At fifteen, it was Anne's first time away from home. She was quiet and hard working, and determined to stay and get the education that would allow her to support herself. Anne stayed for two years, winning a good-conduct medal in December 1836, and returning home only during Christmas and the summer holidays. Anne and Charlotte do not appear to have been close during their time at Roe Head (Charlotte's letters almost never mention Anne) but Charlotte was concerned about the health of her sister. At some point before December 1837, Anne became seriously ill with gastritis and underwent a religious crisis.
Towards the end of 1837, and while still at Roe Head School, the 17 years old Anne suffered a very serious illness. Charlotte described her symptoms as 'pain' and 'difficulty of breathing', the latter was assumed to be a symptom of asthma, from which she had suffered since early childhood. Concurrent with her illness, she also underwent a religious crisis: 56 she was experiencing deep depression and fear on account of the hard-line preachings of the local churches: a circle of clergy that tended to follow the scriptures to the letter, and made great emphasis on the Calvinist doctrines of hell-fire and eternal damnation, with the suggestion that only the 'elect few' would earn themselves a place in heaven. This was far removed from the much milder convictions of her Wesleyan aunt, and those preached by her father; whose emphasis was on the 'goodness and infinite mercy of God', and the belief that salvation was attainable by anyone who sought it. With the acute illness she was experiencing, Anne must have felt that death was near, and desperately needed reassurance on these religious matters. In the event, she did not turn for help to the local Methodist churches, of whose clergy were known to her and her father, but to a stranger.
|The stranger in question was one reverend James La Trobe - the minister of the Moravian chapel at Wellhouse in Mirfield. The Moravian sect preached doctrines more akin to Patrick Brontë's, than those being advocated at Roe Head. They firmly believed in Universal Salvation, where, 'after a period of purifying purgatory, all men, however wicked, could attain heaven'. Many years later, in 1897, La Trobe sent a letter to his friend and Brontë biographer, William Scrutton of Thornton, and in it recited the occasions he had attended Anne at Roe Head so many years earlier. The extract relating to Anne reads:|
'She was suffering from a severe attack of gastric fever which brought her very low, and her voice was only a whisper; her life hung on a slender thread. She soon got over the shyness natural on seeing a perfect stranger. The words of love, from Jesus, opened her ear to my words, and she was very grateful for my visits. I found her well acquainted with the main truths of the Bible respecting our salvation, but seeing them more through the law than the gospel, more as a requirement from God than His gift in His Son, but her heart opened to the sweet views of salvation, pardon, and peace in the blood of Christ . . . and, had she died then, I should have counted her His redeemed and ransomed child. It was not till I read Charlotte Brontë's 'Life'that I recognised my interesting patient at Roe Head, where a Christian influence pervaded the establishment and its decided discipline.' 57