteous unconscious moaning—sound which so wastes our strength that, even if we have sworn to be firm, a rush of unconquerable fears sweeps away the oath,—preceded her waking. No space of deaf apathy followed. The first words spoken were not those of one becoming estranged from this world, and already permitted to stray at times into realms foreign to the living. Caroline evidently remembered with clearness what had happened.
Thus did poor Charlotte, dreaming alone, make use of her own pain for the imagining of joy; thus, sitting in her 'lonely room—the clock ticking loud in a still house,' did she comfort her own desolation by this exquisite and tender picture of mother and daughter reunited, made known to each other, after years of separation and under the shadow of death. Caroline Helstone shall not be left in darkness and forlorn! Charlotte will bring her to the light—place her in loving shelter.
Mrs. Pryor held Caroline to her bosom; she cradled her in her arms; she rocked her softly, as if lulling a young child to sleep.
'My mother! My own mother!' The offspring nestled to the parent: that parent, feeling the endearment and hearing the appeal, gathered her closer still. She covered her with noiseless kisses: she murmured love over her, like a cushat fostering its young.
Then from the ecstasy of mother and child, the 'maker' passed on to the love-story of Shirley and Louis Moore—Shirley who stood in Charlotte's mind, as she herself tells us, for Emily. Emily lay under the floor of the old church, a stone's throw from Charlotte, as she wrote; and Charlotte, looking up at each passing sound, would be clutched anew, hour after hour, by the thought of Emily's pain, Emily's death-anguish, the waste of Emily's genius. But as the small writing covered the advancing page, Emily lived again—grown rich, beautiful, happy. Her dog, old Tartar, rambled beside her; the glow of health is on her cheek; she has a lover, and a wedding-dress; length of days and of joy—both are secured to her. One may say what one will of these last chapters of 'Shirley.' Louis Moore is no favourite with any reader of the Brontės; his courting of Shirley has nothing to do with the realities either of love or of the male human being; his very creation involves a certain dulling and weakening of Charlotte's faculty—a certain morbidness also. But those who recall the circumstances of 'Shirley's' composition will for ever forgive him; they will remember how tired and trembling was the hand that drew him; how he stood in Charlotte's sad fancy for protecting strength, and passionate homage, for all that Emily would never know, and all that the woman in Charlotte, at that desolate moment of her life, most yearned to know.
There can be no question, however, that 'Shirley,' from a literary point of view, suffered seriously from the tension and distraction of mind amid which it was composed. It was neither the unity, the agreeable old-fashioned unity of 'Jane Eyre,' nor, as a whole, the passionate truth of 'Villette.' In the very centre of the book, the story suddenly gives way. The love-story of Robert and Caroline has somehow to be delayed; and one divines that the writer—for whom life has temporarily made impossible that fiery concentration of soul, in which a year or two later she wrote 'Villette'—hesitates as to the love-story of Shirley and Louis. She does not see her way; she gropes a little; and that angel of imagination, to which she pays so many a glowing tribute in the course of her work, seems to droop its wing beside her, and move listlessly through two or three chapters, which do little more than mark time till the divine breath returns. These are the chapters headed 'Shirley seeks to be saved by works,' 'Whitsuntide,' 'The School Feast.' They are really scene-shifting chapters while the new act is preparing; and the interval is long and the machinery a little clumsy. 'Villette' also passes from one motive to another, from Lucy's first love for Graham Bretton, to her second love for Paul Emanuel. But in 'Villette' the transition is made with admirable swiftness. As Graham Bretton recedes, parri passu, Paul Emanuel advances. The two themes are interwoven; the book never ceases to be an organism; there is no faltering in the writer, no uncertainty in the touch. Invention full and warm flows through it in a never slackening tide; there are few or none of the cold and superfluous passages that disfigure the middle region of 'Shirley.'
Signs of the same momentary failure in the artist's fusing and vivifying power are numerous also in the style of 'Shirley,' as compared with the style of 'Villette.' Commonplaces writ large; a tendency to produce pages of 'copy,' pages that any 'descriptive reporter' could do as well; an Extravagance which is not power, but rather a kind of womanish violence; and a humour also that sometimes leaves the scene on which it is turned colder and more laboured than it found it—these are some of the faults that attach especially to the central scenes of 'Shirley,' to the many pages devoted to Shirley's charitable plans, to the school-treat, to the curates, to the old maids. Take these sentences, for instance, from the account of Miss Ainley: 'Sincerity is never ludicrous; it is always respectable. Whether truth—be it religious or moral truth—speak eloquently and in well-chosen language or not, its voice should be heard with reverence. Let those who cannot nicely, and with certainty, discern the difference between those of hypocrisy and those of sincerity, never presume to laugh at all, lest they should have the miserable misfortune to laugh in the wrong place and commit impiety when they think they are achieving wit.'
A great creative artist, an artist capable of writing a 'Villette' does not drop into surplusage of this kind, unless there is some sterilising and hostile influence overshadowing her. In her happy hour she will fall upon sentences like this and sweep them from the page, or rather she will never conceive them. Humble truth, modest piety, the scorner to be scorned—no need then to talk or prate about them. She sees them in act as they live, and move, and walk; and she records the vision—not any personal opinion about them.
Nevertheless, it may be argued, and with truth, that even these slacker and more diffuse chapters of the story have a real and abiding interest for the student of English manners—that this clerical, middle-class, country life was intimately known to Charlotte Brontė, and that the portraits of Mr. Helstone, Cyril Hall, the Curates, and the rest, have at least an historical interest. And indeed the matter, the subject, is rich enough; it is the matter of Jane Austen, of 'Middlemarch,' and the 'Scenes from Clerical Life,' of Trollope and Mrs. Gaskell, of half the eminent and most of the readable novels of English life. Charlotte Brontė presents it with force and knowledge, often with bursts of poetic or satiric observation, but without either the humour or the charm that other English hands have been able to give it. This country and clerical life, though as a human being she was part of it, was not her subject in literature; let anyone compare the relative failure of 'Shirley' with the unwavering power and mastery of 'Villette.' It was in the play of personal passion, set amid the foreign scenes of 'Villette'—scenes that stirred her curiosity, her wrath, her fancy, as novelty and change must always stir the poetic, as distinguished from the critical or humorous genius, that Charlotte at last found her best, her crowning opportunity.
The men, for instance, of 'Shirley,' on their first appearance roused a protest among readers and reviewers that can only be repeated now. Among them Mr. Helstone makes, on the whole, the best impression. Miss Brontė drew him from experience, or at least from a germ of reality sufficient to give life and persuasiveness to the creation that sprang from it. Mr. Robertson, of Heald's Hall, the indomitable fighting parson of the thirties, who was the original of Helstone, little knew to whom he was preaching, when at the consecration of a church near Haworth in 1826 he numbered among his hearers a child of ten years old, small, sharp-faced, with bright dreamy eyes. 'I never saw him but that once,' Miss Brontė said later to Mr. Williams. But he was known to her father; his character and exploits made an impression in her neighbourhood; she heard much of him, and probably his truculent Tory virtues raised him to hero-height in the fancy of an infant worshipper of Wellington and hater of Lord Grey. This was not much foundation, but it was enough. Helstone has life and truth; his hardness or violence, his courtesies and his scorns, his rare tendernesses, his unconquerable reserves, his smaller habits and gestures are finely studied, finely rendered. But he alone—and Martin Yorke—have any convincing veracious quality among the men of the book. Mr. Yorke also was studied from life, but the writer has reproduced only the incongruities and oddities of the character, not the unity of the man. Robert Moore is ingeniously imagined and often interesting. But at the critical moment of the book the cloud of sorrow and bewilderment that descended on the mind of the writer, dulling nerve and vision, blurs him also, so that he seems to dissolve and break up, to be no longer a man and an entity.
And Louis Moore! When her friendly critics in Cornhill, Mr. Williams and Mr. Taylor, sent her during the progress of the book—which they were allowed to see in manuscript—some 'complaints' of her heroes, Charlotte answered in much depression, that her critics were probably justified. 'When I write about women I am sure of my ground—in the other case I am not so sure.' And once or twice, in meeting criticisms on 'Jane Eyre' or 'Shirley,' she says with perfect frankness that it may all be very true. She has seen too little of society; known too little of men. Yet all the time she had within her that store of passionate and complete observation, whence, later on, Paul Emanuel was to rise and have his being. And she was by no means meek in her general estimate of the power of women to describe and penetrate men in fiction. There is a passage in 'Shirley' where Miss Keeldar, after pouring scorn on some of the well-known heroines of men's novels, maintains, with warmth, that in fiction women read men more truly than men are able to read women: and one hears through her animated talk the voice of Charlotte herself.
That Charlotte Brontė, under adequate stimulus, could draw a living man with truth, humour and variety, Paul Emanuel is there to testify. No single atom of true experience was ever lost upon her genius. But her shyness and silence allowed her too little of this experience, and in the pure play of imagination she was inferior, in dealing with character, to her sister Emily. Emily knew less of men personally than Charlotte. But she had no illusions about them, and Charlotte had many. Emily is the true creator, using the most limited material in the puissant, detached impersonal way that belongs only to the highest gifts—the way of Shakespeare. Charlotte is often parochial, womanish, and morbid in her imagination of men and their relation to women; Emily who has known two men only, her father and her brother, and derives all other knowledge of the sex from books, from Tabby's talk in the kitchen, from the forms and features she passes in the village street, or on the moors—Emily can create a Heathcliff, a Hareton Earnshaw, a Joseph, an Edgar Linton, with equal force, passion, and indifference. All of them up to a certain point, owing to the fact that she knows nothing of certain ground-truths of life, are equally false; but beyond that point all have the same magnificent, careless truth of imagination. She never bowed before her creatures, in a sort of personal subjection to them, as Charlotte did.
Again, nothing is more curious than to compare Charlotte Brontė's conceptions of Rochester and the two Moores, her painting of the relations between these heroes and the women of the piece, with the ideas and conceptions of George Sand in almost all her earlier stories. To Jane Eyre, Rochester is 'my master' from first to last; Louis Moore is the tutor and the tyrant even in love-making; Paul Emanuel, for all his foibles and tempers that make him so welcome and so real, is still in relation to the woman he loves, the captor, the teacher, the breaker-in. And there is plenty of evidence in Miss Brontė's letters, and in what is known of her married life, to show that this, in fact, was her own personal ideal. She had battled with the world, and she dreamed of rest; she had been forced to exercise her own will with so strong and unceasing an effort, that the thought of dropping the tension for ever, of handing all judgment, all choice, over to another's will, became delight; and, last and most important, what she did not know she glorified. But George Sand, alas! knew too much, and knew too well. No schoolroom imaginations are possible to her. The men she creates are handled with a large indulgence, half maternal, half poetic, that may turn to irony or to reproach, never to the mere woman's self-surrender. In general, as M. Faguet says, 'elle aime les types de femmes énergiques et d'hommes faibles,' and this preference is the unconscious reflection of her own personal history. In her various love affairs she had always found herself in the end the better man; she had shaken herself free from fettering claims because the artist in her was much stronger than the woman, and the man of the present, seen in his actuality, had come to seem to her but a poor creature. She dreamed of a man of the future, and a marriage of the future. Meanwhile, the men she imagines and describes in so large a number of her novels, the relations she draws between them and the women they love, betray her own secret consciousness of power and ascendency. Hence Lélia and Stenio, Edmé and Mauprat, André, Simon, and many more.
The personal contrast, indeed, between the two writers, the two women, can hardly be conceived too sharply. We shall realise it a little, perhaps, if we try to imagine George Sand, after her early successes, and in the first glow of fame, marrying a country curate, without a tinge of letters, who encouraged his wife to give up the practice of novel-writing, and in return 'often found a little work for her to do' in his study or the parish; if we endeavour to think of her as submitting without a murmur, and finding in the quiet happiness of the simplest domestic life reward enough for the suppression of her gift and the taming of her soul.
On the other hand—in compensation—could George Sand have imagined or drawn a Caroline Helstone? In all her work, did she ever penetrate as close to the 'very pulse of the machine' as Charlotte Brontė has done in this picture of Caroline? I think not. For delicacy, poetry, divination, charm, Caroline stands supreme among the women of Miss Brontė's gallery. She is as true as Lucy Snowe, but infinitely more delightful; she has the same flower-like purity and fragrance as Frances in the 'Professor,' but she is more tangible, more varied; she can love with the same intensity as 'Jane Eyre,' but to intensity she adds an ętherial and tender grace that Jane must do without. The exquisite quality in her she shares indeed with Paulina in 'Villette'; but Paulina is a mere sketch compared to her. From the moment when in her 'soft bloom' she first enters the Moores' sitting-room, to the final scene when Robert graciously rewards her faith and affection with a heart far below her deserts, she is all woman and all love. It is conceivable that she, being what she is, should have felt no jealousy of Shirley; that she should have drooped without complaining; that she should have preferred rather to die than hate; to slip out of the struggle rather than make a selfish claim. Yet she is no mere bundle of virtues; hers is no insipid or eclectic goodness like that of Thackeray's Lauras and Amelias. What fortitude and courage even in her despair—what tenderness in her relation to her new-found mother—what daring in the dove, when the heart and its rights are to be upheld!
'Love a crime! No, Shirley: love is a divine virtue—obtrusiveness is a crime; forwardness is a crime; and both disgust: but love!—no purest angel need blush to love! And when I see or hear either man or woman couple shame with love, I know their minds are coarse, their associations debased. . . .'
'You sacrifice three-fourths of the world, Caroline.'
'They are cold—they are cowardly—they are stupid, on the subject, Shirley! They never loved—they never were loved!'
'Thou art right, Lina! And in their dense ignorance they blaspheme living fire, seraph-brought from a divine altar.'
'They confound it with sparks mounting from Tophet!'
Shirley Keeldar, too, is full of charm, though, as a conception, she has hardly the roundness, the full and delicate truth of Caroline. But the two complete each other, and Charlotte Brontė has expressed in the picture of Shirley that wilder and more romantic element of her own being, which found a little later far richer and stronger utterance in 'Villette.' Caroline, Shirley, Mrs. Pryor—delicacy, wildness, family affection—these indeed are the three aspects of Charlotte's personality, Charlotte's genius. So that they are children of her own heart's blood, spirits born of her own essence, and warm with her own life.
Thus again we return once more to the central claim, the redeeming spell of all Charlotte Brontė's work—which lies, not so much in the thing written, to speak in paradoxes, as in the temper and heart of the writer. If 'Shirley,' wherever the women of the story are chiefly concerned, is richer even than 'Jane Eyre' in poetry and unexpectedness, in a sort of fresh and sparkling charm like that of a moor in sunshine, it is because Charlotte Brontė herself has grown and mellowed in the interval; because she has thought more, felt more, trembled still more deeply under the pain and beauty of the world. Untoward circumstance indeed makes 'Shirley' less than a masterpiece, distracts the thinking brain and patient hand, is the parent here and there of blurs and inequalities. But this is, so to speak, an accident. Grief and weariness of spirit dim the clear eyes, or mar the utterance of the story-teller from time to time. But the steady growth of genius is there all the same. 'Shirley' is not so good a story, not so remarkable an achievement as 'Jane Eyre,' but it contains none the less the promise and potency of higher things than 'Jane Eyre'—of the brilliant, the imperishable 'Villette.'
During the year which followed the publication of 'Shirley,' Charlotte Brontė seems to have been content to rest from literary labour—save for the touching and remarkable Preface that she contributed in the autumn of the year to the reprint of 'Wuthering Heights' and 'Agnes Grey,'—which had been happily rescued from Mr. Newby and were safe in Mr. Smith's hands. We hear nothing of any new projects. After the great success of 'Shirley' and 'Jane Eyre,' indeed, she turned back to think of the still unprinted manuscript of 'The Professor,' and to plans of how work already done might be turned to account, now that the public knew her and the way was smoothed. Towards the end of 1850, or in the first days of 1851, she wrote a fresh preface to 'The Professor,' and suggested to her publishers that they should at last venture upon its publication. They did not apparently refuse; but they advised her against the project; and as Mr. Nicholls says in a note which he added to his wife's Preface, on the publication of the 'Professor' after her death, she then 'made use of the materials in a subsequent work—"Villette."' There is an interesting and, for the most part, unpublished letter to Mr. George Smith, still in existence, which throws light upon this disappointment of hers—a disappointment which to us is pure gain, since it produced 'Villette.' In spite of her gaiety of tone, it is evident that she is sensitive in the matter, and a little wounded—
Mr. Williams will have told you (she writes to Mr. Smith) that I have yielded with ignoble facility in the matter of 'The Professor.' Still it may be proper to make some attempt towards dignifying that act of submission by averring that it was done 'under protest.'
'The Professor' has now had the honour of being rejected nine times by the 'Tr—de.' (Three rejections go to your own share; you may affirm that you accepted it this last time, but that cannot be admitted; if it were only for the sake of symmetry and effect, I must regard this martyrized MS. as repulsed or at any rate withdrawn for the ninth time!) Few—I flatter myself—have earned an equal distinction, and of course my feelings towards it can only be paralleled by those of a doting parent towards an idiot child. Its merits—I plainly perceive—will never be owned by anybody but Mr. Williams and me; very particular and unique must be our penetration, and I think highly of us both accordingly. You may allege that merit is not visible to the naked eye. Granted; but the smaller the commodity—the more inestimable its value.
You kindly propose to take 'The Professor' into custody. Ah—no! His modest merit shrinks at the thought of going alone and unbefriended to a spirited publisher. Perhaps with slips of him you might light an occasional cigar—or you might remember to lose him some day—and a Cornhill functionary would gather him up and consign him to the repositories of waste paper, and thus he would prematurely find his way to the 'butterman' and trunkmakers. No—I have put him by and locked him up—not indeed in my desk, where I could not tolerate the monotony of his demure quaker countenance, but in a cupboard by himself.
In the same letter, she goes on to say—the passage has been already quoted by Mrs. Gaskell—that she must accept no tempting invitations to London, till she has 'written a book.' She deserves no treat, having done no work.
Early in 1851 then, having 'locked up' 'The Professor' as finally done with and set aside, Miss Brontė fell back once more on the material of the earlier book, holding herself free to use it again in a different and a better way. With all the quickened and enriched faculty which these five years of labour and of fame had brought her, she returned to the scenes of her Brussels experience, and drew 'Villette' from them as she had once drawn 'The Professor.' By the summer she had probably written the earlier chapters, and early in June she at last allowed herself the change and amusement of a visit to Mr. George Smith and his mother, who were then living in Gloucester Place. This visit contributed much to the growing book. In the first place the character of Graham Bretton,—'Dr. John'—owed many characteristic features and details to Miss Brontė's impressions, now renewed and completed, of her kind host and publisher, Mr. George Smith. Mrs. Smith, Mr. George Smith's mother, was even more closely drawn—sometimes to words and phrases which are still remembered—in the Mrs. Bretton of the book. And further, two incidents at least of this London visit may be recognised in 'Villette;' one connected with Thackeray's second lecture on 'The English Humourists,' to which Miss Brontė was taken by her hosts,—the other a night at the theatre, when she saw Rachel act for the first time. As to the lecture, after it was over, the great man himself came down from the platform, and making his way to the small, shy lady sitting beside Mrs. Smith, eagerly asked her 'how she had liked it.' How many women would have felt the charm, the honour even, of the tribute implied! But the 'very austere little person,' as Thackeray afterwards described her, thus approached, was more repelled than pleased. Paul Emanuel does the like after his lecture at the Athénée, and his chronicler has some sharp words for the 'restlessness,' the lack of 'desirable self-control,' that the act seemed to her to show. One can only remember that Miss Brontė would have judged herself as she judges another. She too must be allowed her idiosyncrasies. One must no more blame her shrinking than Thackeray's effusion.
With regard to the acting of the great, the 'possessed' Rachel, it made as deep an impression on Charlotte Brontė, as it produced much about the same time on Matthew Arnold.
On Saturday (she writes) I went to see Rachel; a wonderful sight—terrible as if the earth had cracked deep at your feet, and revealed a glimpse of hell. I shall never forget it. She made me shudder to the marrow of my bones; in her some fiend has certainly taken up an incarnate home. She is not a woman; she is a snake; she is the——!
Rachel's acting transfixed me with wonder, enchained me with interest, and thrilled me with horror . . . it is scarcely human nature that she shows you; it is something wilder and worse; the feelings and fury of a fiend.
One has only to turn from these letters to the picture of the 'great actress' in 'Villette,' who holds the theatre breathless on the night when Dr. John and his mother take Lucy Snowe to the play, to see that the passage in the book, with all its marvellous though unequal power, its mingling of high poetry with extravagance and occasional falsity of note, is a mere amplification of the letters. It shows how profoundly the fiery dęmonic element in Miss Brontė had answered to the like gift in Rachel; and it bears testimony once more to the close affinity between her genius and those more passionate and stormy influences let loose in French culture by the romantic movement. Rachel acted the classical masterpieces; but she acted them as a romantic of the generation of 'Hernani;' and it was as a romantic that she laid a fiery hand on Charlotte Brontė.
After the various visits and excitements of the summer Charlotte tried to make progress with the new story, during the loneliness of the autumn at Haworth. But Haworth in those days seems to have been a poisoned place. A kind of low fever,—influenza—feverish cold—were the constant plagues of the parsonage and its inmates. The poor story-teller struggled in vain against illness and melancholy. She writes to Mrs. Gaskell of 'deep dejection of spirits,' and to Mr. Williams that it is no use grumbling over hindered powers or retarded work, 'for no words can make a change.' It is a matter between Currer Bell 'and his position, his faculties, and his fate.' Was it during these months of physical weakness,—haunted, too, by the longing for her sisters and the memory of their deaths—that she wrote the wonderful chapters describing Lucy Snowe's delirium of fever and misery during her lonely holidays at the pensionnat? The imagination is at least the fruit of the experience; for the poet weaves with all that comes to his hand. But there are degrees of delicacy and nobility in the weaving. Edmond de Goncourt noted, as an artist—for the public—every detail of his brother's death, and his own sensations. Charlotte conceived the sacred things of kinship more finely. Those veiled and agonised passages of 'Shirley' are all that she will tell the world of woes that are not wholly her own. But of her personal suffering, physical and mental, she is mistress, and she has turned it to poignant and lasting profit in the misery of Lucy Snowe. A misery, of which the true measure lies not in the story of Lucy's fevered solitude in the Rue Fossette, of her wild flight through Brussels, her confession to Pčre Silas, her fainting in the stormy street, but rather in the profound and touching passage which describes how Lucy, rescued by the Brettons, comforted by their friendship and at rest, yet dares not let herself claim too much from that friendship, lest, like all other claims she has ever made, it should only land her in sick disappointment and rebuff at last.
'Do not let me think of them too often, too much, too fondly,' I implored: 'let me be content with a temperate draught of the living stream: let me not run athirst, and apply passionately to its welcome waters: let me not imagine in them a sweeter taste than earth's fountains know. Oh! would to God I may be enabled to feel enough sustained by an occasional, amicable intercourse, rare, brief, unengrossing and tranquil: quite tranquil!'
Still repeating this word, I turned to my pillow; and still repeating it, I steeped that pillow with tears.
Words so desolately, bitterly true were never penned till the spirit that conceived them had itself drunk to the lees the cup of lonely pain.
But the spring of the following year brought renewing of life and faculty. She wrote diligently, refusing to visit or be visited, till again, in June, resolution and strength gave way. Her father, too, was ill; and in July she wrote despondently to Mr. Williams as to the progress of the book. In September, though quite unfit for concentrated effort, she was stern with herself, would not let her friend, Ellen Nussey, come,—vowed, cost what it might, 'to finish.' In vain. She was forced to give herself the pleasure of her friend's company 'for one reviving week.' Then she resolutely sent the kind Ellen Nussey away, and resumed her writing. Always the same pathetic 'craving for support and companionship,' as she herself described it!—and always the same steadfast will, forcing both the soul to patience, and the body to its work. No dear comrades now beside her!—with whom to share the ardours or the glooms of composition. She writes once to Mr. Williams of her depression 'and almost despair, because there is no one to read a line, or of whom to ask a counsel. "Jane Eyre" was not written under such circumstances, nor were two-thirds of "Shirley."' During her worst time of weakness, as she confessed to Mrs. Gaskell, 'I sat in my chair day after day, the saddest memories my only company. It was a time I shall never forget. But God sent it, and it must have been for the best.'—Language that might have come from one of the pious old maids of 'Shirley.' How strangely its gentle Puritan note mates with the exuberant, audacious power the speaker was at that moment throwing into 'Villette'! But both are equally characteristic, equally true. And it is perhaps in the union of this self-governing English piety, submissive, practical, a little stern, with her astonishing range and daring as an artist, that one of Charlotte Brontė's chief spells over the English mind may be said to lie.
One more patient effort, however, in this autumn of 1852, and the book at last was done. She sent the later portion of it, trembling, to her publishers. Mr. Smith had already given her warm praise for the first half of the story; and though both he and Mr. Williams made some natural and inevitable criticisms when the whole was in their hands, yet she had good reason to feel that substantially Cornhill was satisfied, and she herself could rest, and take pleasure—and for the writer there is none greater—in the thing done, the task fulfilled. In January 1853 she was in London correcting proofs, and on the 24th of that month the book appeared.
'"Villette,"' says Mrs. Gaskell, 'was received with one burst of acclamation.' There was no question then among 'the judicious,' and there can be still less question now, that it is the writer's masterpiece. It has never been so widely read as 'Jane Eyre;' and probably the majority of English readers prefer 'Shirley.' The narrowness of the stage on which the action passes, the foreign setting, the very fulness of poetry, of visualising force, that runs through it, like a fiery stream bathing and kindling all it touches down to the smallest detail, are repellent or tiring to the mind that has no energy of its own responsive to the energy of the writer. But not seldom the qualities which give a book immortality are the qualities that for a time guard it from the crowd—till its bloom of fame has grown to a safe maturity, beyond injury or doubt.
'I think it much quieter than "Shirley,"' said Charlotte, writing to Mrs. Gaskell just before the book's appearance. 'It will not be considered pretentious'—she says, in the letter that announces the completion of the manuscript. Strange!—as though it were her chief hope that the public would receive it as the more modest offering of a tamed muse. Did she really understand so little of what she had done? For of all criticisms that can be applied to it, none has so little relation to 'Villette' as a criticism that goes by negatives. It is the most assertive, the most challenging of books. From beginning to end it seems to be written in flame; one can only return to the metaphor, for there is no other that renders the main, the predominant impression. The story is, as it were, upborne by something lambent and rushing. Whether it be the childhood of Paulina, or the first arrival of the desolate Lucy in 'Villette,' or those anguished weeks of fever and nightmare which culminated in the confession to the Pčre Silas, or the yearning for Dr. John's letters, or the growth, so natural, so true, of the love between Lucy and Paul Emanuel on the very ruins and ashes of Lucy's first passion, or the inimitable scene, where Lucy, led by the 'spirit in her feet,' spirit of longing, spirit of passion, flits ghost-like through the festival-city, or the last pages of dear domestic sweetness, under the shadow of parting—there is nothing in the book but shares in this all-pervading quality of swiftness, fusion, vital warmth. And the detail is as a rule much more assured and masterly than in the two earlier books. Here and there are still a few absurdities that recall the drawing-room scenes of 'Jane Eyre'—a few unfortunate or irrelevant digressions like the chapter 'Cleopatra,'—little failures in eye and tact that scores of inferior writers could have avoided without an effort. But they are very few; they spoil no pleasure. And as a rule the book has not only imagination and romance, it has knowledge of life, and accuracy of social vision, in addition to all the native shrewdness, the incisive force of the early chapters of 'Jane Eyre.'
Of all the characters, Dr. John no doubt is the least tangible, the least alive. Here the writer was drawing enough from reality to spoil the freedom of imagination that worked so happily in the creation of Paulina, and not enough to give to her work that astonishing and complex truth which marks the portrait of Paul Emanuel. Dr. John occasionally reminds us of the Moores; and it is not just that he should do so; there is inconsistency and contradiction in the portrait—not much, perhaps, but enough to deprive it of the 'passionate perfection,' the vivid rightness that belong to all the rest. Yet the whole picture of his second love—the subduing of the strong successful man to modesty and tremor by the sudden rise of true passion, by the gentle, all-conquering approach of the innocent and delicate Paulina—is most subtly felt, and rendered with the strokes, light and sweet and laughing, that belong to the subject. As to Paul Emanuel, we need not resay all that Mr. Swinburne has said; but we need not try to question, either, his place among the immortals. 'Magnificent-minded, grand-hearted, dear faulty little man!' It may be true as Mr. Leslie Stephen contends, that—in spite of his relation to the veritable M. Héger—there are in him elements of femininity, that he is not all male. But he is none the less man and living, for that; the same may be said of many of his real brethren. And what variety, what invention, what truth, have been lavished upon him! and what a triumph to have evolved from such materials,—a schoolroom, a garden, a professor, a few lessons, conversations, walks,—so rich and sparkling a whole!
Madame Beck and Ginevra Fanshawe are in their way equally admirable. They are conceived in the tone of satire; they represent the same sharp and mordant instinct that found so much play in 'Shirley.' But the mingled finesse and power with which they are developed is far superior to anything in 'Shirley;' the curates are rude, rough work beside them.
And Lucy Snowe? Well—Lucy Snowe is Jane Eyre again, the friendless girl, fighting the world as best she may, her only weapon a strong and chainless will, her constant hindrances, the passionate nature that makes her the slave of sympathy, of the first kind look or word, and the wild poetic imagination that forbids her all reconciliation with her own lot, the lot of the unbeautiful and obscure. But though she is Jane Eyre over again there are differences, and all, it seems to me, to Lucy's advantage. She is far more intelligible—truer to life and feeling. Morbid she is often; but Lucy Snows so placed, and so gifted, must have been morbid. There are some touches that displease, indeed, because it is impossible to believe in them. Lucy Snowe could never have broken down, never have appealed for mercy, never have cried 'My heart will break!' before her treacherous rival, Madame Beck, in Paul Emanuel's presence. A reader, by virtue of the very force of the effect produced upon him by the whole creation, has a right to protest 'incredible!' No woman, least of all Lucy Snowe, could have so understood her own cause, could have so fought her own battle. But in the main nothing can be more true or masterly than the whole study of Lucy's hungering nature, with its alternate discords and harmonies, its bitter-sweetness, its infinite possibilities for good and evil, dependent simply on whether the heart is left starved or satisfied, whether love is given or withheld. She enters the book pale and small and self-repressed, trained in a hard school, to stern and humble ways, like Jane Eyre—like Charlotte Brontė herself. But Charlotte has given to her more of her own rich inner life, more of her own poetry and fiery distinction, than to Jane Eyre. She is weak, but except perhaps in that one failure before Madame Beck, she is always touching, human, never to be despised. She is in love with loving when she first appears; and she loves Dr. John because he is kind and strong, and the only man she has yet seen familiarly. What can be more natural?—or more exquisitely observed than the inevitable shipwreck of this first romance, and the inevitable anguish, so little known or understood by any one about her, that it brings with it? It passes away, like a warm day in winter, not the true spring, only its herald. And then slowly, almost unconsciously, there grows up the real affinity, the love 'venturing diffidently into life after long acquaintance, furnace-tried by pain, stamped by constancy.' The whole experience is life itself, as a woman's heart can feel and make it.
Miss Martineau's criticism of 'Villette'—and it is one which hurt the writer sorely—shows a singular, yet not surprising blindness. Even more sharply than in her 'Daily News' review, she expresses it in a private letter to Miss Brontė:—
'I do not like the love,'—she says—'either the kind or the degree of it,'—and she maintains that 'its prevalence in the book, and effect on the action of it,' go some way to explain and even to justify the charge of 'coarseness' which had been brought against the writer's treatment of love in 'Jane Eyre.' The remark is curious, as pointing to the gulf between Miss Martineau's type of culture—which alike in its strength and its weakness is that of English provincial Puritanism—and that more European and cosmopolitan type, to which, for all her strong English and Yorkshire qualities, and for all her inferiority to her critic in positive knowledge, Charlotte Brontė, as an artist, really belonged. The truth is, of course, that it is precisely in and through her treatment of passion,—mainly, no doubt, as it affects the woman's heart and life—that she has earned and still maintains her fame. And that brings us to the larger question with which Charlotte Brontė's triumph as an artist is very closely connected. What may be said to be the main secret, the central cause not only of her success, but, generally, of the success of women in fiction, during the present century? In other fields of art they are still either relatively amateurs, or their performance, however good, awakens a kindly surprise. Their position is hardly assured; they are still on sufferance. Whereas in fiction the great names of the past, within their own sphere, are the equals of all the world, accepted, discussed, analysed, by the masculine critic, with precisely the same keenness and under the same canons as he applies to Thackeray or Stevenson, to Balzac or Loti.
The reason perhaps lies first in the fact that, whereas in all other arts they are comparatively novices and strangers, having still to find out the best way in which to appropriate traditions and methods not created by women, in the art of speech, elegant, fitting, familiar speech, women are and have long been at home. They have practised it for generations, they have contributed largely to its development. The arts of society and of letter-writing pass naturally into the art of the novel. Madame de Sévigné and Madame du Deffand are the precursors of George Sand; they lay her foundations, and make her work possible. In the case of poetry, one might imagine, a similar process is going on, but it is not so far advanced. In proportion, however, as women's life and culture widen, as the points of contact between them and the manifold world multiply and develop, will Parnassus open before them. At present those delicate and noble women who have entered there look a little strange to us. Mrs. Browning, George Eliot, Emily Brontė, Marcelline Desbordes-Valmore—it is as though they had wrested something that did not belong to them, by a kind of splendid violence. As a rule, so far, women have been poets in and through the novel-Cowper-like poets of the common life like Miss Austen, or Mrs. Gaskell, or Mrs. Oliphant; Lucretian or Virgilian observers of the many-coloured web like George Eliot, or, in some phases, George Sand; romantic or lyrical artists like George Sand again, or like Charlotte and Emily Brontė. Here no one questions their citizenship; no one is astonished by the place they hold; they are here among the recognised 'masters of those who know.'
Why?—For, after all, women's range of material, even in the novel, is necessarily limited. There are a hundred subjects and experiences from which their mere sex debars them. Which is all very true, but not to the point. For the one subject which they have eternally at command, which is interesting to all the world, and whereof large tracts are naturally and wholly their own, is the subject of love—love of many kinds indeed, but pre-eminently the love between man and woman. And being already free of the art and tradition of words, their position in the novel is a strong one, and their future probably very great.
But it is love as the woman understands it. And here again is their second strength. Their peculiar vision, their omissions quite as much as their assertions, make them welcome. Balzac, Flaubert, Anatole France, Paul Bourget, dissect a complex reality, half physical, half moral; they are students, psychologists, men of science first, poets afterwards. They veil their eyes before no contributory fact, they carry scientific curiosity and veracity to the work; they must see all and they must tell all. A kind of honour seems to be involved in it—at least for the Frenchman, as also for the modern Italian and Spaniard. On the other hand, English novels by men—with the great exceptions of Richardson in the last century, and George Meredith in this,—from Fielding and Scott onwards, are not, as a rule, studies of love. They are rather studies of manners, politics, adventure.
Is it the development of the Hebraist and Puritan element in the English mind—so real, for all its attendant hypocrisies—that has debarred the modern Englishman from the foreign treatment of love, so that, with his realistic masculine instinct, he has largely turned to other things? But, after all, love still rules 'the camp, the court, the grove!' There is as much innocent, unhappy, guilty, entrancing love in the world as there ever was. And treated as the poets treat it, as George Meredith has treated it in 'Richard Feverel,' or in 'Emilia in England,' or with that fine and subtle romance which Mr. Henry James threw into 'Roderick Hudson,' it can still, even in its most tragic forms, give us joy—as no Flaubert, no Zola, will ever give us joy. The modern mind craves for knowledge, and the modern novel reflects the craving—which after all it can never satisfy. But the craving for feeling is at least as strong, and above all for that feeling which expresses the heart's defiance of the facts which crush it, which dives, as Renan says, into the innermost recesses of man, and brings up, or seems to bring up, the secrets of the infinite. Tenderness, faith, treason, loneliness, parting, yearning, the fusion of heart with heart and soul with soul, the ineffable illumination that love can give to common things and humble lives,—these, after all, are the perennially interesting things in life; and here the women-novelists are at no disadvantage. Their knowledge is of the centre; it is adequate, and it is their own. Broadly speaking, they have thrown themselves on feeling, on Poetry. And by so doing they have won the welcome of all the world, men and women, realists and idealists alike. For She—'warm Recluse'—has her hiding-place deep in the common heart, where 'fresh and green—she lives of us unseen'; and whoever can evoke her, has never yet lost his reward.
It is as poets then, in the larger sense, and as poets of passion, properly so-called—that is, of exalted and transfiguring feeling—that writers like George Meredith, and George Sand, and Charlotte Brontė affect the world, and live in its memory. Never was Charlotte Brontė better served by this great gift of poetic vision than in 'Villette'—never indeed so well. The style of the book throughout has felt the kindling and transforming influence. There are few or no cold lapses, no raw fillings in. What was extravagance and effort in 'Shirley' has become here a true 'grand style,' an exaltation, a poetic ambition which justifies itself. One illustration is enough. Let us take it from the famous scene of the midnight fźte, when Lucy, racked with jealousy and longing, escapes from the pensionnat by night, hungering for the silence and the fountains of the park, and wanders into the festal streets, knowing nothing of what is happening there.
Hush! the clock strikes. Ghostly deep as is the stillness of this house, it is only eleven. While my ear follows to silence the hum of the last stroke, I catch faintly from the built-out capital, a sound like bells, or like a band—a sound where sweetness, where victory, where mourning blend. Oh, to approach this music nearer, to listen to it alone by the rushy basin! Let me go—oh, let me go! What hinders, what does not aid freedom?
Quiet Rue Fossette! I find on this pavement that wanderer-wooing summer night of which I mused; I see its moon over me; I feel its dew in the air. But here I cannot stay; I am still too near old haunts: so close under the dungeon, I can hear the prisoners moan. This solemn peace is not what I seek, it is not what I can bear: to me the face of that sky bears the aspect of a world's death. The park also will be calm—I know, a mortal serenity prevails everywhere—yet let me seek the park.
Villette is one blaze, one broad illumination; the whole world seems abroad; moonlight and heaven are banished: the town, by her own flambeaux, beholds her own splendour—gay dresses, grand equipages, fine horses and gallant riders throng the bright streets. I see even scores of masks. It is a strange scene, stranger than dreams.
That festal night would have been safe for a very child. Half the peasantry had come in from the outlying environs of Villette, and the decent burghers were all abroad and around, dressed in their best. My straw hat passed amidst cap and jacket, short petticoat, and long calico mantle, without, perhaps, attracting a glance; I only took the precaution to bind down the broad leaf gipsy-wise, with a supplementary ribbon—and then I felt safe as if masked.
Safe I passed down the avenues—safe I mixed with the crowd where it was deepest. To be still was not in my power, nor quietly to observe. I drank the elastic night air—the swell of sound, the dubious light, now flashing, now fading.
Then follow the two or three little scenes, so brilliant, and yet so flickering and dream-like, of which Lucy—closely concerned in them all—is the ghostly and unseen spectator; the sight of the Brettons in their carriage; the pursuit of the music swelling through the park, like 'a sea breaking into song with all its waves'; the Bretton group beside the band; the figures and the talk that surround Madame Beck, and then, climax of the whole, the entry of M. Paul, under the eyes of Lucy—Lucy who watches him from a few yards distance,—secret, ardent, unknown. The story grows fast with every page—magical and romantic, as the park itself with its lights and masks and song; one seems to be watching the incidents in a sparkling play, set in a passionate music; yet all, as it were, through a shining mist, wavering and phantasmal.
But at last it is over, and Lucy, the spectre, the spy, must go home with the rest.
I turned from the group of trees and the 'merrie companie' in its shade. Midnight was long past; the concert was over, the crowds were thinning. I followed the ebb. Leaving the radiant park and well-lit Haute-Ville, . . . I sought the dim lower quarter.
Dim I should not say, for the beauty of moonlight—forgotten in the park—here once more flowed in upon perception. High she rode, and calm and stainlessly she shone. The music and the mirth of the fźte, the fire and bright hues of those lamps had outdone and outshone her for an hour, but now, again, her glory and her silence triumphed. The rival lamps were dying: she held her course like a white fate. Drum, trumpet, bugle, had uttered their clangour, and were forgotten; with pencil-ray she wrote on heaven and on earth records for archives everlasting.
This surely is romance, is poetry. It is not what has been called the lactea ubertas of George Sand. It does not flow so much as flash. It is more animated than 'Jeanne'; more human and plastic than 'Lélia.' 'Consuelo' comes nearest to it; but even 'Consuelo' is cold beside it.
And then, turn from such a rush of passionate feeling and description to the scenes of character and incident, to the play of satiric invention in the portraits of Madame Beck, the Belgian schoolgirls, Ginevra Fanshawe, M. Paul. What a vivid, homely, poignant truth in it all!—like the sharp and pleasant scent of bruised herbs. No novel, moreover, that escapes obscurity and ugliness was ever freer from stereotyped forms and phrases. The writer's fresh inventive sense is perpetually brushing them away as with a kind of impatience. The phrases come out new minted, shining; each a venture, and, as a rule, a happy one; yet with no effect of labour or research; rather of a careless freedom and wealth.
Once again we may notice the influence of French books, of the French romantic tradition, which had evidently flowed in full tide through the teaching of that Brussels class-room, whence literally 'Villette' took its being. 'Villette' itself, in portions that are clearly autobiographical, bears curious testimony to the French reading, which stirred and liberated Charlotte's genius, as Hofmann's tales gave spur and impetus to Emily. It was a fortunate chance that thus brought to bear upon her at a critical moment a force so strong and kindred, a force starting from a Celt like herself, from the Breton Chateaubriand. She owes to it much of her distinction, her European note. French men of letters have always instinctively admired and understood her. They divine that there are certain things in the books of their Romantics that she might very well have written,—the description, for instance, of Chateaubriand's youth, of his strange sister, of his father and mother, and the old Chāteau of Combourg, in the 'Mémoires d'Outre Tombe.' Those pages have precisely her mixture of broad imagination with sharpness of detail; they breathe her yearning and her restlessness. And no doubt, like 'Atala' and 'René,' they have a final mellowness and mastery, to which the English writer hardly attained.
But to what might she not have attained had she lived, had she gone on working? Alas! the delicate heart and life had been too deeply wounded; and in the quiet marriage which followed immediately on 'Villette' the effort to be simply, personally happy proved too much for one who had known so well how to suffer. The sickness and loneliness through which 'Villette' was written had no power, apparently, to harm the book. Above the encroachments of personal weakness she was able for a time to carry her gift, like a torch above a swelling stream, unhurt. In the writing of 'Shirley' it was the spectacle of her sisters' anguish that had distracted and unnerved her. Above her own physical and moral pain, the triumph of 'Villette' is complete and extraordinary. But it is clear that she felt a deep exhaustion afterwards. The fragment of 'Emma,' indeed, seems to show that she might at some later time have resumed the old task. But for the moment there was clear disinclination for an effort of which she had too sharply measured the cost. In another unpublished letter to Mr. Smith, written in 1854, two months before her own marriage, and shortly after Mr. Smith's, she says—
April 25, 1854.
My dear Sir,—Thank you for your congratulations and good wishes; if these last are realised but in part—I shall be very thankful. It gave me also sincere pleasure to be assured of your own happiness, though of that I never doubted. I have faith also in its permanent character, provided Mrs. George Smith is, what it pleases me to fancy her to be. You never told me any particulars about her—though I should have liked them much—but did not like to ask questions, knowing how much your mind and time would be engaged. What I have to say is soon told.
The step in contemplation is no hasty one; on the gentleman's side at least, it has been meditated for many years, and I hope that in at last acceding to it, I am acting right; it is what I earnestly wish to do. My future husband is a clergyman. He was for eight years my father's curate. He left because the idea of this marriage was not entertained as he wished. His departure was regarded by the parish as a calamity, for he had devoted himself to his duties with no ordinary diligence. Various circumstances have led my father to consent to his return, nor can I deny that my own feelings have been much impressed and changed by the nature and strength of the qualities brought out in the course of his long attachment. I fear I must accuse myself of having formerly done him less than justice. However, he is to come back now. He has foregone many chances of preferment to return to the obscure village of Haworth. I believe I do right in marrying him. I mean to try to make him a good wife. There has been heavy anxiety, but I begin to hope all will end for the best. My expectations, however, are very subdued—very different, I dare say, to what yours were before you were married. Care and Fear stand so close to Hope, I sometimes scarcely can see her for the shadow they cast. And yet I am thankful too, and the doubtful future must be left with Providence.
On one feature in the marriage I can dwell with unmingled satisfaction, with a certainty of being right. It takes nothing from the attention I owe to my Father; I am not to leave him—my future husband consents to come here—thus Papa secures by the step a devoted and reliable assistant in his old age. There can, of course, be no reason for withholding the intelligence from your Mother and sisters; remember me kindly to them whenever you write.
I hardly know in what form of greeting to include your wife's name, as I have never seen her—say to her whatever may seem to you most appropriate and most expressive of good will. I sometimes wonder how Mr. Williams is, and hope he is well. In the course of the year that is gone Cornhill and London have receded a long way from me; the links of communication have waxed very frail and few. It must be so in this world. All things considered, I don't wish it otherwise.
George Smith, Esq.
'In the course of the year that is gone Cornhill and London have receded a long way from me; the links of communication have waxed very frail and few. It must be so in this world. All things considered, I don't wish it otherwise.'
Sad and gentle words!—written under a grey sky. They imply a quiet, perhaps a final renunciation, above all a deep need of rest. And little more than a year from the date of that letter she had passed through marriage, through the first hope of motherhood,—through death.
Alas!—To stand in the bare room where she died, looking out on the church where she and her sister lie, is to be flooded at once with passionate regrets, and with a tender and inextinguishable reverence. She, too, like Emily, was 'taken from life in its prime. She died in a time of promise.' But how much had the steady eager will wrung already from the fragile body! And she has her reward. For she is of those who are not forgotten, 'exceeded by the height of happier men;' whose griefs, rather, by the alchemy of poetry, have become the joys of those who follow after; whose quick delights and clear perceptions are not lost in the general store, but remain visibly marked and preserved to us, in forms that have the time-resisting power, through long years, to reawaken similar delights and perceptions in minds attune and sensitive. This it is to live as an artist; and of no less than this is Charlotte Brontė now assured.
It is in April 1846 that we discover a first mention of 'The Professor' in a letter from Charlotte Brontė to Messrs. Aylott & Jones, the publishers of the little volume of 'Poems by Currer, Ellis, and Acton Bell' which made its modest appearance in that year. Miss Brontė consults Messrs. Aylott & Co. 'on behalf of C., E. and A. Bell' as to how they can best publish three tales already written by them—whether in three connected volumes or separately. The advice given was no doubt prudent and friendly,—but it did not help 'The Professor.' The story went fruitlessly to many publishers. It returned to Charlotte, from one of its later quests, on the very morning of the day on which Mr. Brontė underwent an operation for cataract at Manchester—August 25, 1846. That evening, as we have seen, she began 'Jane Eyre.'
After the great success of the first two books, she would have liked to publish 'The Professor.' But Mr. Smith and Mr. Williams dissuaded her; and to their dissuasion we owe 'Villette'; for if 'The Professor' had appeared in 1851, Miss Brontė could have made no such further use of her Brussels materials as she did actually put them to in 'Villette.' The story was finally published after the writer's death, and when the strong interest excited by Mrs. Gaskell's Memoir led naturally to a demand for all that could yet be given to the public from the hand of Currer Bell.
There is little to add to the writer's own animated preface. As she herself points out, the book is by no means the book of a novice. It was written in the author's thirtieth year, after a long apprenticeship to the art of writing. Those innumerable tales, poems, and essays, composed in childhood and youth, of which Mrs. Gaskell and Mr. Shorter between them give accounts so suggestive and remarkable, were the natural and right foundation for all that followed. 'The Professor' shows already a method of composition almost mature, a pronounced manner, and the same power of analysis, within narrower limits, as the other books. What it lacks is colour and movement. Crimsworth as the lonely and struggling teacher, is inevitably less interesting—described, at any rate, by a woman—than Lucy Snowe under the same conditions, and in the same surroundings. His rōle is not particularly manly; and he does not appeal to our pity. The intimate autobiographical note, which makes the spell of 'Villette,' is absent; we miss the passionate moods and caprices, all the perennial charm of variable woman, which belongs to the later story. There are besides no vicissitudes in the plot. Crimsworth suffers nothing to speak of; he wins his Frances too easily; and the reader's emotions are left unstirred.
Mademoiselle Renter is Madame Beck over again, but at once less credible and less complex. Pelet is an extremely clever sketch. And Hunsworth?
Hunsworth is really the critical element in the story. If he were other than he is, 'The Professor' would have stood higher in the scale. For the conception of him is both ambitious and original. But it breaks down. He puzzles us; and yet he is not mysterious. For that he is not human enough. In the end we find him merely brutal and repellent, and the letter to Crimsworth, which accompanies the gift of the picture, is one of those extravagances which destroy a reader's sense of illusion. Great pains have been taken with him; and when he enters he promises much; but he is never truly living for a single page, and half way through the book he has already become a mere bundle of incredibilities. Let the reader put him beside Mr. Helstone of 'Shirley,' beside even Rochester, not to speak of Dr. John or Monsieur Paul, and so realise the difference between imagination working at ease, in happy and vitalising strength, and the same faculty toiling unprofitably and half-heartedly with material which it can neither fuse nor master. There is pungency and power in much of Hunsworth's talk; but it is not a pungency or power that can save him as a creation.
On the other hand Frances Henri, the little lace-mender, is a figure touched at every point with grace, feeling and truth. She is an exquisite sketch—a drawing in pale, pure colour, all delicate animation and soft life. She is only inferior to Caroline Helstone because the range of emotion and incident that her story requires is so much narrower than that which Caroline passes through. One feels her thrown away on 'The Professor.' An ampler stage and a warmer air should have been reserved for her; adventures more subtly invented; and a lover less easily victorious. But the scene in which she makes tea for Crimsworth—so at least one thinks as one reads it—could hardly be surpassed for fresh and tender charm; although when the same material is used again for the last scenes of 'Villette,' it is not hard to see how the flame and impetus of a great book may still heighten and deepen what was already excellent before.
'The Professor' indeed is grey and featureless compared with any of Charlotte Brontė's other work. The final impression is that she was working under restraint when writing it, and that her proper gifts were consciously denied full play in it. In the preface of 1851, she says, as an explanation of the sobriety of the story—'In many a crude effort destroyed almost as soon as composed, I had got over any such taste as I might once have had for ornamented and redundant composition, and come to prefer what was plain and homely.' In other words, she was putting herself under discipline in 'The Professor'; trying to subdue the poetical impulse; to work as a realist and an observer only.
According to her own account of it, the publishers interfered with this process. They would not have 'The Professor'; and they welcomed 'Jane Eyre' with alacrity. She was therefore thrown back, so to speak, upon her faults; obliged to work in ways more 'ornamented' and 'redundant'; and thus the promise of realism in her was destroyed. The explanation is one of those which the artist will always supply himself with on occasion. In truth, the method of 'The Professor' represents a mere temporary reaction,—an experiment—in Charlotte Brontė's literary development. When she returned to that exuberance of imagination and expression which was her natural utterance, she was not merely writing to please her publishers and the public. Rather it was like Emily's passionate return to the moorland—
I'll walk where my own nature would be leading, It vexes me to choose another guide:
The strong native bent reasserted itself, and with the happiest effects.
But because of what came after, and because the mental history of a great and delightful artist will always appeal to the affectionate curiosity of later generations, 'The Professor' will continue to be read both by those who love Charlotte Brontė, and by those who find pleasure in tracking the processes of literature. It needs no apology as a separate entity; but from its relation to 'Villette' it gains an interest and importance the world would not otherwise have granted it. It is the first revelation of a genius which from each added throb of happiness or sorrow, from each short after-year of strenuous living,—per damna, per cœdes—was to gain fresh wealth and steadily advancing power.
In these critical  introductions to the books of the Brontė sisters I have so far endeavoured, and must still endeavour, to speak, not the language of mere panegyric, but that natural to a reader whose critical sense, no less than his sense of enjoyment, shares in the general stimulus which is derived from the power and vitality of the books themselves. The Brontės are searching personalities. They challenge no less than they attract. Their vigorous effect upon the reader's sympathies and judgment has been always part of their ascendency, and one great secret of their enduring fame. To handle their work in a spirit of flat eulogy and recommendation would be an offence to it and to them. Its technical faultiness, moreover, is an element of its charm. The romantic inequalities, the romantic alternations of power and weakness which these books show, appeal to those deep and mingled instincts of the English mind which have produced our rich, violent, faulty, incomparable English literature. When we are under the spell of the Brontė stories we admire and we protest with almost equal warmth; we lavish upon them the same varieties of feeling as the poet, who brings to his love no cold, monotonous homage, but—'praise, blame, kisses, tears and smiles.' For inevitably the critic's manner catches the freedom of the author's. He will not hesitate dislike; such a mental attitude cannot maintain itself in the Brontės' neighbourhood. He will strike when he is hurt, and raise the pęans of praise when he is pleased, with the frankness which such combatants deserve. In each of her novels, as it were, Charlotte Brontė touches the shield of the reader; she does not woo or persuade him; she attacks him, and, complete as his ultimate surrender may be, he yields fighting. He 'will still be talking,' and there is no help for it.
And if this is the case with Charlotte Brontė, it is still more so with Emily. Emily's genius was the greater of the two, yet of a similar quality and fibre. It provokes even more vivid reactions of feeling in the reader; and yet, in those who have felt her spell, she wins an ultimate sympathy and compels an ultimate admiration so strong that no one wishes to examine the stages of his own conquest. We passionately accept her, or we are untouched by her. And if we passionately accept her, we are apt to forget our own critical wrestles by the way; we are impatient of demurs, of half-words, and all mere ingenuities of opinion concerning her and that work which is her direct and personal voice.
Nevertheless, criticism has still a real work to do with this strange novel and these few passionate poems of Emily Brontė's. In the first place, the novel has not even yet taken the place which rightly belongs to it. In Mr. Saintsbury's belief, for instance, Emily Brontė's work, though he grants its originality, has been 'extravagantly praised,' and is 'too small in bulk and too limited in character to be put really high.' (It may be remarked in passing that it is, indeed, smaller in bulk than Mr. Saintsbury imagines, since he attributes to Emily the book of her sister Anne, 'The Tenant of Wildfell Hall.') And even for Mr. Leslie Stephen's generous and catholic taste, Emily Brontė in 'Wuthering Heights' 'feels rather than observes;' so that 'her feeble grasp upon external facts makes her book a kind of baseless nightmare, which we read with wonder and with distressing curiosity, but with even more pain than pleasure or profit.' Matthew Arnold, indeed, in the well-known lines—
whose soul Knew no fellow for might, Passion, vehemence, grief. Daring, since Byron died—
—has paid the natural tribute of one true poet to another. But it may be doubted whether in writing it he thought of 'Wuthering Heights,' and not rather of those four or five poems of the first order which Emily Brontė has added to our literature. While for an earlier generation of critics, 'Wuthering Heights' was, as a rule, matter for denunciation rather than praise; and it was again a poet—Sydney Dobell in the 'Palladium'—who, almost alone, had the courage to understand. The pathetic letter written by Charlotte to Mr. Williams, little more than three weeks before Emily's death, which describes the reading by the sisters of an article on their books in the 'North American Review,' shows that Emily lived long enough to know that her novel had outraged the common literary opinion of her day; while before the criticism in the 'Palladium' appeared she had been more than a year in her grave.  'What a bad set the Bells must be!' says Charlotte, mocking at their critic. 'What appalling books they write! To-day, as Emily appeared a little easier, I thought the "Review" would amuse her, so I read it aloud to her and Anne. As I sat between them at our quiet but now somewhat melancholy fireside, I studied the two ferocious authors. Ellis, the "man of uncommon talents, but dogged, brutal, and morose," sat leaning back in his easy-chair, drawing his impeded breath as he best could, and looking, alas! piteously pale and wasted; it is not his wont to laugh, but he smiled, half amused and half in scorn, as he listened. Acton was sewing; no emotion ever stirs him to loquacity; so he only smiled too, dropping at the same time a single word of calm amazement to hear his character so darkly portrayed. I wonder what the reviewer would have thought of his own sagacity, could he have beheld the pair as I did.' 
Nevertheless, the 'North American Review' was only swimming with the stream, anticipating by a few months the violence of the 'Quarterly' and expressing the verdict of an overwhelming majority of the public. Moreover, those among us of a later generation who have now reached middle age can well remember that while Charlotte Brontė was a name of magic to our youth, and Mrs. Gaskell's wonderful biography had stamped the stories and personalities of her two sisters upon the inmost fibres of memory and pity, 'Wuthering Heights,' if we read it at all, was read in haste, and with a prior sense of repulsion, which dropped a veil between book and reader, and was in truth only the result of an all but universal tenor of opinion amongst our elders.
Indeed, Charlotte Brontė herself, in the touching and eloquent preface which she wrote for a new edition of 'Wuthering Heights' in 1850, adopts a tone towards her sister's work which contains more than a shade of apology. She 'scarcely thinks' that it is 'right or advisable to create beings like Heathcliff.' She admits that the chisel which hewed him was rude and untaught. But she pleads that the book contains 'at least one element of grandeur—power;' that there are 'some glimpses of grace and gaiety' in the portrait of the younger Catherine, and some touches of 'a certain strange beauty' in the fierceness of her mother, of a redeeming honesty amid her perversity and passion. She points out the wilfulness of the creative gift, and the incalculable dominance that it acquires over the artist. She vindicates her sister from the charge of any personal association with the brutalities she describes. 'She had scarcely more practical knowledge of the people round her than a nun has of the country folk who sometimes pass her convent gates.' For Heathcliff she had no model but the 'vision of her own meditations.' And yet, as Charlotte persists, she knew the North, and the moors, and the dwellers upon them, with the sufficient knowledge of the artist; and only those will find her wholly unintelligible or repulsive 'to whom the inhabitants, the customs, the natural characteristics of the outlying hills and hamlets in the West Riding of Yorkshire are things alien and unfamiliar.'
Mrs. Gaskell's comments upon 'Wuthering Heights' betray a similar note of timidity. 'They might be mistaken,' she says, speaking of Emily and Anne Brontė; 'they might err in writing at all,' seeing that they could not write otherwise; but all their work, she pleads, was done in obedience to stern dictates of conscience, and under the pressure of 'hard and cruel facts;' by which are meant, of course, the facts connected with Branwell Brontė. 'All I say is, that never, I believe, did women possessed of such wonderful gifts exercise them with a fuller feeling of responsibility for their use. As to mistakes, they stand now—as authors as well as women—before the judgment-seat of God.'
One hears in these sentences, with their note of protesting emotion, no less than in Charlotte's tender and dignified defence, the echo of an angry public opinion, indignant in the typical English way that any young woman, and especially any clergyman's daughter, should write of such unbecoming scenes and persons as those which form the subject of 'Wuthering Heights,' and determined if it could to punish the offender.
But for us, fifty years later, how irrelevant are both the attack and the defence! One might as well plead that Marlowe meant no harm by creating Tamburlaine, or Victor Hugo in imagining Quasimodo or the fight with the pieuvre or the central incident of 'Le Roi s'amuse.' 'Wuthering Heights' lives as great imagination, of which we must take the consequences, the bad with the good; and will continue to live, whether it pleases us personally or no. Moreover, the book has much more than a mere local or personal significance. It belongs to a particular European moment, and like Charlotte's work, though not in the same way, it holds a typical and representative place in the English literature of the century. If we look back upon the circumstances of its composition, the main facts seem to be these.
Emily Brontė, like her sister, inherited Celtic blood, together with a stern and stoical tradition of daily life. She was a wayward, imaginative girl, physically delicate, brought up in loneliness and poverty, amid a harsh yet noble landscape of hill, moor and stream. Owing to the fact that her father had some literary cultivation, and an Irish quickness of intelligence beyond that of his brother-clergy, this child of genius had from the beginning a certain access to good books, and through books and newspapers to the central world of thought and of affairs. In 1827, when Emily was nine, she and her sisters used to amuse themselves in the wintry firelight by choosing imaginary islands to govern, and peopling them with famous men. Emily chose the Isle of Arran, and for inhabitants Sir Walter Scott and the Lockharts; while Charlotte chose the Duke of Wellington and Christopher North. In 1829, Charlotte, in a fragment of journal, describes the newspapers taken by the family in those troubled days of Catholic emancipation and reform, and lets us know that a neighbour lent them 'Blackwood's Magazine,' 'the most able periodical there is.' It was, indeed, by the reading of 'Blackwood' in its days of most influence and vigour, and, later, of 'Fraser' (from 1832 apparently), that the Brontė household was mainly kept in touch with the current literature, the criticism, poetry, and fiction of their day. During their eager, enthusiastic youth the Brontė sisters, then, were readers of Christopher North, Hogg, De Quincey, and Maginn in 'Blackwood,' of Carlyle's early essays and translations in 'Fraser,' of Scott and Lockhart, no less than of Wordsworth, Southey, and Coleridge. Charlotte asked Southey for an opinion on her poems; Branwell did the same with Hartley Coleridge; and no careful reader of Emily Brontė's verse can fail to see in it the fiery and decisive influence of S. T. C.
So much for the influences of youth. There can be no question that they were 'romantic' influences, and it can be easily shown that among them were many kindling sparks from that 'unextinguished hearth' of German poetry and fiction which played so large a part in English imagination during the first half of the century. In 1800, Hannah More, protesting against the Germanising invasion, and scandalised by the news that Schiller's 'Räuber' 'is now acting in England by persons of quality,' sees, 'with indignation and astonishment, the Huns and Vandals once more overpowering the Greeks and Romans,' and English minds 'hurried back to the reign of Chaos and old Night by distorted and unprincipled compositions, which, in spite of strong flashes of genius, unite the taste of the Goths' with the morals of the 'road.' In 1830, Carlyle, quoting the passage, and measuring the progress of English knowledge and opinion, reports triumphantly 'a rapidly growing favour for German literature.' 'There is no one of our younger, more vigorous periodicals,' he says, 'but has its German craftsman gleaning what he can'; and for twenty years or more he himself did more than any other single writer to bring the German and English worlds together. During the time that he was writing and translating for the 'Edinburgh,' the 'Foreign Review' and 'Fraser,'—in 'Blackwood' also, through the years when Charlotte and Emily Brontė, then at the most plastic stage of thought and imagination, were delighting in it, one may find a constant series of translations from the German, of articles on German memoirs and German poets, and of literary reflections and estimates, which testify abundantly to the vogue of all things Teutonic, both with men of letters and the public. In 1840, 'Maga,' in the inflated phrase of the time, says, indeed, that the Germans are aspiring 'to wield the literary sceptre, with as lordly a sway as ever graced the dynasty of Voltaire. No one who is even superficially acquainted with the floating literature of the day can fail to have observed how flauntingly long-despised Germanism spreads its phylacteries on every side.' In the year before, (1839) 'Blackwood' published a translation of Tieck's 'Pietro d'Abano,' a wild robber-and-magician story, of the type which spread the love of monster and vampire, witch and werewolf, through a Europe tired for the moment of eighteenth-century common-sense; and, more important still, a long section, excellently rendered, from Goethe's 'Dichtung und Wahrheit.' In that year Emily Brontė was alone with her father and aunt at Haworth, while her two sisters were teaching as governesses. 'Blackwood' came as usual, and one may surely imagine the long, thin girl bending in the firelight over these pages from Goethe, receiving the impress of their lucidity, their charm, their sentiment and 'natural magic,' nourishing from them the vivid and masterly intelligence which eight years later produced 'Wuthering Heights.'
But she was to make a nearer acquaintance with German thought and fancy than could be got from the pages of 'Blackwood' and 'Fraser.' In 1842 she and Charlotte journeyed to Brussels, and there a certain divergence seems to have declared itself between the literary tastes and affinities of the two sisters. While Charlotte, who had already become an eager reader of French books, and was at all times more ready to take the colour of an environment than Emily, was carried, by the teaching of M. Héger acting upon her special qualities and capacities, into that profounder appreciation of the French Romantic spirit and method which shows itself thenceforward in all her books, Emily set herself against Brussels, against M. Héger, and against the French models that he was constantly proposing to the sisters. She was homesick and miserable; her attitude of mind was partly obstinacy, partly, perhaps, a matter of instinctive and passionate preference. She learnt German diligently, and it has always been assumed, though I hardly know on what first authority, that she read a good deal of German fiction, and especially Hoffmann's tales, at Brussels. Certainly, we hear of her in the following year, when she was once more at Haworth, and Charlotte was still at Brussels, as doing her household work 'with a German book open beside her,' though we are not told what the books were; and, as I learn from Mr. Shorter, there are indications that the small library Emily left behind her contained much German literature.
Two years later, Charlotte, in 1845, discovered the poems which, at least since 1834, Emily had been writing. 'It took hours,' says the elder sister, 'to reconcile her to the discovery I had made, and days to persuade her that such poems merited publication.' But Charlotte prevailed, and in 1846 Messrs. Aylott & Jones published the little volume of 'Poems by Currer, Ellis, and Acton Bell.' It obtained no success; but 'the mere effort to succeed,' says Charlotte, 'had given a wonderful zest to existence; it must be pursued. We each set to work on a prose tale: Ellis Bell produced "Wuthering Heights," Acton Bell "Agnes Grey," and Currer Bell also wrote a narrative in one volume'—'The Professor.' For a year and a half 'Wuthering Heights,' in common with 'Agnes Grey' and 'The Professor,' travelled wearily from publisher to publisher. At last Messrs. Newby accepted the first two. But they lingered in the press for months, and 'Wuthering Heights' appeared at last, after the publication of 'Jane Eyre,' and amid the full noise of its fame, only to be received as an earlier and cruder work of Currer Bell's, for which even those who admired 'Jane Eyre' could find little praise and small excuse. Emily seems to have shown not a touch of jealousy or discouragement. She is not known, however, to have written anything more than a few verses—amongst them, indeed, the immortal 'Last Lines'—later than 'Wuthering Heights,' and during the last year of her life she seems to have given herself—true heart, and tameless soul!—now to supporting her wretched brother through the final stages of his physical and moral decay, and now to consultation with and sympathy for Charlotte in the writing of 'Shirley.' Branwell died in September, and Emily was already ill on the day of his funeral. By the middle of December, at the age of thirty, she was dead; the struggle of her iron will and passionate vitality with hampering circumstances was over. The story of that marvellous dying has been often told, by Charlotte first of all, then by Mrs. Gaskell, and again by Madame Darmesteter, in the vivid study of Emily Brontė, which represents the homage of a new poetic generation. Let us recall Charlotte's poignant sentences—
Never in all her life had she lingered over any task that lay before her, and she did not linger now. She sank rapidly. She made haste to leave us. Yet while physically she perished, mentally she grew stronger than we had yet known her. Day by day, when I saw with what a front she met suffering, I looked on her with an anguish of wonder and love. I have seen nothing like it; but indeed I have never seen her parallel in anything. Stronger than a man, simpler than a child, her nature stood alone. The awful point was, that while full of ruth for others, on herself she had no pity; the spirit was inexorable to the flesh; from the trembling hand, the unnerved limbs, the faded eyes, the same service was exacted as in health. . . . She died December 19, 1848.
'Stronger than a man, simpler than a child:'—these words are Emily Brontė's true epitaph, both as an artist and as a human being. Her strength of will and imagination struck those who knew her and those who read her as often inhuman or terrible; and with this was combined a simplicity partly of genius partly of a strange innocence and spirituality, which gives her a place apart in English letters. It is important to realise that of the three books written simultaneously by the three sisters, Emily's alone shows genius already matured and master of its tools. Charlotte had a steady development before her, especially in matters of method and style; the comparative dulness of 'The Professor,' and the crudities of 'Jane Eyre' made way for the accomplished variety and brilliance of 'Villette.' But though Emily, had she lived, might have chosen many happier subjects, treated with a more flowing unity than she achieved in 'Wuthering Heights,' the full competence of genius is already present in her book. The common, hasty, didactic note that Charlotte often strikes is never heard in 'Wuthering Heights.' The artist remains hidden and self-contained; the work, however morbid and violent may be the scenes and creatures it presents, has always that distinction which belongs to high talent working solely for its own joy and satisfaction, with no thought of a spectator, or any aim but that of an ideal and imaginative whole. Charlotte stops to think of objectors, to teach and argue, to avenge her own personal grievances, or cheat her own personal longings. For pages together, she often is little more than the clever clergyman's daughter, with a sharp tongue, a dislike to Ritualism and Romanism, a shrewd memory for persecutions and affronts, and a weakness for that masterful lover of whom most young women dream. But Emily is pure mind and passion; no one, from the pages of 'Wuthering Heights' can guess at the small likes and dislikes, the religious or critical antipathies, the personal weaknesses of the artist who wrote it. She has that highest power—which was typically Shakespeare's power, and which in our day is typically the power of such an artist as Turgueniev—the power which gives life, intensest life, to the creatures of imagination, and, in doing so, endows them with an independence behind which the maker is forgotten. The puppet show is everything; and, till it is over, the manager—nothing. And it is his delight and triumph to have it so.
Yet, at the same time, 'Wuthering Heights' is a book of the later Romantic movement, betraying the influences of German Romantic imagination, as Charlotte's work betrays the influences of Victor Hugo and George Sand. The Romantic tendency to invent and delight in monsters, the exaltation du moi, which has been said to be the secret of the whole Romantic revolt against classical models and restraints; the love of violence in speech and action, the preference for the hideous in character and the abnormal in situation—of all these there are abundant examples in 'Wuthering Heights.' The dream of Mr. Lockwood in Catherine's box bed, when in the terror of nightmare he pulled the wrist of the little wailing ghost outside on to the broken glass of the window, 'and rubbed it to and fro till the blood ran down and soaked the bed-clothes'—one of the most gruesome fancies of literature!—Heathcliff's long and fiendish revenge on Hindley Earnshaw; the ghastly quarrel between Linton and Heathcliff in Catherine's presence after Heathcliff's return; Catherine's three days' fast, and her delirium when she 'tore the pillow with her teeth;' Heathcliff dashing his head against the trees of her garden, leaving his blood upon their bark, and 'howling, not like a man, but like a savage beast being goaded to death with knives and spears;' the fight between Heathcliff and Earnshaw after Heathcliff's marriage to Isabella; the kidnapping of the younger Catherine, and the horror rather suggested than described of Heathcliff's brutality towards his sickly son:—all these things would not have been written precisely as they were written, but for the 'Germanism' of the thirties and forties, but for the translations of 'Blackwood' and 'Fraser,' and but for those German tales, whether of Hoffmann or others, which there is evidence that Emily Brontė read both at Brussels and after her return.
As to the 'exaltation of the Self,' its claims, sensibilities and passions, in defiance of all social law and duty, there is no more vivid expression of it throughout Romantic literature than is contained in the conversation between the elder Catherine and Nelly Dean before Catherine marries Edgar Linton. And the violent, clashing egotisms of Heathcliff and Catherine in the last scene of passion before Catherine's death, are as it were an epitome of a whole genre in literature, and a whole phase of European feeling.
Nevertheless, horror and extravagance are not really the characteristic mark and quality of 'Wuthering Heights.' If they were, it would have no more claim upon us than a hundred other forgotten books—Lady Caroline Lamb's 'Glenarvon' amongst them—which represent the dregs and refuse of a great literary movement. As in the case of Charlotte Brontė, the peculiar force of Emily's work lies in the fact that it represents the grafting of a European tradition upon a mind already richly stored with English and local reality, possessing at command a style at once strong and simple, capable both of homeliness and magnificence. The form of Romantic imagination which influenced Emily was not the same as that which influenced Charlotte; whether from a secret stubbornness and desire of difference, or no, there is not a mention of the French language, or of French books, in Emily's work, while Charlotte's abounds in a kind of display of French affinities, and French scholarship. The dithyrambs of 'Shirley' and 'Villette,' the 'Vision of Eve' of 'Shirley,' and the description of Rachel in 'Villette,' would have been impossible to Emily; they come to a great extent from the reading of Victor Hugo and George Sand. But in both sisters there is a similar fonds of stern and simple realism; a similar faculty of observation at once shrewd, and passionate; and it is by these that they produce their ultimate literary effect. The difference between them is almost wholly in Emily's favour. The uneven, amateurish manner of so many pages in 'Jane Eyre' and 'Shirley;' the lack of literary reticence which is responsible for Charlotte's frequent intrusion of her own personality, and for her occasional temptations to scream and preach, which are not wholly resisted even in her masterpiece 'Villette;' the ugly tawdry sentences which disfigure some of her noblest passages, and make quotation from her so difficult:—you will find none of these things in 'Wuthering Heights.' Emily is never flurried, never self-conscious; she is master of herself at the most rushing moments of feeling or narrative; her style is simple, sensuous, adequate and varied from first to last; she has fewer purple patches than Charlotte, but at its best, her insight no less than her power of phrase, is of a diviner and more exquisite quality.
'Wuthering Heights' then is the product of romantic imagination, working probably under influences from German literature, and marvellously fused with local knowledge and a realistic power which, within its own range, has seldom been surpassed. Its few great faults are soon enumerated. The tendency to extravagance and monstrosity may, as we have seen, be taken to some extent as belonging more to a literary fashion than to the artist. Tieck and Hoffmann are full of raving and lunatic beings who sob, shout, tear out their hair by the roots, and live in a perpetual state of personal violence both towards themselves and their neighbours. Emily Brontė probably received from them an additional impulse towards a certain wildness of manner and conception which was already natural to her Irish blood, to a woman brought up amid the solitudes of the moors and the ruggedness of Yorkshire life fifty years ago, and natural also, alas! to the sister of the opium-eater and drunkard Branwell Brontė.
To this let us add a certain awkwardness and confusion of structure; a strain of ruthless exaggeration in the character of Heathcliff; and some absurdities and contradictions in the character of Nelly Dean. The latter criticism indeed is bound up with the first. Nelly Dean is presented as the faithful and affectionate nurse, the only good angel both of the elder and the younger Catherine. But Nelly Dean does the most treacherous, cruel, and indefensible things, simply that the story may move. She becomes the go-between for Catherine and Heathcliff; she knowingly allows her charge Catherine, on the eve of her confinement, to fast in solitude and delirium for three days and nights, without saying a word to Edgar Linton, Catherine's affectionate husband, and her master, who was in the house all the time. It is her breach of trust which brings about Catherine's dying scene with Heathcliff, just as it is her disobedience and unfaith which really betray Catherine's child into the hands of her enemies. Without these lapses and indiscretions indeed the story could not maintain itself; but the clumsiness or carelessness of them is hardly to be denied. In the case of Heathcliff, the blemish lies rather in a certain deliberate and passionate defiance of the reader's sense of humanity and possibility; partly also in the innocence of the writer, who, in a world of sex and passion, has invented a situation charged with the full forces of both, without any true realisation of what she has done. Heathcliff's murderous language to Catherine about the husband whom she loves with an affection only second to that which she cherishes for his hateful self; his sordid and incredible courtship of Isabella under Catherine's eyes; the long horror of his pursuit and capture of the younger Catherine, his dead love's child; the total incompatibility between his passion for the mother and his mean ruffianism towards the daughter; the utter absence of any touch of kindness even in his love for Catherine, whom he scolds and rates on the very threshold of death; the mingling in him of high passion with the vilest arts of the sharper and the thief:—these things o'erleap themselves, so that again and again the sense of tragedy is lost in mere violence and excess, and what might have been a man becomes a monster. There are speeches and actions of Catherine's, moreover, contained in these central pages which have no relation to any life of men and women that the true world knows. It may be said indeed that the writer's very ignorance of certain facts and relations of life, combined with the force of imaginative passion which she throws into her conceptions, produces a special poetic effect—a strange and bodiless tragedy—unique in literature. And there is much truth in this; but not enough to vindicate these scenes of the book, from radical weakness and falsity, nor to preserve in the reader that illusion, that inner consent, which is the final test of all imaginative effort.
Nevertheless there are whole sections of the story during which the character of Heathcliff is presented to us with a marvellous and essential truth. The scenes of childhood and youth; the up-growing of the two desolate children, drawn to each other by some strange primal sympathy, Heathcliff 'the little black thing, harboured by a good man to his bane,' Catherine who 'was never so happy as when we were all scolding her at once, and she defying us with her bold saucy look, and her ready words;' the gradual development of the natural distance between them, he the ill-mannered ruffianly no-man's-child, she the young lady of the house; his pride and jealous pain; her young fondness for Edgar Linton, as inevitable as a girl's yearning for pretty finery, and a new frock with the spring; Heathcliff's boyish vow of vengeance on the brutal Hindley and his race; Cathy's passionate discrimination, in the scene with Nelly Dean which ends as it were the first act of the play, between her affection for Linton and her identity with Heathcliff's life and being:—for the mingling of daring poetry with the easiest and most masterly command of local truth, for sharpness and felicity of phrase, for exuberance of creative force, for invention and freshness of detail, there are few things in English fiction to match it. One might almost say that the first volume of 'Adam Bede' is false and mannered beside it,—the first volumes of 'Waverley' or 'Guy Mannering' flat and diffuse. Certainly, the first volume of 'Jane Eyre,' admirable as it is, can hardly be set on the same level with the careless ease and effortless power of these first nine chapters. There is almost nothing in them but shares in the force and the effect of all true 'vision'—Joseph, 'the wearisomest self-righteous Pharisee that ever ransacked a Bible to rake the promises to himself, and fling the curses to his neighbours;' old Earnshaw himself, stupid, obstinate and kindly; the bullying Hindley with his lackadaisical consumptive wife; the delicate nurture and superior wealth of the Lintons; the very animals of the farm, the very rain- and snow-storms of the moors,—all live, all grow together, like the tangled heather itself, harsh and gnarled and ugly in one aspect, in another beautiful by its mere unfettered life and freedom, capable too of wild moments of colour and blossoming.
And as far as the lesser elements of style, the mere technique of writing are concerned, one may notice the short elastic vigour of the sentences, the rightness of epithet and detail, the absence of any care for effect, and the flashes of beauty which suddenly emerge like the cistus upon the rock.
'Nelly, do you never dream queer dreams?' said Catherine suddenly, after some minutes' reflection.
'Yes, now and then,' I answered.
'And so do I. I've dreamt in my life dreams that have stayed with me ever after and changed my ideas: they've gone through and through me like wine through water, and altered the colour of my mind. And this one; I'm going to tell it—but take care not to smile at any part of it.'
Nelly Dean tries to avoid the dream, but Catherine persists:—
'I dreamt once that I was in heaven.'
'I tell you I won't hearken to your dreams, Miss Catherine! I'll go to bed,' I interrupted again.
She laughed, and held me down; for I made a motion to leave my chair.
'This is nothing,' cried she: 'I was only going to say that heaven did not seem to be my home; and I broke my heart with weeping to come back to earth; and the angels were so angry that they flung me out into the middle of the heath on the top of Wuthering Heights; where I woke sobbing for joy! That will do to explain my secret, as well as the other. I've no more business to marry Edgar Linton than I have to be in heaven; and if the wicked man in there had not brought Heathcliff so low, I shouldn't have thought of it. It would degrade me to marry Heathcliff now; so he shall never know how I love him: and that, not because he's handsome, Nelly, but because he's more myself than I am. Whatever our souls are made of, his find mine are the same; and Linton's is as different as a moonbeam from lightning, or frost from fire.'
'The angels flung me out into the middle of the heath—where I woke sobbing for joy'—the wild words have in them the very essence and life-blood not only of Catherine but of her creator!
The inferior central scenes of the book, after Catherine's marriage, for all their teasing faults, have passages of extraordinary poetry. Take the detail of Catherine's fevered dream after she shuts herself into her room, at the close of the frightful scene between her husband and Heathcliff, or the weird realism of her half-delirious talk with Nelly Dean. In her 'feverish bewilderment' she tears her pillow, and then finds
childish diversion in pulling the feathers from the rents she had just made, and ranging them on the sheet according to their different species: her mind had strayed to other associations.
'That's a turkey's,' she murmured to herself; 'and this is a wild duck's; and this is a pigeon's. Ah, they put pigeons' feathers in the pillows—no wonder I couldn't die! Let me take care to throw it on the floor when I lie down. And here is a moor-cock's; and this—I should know it among a thousand—it's a lapwing's. Bonny bird; wheeling over our heads in the middle of the moor. It wanted to get to its nest, for the clouds had touched the swells, and it felt rain coming. This feather was picked up from the heath, the bird was not shot: we saw its nest in the winter, full of little skeletons. Heathcliff set a trap over it, and the old ones dared not come. I made him promise he'd never shoot a lapwing after that, and he didn't. Yes, here are more! Did he shoot my lapwings, Nelly? Are they red, any of them? Let me look.'
'Give over with that baby-work!' I interrupted, dragging the pillow away, and turning the holes towards the mattress, for she was removing its contents by handfuls. 'Lie down, and shut your eyes: you're wandering. There's a mess! The down is flying about like snow.'
I went here and there collecting it.
'I see in you, Nelly,' she continued, dreamily, 'an aged woman: you have grey hair and bent shoulders. This bed is the fairy cave under Penistone Crags, and you are gathering elf-bolts to hurt our heifers; pretending, while I am near, that they are only locks of wool. That's what you'll come to fifty years hence: I know you are not so now. I'm not wandering: you're mistaken, or else I should believe you really were that withered hag, and I should think I was under Penistone Crags; and I'm conscious it's night, and there are two candles on the table making the black press shine like jet.'
To these may be added the charming and tender passage describing Catherine's early convalescence, and her yearnings—so true to such a child of nature and feeling—for the first flowers and first mild breathings of the spring; and the later picture of her, the wrecked and doomed Catherine, sitting in 'dreamy and melancholy softness' by the open window, listening for the sounds of the moorland, before the approach of Heathcliff and death:—
Gimmerton chapel bells were still ringing; and the full mellow flow of the beck in the valley came soothingly on the ear. It was a sweet substitute for the yet absent murmur of the summer foliage, which drowned that music about the Grange when the trees were in leaf. At Wuthering Heights it always sounded on quiet days following a great thaw or a season of steady rain.
Lines which, for their 'sharp and eager observation,' may surely be matched with these of Coleridge, her master in poetic magic, her inferior in all that concerns the passionate and dramatic sense of life:—
All is still, A balmy night! and though the stars be dim, Yet let us think upon the vernal showers That gladden the green earth, and we shall find A pleasure in the dimness of the stars.
Of what we may call the third and last act of 'Wuthering Heights,' which extends from the childhood of the younger Catherine to the death of Heathcliff, much might be said. It is no less masterly than the first section of the book and much more complex in plan. The key to it lies in two earlier passages—in Heathcliff's boyish vow of vengence on Hindley Earnshaw, and in his fierce appeal to his lost love to haunt him, rather than leave him 'in this abyss where I cannot find her.' The conduct of the whole 'act' is intricate and difficult; the initial awkwardness implied in Nelly Dean's function as narrator is felt now and then; but as a whole, the strength of the intention is no less clear than the deliberate and triumphant power with which the artist achieves it. These chapters are not always easy to read, but they repay the closest attention. Not an incident, not a fragment of conversation is thrown away, and in the end the effect is complete. It is gained by that fusion of terror and beauty, of ugliness and a flying magic—'settling unawares'—which is the characteristic note of the Brontės, and of all that is best in Romantic literature. Never for a moment do you lose hold upon the Yorkshire landscape and the Yorkshire folk—look at the picture of Isabella's wasteful porridge-making and of Joseph's grumbling rage, amid her gruesome experience as a bride; never are you allowed to forget a single sordid element in Heathcliff's ruffianism; and yet through it all the inevitable end developes, the double end which only a master could have conceived. Life and love rebel and reassert themselves in the wild slight love-story of Hareton and Cathy, which break the final darkness like a gleam of dawn upon the moors; and death tames and silences for ever all that remains of Heathcliff's futile cruelties and wasted fury.
But what a death! Heathcliff has tormented and oppressed Catherine's daughter; and it is Catherine's shadow that lures him to his doom, through every stage and degree of haunting feverish ecstasy, of reunion promised and delayed, of joy for ever offered and for ever withdrawn. And yet how simple the method, how true the 'vision' to the end! Around Heathcliff's last hours the farm-life flows on as usual. There is no hurry in the sentences; no blurring of the scene. Catherine's haunting presence closes upon the man who murdered her happiness and youth, interposes between him and all bodily needs, deprives him of food and drink and sleep, till the madman is dead of his 'strange happiness,' straining after the phantom that slays him, dying of the love whereby alone he remains human, through which fate strikes at last—and strikes home.
'Is he a ghoul or vampire?' I mused. 'I had read of such hideous incarnate demons.' So says Nelly Dean just before Heathcliff's death. The remark is not hers in truth, but Emily Brontė's, and where it stands it is of great significance. It points to the world of German horror and romance, to which we know that she had access. That world was congenial to her, as it was congenial to Southey, Scott, and Coleridge; and it has left some ugly and disfiguring traces upon the detail of 'Wuthering Heights.' But essentially her imagination escaped from it and mastered it. As the haunting of Heathcliff is to the coarser horrors of Tieck and Hoffmann, so is her place to theirs. For all her crudity and inexperience, she is in the end with Goethe, rather than with Hoffmann,  and thereby with all that is sane, strong, and living in literature. 'A great work requires many-sidedness, and on this rock the young author splits,' said Goethe to Eckermann, praising at the same time the art which starts from the simplest realities and the subject nearest at hand, to reach at last by a natural expansion the loftiest heights of poetry. But this was the art of Emily Brontė. It started from her own heart and life; it was nourished by the sights and sounds of a lonely yet sheltering nature; it was responsive to the art of others, yet always independent; and in the rich and tangled truth of 'Wuthering Heights' it showed promise at least of a many-sidedness to which only the greatest attain.
But death came, swift and unforeseen. The artist sank—
Baffled, unknown, self-consumed,—
and her place has but slowly defined itself among us. To its final determination we have to bring of course not only 'Wuthering Heights,' but the poems which were printed in the volume of 1846, as well as those which Charlotte selected and published after Emily's death. In the volume of 1846 there are twenty-two poems by Ellis Bell, and in the later selections seventeen. Of these it is now recognised that at least six or seven belong—in spite of some technical blemishes—to what is noblest and most vital in English verse. Like Coleridge, she wrote much that is of no account; and if nothing that she did can claim a place beside the 'Ancient Mariner' and 'Christabel,' she strikes at her highest a note of concentrated passion of which Coleridge was not capable. The poem written in her sixteenth year in the school-room at Roehead has already the mastery which distinguishes her verse from her sister's, which marks out 'Wuthering Heights' from the 'Professor,' and remains with any discriminating reader as the dominant impression of her work:—
Still as I mused, the naked room, The alien firelight died away; And from the midst of cheerless gloom I passed to bright, unclouded day. A little and a lone green lane That opened on a common wide; A distant, dreamy, dim blue chain Of mountains circling every side: A heaven so clear, an earth so calm. So sweet, so soft, so hushed an air; And, deepening still the dream-like charm. Wild moor-sheep feeding everywhere.
Is there a word to add, or a word to take away? For any lover and child of the North in particular, is not every verse steeped in suggestion, which produces that 'frisson jusqu'ą la moelle des os,' which, as M. Scherer tells us, a Frenchman gets from the mere sound of Racine?
The tender, unequal lines called 'A Wanderer from the Fold' are less well known, but no one who is acquainted with the history of Branwell Brontė and of Emily's sorrow for him can read them without emotion, so true they are to one of the commonest and deepest griefs of the human spirit. There is an echo of Byron in them—the Byron of the poems to Thyrza: but it is their personal truth, their root in reality, what Goethe would call their 'occasional' quality, that preserves them. In the two noble poems 'Remembrance' and 'Death,' we have her gift at its greatest—impassioned feeling speaking through adequate and impassioned form; while in 'The Visionary' one might almost dream that one had Emily's last word to that guardian power of poetry, to which she and her sisters owed all the joy of their frail lives.
Burn, then, little lamp; glimmer straight and clear. Hush! a rustling wing stirs, methinks, the air. He for whom I wait thus ever comes to me; Strange power! I trust thy might; trust thou my constancy!
Yet not the last word of her hidden, her profoundest self! That is contained in the wonderful poem—
Whose too bold dying song Shook, like a clarion-blast, my soul—
in the verses now called 'Last Lines,' which Charlotte discovered in the writer's desk after her death. Emily's religious faith was a mystery in life, but in dying she gave it voice, and it is the voice of her century—a cry in which is summed up, as it were, the sound of many waters, and the last but sufficient consolation of innumerable souls.
Anne Brontė serves a twofold purpose in the study of what the Brontės wrote and were. In the first place, her gentle and delicate presence, her sad, short story, her hard life and early death, enter deeply into the poetry and tragedy that have always been entwined with the memory of the Brontės, as women and as writers; in the second, the books and poems that she wrote serve as matter of comparison by which to test the greatness of her two sisters. She is the measure of their genius—like them, yet not with them.
Many years after Anne's death her brother-in-law protested against a supposed portrait of her, as giving a totally wrong impression of the 'dear, gentle, Anne Brontė.' 'Dear' and 'gentle' indeed she seems to have been through life, the youngest and prettiest of the sisters, with a delicate complexion, a slender neck, and small, pleasant features. Notwithstanding, she possessed in full the Brontė seriousness, the Brontė strength of will. When her father asked her at four years old what a little child like her wanted most, the tiny creature replied—if it were not a Brontė it would be incredible!—'Age and experience.' When the three children started their 'Island Plays' together in 1827, Anne, who was then eight, chose Guernsey for her imaginary island, and peopled it with 'Michael Sadler, Lord Bentinck, and Sir Henry Halford.' She and Emily were constant companions, and there is evidence that they shared a common world of fancy from very early days to mature womanhood. 'The Gondal Chronicles' seem to have amused them for many years, and to have branched out into innumerable books, written in the 'tiny writing' of which Mr. Clement Shorter has given us facsimiles. 'I am now engaged in writing the fourth volume of Solala Vernon's Life,' says Anne at twenty-one. And four years later Emily says, 'The Gondals still flourish bright as ever. I am at present writing a work on the First War. Anne has been writing some articles on this and a book by Henry Sophona. We intend sticking firm by the rascals as long as they delight us, which I am glad to say they do at present.'
That the author of 'Wildfell Hall' should ever have delighted in the Gondals, should ever have written the story of Solala Vernon or Henry Sophona, is pleasant to know. Then, for her too, as for her sisters there was a moment when the power of 'making out' could turn loneliness and disappointment into riches and content. For a time at least, and before a hard and degrading experience had broken the spring of her youth, and replaced the disinterested and spontaneous pleasure that is to be got from the life and play of imagination, by a sad sense of duty, and an inexorable consciousness of moral and religious mission, Anne Brontė wrote stories for her own amusement, and loved the 'rascals' she created.
But already in 1841, when we first hear of the Gondals and Solala Vernon, the material for quite other books was in poor Anne's mind. She was then teaching in the family at Thorpe Green, where Branwell joined her as tutor in 1843, and where, owing to events that are still a mystery, she seems to have passed through an ordeal that left her shattered in health and nerve, with nothing gained but those melancholy and repulsive memories that she was afterwards to embody in 'Wildfell Hall.' She seems, indeed, to have been partly the victim of Branwell's morbid imagination, the imagination of an opium-eater and a drunkard. That he was neither the conqueror nor the villain that he made his sisters believe, all the evidence that has been gathered since Mrs. Gaskell wrote goes to show. But poor Anne believed his account of himself, and no doubt saw enough evidence of vicious character in Branwell's daily life to make the worst enormities credible. She seems to have passed the last months of her stay at Thorpe Green under a cloud of dread and miserable suspicion, and was thankful to escape from her situation in the summer of 1845. At the same moment Branwell was summarily dismissed from his tutorship, his employer, Mr. Bobinson, writing a stern letter of complaint to Branwell's father, concerned no doubt with the young man's disorderly and intemperate habits. Mrs. Gaskell says: 'The premature deaths of two at least of the sisters—all the great possibilities of their earthly lives snapped short—may be dated from Midsummer 1845.' The facts as we now know them hardly bear out so strong a judgment. There is nothing to show that Branwell's conduct was responsible in any way for Emily's illness and death, and Anne, in the contemporary fragment recovered by Mr. Shorter, gives a less tragic account of the matter. 'During my stay (at Thorpe Green),' she writes on July 31, 1845, 'I have had some very unpleasant and undreamt-of experience of human nature. . . . Branwell has . . . been a tutor at Thorpe Green, and had much tribulation and ill-health. . . . We hope he will be better and do better in future.' And at the end of the paper she says, sadly, forecasting the coming years, 'I for my part cannot well be flatter or older in mind than I am now.' This is the language of disappointment and anxiety; but it hardly fits the tragic story that Mrs. Gaskell believed.
That story was, no doubt, the elaboration of Branwell's diseased fancy during the three years which elapsed between his dismissal from Thorpe Green and his death. He imagined a guilty romance with himself and his employer's wife for characters, and he imposed the horrid story upon his sisters. Opium and drink are the sufficient explanations; and no time need now be wasted upon unravelling the sordid mystery. But the vices of the brother, real or imaginary, have a certain importance in literature, because of the effect they produced upon his sisters. There can be no question that Branwell's opium madness, his bouts of drunkenness at the Black Bull, his violence at home, his free and coarse talk, and his perpetual boast of guilty secrets, influenced the imagination of his wholly pure and inexperienced sisters. Much of 'Wuthering Heights,' and all of 'Wildfell Hall,' show Branwell's mark, and there are many passages in Charlotte's books also, where those who know the history of the parsonage can hear the voice of those sharp moral repulsions, those dismal moral questionings, to which Branwell's misconduct and ruin gave rise. Their brother's fate was an element in the genius of Emily and Charlotte which they were strong enough to assimilate, which may have done them some harm, and weakened in them certain delicate or sane perceptions, but was ultimately, by the strange alchemy of talent, far more profitable than hurtful, inasmuch as it troubled the waters of the soul, and brought them near to the more desperate realities of our 'frail, fall'n humankind.'
But Anne was not strong enough, her gift was not vigorous enough, to enable her thus to transmute experience and grief. The probability is that when she left Thorpe Green in 1845 she was already suffering from that religious melancholy of which Charlotte discovered such piteous evidence among her papers after death. It did not much affect the writing of 'Agnes Grey,' which was completed in 1846, and reflected the minor pains and discomforts of her teaching experience, but it combined with the spectacle of Branwell's increasing moral and physical decay to produce that bitter mandate of conscience under which she wrote 'The Tenant of Wildfell Hall.'
Hers was naturally a sensitive, reserved, and dejected nature. She hated her work, but would pursue it. It was written as a warning,'—so said Charlotte when, in the pathetic Preface of 1850, she was endeavouring to explain to the public how a creature so gentle and so good as Acton Bell should have written such a book as 'Wildfell Hall.' And in the second edition of 'Wildfell Hall' which appeared in 1848 Anne Brontė herself justified her novel in a Preface which is reprinted in this volume for the first time. The little preface is a curious document. It has the same determined didactic tone which pervades the book itself, the same narrowness of view, and inflation of expression, an inflation which is really due not to any personal egotism in the writer, but rather to that very gentleness and inexperience which must yet nerve itself under the stimulus of religion to its disagreeable and repulsive task. 'I knew that such characters'—as Huntingdon and his companions—'do exist, and if I have warned one rash youth from following in their steps the book has not been written in vain.' If the story has given more pain than pleasure to 'any honest reader,' the writer 'craves his pardon, for such was far from my intention.' But at the same time she cannot promise to limit her ambition to the giving of innocent pleasure, or to the production of 'a perfect work of art.' 'Time and talent so spent I should consider wasted and misapplied.' God has given her unpalatable truths to speak and she must speak them.
The measure of misconstruction and abuse therefore which her book brought upon her she bore, says her sister, 'as it was her custom to bear whatever was unpleasant, with mild, steady patience. She was a very sincere and practical Christian, but the tinge of religious melancholy communicated a sad shade to her brief, blameless life.'
In spite of misconstruction and abuse, however, 'Wildfell Hall' seems to have attained more immediate success than anything else written by the sisters before 1848, except 'Jane Eyre.' It went into a second edition within a very short time of its publication, and Messrs. Kewby informed the American publishers with whom they were negotiating that it was the work of the same hand which had produced 'Jane Eyre,' and superior to either 'Jane Eyre' or 'Wuthering Heights'! It was, indeed, the sharp practice connected with this astonishing judgment which led to the sisters' hurried journey to London in 1848—the famous journey when the two little ladies in black revealed themselves to Mr. Smith, and proved to him that they were not one Currer Bell, but two Miss Brontės. It was Anne's sole journey to London—her only contact with a world that was not Haworth, except that supplied by her school-life at Roehead and her two teaching engagements.
And there was and is a considerable narrative ability, a sheer moral energy in 'Wildfell Hall,' which would not be enough, indeed, to keep it alive if it were not the work of a Brontė, but still betray its kinship and source. The scenes of Huntingdon's wickedness are less interesting but less improbable than the country-house scenes of 'Jane Eyre'; the story of his death has many true and touching passages; the last love-scene is well, even in parts admirably written. But the book's truth, so far as it is true, is scarcely the truth of imagination; it is rather the truth of a tract or a report. There can be little doubt that many of the pages are close transcripts from Branwell's conduct and language,—so far as Anne's slighter personality enabled her to render her brother's temperament, which was more akin to Emily's than to her own. The same material might have been used by Emily or Charlotte; Emily, as we know, did make use of it in 'Wuthering Heights;' but only after it had passed through that ineffable transformation, that mysterious, incommunicable heightening which makes and gives rank in literature. Some subtle, innate correspondence between eye and brain, between brain and hand, was present in Emily and Charlotte, and absent in Anne. There is no other account to be given of this or any other case of difference between serviceable talent and the high gifts of 'Delos' and Patara's own 'Apollo.'
The same world of difference appears between her poems and those of her playfellow and comrade Emily. If ever our descendants should establish the schools for writers which are even now threatened or attempted, they will hardly know perhaps any better than we what genius is, nor how it can be produced. But if they try to teach by example, then Anne and Emily Brontė are ready to their hand. Take the verses written by Emily at Roehead which contain the lovely lines which I have already quoted in an earlier 'Introduction.'  Just before those lines there are two or three verses which it is worth while to compare with a poem of Anne's called 'Home.' Emily was sixteen at the time of writing; Anne about twenty-one or twenty-two. Both sisters take for their motive the exile's longing thought of home. Emily's lines are full of faults, but they have the indefinable quality—here, no doubt, only in the bud, only as a matter of promise—which Anne's are entirely without. From the twilight schoolroom at Roehead, Emily turns in thought to tho distant upland of Haworth and the little stone-built house upon its crest:—
'There is a spot, 'mid barren hills, Where winter howls, and driving rain; But, if the dreary tempest chills. There is a light that warms again. The house is old, the trees are bare, Moonless above bends twilight's dome. But what on earth is half so dear— So longed for—as the hearth of home? The mute bird sitting on the stone, The dank moss dripping from the wall, The thorn-trees gaunt, the walks o'ergrown, I love them—how I love them all!
Anne's verses, written from one of the houses where she was a governess, expresses precisely the same feeling, and movement of mind. But notice the instinctive rightness and swiftness of Emily's, the blurred weakness of Anne's!—
'For yonder garden, fair and wide. With groves of evergreen. Long winding walks, and borders trim. And velvet lawns between— Restore to me that little spot. With gray walls compassed round. Where knotted grass neglected lies. And weeds usurp the ground. Though all around this mansion high Invites the foot to roam. And though its halls are fair within— Oh, give me back my Home!'
A similar parallel lies between Anne's lines 'Domestic Peace,'—a sad and true reflection of the terrible times with Branwell in 1846, and Emily's 'Wanderer from the Fold'; while in Emily's 'Last Lines,' the daring spirit of the sister to whom the magic gift was granted separates itself for ever from the gentle and accustomed piety of the sister to whom it was denied. Yet Anne's 'Last Lines'—'I hoped that with the brave and strong'—have sweetness and sincerity; they have gained and kept a place in English religious verse, and they must always appeal to those who love the Brontės because, in the language of Christian faith and submission, they record the death of Emily and the passionate affection which her sisters bore her.
And so we are brought back to the point from which we started. It is not as the writer of 'Wildfell Hall,' but as the sister of Charlotte and Emily Brontė that Anne Brontė escapes oblivion—s the frail 'little one,' upon whom the other two lavished a tender and protecting care, who was a witness of Emily's death, and herself, within a few minutes of her own farewell to life, bade Charlotte 'take courage.'
'When my thoughts turn to Anne,' said Charlotte many years earlier, 'they always see her as a patient, persecuted stranger,—more lonely, less gifted with the power of making friends even than I am.' Later on, however, this power of making friends seems to have belonged to Anne in greater measure than to the others. Her gentleness conquered; she was not set apart, as they were, by the lonely and self-sufficing activities of great powers; her Christianity, though sad and timid, was of a kind which those around her could understand; she made no grim fight with suffering and death as did Emily. Emily was 'torn' from life 'conscious, panting, reluctant,' to use Charlotte's own words; Anne's 'sufferings were mild,' her mind 'generally serene,' and at the last 'she thanked God that death was come, and come so gently.' When Charlotte returned to the desolate house at Haworth, Emily's large house-dog and Anne's little spaniel welcomed her in 'a strange, heart-touching way,' she writes to Mr. Williams. She alone was left, heir to all the memories and tragedies of the house. She took up again the task of life and labour. She cared for her father; she returned to the writing of 'Shirley'; and when she herself passed away, four years later, she had so turned those years to account that not only all she did but all she loved had passed silently into the keeping of fame. Mrs. Gaskell's touching and delightful task was ready for her, and Anne, no less than Charlotte and Emily, was sure of England's remembrance.
Mary A. Ward.