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 The tale of "Shirley" had been begun soon after the publication of "Jane Eyre." If the reader will refer to the account I have given of Miss Brontë's schooldays at Roe1 Head, he will there see how every place surrounding that house was connected with the Luddite riots, and will learn how stories and anecdotes2 of that time were rife3 among the inhabitants of the neighbouring villages; how Miss Wooler herself, and the elder relations of most of her schoolfellows, must have known the actors in those grim disturbances4. What Charlotte had heard there as a girl came up in her mind when, as a woman, she sought a subject for her next work; and she sent to Leeds for a file of the Mercuries of 1812, '13, and '14; in order to understand the spirit of those eventful times. She was anxious to write of things she had known and seen; and among the number was the West Yorkshire character, for which any tale laid among the Luddites would afford full scope. In "Shirley" she took the idea of most of her characters from life, although the incidents and situations were, of course, fictitious5. She thought that if these last were purely6 imaginary, she might draw from the real without detection, but in this she was mistaken; her studies were too closely accurate. This occasionally led her into difficulties. People recognised themselves, or were recognised by others, in her graphic7 descriptions of their personal appearance, and modes of action and turns of thought; though they were placed in new positions, and figured away in scenes far different to those in which their actual life had been passed. Miss Brontë was struck by the force or peculiarity9 of the character of some one whom she knew; she studied it, and analysed it with subtle power; and having traced it to its germ, she took that germ as the nucleus10 of an imaginary character, and worked outwards;—thus reversing the process of analysation, and unconsciously reproducing the same external development. The "three curates" were real living men, haunting Haworth and the neighbouring district; and so obtuse11 in perception that, after the first burst of anger at having their ways and habits chronicled was over, they rather enjoyed the joke of calling each other by the names she had given them. "Mrs. Pryor" was well known to many who loved the original dearly. The whole family of the Yorkes were, I have been assured, almost daguerreotypes. Indeed Miss Brontë told me that, before publication, she had sent those parts of the novel in which these remarkable12 persons are introduced, to one of the sons; and his reply, after reading it, was simply that "she had not drawn13 them strong enough." From those many-sided sons, I suspect, she drew all that there was of truth in the characters of the heroes in her first two works. They, indeed, were almost the only young men she knew intimately, besides her brother. There was much friendship, and still more confidence between the Brontë family and them,—although their intercourse14 was often broken and irregular. There was never any warmer feeling on either side.  
The character of Shirley herself, is Charlotte's representation of Emily. I mention this, because all that I, a stranger, have been able to learn about her has not tended to give either me, or my readers, a pleasant impression of her. But we must remember how little we are acquainted with her, compared to that sister, who, out of her more intimate knowledge, says that she "was genuinely good, and truly great," and who tried to depict15 her character in Shirley Keeldar, as what Emily Brontë would have been, had she been placed in health and prosperity.
Miss Brontë took extreme pains with "Shirley." She felt that the fame she had acquired imposed upon her a double responsibility. She tried to make her novel like a piece of actual life,—feeling sure that, if she but represented the product of personal experience and observation truly, good would come out of it in the long run. She carefully studied the different reviews and criticisms that had appeared on "Jane Eyre," in hopes of extracting precepts17 and advice from which to profit.
Down into the very midst of her writing came the bolts of death. She had nearly finished the second volume of her tale when Branwell died,—after him Emily,—after her Anne;—the pen, laid down when there were three sisters living and loving, was taken up when one alone remained. Well might she call the first chapter that she wrote after this, "The Valley of the Shadow of Death."
I knew in part what the unknown author of "Shirley" must have suffered, when I read those pathetic words which occur at the end of this and the beginning of the succeeding chapter:—
"Till break of day, she wrestled18 with God in earnest prayer.
"Not always do those who dare such divine conflict prevail. Night after night the sweat of agony may burst dark on the forehead; the supplicant19 may cry for mercy with that soundless voice the soul utters when its appeal is to the Invisible. 'Spare my beloved,' it may implore20. 'Heal my life's life. Rend21 not from me what long affection entwines with my whole nature. God of Heaven—bend—hear—be clement22!' And after this cry and strife23, the sun may rise and see him worsted. That opening morn, which used to salute24 him with the whispers of zephyrs25, 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 idol26 should be broken, and bends his head, and subdues27 his soul to the sentence he cannot avert28, and scarce can bear. . . .
"No piteous, unconscious moaning sound—which so wastes our strength that, even if we have sworn to be firm, a rush of unconquerable tears sweeps away the oath—preceded her waking. No space of deaf apathy29 followed. The first words spoken were not those of one becoming estranged30 from this world, and already permitted to stray at times into realms foreign to the living."
She went on with her work steadily31. But it was dreary32 to write without any one to listen to the progress of her tale,—to find fault or to sympathise,—while pacing the length of the parlour in the evenings, as in the days that were no more. Three sisters had done this,—then two, the other sister dropping off from the walk,—and now one was left desolate33, to listen for echoing steps that never came,—and to hear the wind sobbing34 at the windows, with an almost articulate sound.
But she wrote on, struggling against her own feelings of illness; "continually recurring35 feelings of slight cold; slight soreness in the throat and chest, of which, do what I will," she writes, "I cannot get rid."
In August there arose a new cause for anxiety, happily but temporary.
"Aug. 23rd, 1849.
"Papa has not been well at all lately. He has had another attack of bronchitis. I felt very uneasy about him for some days—more wretched indeed than I care to tell you. After what has happened, one trembles at any appearance of sickness; and when anything ails37 Papa, I feel too keenly that he is the LAST—the only near and dear relative I have in the world. Yesterday and to-day he has seemed much better, for which I am truly thankful. . . .
"From what you say of Mr. ——, I think I should like him very much. —— wants shaking to be put out about his appearance. What does it matter whether her husband dines in a dress-coat, or a market-coat, provided there be worth, and honesty, and a clean shirt underneath38?"
"Sept. 10th, 1849.
"My piece of work is at last finished, and despatched to its destination. You must now tell me when there is a chance of your being able to come here. I fear it will now be difficult to arrange, as it is so near the marriage-day. Note well, it would spoil all my pleasure, if you put yourself or any one else to inconvenience to come to Haworth. But when it is CONVENIENT, I shall be truly glad to see you. . . . Papa, I am thankful to say, is better, though not strong. He is often troubled with a sensation of nausea39. My cold is very much less troublesome, I am sometimes quite free from it. A few days since, I had a severe bilious40 attack, the consequence of sitting too closely to my writing; but it is gone now. It is the first from which I have suffered since my return from the sea-side. I had them every month before."
"Sept. 13th, 1849.
"If duty and the well-being41 of others require that you should stay at home, I cannot permit myself to complain, still, I am very, VERY sorry that circumstances will not permit us to meet just now. I would without hesitation42 come to ——, if Papa were stronger; but uncertain as are both his health and spirits, I could not possibly prevail on myself to leave him now. Let us hope that when we do see each other our meeting will be all the more pleasurable for being delayed. Dear E——, you certainly have a heavy burden laid on your shoulders, but such burdens, if well borne, benefit the character; only we must take the GREATEST, CLOSEST, MOST WATCHFUL43 care not to grow proud of our strength, in case we should be enabled to bear up under the trial. That pride, indeed, would be sign of radical44 weakness. The strength, if strength we have, is certainly never in our own selves; it is given us."
"Sept. 21st, 1849.
"My dear Sir,—I am obliged to you for preserving my secret, being at least as anxious as ever (MORE anxious I cannot well be) to keep quiet. You asked me in one of your letters lately, whether I thought I should escape identification in Yorkshire. I am so little known, that I think I shall. Besides, the book is far less founded on the Real, than perhaps appears. It would be difficult to explain to you how little actual experience I have had of life, how few persons I have known, and how very few have known me.
"As an instance how the characters have been managed, take that of Mr. Helstone. If this character had an original, it was in the person of a clergyman who died some years since at the advanced age of eighty. I never saw him except once—at the consecration45 of a church—when I was a child of ten years old. I was then struck with his appearance, and stern, martial47 air. At a subsequent period, I heard him talked about in the neighbourhood where he had resided: some mention him with enthusiasm—others with detestation. I listened to various anecdotes, balanced evidence against evidence, and drew an inference. The original of Mr. Hall I have seen; he knows me slightly; but he would as soon think I had closely observed him or taken him for a character—he would as soon, indeed, suspect me of writing a hook—a novel—as he would his dog, Prince. Margaret Hall called "Jane Eyre" a 'wicked book,' on the authority of the Quarterly; an expression which, coming from her, I will here confess, struck somewhat deep. It opened my eyes to the harm the Quarterly had done. Margaret would not have called it 'wicked,' if she had not been told so.
"No matter,—whether known or unknown—misjudged, or the contrary,—I am resolved not to write otherwise. I shall bend as my powers tend. The two human beings who understood me, and whom I understood, are gone: I have some that love me yet, and whom I love, without expecting, or having a right to expect, that they shall perfectly48 understand me. I am satisfied; but I must have my own way in the matter of writing. The loss of what we possess nearest and dearest to us in this world, produces an effect upon the character we search out what we have yet left that can support, and, when found, we cling to it with a hold of new-strung tenacity49. The faculty50 of imagination lifted me when I was sinking, three months ago; its active exercise has kept my head above water since; its results cheer me now, for I feel they have enabled me to give pleasure to others. I am thankful to God, who gave me the faculty; and it is for me a part of my religion to defend this gift, and to profit by its possession.—Yours sincerely,
At the time when this letter was written, both Tabby and the young servant whom they had to assist her were ill in bed; and, with the exception of occasional aid, Miss Brontë had all the household work to perform, as well as to nurse the two invalids51.
The serious illness of the younger servant was at its height, when a cry from Tabby called Miss Brontë into the kitchen, and she found the poor old woman of eighty laid on the floor, with her head under the kitchen-grate; she had fallen from her chair in attempting to rise. When I saw her, two years later, she described to me the tender care which Charlotte had taken of her at this time; and wound up her account of "how her own mother could not have had more thought for her nor Miss Brontë had," by saying, "Eh! she's a good one—she IS!"
But there was one day when the strung nerves gave way—when, as she says, "I fairly broke down for ten minutes; sat and cried like a fool. Tabby could neither stand nor walk. Papa had just been declaring that Martha was in imminent52 danger. I was myself depressed53 with headache and sickness. That day I hardly knew what to do, or where to turn. Thank God! Martha is now convalescent: Tabby, I trust, will be better soon. Papa is pretty well. I have the satisfaction of knowing that my publishers are delighted with what I sent them. This supports me. But life is a battle. May we all be enabled to fight it well!"
The kind friend, to whom she thus wrote, saw how the poor over-taxed system needed bracing54, and accordingly sent her a shower-bath—a thing for which she had long been wishing. The receipt of it was acknowledged as follows:—
"Sept. 28th, 1849. ". . . Martha is now almost well, and Tabby much better. A huge monster-package, from 'Nelson, Leeds,' came yesterday. You want chastising55 roundly and soundly. Such are the thanks you get for all your trouble. . . . Whenever you come to Haworth, you shall certainly have a thorough drenching56 in your own shower-bath. I have not yet unpacked57 the wretch36.—"Yours, as you deserve,
C. B."
There was misfortune of another kind impending58 over her. There were some railway shares, which, so early as 1846, she had told Miss Wooler she wished to sell, but had kept because she could not persuade her sisters to look upon the affair as she did, and so preferred running the risk of loss, to hurting Emily's feelings by acting16 in opposition59 to her opinion. The depreciation60 of these same shares was now verifying Charlotte's soundness of judgment61. They were in the York and North-Midland Company, which was one of Mr. Hudson's pet lines, and had the full benefit of his peculiar8 system of management. She applied62 to her friend and publisher, Mr. Smith, for information on the subject; and the following letter is in answer to his reply:—
"Oct. 4th, 1849.
"My dear Sir,—I must not THANK you for, but acknowledge the receipt of your letter. The business is certainly very bad; worse than I thought, and much worse than my father has any idea of. In fact, the little railway property I possessed63, according to original prices, formed already a small competency for me, with my views and habits. Now, scarcely any portion of it can, with security, be calculated upon. I must open this view of the case to my father by degrees; and, meanwhile, wait patiently till I see how affairs are likely to turn. . . . However the matter may terminate, I ought perhaps to be rather thankful than dissatisfied. When I look at my own case, and compare it with that of thousands besides, I scarcely see room for a murmur64. Many, very many, are by the late strange railway system deprived almost of their daily bread. Such then as have only lost provision laid up for the future, should take care how they complain. The thought that 'Shirley' has given pleasure at Cornhill, yields me much quiet comfort. No doubt, however, you are, as I am, prepared for critical severity; but I have good hopes that the vessel65 is sufficiently66 sound of construction to weather a gale67 or two, and to make a prosperous voyage for you in the end."
Towards the close of October in this year, she went to pay a visit to her friend; but her enjoyment68 in the holiday, which she had so long promised herself when her work was completed, was deadened by a continual feeling of ill-health; either the change of air or the foggy weather produced constant irritation69 at the chest. Moreover, she was anxious about the impression which her second work would produce on the public mind. For obvious reasons an author is more susceptible70 to opinions pronounced on the book which follows a great success, than he has ever been before. Whatever be the value of fame, he has it in his possession, and is not willing to have it dimmed or lost.
"Shirley" was published on October 26th.
When it came out, but before reading it, Mr. Lewes wrote to tell her of his intention of reviewing it in the Edinburgh. Her correspondence with him had ceased for some time: much had occurred since.
"Nov. 1st, 1849.
"My dear Sir,—It is about a year and a half since you wrote to me; but it seems a longer period, because since then it has been my lot to pass some black milestones71 in the journey of life. Since then there have been intervals72 when I have ceased to care about literature and critics and fame; when I have lost sight of whatever was prominent in my thoughts at the first publication of 'Jane Eyre;' but now I want these things to come back vividly73, if possible: consequently, it was a pleasure to receive your note. I wish you did not think me a woman. I wish all reviewers believed 'Currer Bell' to be a man; they would be more just to him. You will, I know, keep measuring me by some standard of what you deem becoming to my sex; where I am not what you consider grac............
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