Charlotte completed her sampler at age 13 in April 1829. Emily was done with hers at age 11 on March 1, 1829. Anne finished hers at age 10 on Jan. 23, 1830. They stitched their samplers at their home, Haworth Parsonage in Yorkshire, after the girls had returned from school where their older sisters, Maria and Elizabeth, had died from privation and illness suffered at the boarding school.
It is easy to imagine the sisters sitting together, hoops and needles in hand, making row after row of cross-stitches to fashion each word. Perhaps the sewing was an occasion to sit together and talk about life in the village or to remember their sisters. Or perhaps the sewing was drudgery, an onerous task to be got through until they could go out to the moors where they let their imaginations run wild.
As might be expected of the daughters of Patrick Brontë, a clergyman, the Brontë sisters’ samplers consist of lengthy passages from the Bible, from Proverbs and Psalms.
Huish says in his book that the owner of the samplers at that time was Clement Shorter, a journalist who collected manuscripts, books and materials related to his favorite authors, including the Brontë sisters.
Each sampler differs somewhat from the others. The top verse in Charlotte’s sampler reads: “A house divided against itself can’t stand.” But horizontal bars of stitching separate the seven verses in the sampler. Did she intend that as a bit of drollery? It can be argued that “Jane Eyre” has the “house divided” idea as one of its themes. Rochester was certainly a “house divided against itself,” given the fact that he had a madwoman, his wife, living in the attic, while falling in love and persuading Jane, the governess, who didn’t know about the wife, to marry him.
A line in Emily’s sampler says: “Surely I am more brutish than any man, and have not the understanding of a man.” Was this line from a verse from Proverbs a foreshadowing of her character Heathcliff, whose callous behavior transgressed social and moral codes, in “Wuthering Heights”?
Anne’s sampler, also with verses from Proverbs, bears this line: “She is more precious than rubies and all the things thou canst desire are not to be compared unto her.” It was Anne who created the character Helen, the wife of Arthur, the unfaithful, drunken husband who did not value his wife. Helen fled from him in “The Tenant of Wildfell Hall.”
The three samplers are stitched with the same zigzag border, similar to a Greek key pattern.
I searched a long time on the Internet for images of the samplers so I could direct readers to them, but I was not successful. The only images I found are in Huish’s book.
I came across references stating that the samplers are housed at Haworth Parsonage, now a museum, but at websites pertaining to Haworth I did not find information to confirm that the samplers are, indeed, housed at the museum. I e-mailed a query but have not yet received a reply. (Ardeana Hamlin)
Well, we are not the Brontë Parsonage Museum but we can confirm that the samplers do indeed belong to their collection.
The children learned how to sew from Aunt Branwell.
Miss Branwell was a very small, antiquated little lady. She wore caps large enough for half-a-dozen of the present fashion, and a front of light auburn curls over her forehead. She always dressed in silk. She had a horror of the climate so far north, and of the stone floors in the Parsonage. She talked a great deal of her younger days — the gaiety's of her dear native town Penzance, the soft, warm climate, &c. She gave one the idea that she had been a belle among her own home acquaintance. She took snuff out of a very pretty gold snuff-box, which she sometimes presented to you with a little laugh, as if she enjoyed the slight shock of astonishment visible in your countenance. She would be very lively and intelligent, and tilt arguments against Mr. Bronte without fear."
So Miss Ellen Nussey recalls the elderly, prim Miss Branwell about ten years later than her first arrival in Yorkshire. But it is always said of her that she changed very little. Miss Nussey's striking picture will pretty accurately represent the maiden lady of forty, who, from a stringent and noble sense of duty, left her southern, pleasant home to take care of the little orphans running wild at Haworth Parsonage. Henceforth their time was no longer free for their own disposal. They said lessons to their father, they did sewing with their aunt, and learned from her all housewifely duties. Patrick Branwell was the favourite with his aunt, the naughty, clever, brilliant, rebellious, affectionate Patrick. Next to him she always preferred the pretty, gentle baby Anne, with her sweet, clinging ways, her ready submission, her large blue eyes and clear pink-and-white complexion. Charlotte, impulsive, obstinate and plain, the rugged, dogged Emily, were not framed to be favourites with her. Many a fierce tussle of wills, many a grim listening to over-frivolous reminiscence, must have shown the aunt and her nieces the difference of their natures. Maria, too, the whilom head of the nursery, must have found submission hard ; but hers was a singularly sweet and modest nature. Of Elizabeth but little is remembered. Meanwhile the regular outer life went oh — the early rising, the dusting and pudding-making, the lessons said to their father, the daily portion of sewing accomplished in Miss Branwell's bedroom, because that lady grew more and more to dislike the flagged flooring of the sitting-room.
Every day, some hour snatched for a ramble on the moors ; peaceful times in summer when the little girls took their sewing under, the stunted thorns and currants in the garden, the clicking sound of Miss Branwell's pattens indistinctly heard within. Happy times when six children, all in all to each other, told wonderful stories in low voices for their own entrancement.
Miss Branwell took care that the girls should not lack more homely knowledge.
Each took her share in the day's work, and learned all details of it as accurately as any German maiden at her cookery school. Emily took very kindly to even the hardest housework ; there she felt able and necessary ; and, doubtless, upstairs, grimly listening to prim Miss Branwell's stories of bygone gaiety's, this awkward growing girl was glad to remember that she too was of importance to the household, despite her tongue-tied brooding.
Read more about Aunt Branwell: