Charlotte Brontë, Author of "Jane Eyre"

by Edwin Watts Chubb

Charlotte Brontë was born in Yorkshire in 1816. A generation ago everybody was reading and talking about Jane Eyre, her most popular novel. The life of the author was not a happy one. She was compelled to teach for a living, and her position as governess was at times humiliating to her proud spirit. Her two sisters, whom she tenderly loved, died young; her brother was no credit to the family, and the life surrounding the parsonage—she was the daughter of a clergyman—was not particularly cheery, yet her many trials but enriched a rare and beautiful character.

While living at the parsonage she would occasionally receive a box of books from her publisher. The following letter is self-explanatory:

"Do not ask me to mention what books I should like to read. Half the pleasure of receiving a parcel from Cornhill consists in having its contents chosen for us. We like to discover, too, by the leaves cut here and there that the ground has been traveled before us. I took up Leigh Hunt's book, The Town, with the impression that it would be interesting only to Londoners, and I was surprised, ere I had read many pages, to find myself enchained by his pleasant, graceful, easy style, varied knowledge, just views, and kindly spirit. There is something peculiarly anti-melancholic in Leigh Hunt's writings, and yet they are never boisterous—they resemble sunshine, being at once bright and tranquil.

I like Carlyle better and better. His style I do not like, nor do I always concur in his opinions, nor quite fall in with his hero-worship; but there is a manly love of truth, an honest recognition and fearless vindication of intrinsic greatness, of intellectual and moral worth considered apart from birth, rank, or wealth, which commands my sincere admiration. Carlyle would never do for a contributor to the Quarterly. I have not read his French Revolution. Carlyle is a great man, but I always wish he would write plain English. Emerson's Essays I read with much interest and often with admiration, but they are of mixed gold and clay,—deep, invigorating truth, dreary and depressing fallacy, seem to me combined therein.

Scott's Suggestions on Female Education I read with unalloyed pleasure; it is justly, clearly, and felicitously expressed. The girls of this generation have great advantages—it seems to me that they receive much encouragement in the acquisition of knowledge and the cultivation of their minds. In these days women may be thoughtful and well read, without being stigmatized as "blues" or pedants.

I have lately been reading Modern Painters, and have derived from the work much genuine pleasure, and I hope, some edification; at any rate it has made me feel how ignorant I had previously been on the subjects which it treats. Hitherto I have only had instinct to guide me in judging of art; I feel now as if I had been walking blindfold—this book seems to give me eyes. I do wish I had pictures within reach by which to test the new sense. Who can read these glowing descriptions of Turner's works without longing to see them! However eloquent and convincing the language in which another's opinion is placed before you, you still wish to judge for yourself. I like this author's style much; there is both energy and beauty in it. I like himself too, because he is such a hearty admirer. He does not give half measure of praise or veneration. He eulogizes, he reverences with his whole soul. One can sympathize with that sort of devout, serious admiration (for he is no rhapsodist), one can respect it. Yet, possibly, many people would laugh at it. I am truly obliged to Mr. Smith for giving me this book, not often having met with one that has pleased me more.

I congratulate you on the approaching publication of Mr. Ruskin's new work. If the Seven Lamps of Architecture resemble their predecessor, Modern Painters, they will be no lamps at all, but a new constellation—seven bright stars, for whose rising the reading world ought to be anxiously agaze.

I am beginning to read Eckermann's Goethe—it promised to be a most interesting work. Honest, simple, single-minded Eckermann! Great, powerful, giant-souled, but also profoundly egotistical old Johann Wolfgang von Goethe! He was a mighty egotist. He thought no more of swallowing up poor Eckermann's existence in his own, than the whale thought of swallowing Jonah.

The worst of reading graphic accounts of such men, of seeing graphic pictures of the scenes, the society in which they moved, is that it excites a too tormenting longing to look on the reality; but does such reality now exist? Amidst all the troubled waters of European society, does such a vast, strong, selfish old leviathan now roll ponderous? I suppose not.

I often wish to say something on the "condition-of-women" question, but it is one on which so much cant has been talked, that one feels a sort of reluctance to approach it. I have always been accustomed to think that the necessity of earning one's living is not, in itself, an evil; though I feel it may become a heavy evil if health fails, if employment lacks, if the demand upon our efforts, made by the weakness of others dependent upon us becomes greater than our strength. Both sons and daughters should early be inured to habits of independence and industry.

A governess' lot is frequently, indeed, bitter, but its results are precious. The mind, feelings, and temper are subjected to a discipline equally painful and priceless. I have known many who were unhappy as governesses, but scarcely one who, having undergone the ordeal, was not ultimately strengthened and improved—made more enduring for her own afflictions, more considerate for the afflictions of others. The great curse of a single female life is its dependency; daughters, as well as sons, should aim at making their way through life. Teachers may be hard-worked, ill-paid, and despised; but the girl who stays at home doing nothing is worse off than the worse-paid drudge of a school; the listlessness of idleness will infallibly degrade her nature.

Lonely as I am, how should I be if Providence had never given me courage to adopt a career, perseverance to plead through two long weary years with publishers till they admitted me? How should I be, with youth passed, sisters lost, a resident in a moorland parish where there is not a single resident family? In that case I should have no world at all. The raven weary of surveying the deluge, and with no ark to return to, would be my type.

As it is, something like a hope and motive sustain me still. I wish every woman in England had also a hope and a motive. Alas! I fear there are many old maids who have neither.

—Adapted from Littell's Living Age.