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 Immediately after the republication of her sisters' book she went to Miss Martineau's.
"I can write to you now, dear E——, for I am away from home) and relieved, temporarily, at least, by change of air and scene, from the heavy burden of depression which, I confess, has for nearly three months been sinking me to the earth. I never shall forget last autumn! Some days and nights have been cruel; but now, having once told you this, I need say no more on the subject. My loathing1 of solitude2 grew extreme; my recollection of my sisters intolerably poignant3. I am better now. I am at Miss Martineau's for a week. Her house is very pleasant, both within and without; arranged at; all points with admirable neatness and comfort. Her visitors enjoy the most perfect liberty; what she claims for herself she allows them. I rise at my own hour, breakfast alone (she is up at five, takes a cold bath, and a walk by starlight, and has finished breakfast and got to her work by seven o'clock). I pass the morning in the drawing-room—she, in her study. At two o'clock we meet—work, talk, and walk together till five, her dinner-hour, spend the evening together, when she converses4 fluently and abundantly, and with the most complete frankness. I go to my own room soon after ten,—she sits up writing letters till twelve. She appears exhaustless in strength and spirits, and indefatigable5 in the faculty6 of labour. She is a great and a good woman; of course not without peculiarities7, but I have seen none as yet that annoy me. She is both hard and warm-hearted, abrupt9 and affectionate, liberal and despotic. I believe she is not at all conscious of her own absolutism. When I tell her of it, she denies the charge warmly; then I laugh at her. I believe she almost rules Ambleside. Some of the gentry10 dislike her, but the lower orders have a great regard for her. . . . I thought I should like to spend two or three days with you before going home, so, if it is not inconvenient11 to you, I will (D. V.) come on Monday and stay till Thursday. . . . I have truly enjoyed my visit here. I have seen a good many people, and all have been so marvellously kind; not the least so, the family of Dr. Arnold. Miss Martineau I relish12 inexpressibly."
Miss Brontë paid the visit she here proposes to her friend, but only remained two or three days. She then returned home, and immediately began to suffer from her old enemy, sickly and depressing headache. This was all the more trying to bear, as she was obliged to take an active share in the household work,—one servant being ill in bed, and the other, Tabby, aged13 upwards14 of eighty.
This visit to Ambleside did Miss Brontë much good, and gave her a stock of pleasant recollections, and fresh interests, to dwell upon in her solitary15 life. There are many references in her letters to Miss Martineau's character and kindness.
"She is certainly a woman of wonderful endowments, both intellectual and physical; and though I share few of her opinions, and regard her as fallible on certain points of judgment16, I must still award her my sincerest esteem17. The manner in which she combines the highest mental culture with the nicest discharge of feminine duties filled me with admiration18; while her affectionate kindness earned my gratitude19." "I think her good and noble qualities far outweigh20 her defects. It is my habit to consider the individual apart from his (or her) reputation, practice independent of theory, natural disposition21 isolated22 from acquired opinions. Harriet Martineau's person, practice, and character, inspire me with the truest affection and respect."You ask me whether Miss Martineau made me a convert to mesmerism? Scarcely; yet I heard miracles of its efficacy, and could hardly discredit23 the whole of what was told me. I even underwent a personal experiment; and though the result was not absolutely clear, it was inferred that in time I should prove an excellent subject. The question of mesmerism will be discussed with little reserve, I believe, in a forthcoming work of Miss Martineau's; and I have some painful anticipations24 of the manner in which other subjects, offering less legitimate25 ground for speculation26, will be handled."
"Your last letter evinced such a sincere and discriminating27 admiration for Dr. Arnold, that perhaps you will not be wholly uninterested in hearing that, during my late visit to Miss Martineau, I saw much more of Fox How and its inmates28, and daily admired, in the widow and children of one of the greatest and best men of his time, the possession of qualities the most estimable and endearing. Of my kind hostess herself, I cannot speak in terms too high. Without being able to share all her opinions, philosophical30, political, or religious,—without adopting her theories,—I yet find a worth and greatness in herself, and a consistency31, benevolence32, perseverance33 in her practice, such as wins the sincerest esteem and affection. She is not a person to be judged by her writings alone, but rather by her own deeds and life, than which nothing can be more exemplary or nobler. She seems to me the benefactress of Ambleside, yet takes no sort of credit to herself for her active and indefatigable philanthropy. The government of her household is admirably administered: all she does is well done, from the writing of a history down to the quietest female occupation. No sort of carelessness or neglect is allowed under her rule, and yet she is not over-strict, nor too rigidly34 exacting36: her servants and her poor neighbours love as well as respect her.
"I must not, however, fall into the error of talking too much about her merely because my own mind is just now deeply impressed with what I have seen of her intellectual power and moral worth. Faults she has; but to me they appear very trivial weighed in the balance against her excellences38."
"Your account of Mr. A—— tallies39 exactly with Miss M——'s. She, too, said that placidity40 and mildness (rather than originality41 and power) were his external characteristics. She described him as a combination of the antique Greek sage42 with the European modern man of science. Perhaps it was mere37 perversity43 in me to get the notion that torpid44 veins45, and a cold, slow-beating heart, lay under his marble outside. But he is a materialist46: he serenely47 denies us our hope of immortality48, and quietly blots50 from man's future Heaven and the Life to come. That is why a savour of bitterness seasoned my feeling towards him.
"All you say of Mr. Thackeray is most graphic51 and characteristic. He stirs in me both sorrow and anger. Why should he lead so harassing52 a life? Why should his mocking tongue so perversely53 deny the better feelings of his better moods?"
For some time, whenever she was well enough in health and spirits, she had been employing herself upon Villette; but she was frequently unable to write, and was both grieved and angry with herself for her inability. In February, she writes as follows to Mr. Smith:—
"Something you say about going to London; but the words are dreamy, and fortunately I am not obliged to hear or answer them. London and summer are many months away: our moors54 are all white with snow just now, and little redbreasts come every morning to the window for crumbs55. One can lay no plans three or four months beforehand. Besides, I don't deserve to go to London; nobody merits a change or a treat less. I secretly think, on the contrary, I ought to be put in prison, and kept on bread and water in solitary confinement—without even a letter from Cornhill—till I had written a book. One of two things would certainly result from such a mode of treatment pursued for twelve months; either I should come out at the end of that time with a three-volume MS. in my hand, or else with a condition of intellect that would exempt56 me ever after from literary efforts and expectations."
Meanwhile, she was disturbed and distressed57 by the publication of Miss Martineau's "Letters," etc.; they came down with a peculiar8 force and heaviness upon a heart that looked, with fond and earnest faith, to a future life as to the meeting-place with those who were "loved and lost awhile."
"Feb. 11th, 1851.
"My dear Sir,—Have you yet read Miss Martineau's and Mr. Atkinson's new work, 'Letters on the Nature and Development of Man'? If you have not, it would be worth your while to do so.
"Of the impression this book has made on me, I will not now say much. It is the first exposition of avowed58 atheism59 and materialism60 I have ever read; the first unequivocal declaration of disbelief in the existence of a God or a future life I have ever seen. In judging of such exposition and declaration, one would wish entirely61 to put aside the sort of instinctive62 horror they awaken63, and to consider them in an impartial64 spirit and collected mood. This I find it difficult to do. The strangest thing is, that we are called on to rejoice over this hopeless blank—to receive this bitter bereavement65 as great gain—to welcome this unutterable desolation as a state of pleasant freedom. Who COULD do this if he would? Who WOULD do it if he could?
"Sincerely, for my own part, do I wish to find and know the Truth; but if this be Truth, well may she guard herself with mysteries, and cover herself with a veil. If this be Truth, man or woman who beholds66 her can but curse the day he or she was born. I said, however, I would not dwell on what I thought; I wish to hear, rather, what some other person thinks,—some one whose feelings are unapt to bias67 his judgment. Read the book, then, in an unprejudiced spirit, and candidly68 say what you think of it. I mean, of course, if you have time—NOT OTHERWISE."
And yet she could not bear the contemptuous tone in which this work was spoken of by many critics; it made her more indignant than almost any other circumstance during my acquaintance with her. Much as she regretted the publication of the book, she could not see that it had given any one a right to sneer70 at an action, certainly prompted by no worldly motive71, and which was but one error—the gravity of which she admitted—in the conduct of a person who had, all her life long, been striving, by deep thought and noble words, to serve her kind.
"Your remarks on Miss Martineau and her book pleased me greatly, from their tone and spirit. I have even taken the liberty of transcribing72 for her benefit one or two phrases, because I know they will cheer her; she likes sympathy and appreciation73 (as all people do who deserve them); and most fully74 do I agree with you in the dislike you express of that hard, contemptuous tone in which her work is spoken of by many critics."
Before I return from the literary opinions of the author to the domestic interests of the woman, I must copy out what she felt and thought about "The Stones of Venice".
"'The Stones of Venice' seem nobly laid and chiselled75. How grandly the quarry76 of vast marbles is disclosed! Mr. Ruskin seems to me one of the few genuine writers, as distinguished77 from book-makers, of this age. His earnestness even amuses me in certain passages; for I cannot help laughing to think how utilitarians78 will fume79 and fret80 over his deep, serious (and as THEY will think), fanatical reverence81 for Art. That pure and severe mind you ascribed to him speaks in every line. He writes like a consecrated82 Priest of the Abstract and Ideal.
"I shall bring with me 'The Stones of Venice'; all the foundations of marble and of granite83, together with the mighty84 quarry out of which they were hewn; and, into the bargain, a small assortment85 of crotchets and dicta—the private property of one John Ruskin, Esq."
As spring drew on, the depression of spirits to which she was subject began to grasp her again, and "to crush her with a day- and night-mare." She became afraid of sinking as low as she had done in the autumn; and to avoid this, she prevailed on her old friend and schoolfellow to come and stay with her for a few weeks in March. She found great benefit from this companionship,—both from the congenial society in itself, and from the self-restraint of thought imposed by the necessity of entertaining her and looking after her comfort. On this occasion, Miss Brontë said, "It will not do to get into the habit offrom home, and thus temporarily evading86 an running away oppression instead of facing, wrestling with and conquering it or being conquered by it."
I shall now make an extract from one of her letters, which is purposely displaced as to time. I quote it because it relates to a third offer of marriage which she had, and because I find that some are apt to imagine, from the extraordinary power with which she represented the passion of love in her novels, that she herself was easily susceptible87 of it.
"Could I ever feel enough for ——, to accept of him as a husband? Friendship—gratitude—esteem—I have; but each moment he came near me, and that I could see his eyes fastened on me, my veins ran ice. Now that he is away, I feel far more gently towards him, it is only close by that I grow rigid35, stiffening88 with a strange mixture of apprehension89 and anger, which nothing softens90 but his retreat, and a perfect subduing91 of his manner. I did not want to be proud, nor intend to be proud, but I was forced to be so. Most true it is, that we are over-ruled by One above us; that in His hands our very will is as clay in the hands of the potter."
I have now named all the offers of marriage she ever received, until that was made which she finally accepted. The gentle-man referred to in this letter retained so much regard for her as to be her friend to the end of her life; a circumstance to his credit and to hers.
Before her friend E—— took her departure, Mr. Brontë caught cold, and continued for some weeks much out of health, with an attack of bronchitis. His spirits, too, became much depressed92; and all his daughter's efforts were directed towards cheering him.
When he grew better, and had regained93 his previous strength, she resolved to avail herself of an invitation which she had received some time before, to pay a visit in London. This year, 1851, was, as every one remembers, the time of the great Exhibition; but even with that attraction in prospect94, she did not intend to stay there long; and, as usual, she made an agreement with her friends, before finally accepting their offered hospitality, that her sojourn95 at their house was to be as quiet as ever, since any other way of proceeding96 disagreed with her both mentally and physically97. She never looked excited except for a moment, when something in conversation called her out; but she often felt so, even about comparative trifles, and the exhaustion98 of reaction was sure to follow. Under such circumstances, she always became extremely thin and haggard; yet she averred99 that the change invariably did her good afterwards.
Her preparations in the way of dress for this visit, in the gay time of that gay season, were singularly in accordance with her feminine taste; quietly anxious to satisfy her love for modest, dainty, neat attire100, and not regardless of the becoming, yet remembering consistency, both with her general appearance and with her means, in every selection she made.
"By the bye, I meant to ask you when you went to Leeds, to do a small errand for me, but fear your hands will be too full of business. It was merely this: in case you chanced to be in any shop where the lace cloaks, both black and white, of............
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