I've dreamt in my life dreams that have stayed with me ever after, and changed my ideas: they've gone through and through me, like wine through water, and altered the color of my mind.
Emily Bronte
Wuthering Heights

zondag 10 juni 2012

Patrick Brontë and Mary Burder

St George's House, where Patrick Brontë met Mary Burder in 1807

A CHANCE encounter in a Wethersfield kitchen in 1807 almost changed the face of English literature. When Patrick Brontë, the poorly paid and poorly respected curate of St Mary Magdalene walked into the room in St George’s House where his landlady’s eligible young niece Mary Burder was preparing dinner he was instantly smitten. Had the course of true love run smooth perhaps the world would never have had “Jane Eyre”, “Wuthering Heights” or “The Tenant of Wildfell Hall” for Patrick might never have become the father of novelists Charlotte, Emily and Anne Brontë. As it was, the romance between the impecunious red-haired Irishman, already aged 30, who had gained his BA at St. John’s College Cambridge through hard graft and the help of some well-placed friends and the 18-year-old daughter of a prosperous local farming family, never ended in marriage. No-one is quite sure why. Not even perhaps the enamoured couple themselves. 

The Congregational Chapel where Mary Burder worshipped

The Congregational Chapel on the other side of Wethersfield village green to the church could have had a lot to do with it. Mary Burder’s father had died just before Patrick’s arrival in Wethersfield and the responsibility for her widowed mother and the four children in the family had been taken by her uncle who lived not some miles away in Great Yeldham. Mary’s father had been a churchman, though he shelled out a hundred pounds to help the case of the Congregational minister when he was arraigned, wrongly it transpired, for unmentionable crimes. Her uncle’s family were, however, non-conformists and didn’t look kindly on a match with an Anglican curate. That he was an Irishman didn’t help either. Mary, was whisked off to Great Yeldham.

St Mary's, Wethersfield where Patrick was curate

In fact a marriage to Mary Burder wouldn’t have been too great for Patrick Brontë either. Preferment in the Church of England for a man with a wife who did not share his beliefs would have been difficult to obtain. At any rate Patrick decided that nursing a broken heart in Wethersfield was less attractive than a busy life at a new church in Wellington in Shropshire. He continued to write to Mary for a couple of years but by the time she was 21 and therefore free to wed without her family’s permission, Mary became embittered as the prospect of marriage faded. Somehow Patrick’s letters, and his failure to return to Wethersfield to claim her hand, had turned her love to hatred and she saw herself as a jilted woman. Patrick for his part was coping with a far greater workload than ever the tiny parish of Wethersfield had imposed upon him, and, furthermore, no letters were forthcoming from Mary or her family. He began expressing his admiration of those ministers who could serve God without the distraction of unrequited earthly love. He admitted it was not easy for him but he doesn’t seem to have realised that Mary, too, might have found it hard to understand the situation. Eventually the matter was resolved by Patrick’s meeting, in his new Yorkshire parish of Hartshead, 29-year-old Maria Branwell the petite, though not particularly pretty, daughter of a prosperous Penzance grocer who had gone north to help in her aunt and uncle’s boarding school. Patrick and Maria were married in 1812 and over the next few years five girls and one boy were born to the couple. It was not to be a long marriage. Less than 10 years after the wedding Maria was found to have cancer; her death at 38 after a few months illness left Patrick with six small children aged between two and seven. 

He was in a sad predicament. Although he was now in a permanent benefice at Haworth on the Yorkshire moors he was not well off and no catch for a genteel woman of that period. He proposed to the godmother of some of his children but was brusquely turned down. His wife’s sister had been a tower of strength during his wife’s illness but there was no hope there – in those days marriage to the sister of a deceased wife was not permitted. A further proposal to a 
friend’s sister was also rejected. 
In desperation Patrick remembered Mary Burder. Was she married? Was there hope of a reconciliation? He wrote to Mary’s mother and received a reply from Mary herself. Yes, she was still single but she wanted nothing to do with a 47-year-old with a family of six to look after. She declined his suggestion of a meeting in Wethersfield.
Patrick, still hopeful, wrote again but there was no reply.

The Manse at Wethersfield where Mary went to live.
And Mary? A year or two later she married the minister at Wethersfield Congregational Church, Rev Peter Sibree who declared that in marrying her “he had found that blessing of which I can never sufficiently appreciate the importance – a prudent wife, which is from the Lord.”  They lived in the Manse by the chapel. Wethersfield/lovepages

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The Parlour

The Parlour



Charlotte Bronte

Presently the door opened, and in came a superannuated mastiff, followed by an old gentleman very like Miss Bronte, who shook hands with us, and then went to call his daughter. A long interval, during which we coaxed the old dog, and looked at a picture of Miss Bronte, by Richmond, the solitary ornament of the room, looking strangely out of place on the bare walls, and at the books on the little shelves, most of them evidently the gift of the authors since Miss Bronte's celebrity. Presently she came in, and welcomed us very kindly, and took me upstairs to take off my bonnet, and herself brought me water and towels. The uncarpeted stone stairs and floors, the old drawers propped on wood, were all scrupulously clean and neat. When we went into the parlour again, we began talking very comfortably, when the door opened and Mr. Bronte looked in; seeing his daughter there, I suppose he thought it was all right, and he retreated to his study on the opposite side of the passage; presently emerging again to bring W---- a country newspaper. This was his last appearance till we went. Miss Bronte spoke with the greatest warmth of Miss Martineau, and of the good she had gained from her. Well! we talked about various things; the character of the people, - about her solitude, etc., till she left the room to help about dinner, I suppose, for she did not return for an age. The old dog had vanished; a fat curly-haired dog honoured us with his company for some time, but finally manifested a wish to get out, so we were left alone. At last she returned, followed by the maid and dinner, which made us all more comfortable; and we had some very pleasant conversation, in the midst of which time passed quicker than we supposed, for at last W---- found that it was half-past three, and we had fourteen or fifteen miles before us. So we hurried off, having obtained from her a promise to pay us a visit in the spring... ------------------- "She cannot see well, and does little beside knitting. The way she weakened her eyesight was this: When she was sixteen or seventeen, she wanted much to draw; and she copied nimini-pimini copper-plate engravings out of annuals, ('stippling,' don't the artists call it?) every little point put in, till at the end of six months she had produced an exquisitely faithful copy of the engraving. She wanted to learn to express her ideas by drawing. After she had tried to draw stories, and not succeeded, she took the better mode of writing; but in so small a hand, that it is almost impossible to decipher what she wrote at this time.

I asked her whether she had ever taken opium, as the description given of its effects in Villette was so exactly like what I had experienced, - vivid and exaggerated presence of objects, of which the outlines were indistinct, or lost in golden mist, etc. She replied, that she had never, to her knowledge, taken a grain of it in any shape, but that she had followed the process she always adopted when she had to describe anything which had not fallen within her own experience; she had thought intently on it for many and many a night before falling to sleep, - wondering what it was like, or how it would be, - till at length, sometimes after the progress of her story had been arrested at this one point for weeks, she wakened up in the morning with all clear before her, as if she had in reality gone through the experience, and then could describe it, word for word, as it had happened. I cannot account for this psychologically; I only am sure that it was so, because she said it. ----------------------She thought much of her duty, and had loftier and clearer notions of it than most people, and held fast to them with more success. It was done, it seems to me, with much more difficulty than people have of stronger nerves, and better fortunes. All her life was but labour and pain; and she never threw down the burden for the sake of present pleasure. I don't know what use you can make of all I have said. I have written it with the strong desire to obtain appreciation for her. Yet, what does it matter? She herself appealed to the world's judgement for her use of some of the faculties she had, - not the best, - but still the only ones she could turn to strangers' benefit. They heartily, greedily enjoyed the fruits of her labours, and then found out she was much to be blamed for possessing such faculties. Why ask for a judgement on her from such a world?" elizabeth gaskell/charlotte bronte

Poem: No coward soul is mine

No coward soul is mine,
No trembler in the worlds storm-troubled sphere:
I see Heavens glories shine,
And faith shines equal, arming me from fear.

O God within my breast.
Almighty, ever-present Deity!
Life -- that in me has rest,
As I -- Undying Life -- have power in Thee!

Vain are the thousand creeds
That move mens hearts: unutterably vain;
Worthless as withered weeds,
Or idlest froth amid the boundless main,

To waken doubt in one
Holding so fast by Thine infinity;
So surely anchored on
The steadfast Rock of immortality.

With wide-embracing love
Thy Spirit animates eternal years,
Pervades and broods above,
Changes, sustains, dissolves, creates, and rears.

Though earth and man were gone,
And suns and universes ceased to be,
And Thou wert left alone,
Every existence would exist in Thee.

There is not room for Death,
Nor atom that his might could render void:
Thou -- Thou art Being and Breath,
And what Thou art may never be destroyed.

Emily Bronte

Family tree

The Bronte Family

Grandparents - paternal
Hugh Brunty was born 1755 and died circa 1808. He married Eleanor McClory, known as Alice in 1776.

Grandparents - maternal
Thomas Branwell (born 1746 died 5th April 1808) was married in 1768 to Anne Carne (baptised 27th April 1744 and died 19th December 1809).

Father was Patrick Bronte, the eldest of 10 children born to Hugh Brunty and Eleanor (Alice) McClory. He was born 17th March 1777 and died on 7th June 1861. Mother was Maria Branwell, who was born on 15th April 1783 and died on 15th September 1821.

Maria had a sister, Elizabeth who was known as Aunt Branwell. She was born in 1776 and died on 29th October 1842.

Patrick Bronte married Maria Branwell on 29th December 1812.

The Bronte Children
Patrick and Maria Bronte had six children.
The first child was Maria, who was born in 1814 and died on 6th June 1825.
The second daughter, Elizabeth was born on 8th February 1815 and died shortly after Maria on 15th June 1825. Charlotte was the third daughter, born on 21st April 1816.

Charlotte married Arthur Bell Nicholls (born 1818) on 29th June 1854. Charlotte died on 31st March 1855. Arthur lived until 2nd December 1906.

The first and only son born to Patrick and Maria was Patrick Branwell, who was born on 26th June 1817 and died on 24th September 1848.

Emily Jane, the fourth daughter was born on 30th July 1818 and died on 19th December 1848.

The sixth and last child was Anne, born on 17th January 1820 who died on 28th May 1849.

Top Withens in the snow.

Top Withens in the snow.



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