Published on June 2006
A previously unpublished letter by Charlotte Brontë, author of Jane Eyre, is expected to fetch up to £15,000 at auction after surfacing among a pile of papers in an attic.
The 1850 missive to William Smith Williams, her publisher’s reader, contains forthright views on literary and society figures of her day and her love of the Lake District.
Bronte writes that during a visit to the Lakes, she met future biographer, Elizabeth Gaskell: “I like her very much; her manner is kind, candid and unassuming.” The letter was penned three years after Jane Eyre’s publication. The letter was found in the attic of a house in a village on the Sussex- Surrey border.
CHARLOTTE BRONTE'S first interest in the Lake District must have been awakened when she wrote to Southey in 1837, and afterwards to Wordsworth and Coleridge. Southey had pressed a wish to see her if she visited the English Lakes. In those days money was not too plentiful at the Haworth parsonage, and much as Charlotte Bronte would have liked to pay a^visit to the Lake District it was all but impossible.
Alas ! when she did get an opportunity of going, Southey had been dead for seven years, Hartley Coleridge had recently died in 1849, and Wordsworth in April, 1850, so that the poets in whom she was specially interested had all passed away.
As Branwell Bronte had been at Broughton-in-Furness in 1839, and had visited Hartley Coleridge,
Charlotte Bronte would have heard something of the beauties of the English Lakes at least ten years before she herself became a guest at Briery Close, Windermere.
The English Lake District, so redolent of the poets associated with its name, was an ideal spot for Charlotte Bronte to visit, and, although she had been away from home for six weeks in the June and July of 1850, her father persuaded her to accept an invitation from Sir James Kay Shuttleworth
where Felicia Hemans lived, can be seen among the trees in the distance, and the view, up and down the lake, is magnificent.
Sir James Kay Shuttleworth, who knew Mrs. Gaskell in Manchester, before he was acquainted with Charlotte Bronte, had invited the author of Mary Barton to meet the writer of Jane Eyre. One who was present to meet the two novelists at this time described Charlotte Bronte as extremely nervous
and shy, looking as if she would be glad if the floor would open to swallow her, whilst Mrs. Gaskell sat bright, cheerful, and quite at ease. Hitherto the two writers had not met. Charlotte Bronte did not approach the house from the lake, but from Windermere Station, the railway having been opened in 1847.
She arrived at Briery Close on 18th August, 1850, and Mrs. Gaskell a day later. Sir James K. Shuttle wroth never seemed weary of inviting Charlotte Bronte and trying to give her pleasure; he had written two novels himself, Scars dale, dealing with the Lancashire border, and Ribblesdale. Charlotte Bronte
seemed to be nervous in his company, though she tried to appreciate his kindness, and he certainly was very good to her.
Fortunately Mrs. Gaskell wrote a long descriptive letter concerning her first meeting with Charlotte Bronte. It has been said that Mrs. Gaskell did not keep a regular diary, but she did, perhaps, what was better: she made notes of her visits to distinguished people, and she wrote long letters to her husband
and others, which were of great use when she needed material for her stories. Had she known that she was to be the biographer of Charlotte Bronte, she could scarcely have been more particular in recording her impressions of her friend. This will readily be admitted by reference to her letters.
Much as Charlotte Bronte enjoyed the scenery, " My visit passed off very well ; I am very glad I went.