Selected Writings of William Sharp, Vol. IV, Literary Geography

THE BRONTĖ COUNTRY

THE real Brontė country is to be sought in two regions: in and just beyond the West Riding of Yorkshire, in those windy uplands and wide reaches of sombre moor which lie away from Haworth, away from the highways where excursion--drag and motor-car corrupt: and . . . in the Brontė books. Broadly speaking, the Jane Eyre country is all round Kirkby Lonsdale: the Shirley country is south of Bradford, and may be said to be bounded by Gomersall, Birstal, Brighouse, Mirfield, Heckmondwike, and back to Gomersall; while the Wuthering Heights country can only be indicated by the region around Haworth. "The Withens" is on the hill-top above Haworth, and is supposed to represent the situation of Wuthering Heights. The house itself, as detailed in Emily Brontė's famous romance, is a composite picture; the interior having been suggested by Ponden Hall, near Haworth, and the exterior by High Sunderland, Law Hill, near Halifax. This, at least, is the opinion of those best acquainted with the topography of the subject.

A friend, who has never been north of the great shoulder of Sir William in Upper Derbyshire, and who read this summer for the first time, at a remote moorland farm, Wuthering Heights and Shirley, told me that he knew the Brontė country as thoroughly as any one not a native--"and a native in love with it, at that "--could do. "For," he added, "a north-country moorland-track is the same wherever the whaup calls, the kestrel hovers, and the heather-bee hums, and it matters little whether 'tis in Peakland, or the West Riding, or where Carlyle first drew breath, or up by the Eildons or beyond Ochil." And, to no small extent, that is true, I think. Certainly one can understand Jane Eyre and Shirley and Wuthering Heights without even a glimpse of Haworth Parsonage or Cowan Bridge School or any other of the much-visited buildings or sites or localities: certainly, for some at least, these books will seem far more near and intimate when dissociated from these and all the paraphernalia of tradition, when read or pondered with only wide dun or purple moorlands around with cloud and wind, the lapwing, the floating kestrel, and the wild bee for company.

Neither familiarity nor love blunted Charlotte Brontė's own perspicacity in this respect, where, if allowable to any, surely some exaggeration might be pardoned in her. She herself wrote of this home-tract of Haworth, "Mills and scattered cottages chase romance from these valleys; it is only higher up, deep in among the ridges of the moors, that Imagination can find rest for the sole of her foot, and even if she find it there, she must be a solitude-loving raven-no gentle dove."

Nevertheless, Haworth is still the goal of a number of wayfaring enthusiasts, drawn thither by a geniune love of or keen interest in the Brontė novels and their authors. Some quarter of a century ago, Sir Wemyss Reid, in his sympathetic monograph on Charlotte Brontė, wrote as follows:

"No other land furnished so many eager and enthusiastic visitors to the Brontė shrine as the United States, and the number of Americans who found their way to Haworth during the ten years immediately following the death of the author of Jane Eyre would, if properly recorded, astonish the world. The bleak and lonely house by the side of the moors, with its dismal little garden stretching down to the churchyard, where the village dead of many a generation rest, and its dreary outlook upon the old tower rising from its bank of nettles, the squalid houses of the hamlet, and the bare moorlands beyond, received almost as many visitors from the other side of the Atlantic during those years as Abbotsford or Stratford-on-Avon."

To-day the stream of visitors is greater than ever. Since the opening of the Brontė Museum in May 1895 over twenty-five thousand persons have paid for admission, and of course this number is far, from representing the total of those who have made pilgrimage to Haworth. Even the American element, though not what it was, is still largely represented. As, in reply to a comment, an old weaver caustically remarked, "Aye, we Haw'rth folk doan't spake Yorkshire waäy ony moar: 'tis awl gooid Lunnon an' 'Amurican' naah, thėy saäy. " Whether the cause is in greater railway facilities, in better roads and accommodation for bicyclists, or in the enchancement of public interest through the many Brontė essays, reminiscences, and other writings which have appeared of late, or in all three equally, multiplied by that great factor, a convenient and interesting goal for a fresh-air spin or week-end holiday, need not be disputed. '

By the way, let the unwary visitor not be allured by the many glowing descriptions of the moorland weather and moorland beauty at all seasons of the year and at all times. The West Riding moorland and most of the moorlands of Derbyshire are sombre beyond any other regions of the kind in England; in stormy and cold weather they may be impressive, but in the prevailing dull greyness and ever recurring rains they have neither the spell of "lovely solitude" nor "a grave beauty all their own," but often are simply wide dreary stretches of .waste land, without the wildness and glow and beauty of Exmoor, or of the highlands of Wales and Cumberland, or of the great moors of Scotland, or even of the heath-covered rolling heights about Danby, between the York plain and Whitby above the sea. There are hours in spring, and many days in summer, and sometimes weeks in early autumn, when they are to be seen in beauty and enjoyed with deep delight by all who love solitude and great spaces and the breath and freedom- -of the desert. But ordinarily the country here is sombre and depressing, and all the more so (as in so many parts of Derbyshire) from the frequent signs of discarded or failing human industries, shafts of deserted mines, stacks of forsaken mills, smokeless cottages, and rude unkempt villages on their downward way to become still ruder and more unkempt hamlets. As to the spring climate, about which biographers who have not been at Haworth at that season are apt to become dithyrambic, here is one from many incidental allusions in Charlotte Brontė's delightful letters, to Miss Ellen Nussey. It is in a letter from Haworth in the late spring of the year in which she was engaged upon Jane Eyre: "I wish to know whether about Whitsuntide would suit you for coming to Haworth. We often have fine weather just then. At least I remember last year it was very beautiful at that season. Winter seems to have returned with severity on us at present, consequently we are all in the full enjoyment of a cold. Much blowing of noses is heard, and much making of gruel goes on in the house." About the middle of May she writes again, "I pray for fine weather, that we may be able to get out while you stay." There we have the weather-burthen of many letters: the "just then" that so rarely comes off, the "at least I remember" that qualifies too flattering retrospection. In a word, if one were to spend nine months of the year at Haworth, one would soon come to understand the gloom and depression which often weighed so heavily on Charlotte and Emily Brontė, loving daughters of the moorlands though they were.

But of course they of all people knew and loved the remoter regions of the West Riding as none who have written of the sisters can do. It is their love of the lonely moorlands, the understanding of their fascination, of their spell upon the imagination, which has given the most enduring beauty to certain pages of Shirley and Jane Eyre and Wulhering Heights. If one remembers Charlotte's famous "Necropolis" passage (that has so much of the monumental solemnity and slow impressive cadence of the De Quincey of the Suspiria), in The Professor, one will recollect how the writer took with her this phantom of Death, this image of Melancholia, out into the lonely solitudes.

" . . . She lay with me, she ate with me, she walked out with me, showing me nooks in woods, hollows in hills, where we could sit together, and where she could drop her dear veil over me, and so hide sky and sun, grass and green tree." If one remembers this, and a hundred kindred passages in Charlotte's books and vivid letters, one also will recall other passages in these and in her sister Emily's wonderful pages, as full of charm and loveliness seen and recreated as in this from Wuthering Heights.

"He said the pleasantest manner of spending a hot July day was lying from morning till evening on a bank of heath in the middle of the moors, with the bees humming dreamily about among the bloom, and the larks singing high up overhead, and the blue sky and bright sun shining steadily and cloudlessly. That was his most perfect idea of heaven's happiness. Mine was rocking in a rustling green tree, with a west wind blowing, and bright white clouds flitting rapidly above; and not only larks but throstles and blackbirds and linnets and cuckoos pouring out music on every side, and the moors seen at a distance broken into cool dusky dells but close by great swells of long grass undulating in waves to the breeze; and woods and sounding water; and the whole world awake and wild with joy. He wanted all to lie in an ecstasy of peace. I wanted all to sparkle and dance in a glorious jubilee. I said his heaven would be only half alive; and he said mine would be drunk. I said I should fall asleep in his; and he said he could not breathe in mine."

Or, again, this passage by Charlotte, wherein (as Lowood) she alludes to Cowan Bridge, where she was at school, when a terrible outbreak of typhus "transformed the seminary into a hospital":

"Pleasure in the prospect of noble summits, girdling a great hill-hollow, rich in verdure and shadow ; in a bright beck full of dark stones and sparkling eddies. . . . A bright, serene May it was : days of blue sky, placid sunshine, and soft western or southern gales filled up its duration. And now vegetation matured with vigour Lowood shook loose its tresses; it became all green, all flowery ; its great elm, ash and oak skeletons were restored to majestic life unnumbered varieties of moss filled its hollows; and it made a strange ground-sunshine out of the wealth of its wild primrose-plants. . . . Have I not described a pleasant site for a dwelling, when I speak of it as bosomed in hill and wood, and rising from the verge of a stream? Assuredly, pleasant enough ; but whether healthy or not is another question. The forest-dell where Lowood lay was the cradle of fog and fog-bred pestilence, which, quickening with the quickening spring, crept into the Orphan Asylum, breathed typhus through its crowded school-room and dormitory, and ere May arrived, transformed the seminary into a hospital."

Into all of Patrick Brontė's children something of the moorland character seems to have entered. Their note of wildness is in all, their note of stern silence, their aloofness. There is no "dying" tragedy in literature to surpass the slow indomitable decline of Emily Brontė, fearless, silent, almost unnaturally implacable to the end.

Even the gentle Anne shared this indomitableness so characteristic of the whole family. Crude in knowledge of life and crude in art as is The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, it was a heroic moral effort on the part of a sensitive and shrinking nature to depict what was, to that delicate self, in the last degree painful and indeed repulsive. It is said that some of frail physique will endure the mental and bodily torture of surgical operation far better than the more robust, and it has always seemed to me that Anne Brontė, in this pitiful and, it must be added, intolerably weary and superfluous fictitious rendering of the sordid tragedy of Branwell Brontė's life, showed the same dauntless courage as made Branwell die standing; as made Emily refuse all comfort or aid when day by day Death plucked at the tearing strings of her life; as enabled Charlotte to endure in noble patience when, at Emily's death following Branwell's, and at Anne's following Emily's, and at her own failing health and broken hopes, and, above all, bitter suffering through her father's savage derision and driving away of the one love to whom her own heart turned, that too familiar "horror of great darkness fell upon me."

The proud aloofness,the almost arrogant independence, so characteristic of the moorlanders, was seen to the full in the Brontė family, and stands revealed in their published writings and letters. A single instance of an ordinary kind will suffice. Here is one, from Charlotte's correspondence in the spring of 1850, shortly after her return from London subsequent to the publication of Shirley:

"I believe I should have written to you before, but I don't know what heaviness of spirit has beset me of late, made my faculties dull, made rest weariness, and occupation burdensome. Now and then the silence of the house, the solitude of the room, has pressed on me with a weight I found it difficult to bear, and recollection has not failed to be as alert, poignant, obtrusive, as other feelings were languid. I attribute this state of things partly to the weather. . . . I have ere this been warned of approaching disturbance in the atmosphere by a sense of bodily weakness, and deep, heavy mental sadness, which some would call presentiment. Presentiment indeed it is, but not at all supernatural. . . . I have had no letters from London for a long time, and am very much ashamed of myself to find, now that that stimulus is withdrawn, how dependent upon it I had become. I cannot help feeling something of the excitement of expectation till post-hour comes, and when day after day it brings nothing I get low. This is a stupid, disgraceful, unmeaning state of things. I feel bitterly enraged at my own dependence and folly. However, I shall contend against the idiocy. . . . I had rather a foolish letter from Miss --- the other day. Some things in it nettled me, especially an unnecessarily earnest assurance that in spite of all I had gone and done in the writing line I still retained a place in her esteem. My answer took strong and high ground at once. I said I had been troubled by no doubts on the subject, that I neither did myself nor her the injustice to suppose there was anything in what I had written to incur the just forfeiture of esteem. I was aware, I intimated, that some persons thought proper to take exceptions at Jane Eyre, and that for their own sakes I was sorry, as I invariably found them individuals in whom the animal largely predominated over the intellectual, persons by nature coarse, by inclination sensual, whatever they might be by education and principle."

Nor was Charlotte ever to be won by presumption or flattery. In that lonely Haworth parsonage, where in their childhood she and Emily and Anne, and Branwell too in his own irregular way, as again in youth and maturity, had written so much and so significantly achieved, she ever preferred her obscurity and isolation. Had she been able, with due regard to herself and others, to maintain an absolute isolation from Currer Bell and that mysterious individual's writings, I do not doubt she would have so decided. To many, perhaps to most people, this has ever seemed, and seems a foolish and illogical attitude. There are, nevertheless, a few writers who share with Charlotte Brontė the deep desire to be left alone in their private life, and to be known and judged solely by their writings, irrespective of "the personal equation," of sex, or circumstance. "Of late," she writes on one occasion, " I have had many letters to answer; and some very bothering ones from people who want opinions about their books, who seek acquaintance, and who flatter to get it ; people who utterly mistake all about me. They are most difficult to answer, put off, and appease, without offending; for such characters are excessively touchy, and when affronted turn malignant. Their books are too often deplorable. "There were fewer books --deplorable and other--and fewer autograph-scribes and would-be interviewers, in the Haworth days: did Charlotte Brontė write to-day she would probably, being Charlotte Brontė, take still "higher and stronger ground."

What a wonderful family, this Brontė clan! One wonders--so potent was the strain transmitted to each of Patrick Brontė's children--if the two elder sisters, Maria and Elizabeth, had lived to womanhood, what they too would have achieved. Certainly the elder, at any rate, showed herself in her short life "a true Brontė"--"a true Prunty" might have been the more exact phrase, if  Dr. J. A. Erskine Stuart, the latest and most thorough inquirer into the subject, had not all but conclusively shown that the Rev. Patrick Brontė and his family had never been known as "Prunty" in County Down.  Imagine for a moment if the Shakespeare family had been as united in genius as that of the Brontės, imagine the torch-flame at the close of the sixteenth century! But neither Shakespeare's sister, Joan Hart, nor his daughter, Susanna Hall, nor Judith (who became Mistress Thomas Quincy in her thirty-first year, a month before her father's death), can for a moment wear the steady light of Charlotte Brontė or the tragic flare of Emily or the mild glow of Anne. As for Hamnet, Shakespeare's son, he died long before he could emulate either the youthful vices or other wandering fires which, later, were the death-lights of Branwell.

But to the Brontė country. Where is really the literary geography we associate with this name? It is not only around Haworth, of course, though that bleak place is its heart, because of all lived and suffered and done there, of so many ambitions and hopes come to naught there, of so much there achieved, of all the passion and energy of five strenuous lives confined to this bare, unattractive house, restricted to these horizon-meeting moors. Roughly, it may be said to extend from Thornton, four miles to the west of Bradford, to Scarborough on the eastern sea. At the one, Branwell Brontė and three of his sisters were born; at the other, and at Filey, Charlotte knew some of the darkest (and yet for literature some of the most memorable) hours of her life--days too, of consolation and peace, days wherein Villette matured; and here, too, Emily came when nearing death, and here Anne died, and rests.

Thornton is certainly worth a visit for any who would trace and imaginatively re-live the experiences of the Brontė sisters. It is easily reached by tram from Bradford, of which it is indeed practically a part--in fact, Thornton and Haworth can now both be visited easily in the space of a day, from and back to Haworth: though, almost needless to say, that is not the way to make the pilgrimage, nor any other of the kind.

Charlotte and Emily were too young, when their father and his family of six moved from Thornton parsonage across the upland region between it and Haworth, to leave us any literary association of direct experience in connection with this thriving little town--in the Rev. Patrick's day a more hamlet of some fifty scattered cottages. It is not of much interest to look at a house where a noted person was born, unless thinking and significant experience began there, or events of import occurred. Pilgrims do go to visit the Old Bell Chapel (or what is left of it); but why, it is a little difficult to understand. There's an inscription:--"This chapel was beautified, 1818. P. Brontė, incumbent." This might more appropriately have been adapted for an inscription at Haworth: "This house is beautified because of the genius of Charlotte and Emily Brontė."

In other respects times have not changed much. The old vehement note of religious bigotry is still emphatic in these regions of the West Riding. Not that bigotry is worse there than elsewhere. The Cornish Plymouth-Brother, the Welsh Methodist, the Highland Free-Churchman might even consider the Haworth variety lax. But in the Rev. Patrick Bront6's day it was rigorous indeed. Dr. J. A. Erskine Stuart tells an anecdote sufficiently illustrative. One Sunday morning Mr. Brontė was descried at his bedroom window apparently in the dire act of shaving. A spiritual volcano shook Thornton. The incumbent was approached, and upbraided. The amazing thing is that a man of so violent and often uncontrollable temper did not by word or action show his contemptuous indignation: there could be no more convincing comment on the bitter religiosity of the period than the fact that he earnestly explained to a member of his congregation: "I never shaved in all my life, or was ever shaved by any one else. I have so little beard that a little clipping every three months is all that is necessary." Ah! that was in 1820: such things do not happen now. Perhaps. A few years ago a Glasgow minister was seriously reproved by his elders because, in order to reach his church in time to conduct the service, he (having suddenly been summoned to the side of a dying parishioner, and so having left himself no time to walk to the church) took a cab. This summer a friend of the writer was in Ross, and told him that in a particular parish three members of the Free Kirk congregation were "refused the tokens" (i.e. prohibited from public participation in the Communion) for no other reason than that, during a holiday abroad, they had stayed too long in Paris! "

The best way to see the Brontė country, the country of Jane Eyre and Shirley and Wuthering Heights, is to view it afoot, and to start from Thornton, either direct or by a detour to visit Cowan Bridge, a charming neighbourhood, though associated with no little suffering on the part of the Brontė girls, and especially Charlotte. Mrs. Gaskell's description is due either to the disillusioning effect of a visit in dull or wet weather at the wrong season, or to prejudice derived from passages in Charlotte's writings, letters, or conversation.

Perhaps the thing best worth remembering in Charlotte's childhood is the anecdote (by at least one biographer "located" at Thornton) to be found in the third chapter of Sir Wemyss Reid's delightful and sympathetic memoir, where, and with obvious exactitude, he says the Brontė family were already at Haworth:

"There is a touching story of Charlotte at six years old, which gives us some notion of the ideal life led by the forlorn little girl at this time, when, her two elder sisters having been sent to school, she found herself living at home, the eldest of the motherless brood. She had read The Pilgrim's Progress, and had been fascinated, young as she was, by that wondrous allegory. Everything in it was to her true and real: her little heart had gone forth with Christian on his pilgrimage to the Golden City, her bright young mind had been fired by the Bedford tinker's description of the glories of the Celestial Place; and she made up her mind that she too would escape from the City of Destruction, and gain the haven towards which the weary spirits of every age have turned with eager longing. But where was this glittering city, with its Streets of gold, its gates of pearl, its walls of precious Stones, its streams of life and throne of light? Poor little girl! The only place which seemed to her to answer Bunyan's description of the celestial town was one which she had heard the servants discussing with enthusiasm in the kitchen, and its name was Bradford!  So to Bradford little Charlotte Brontė, escaping from that Haworth Parsonage which she believed to be a doomed spot, set off one day in 1822. Ingenious persons may speculate if they please upon the sore disappointment which awaited her when, like older people, reaching the place which she had imagined to be Heaven, she found that it was only Bradford. But she never even reached her imaginary Golden City. When her tender feet had carried her a mile along the road, she came to a spot where overhanging trees made the highway dark and gloomy; she imagined that she had come to the Valley of the Shadow of Death, and, fearing to go forward, was presently discovered by her nurse cowering by the roadside."

The country between Thornton and Denholme, a slow ascent of about two miles, is dreary at all times save on a radiant day of spring, when every ditch is a glory, and the birds sing as though truly birds of Paradise. From waste-land Denholite to low-lying Potovens farm, and thence across a lonely and fascinating expanse of true moorland, the wayfarer (following the track of the Brontė family on their laborious migration, in 1820, from their first Yorkshire home across Thornton Heights) will pass Old Allen, Flappit Spring, and Braemoor, and will come at last upon Worth Valley, from which, by a steep street, Haworth climbs and lies like an exhausted lizard along the summit. As the comparison has struck several observers, it is no fanciful image.

Cowan Bridge, it may be added, is not on the Bradford high road. It lies near Kirkby Lonsdale, on the Leeds and Kendal road; and can most easily be reached by the cyclist via Keighley or Skipton. Thence on to Giggleswick and Ingleton, below the vast and bare rise of Ingleborough, till the banks of the little Leck are reached and Cowan Bridge is seen at the entrance to the pleasant valley of the Lune. Later, Charlotte went to Roe Head School, on the Leeds and Huddersfield road, and here we are in the heart of the Brontė country, and pre-eminently of the country of Shirley.

If one had to choose any single tract at once for its own beauty and charm and its literary association, it might be that delightful reach of upland from Cowan Bridge to Tunstall, with its fine old battlemented church, where both Charlotte and Emily often worshipped, and its lonely ruin of Thurland. Though not true moorland, it is a lovely country--a windy, grassy, tree enlivened region such as the author of Wuthering Heights had her joy in.

But it is not the Haworth region, or the wider regions of Jane Eyre and Shirley, that is exclusively the Brontė country. It is there the two most famous of a truly remarkable family lived from childhood and wrote their books and spent the greater part of their days. But the greater had a genius which won other dominions.

No lover of Villette would think of excluding London from the country of Charlotte Brontė. In a sense she made London uniquely her own on that night when Lucy Snowe for the first time slept in the great city--alone, friendless, aimless, unknowing even in what neighbourhood she was. "I wet the pillow, my arms, and my hair, with rushing tears. A dark interval of most bitter thought followed this burst [ . . . till at last I became sufficiently tranquil. . . . ] I had just extinguished my candle and lain down, when a deep, low, mighty tone swung through the night. At first I knew it not; but it was uttered twelve times, and at the twelfth colossal hum and trembling knell, I said 'I lie in the shadow of St. Paul's.'"

The secret spell of London is there, more than in any elaborate phrasing of emotion and effect. How admirable, too, the reticence and the veracity of the brief account of her first impressions on that wet February night when, after a fifty mile run, the North coach left her at the old inn by Ludgate Hill!  "My reader, I know, is one who would not thank me for an elaborate reproduction of poetic first impressions; and it is well, inasmuch as I had neither time nor mood to cherish such; arriving as I did late, on a dark, raw, and rainy evening, in a Babylon and a wilderness, of which the vastness and the strangeness tried to the utmost any powers of clear thought and steady self-possession with which, in the absence of more brilliant faculties, Nature might have gifted me.

"When I left the coach, the strange speech of the cabmen and others waiting round seemed to me odd as a foreign tongue. . . . How difficult, how oppressive, how puzzling seemed my flight! In London for the first time; at an inn for the first time; tired with travelling; confused with darkness; palsied with cold; unfurnished with either experience or advice to tell me how to act, and yet . . . to act obliged."

After that, the deep colossal boom of the great cathedral's bell, and "I lie in the shadow of St. Paul's," come as with the sound of solemn benediction.

That first night of London, Charlotte Brontė, as Lucy Snowe, has made her own. With the same powerful reserve she etches for us impressions of the first morning:

"The next day was the first of March, and when I awoke, rose, and opened my curtain, I saw the risen sun struggling through fog. Above my head, above the housetops, co-elevate almost with the clouds, I saw a solemn, orbed mass, dark blue and dim--THE DOME. While I looked, my inner self moved; my spirit shook its always fettered wings half loose; I had a sudden feeling as if I, who never yet truly lived, were at last about to taste life. In that morning my soul grew as fast as Jonah's gourd."

In truth, this first experience of London is that of an innumerable company of brave and fine youths and girls who, in hope or despair, come up alone to this Metropolis of Hopes and Despairs. It is not that of Lucy Snowe only, child of genius,.but of her obscure brothers and sisters of actual life. Of these, many have come with literary aspirations, with young hearts astir with the foam of enthusiasm for names and places sacred by cherished associations. What young dreamer of literary fame has not thrilled when, knowingly or unknowingly, he has for the first time found himself suddenly in Paternoster Row?  But let Lucy Snowe stand for all of us: her London-at-first-sight is that of the obscure many:

"Having breakfasted, out I went. Elation and pleasure were in my heart: to walk alone in London seemed of itself an adventure. Presently I found myself in Paternoster Row --classic ground this. I entered a bookseller's shop, kept by one Jones; I bought a little book--a piece of extravagance I could ill afford. . . . Mr. Jones, a dried-in man of business, stood behind his desk: he seemed one of the greatest, and I one of the happiest of beings.

"Prodigious was the amount of life I lived that morning. Finding myself before St. Paul's, I went in; I mounted to the dome; I saw thence London, with its' river, and its bridges, and its churches; I saw antique Westminster, and the green Temple gardens, with sun upon them, and a glad blue sky of early spring above, and between them and it, not too dense, a cloud of haze.

"Descending, I went wandering whither chance might lead, in a still ecstasy of freedom and enjoyment; and I got-I know not how-I got into the heart of city life. I saw and felt London at last: I got into the Strand; I went up Cornhill; I mixed with the life passing along; dared the perils of crossings. To do this, and to do it utterly alone, gave me, perhaps an irrational, but a real pleasure. Since those days I have seen the West End, the parks, the fine squares; but I love the city far better. The city seems so much more in earnest: its business, its rush, its roar, are such serious things, sights, and sounds. The city is getting its living--the West End but enjoying its pleasure. At the West End you may be amused, but in the city you are deeply excited."

Both in its vividness and in its crudeness that stands for a multitude.

As for that wonderful tiny etching of the Thames by night, which stands out in this famous "London" chapter of Villette, it is as unforgettable as anything in Bleak House or Great Expectations; as "brazed and imperishable" as that horrible stewardess on board the Vivid, who made poor Lucy's first night on the river so miserable. And what a touch of the real Charlotte Brontė--of the whole fearless, indomitable Brontė clan, from the upright and intolerant and sometimes all but intolerable incumbent of Haworth, to the broken Branwell, unworthy brother of the dauntless Charlotte and the heroic Emily, who, despite all his sins and weakness, had yet strength to defy nature and die standing--in the last words of this passage:

"Down the sable flood we glided; I thought of the Styx, and of Charon rowing some solitary soul to the Land of Shades. Amidst the strange scene, with a chilly wind blowing in my face and midnight clouds dropping rain above my head; with two rude rowers for companions, whose insane oaths still tortured my ear, I asked myself if I was wretched or terrified. I was neither."

Then is not Brussels for ever associated with Villette. . . . surely the greatest and most enduring of all the Bront6 books?

My own last sojourn in the Brontė country was on a day of autumnal beauty, a day so serene amid so great a richness of earth-born purple and suspended rose and azure, that it almost reached unrest because of its radiant but poignant peace. It was at lonely Tunstall, under the shadow of the time-blackened walls of Thurland, and I was thinking, not of the elder and greater sister, but of that stormier less controlled, less mature spirit who, from what all students of life would call an impossible basis, and with architecture and ornament justly condemnable as unreal or trivial, reared in Wuthering Heights one of the great edifices in the realms of the imagination. But, as I rose to leave, and gave one farewell glance at the glowing solitudes beyond, the words that suddenly came upon me in a vivid remembrance were of the more powerful and steadfast genius of the author of Villette--Villette, whose very name sounded so remote, here in this silent Westmorland upland. But they fitted the hour, the place, and the mood.

 


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