A Celebration of Women Writers

Anne Brontë (1820-1849)

Biography: Selected Poems: Bibliography


The Parsonage
First Lessons in the Art of Instruction
The Church
A Few More Lessons
The Parsonage Again
Mirth and Mourning
The Sands
portrait of woman, head and shoulders

Relatively little is known about Anne Brontë's life. Records indicate where she was and suggest general outlines of what she was doing; her published works suggest something of her experience and beliefs; but few records survive of her daily life and feelings, in her own words or those of witnesses. The few cases in which her own recorded impressions can be compared with those of her sisters, Charlotte and Emily, suggest that their perceptions of Anne are not reliable guides to Anne's feelings. Any biography is a fragile patchwork of facts and possibilities, sewn together with inferences, suppositions, and hopes.

The Parsonage

Anne Brontë was born on January 17th, 1820, at Thornton (see The Brontë Birthplace). Anne was the last of the six children of Patrick and his wife Maria Branwell Brontë. Her siblings, by age, were Maria, Elizabeth, Charlotte, Branwell, and Emily Jane. Patrick Brontë was the curate of Thornton. Given the size of the family, Patrick actively sought a better clerical appointment. After much difficulty, he was appointed to the perpetual curacy of Haworth. The Brontë family moved to the parsonage there in April, 1820.

Anne was barely a year old when her mother became ill of what is believed to have been uterine cancer. The children were looked after by their nursemaid, Sarah and her sister Nancy Gars. Patrick Brontë dedicated himself to nursing his beloved wife, while still fulfilling his clerical duties in the new parish. It was a gruelling load, one which became nearly unbearable when all six children caught scarlet fever, itself potentially fatal. The children recovered, and help arrived in the form of Maria's sister, Elizabeth Branwell. After months of physical agony and distress over the future of Patrick and their children, Maria Branwell Brontë died on September 15th, 1821. She was buried September 22nd in Haworth Church.

Patrick too was deeply concerned for his family. Elizabeth Branwell could not be expected to stay with them forever; his children needed a mother. During the next two years, Patrick made several rather desperate attempts to find a second wife. Failing, he began looking for a good school which would offer his children a good education and a chance to become independent. Crofton Hall, and later the Clergy Daughter's School, seemed good choices. Between July 21st, 1824, and November 25th, Maria, Elizabeth, Charlotte and Emily were sent to school. In May, 1825, both Maria and Elizabeth died; Charlotte and Emily were immediately brought home. Faced with this disastrous outcome, Patrick could not face sending them away again, and Elizabeth Branwell agreed to stay. Thus, she was a surrogate mother to Anne throughout her childhood. Anne slept with Aunt Branwell, not with Charlotte and Emily. She and her aunt were particularly close, and this loving adult role model may have strongly influenced Anne's personality and religious beliefs. The tragic deaths that had such an impact on the other children had less effect on Anne, who was too young to remember her mother, or much about her two eldest sisters.

In The Brontës (1994), Juliet Barker describes the Brontës' childhood in considerable detail. The four remaining children banded together; as elders Charlotte and Branwell joined forces and tended to somewhat ignore "the babies" Emily and Anne. They played with toys, including Branwell's toy soldiers, made up stories about them, and eventually began to write them down. Charlotte and Branwell developed the private worlds of the Glass Towns and Angria; Emily and Anne in turn developed their own world, Gondal. The closeness of their relationship was reinforced by Charlotte's departure for Roe Head School, in January 1831. When Charlotte's friend Ellen Nussey visited Haworth in 1833, she reported that Emily and Anne were "like twins", "inseparable companions". She describes Anne at this time:

"Anne, dear gentle Anne was quite different in appearance from the others, and she was her aunt's favourite. Her hair was a very pretty light brown, and fell on her neck in graceful curls. She had lovely violet-blue eyes, fine pencilled eyebrows and a clear almost transparent complexion. She still pursued her studies and especially her sewing, under the surveillance of her aunt. " (Chitham, 1991, p. 39)

Anne's studies at home included music, which she always enjoyed, and drawing. Later, she began more formal studies at Roe Head School. Charlotte returned there on July 29th, 1835 as a teacher. Emily accompanied her as a pupil; her tuition largely financed by Charlotte's teaching. Emily was unable to adapt to life at school, and by October, was physically ill from homesickness. Anne returned to Roe Head in Emily's place. At fifteen, it was Anne's first time away from home. Her later poems express a deep attachment to her home, and she made few friends at Roe Head, so there is no reason to suppose that she was less homesick there than her sisters. However, her response to the same environment was totally different. She was quiet and hard-working, and more importantly, determined to stay and get the education that would allow her to support herself. Anne was certainly aware that Charlotte and others were making sacrifices to give her the opportunity to do so. "She had a core of steel, a sense of duty and obligation" (Barker, p. 237) Anne stayed for two years, winning a good-conduct medal in December 1836, and returning home only during Christmas and the summer holidays.

One of Anne's activities during the holidays was playing at the Gondals with Emily. The first of Anne's known poems, "Verses by Lady Geralda", dates from Christmas 1836. The next, "Alexander and Zenobia", is dated July 1st, 1837. Both are set firmly in the world of Gondal. They deal with clearly fictional characters, and bear their signatures. Though there is disagreement over the categorization of Anne's poetry into Gondal and non-Gondal poetry, most of the poems which are 'signed' by Gondal characters seem to have been written during or immediately after periods of proximity to Emily.

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 prior to December 1837, Anne became seriously ill and underwent a religious crisis. (Mrs. Gaskell incorrectly gives the time of Anne's illness as a year later, in The Life of Charlotte Brontë.) A Moravian minister, James LaTrobe, was called to see Anne several times during her illness. It is notable that a Moravian was called in, rather than a local Anglican minister. It supports the idea that the Dewsbury clerics, hard-line and censorious in comparison to Anne's more liberal father, were the source of her religious distress. James Latrobe noted a number of issues which were of concern to her at 17:

"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 she accepted His welcome to the weary and heavy laden sinner, conscious more of her not loving the Lord her God than of acts of enmity to Him " (Barker, p. 281)

In later poems such as "Hymn" vt. "The Doubter's Prayer"; "A Word to the Calvinists", vt. "A Word to the 'Elect'"; "To Cowper"; and the autobiographical poem "Self-Communion", Anne continued to consider these issues.

Charlotte was sufficiently concerned about Anne's illness to notify Patrick Brontë, and to take Anne home. Charlotte returned alone to Roe Head after Christmas, while Anne remained at home to recover.

First Lessons in the Art of Instruction

Little is known about the next year, but by 1839 Anne was actively looking for a teaching position. She left home on April 8, 1839, and travelled alone, at her own request, to Mirfield. There she began work as a governess at Blake Hall, the home of the Ingham family. Blake Hall was an imposing eighteenth-century mansion with a small wooded park. Joshua Ingham was 37, his wife 10 years younger. Their two eldest children, Cunliffe, age 6, and Mary, age 5, were put in Anne's care. Three younger girls were still in the nursery.

Anne seems to have assessed her situation quickly and accurately, and determined that she would make the best of it. An early letter home was summarized by Charlotte in a letter to Ellen Nussey:

"she expresses herself very well satisfiedand says that Mrs Ingham is extremely kind... both her pupils are desperate little duncesneither of them can read and sometimes they even profess a profound ignorance of their Alphabetthe worst of it is the little monkies are excessively indulged and she is not empowered to inflict any punishment " (Barker, p. 308)

Anne drew on her experiences at Blake Hall in later writing Agnes Grey. Her heroine's first position is a similar situation, supervising children of much the same age and sex. Anne's fictional descriptions convey both detail and conviction, and independent anecdotes suggest that the Ingham children may well have been models for the Bloomfield children of the book. As adults, Cunliffe and Mary Ingham were known to be difficult and wilful; if they were as unmanageable in real life as the children of the book, Anne's stay at Blake Hall was hardly pleasant. The Inghams, unsatisfied with their children's progress, dismissed Anne at the end of the year. She returned home at Christmas, 1839, joining Charlotte and Emily, who had also left their positions, and Branwell.

The Church

There was a new face around the parsonage as well. Patrick had a new curate. William Weightman began work in the parish in August, 1839. Twenty-six years old, he had obtained a two year licentiate in theology from the University of Durham, and was recommended for the curacy of Haworth by the Bishop of Ripon. He quickly became welcome at the parsonage.

Anne's acquaintance with William Weightman parallels the writing of a number of poems which may suggest that she fell in love with him. There is considerable disagreement over this point (Edward Chitham argues strongly for this interpretation; Juliet Barker remains unconvinced.) Not much outside evidence exists beyond a teasing anecdote of Charlotte's to Ellen Nussey in January 1842.

"Your darling 'his young reverence' as you tenderly call himis looking delicate and palepoor thing, don't you pity him? I do, from my heartwhen he is fat and jovial I never think of himbut when anything ails him I am always sorryHe sits opposite Anne at church sighing softly and looking out of the corners of his eyes to win her attentionand Anne is so quiet, her look so down-castthey are a picture. " (Chitham, 1991, pp. 62-63).

A major issue in the debate is whether Anne's poetry of 1840-1845 reflects her personal experience, or that of Gondal characters. Without independent Gondal manuscripts or details about them it is difficult to assign poems to specific Gondal contexts. Chitham argues that Anne's poetry falls into both classes, and that she primarily wrote Gondal works when in direct contact with Emily. Anne's views of poetry itself, perhaps dangerously inferred from her fictional writing, are directly relevant to this question. Both Agnes Grey and Helen Hungtingdon in The Tenant of Wildfell Hall write poetry. The character of Agnes Grey refers to poems as "pillars of witness" in a passage that may well reflect Anne's own view: Anne's religious poetry certainly fits this pattern.

"When we are harrassed by sorrows or anxieties, or long oppressed by any powerful feelings which we must keep to ourselves, for which we can obtain and seek no sympathy from any living creature, and which yet we cannot or will not wholly crush, we often naturally seek relief in poetryand often find it, toowhether in the effusions of others, which seem to harmonize with our existing case, or in our own attempts to give utterance to those thoughts and feelings in strains less musical, perchance, but more appropriate, and therefore more penetrating and sympathetic, and for the time, more soothing, or more powerful to rouse and to unburden the oppressed and swollen heart. Before this time, at Wellwood House and here, when suffering from home-sick melancholy, I had sought relief twice or thrice at this secret source of consolation; and now I flew to it again, with greater avidity than ever, because I seemed to need it more. I still preserve those relics of past sufferings and experience, like pillars of witness set up in travelling through the vale of life, to mark particular occurrences. " ( Agnes Grey, Everyman Classics Edition, 1985, pp. 121)

It may or may not be relevant that the source of Agnes Grey's renewed interest in poetry is the curate to whom she is attracted. As the person to whom Anne Brontë may have been attracted, William Weightman has aroused much curiosity. It seems clear that he was a good-looking, engaging young man, whose easy humour and kindness towards the Brontë sisters made a considerable impression. We know that he sent valentines to the three sisters and visiting Ellen Nussey, in February 1840. Juliet Barker suggests that Charlotte Brontë may well have been interested in Weightman herself, given repeated references to him in her letters. Charlotte's initial impression was a positive one. She even painted his portrait. Later, however, she characterized him bitterly as flighty and flirtatious, an idler who attracted numerous females. Edward Chitham suggests that Charlotte may have been trying to 'protect' Anne from possible involvement. There is no record of how Weightman felt about the sisters. However, one wonders whether Weightman's indication of a previous attachment to one Agnes Waltonthe veracity of which has been questionedmay have been an attempt to divert interest away from himself!

In startling contrast to Charlotte's portrayal of Weightman as someone who "ought not to have been a parson", Patrick Brontë and others who worked with Weightman spoke of the piety and dedication that he displayed in his clerical duties. Their statements suggest that he felt a deep and heartfelt committment to the church. Church records indicate that he took on the major work of christenings and funerals as his pastoral duties, actively campaigned on church rates, and deeply involved himself in ministry to members of the parish, particularly the sick and dying. Anne, for whom religious belief was a major focus, and who always sought in religion a source of strength and consolation, may well have been aware of this aspect of Weightman's character. It is such a character that she portrays in Edward Weston, and that her heroine Agnes Grey finds deeply appealing.

If Anne did form an attachment to Weightman, that does not imply that he, in turn, was attracted to her. Indeed, it is entirely possible that Weightman was no more aware of her than of her sisters or their friend Ellen Nussey. Nor does it follow that Anne believed him to be interested in her. If anything, her poems suggest just the oppositethey speak of quietly experienced but intensely felt emotions, intentionally hidden from others, without any indication of their being requited. Written on January 1st, 1840, "A Fragment", vt. "Self-Congratulation", is signed like a Gondal poem, but the signature is not that of a known Gondal character. The maiden of the poem is young, newly experiencing adult feelings of attraction for a male acquaintance, and thankfully concealing them from all those around her. An identification of Anne with the maiden is consistent with Anne's characterization of poems as "pillars of witness", and with an assessment of her personality as combining deep feeling with stern self-control.

A Few More Lessons

Regardless of any feelings she may have been developing for her father's curate, Anne was determined to find another post as a governess. The presence of four young Brontës at home was a financial hardship, and Anne wished to support herself. She soon obtained a post with Reverend Edmund Robinson and his wife Lydia, at Thorp Green, a wealthy country house near York. She was to have four pupils: Lydia, 15, Elizabeth, 13, Mary, age 12, and Edmund, age 8.

Anne probably left home for Thorp Green on May 8, 1840. She could not know it at the time, but for the next 5 years she would spend no more than 5 or 6 weeks a year with her family, during holidays at Christmas and in June. The rest of her time would be spent with the Robinsons at their home Thorp Green, or on holiday with them in Scarborough. While living with the Robinsons, Anne first saw York Minster, which she found moving and inspirational. She also visited the seaside at Scarborough, and loved it for both its beauty and the benefits to her health. Her employers were satisfied with her work, and as Bessy and Mary Robinson grew older, Anne became close to them. Of all her sisters, Anne spent the most time away from Haworth, establishing fond associations elsewhere.

There is no question that she missed her home and family. "Lines Written at Thorp Green", vt. "Appeal", was written only a few months after her arrival there. It speaks of "loneliness" and "repining"; the identity of its longed for visitor has been much speculated upon. "Home" pleads for the "grey walls" of Haworth rather than the beautiful grounds of Thorp Green. Yet while Anne repeatedly writes of her depression and unhappiness, these are not her only emotions. In "Retirement" , she turns from "earthly cares" and "restless wandering thoughts" to seek comfort in God. In "In Memory of a Happy Day in February" and "Music on Christmas Morning", she rejoices in her religious belief. She exults in the beauty and wildness of nature in "Lines composed in a Wood on a Windy Day".

While Anne's feelings about Thorp Green were certainly mixedshe commented in a diary paper in 1841 that she did not like her situation and wished to leave itshe also chose to repeatedly return to Thorp Green, in spite of her sister's schemes for opening a school, and the death of Elizabeth Branwell in early November 1842, while her sisters were away in Brussels.

Aunt Branwell's death closely followed that of Patrick's curate, William Weightman, who died of cholera on September 6th, 1842. Anne would have seen Weightman on her holidays at home, particularly during the summer of 1842, when her sisters were away. In December, she wrote "To" (Chitham, 1979) the first of several poems in which she expresses grief and loss at the death of a young man, saying in part:

And yet I cannot check my sighs,
  Thou wert so young and fair,
More bright than summer morning skies,
  But stern death would not spare;

He would not pass our darling by
  Nor grant one hour's delay,
But rudely closed his shining eye
  And frowned his smile away,

That angel smile that late so much
  Could my fond heart rejoice;
And he has silenced by his touch
  The music of thy voice.

In "Yes, Thou Art Gone", April 1844; vt. "A Reminiscence", Anne eulogizes someone buried beneath the old church floor. In "Night", in early 1845, she speaks of a form, "cold in the grave for years" that it was once "my bliss to see". In her "Dreams" of spring 1845, she longs for both "earnest looks of love" and an "infant's form" and concludes poignantly

A heart whence warm affections flow,
Creator, thou hast given to me,
And am I only thus to know
How sweet the joys of love would be?

As late as 1847, Anne writes passionately of one whose "heavenly flame has heavenward flown" in an untitled poem. Her autobiographical poem "Self-Communion" of 1847-1848, speaks wistfully of those "whose love may freely gush and flow" and "whose dreams of bliss were not in vain". Religious references occur repeatedly in these poems, and often present a source of comfort. Anne's poems convey a sense of personal grief and loss, and a sense of attempts over time at reconciliation with the pain of lost hopes and possibilities. To what extent those hopes may once have focused on William Weightman, and whether there was ever any real possibility of their fulfillment, is unclear; but we know of no other young man of Anne's acquaintance who died at this time. It is also possible that an initially mild attraction to Weightman assumed increasing importance to Anne over time, in the absence of other opportunities for love, marriage, and children.

Anne returned again to Thorp Green in January 1843. This time, she was not alone. Her brother Branwell accompanied her, as a tutor for Edmund Robinson, previously Anne's pupil. Though Branwell did not live in the house with the Robinson family, as Anne did, his presence at Thorp Green may have lifted her spirits. "A Word to the Calvinists", May 28th, 1843; vt "A Word to the Elect", is one of Anne's most confident statements of religious faith. But by September 10th, 1843, she was again fighting religious doubts, as attested to by "A Hymn", vt "The Doubter's Prayer". Anne's vaunted calm appears to have been the result of hard-fought battles, balancing deeply felt emotions with careful thought, a sense of responsibility, and resolute determination.

The Parsonage Again

Anne and Branwell continued to teach at Thorp Green for the next two years. But when they returned home for the holidays in June 1845, Anne had startling news: she had resigned her position and would not be returning to Thorp Green.

Anne celebrated her new-found freedom by taking Emily to visit some of the places she had come to know and love in the past five years. An initial plan of going to the sea at Scarborough fell through, and the sisters went instead to York, where Anne showed her sister the York Minster. Emily, however, was more interested in playing at the Gondals than in any of the sights Anne wanted to show her. Emily describes the trip in her diary paper of July 31st, 1845.

"Anne and I went our first long Journey by ourselvesleaving Home on the 30th of Junemondaysleeping at Yorkreturning to Keighley Tuesday evening sleeping there and walking home on wedensday morningthough the weather was broken, we enjoyed ourselves very much except during a few hours at Bradford and during our excursion we were Ronald Macelgin, Henry Angora, Juliet Augusteena, Rosobelle Esraldan, Ella and Julian Egramont Catherine Navarre and Cordelia Fitzaphnold escaping from the Palaces of Instruction to join the Royalists who are hard driven at present by the victorious Republicans" (Barker, pp. 450-451)
In Emily's opinion:
"The Gondals still flourish as bright as ever I am at present writing a work on the First Wars Anne has been writing some articles on this and a book by Henry SophonaWe intend sticking firm by the rascals as long as they delight us which I am glad to say they do at present " (Barker, pp. 453-454)

In sharp contrast is Anne's description of the Gondals, in her own diary paper of the same date.

"Emily is engeaged in writing the Emperor Julius's life She has read some of it and I very much want to hear the restShe is writing some poetry too I wonder what it is about I have begun the third volume of passages in the life of an Individual, I wish I had finished it. ... We have not yet finished our Gondal chronicles that we began three years and a half ago when will they be done? The Gondals are at present in a sad state the Republicans are uppermost but the Royalists are not quite overcomethe young sovereigns with their brothers and sisters were still at the palace of Instructionthe Unique Society above half a year ago, were wrecked on a dezart Island as they were returning from Garldinthey are still there but we have not played at them much yetThe Gondals in general are not in first-rate playing conditionwill they improve? " (Barker, pp. 454-455)

Emily seems to have been blissfully unawareindeed quite obliviousto Anne's disenchantment with the Gondals. Some researchers have suggested that Passages in the Life of an Individual was actually a working title for Agnes Grey, but no one knows for certain. No manuscripts for either title have been found.

In the same diary papers, the sisters commented briefly on Branwell, who had now also left Thorp Green. Emily simply notes "Anne left her situation at Thorp Green of her own accordJune 1845 Branwell leftJuly 1845. " (Barker, p. 456) Anne says "Branwell has ... been a tutor at Thorp Green and had much tribulation and ill health he was very ill on Tuesday ... we hope he will be better and do better in future" (Barker, p. 456) What their notes do not mention is that Branwell had been dismissed from his post at Thorp Green because he was having an affair with Mrs. Robinson, seventeen years his elder. Branwell was distraught, at their separation and at reports that Mrs Robinson was in great anguish. There are suggestions that Anne's poem "The Penitent" is an expression of sympathy for Branwell: Anne may have interpreted Branwell's depression as indicating repentance as well as regret.

While Anne gave no reason for her own resignation from Thorp Green, it is generally believed that she chose to leave upon becoming aware of the relationship between Branwell and Mrs. Robinson. She retained close ties to Bessy and Mary Robinson, remaining on good terms with them, and exchanging frequent letters with them even after Branwell's disgrace. The Robinson sisters turned to Anne for advice, rather than to their mother. They also came to visit Anne in December, 1848. Charlotte wrote of them that "they seemed overjoyed to see Anne; when I went into the room they were clinging round her like two children " (Barker, p. 574).

Mirth and Mourning

Thus, in the summer of 1845, all four of the Brontës were at home with their father Patrick. The atmosphere was not a happy one. Branwell had disgraced himself. Charlotte had been depressed since her return from Brussels, where she had fallen in love with her married professor. None of the four had any immediate prospect of employment. It was at this point that Charlotte 'found' her sister Emily's poems, written in tiny script. They had hitherto been shared only with Anne, her partner in the world of Gondal. Charlotte proposed that they be published.

Emily was furious at Charlotte's intrusion into their private world. Anne, perhaps in an attempt to make peace, perhaps hoping for recognition of her work, revealed her own poems. Charlotte's reaction was characteristically patronizing: "I thought that these verses too had a sweet sincere pathos of their own". Eventually, though not easily, the sisters reached an agreement. Charlotte could arrange to publish the poems, but only pseudonymously, and they must first be edited to remove references to the Gondal world.

They told neither Branwell, nor their father, nor their friends about what they were doing. Anne and Emily each contributed 21 poems. Emily's poems were mostly written within the past 2 years; Anne's in the past 5. In contrast, most of Charlotte's 19 poems had been written over 5 years before, as part of the Angrian chronicles which she had shared with Branwell. Charlotte arranged publication of The Poems of Currer, Ellis, and Acton Bell through Aylott & Jones, at the authors' expense. The cost of publication was 31 pounds, 10 shillingsabout 3/4 of Anne's annual salary at Thorp Green. On May 7, 1846, the first three copies of the book were delivered to Haworth Parsonage. The volume achieved three somewhat favourable reviews, one of which particularly noted Emily's poetic talent. It sold a total of two copies.

By the time of its publication, however the "Bells" were venturing into a new domainthat of the novel. By July 1846, a package of three manuscripts was making the rounds of London publishers. Charlotte's The Professor and Emily's Wuthering Heights draw on their earlier writings about Angria and Gondal. Their books reflect both Gothic and Romantic ideas. In contrast, Anne began Agnes Grey with the words "All true histories contain instruction", and wrote in a realist, rather than a romantic style. In Agnes Grey, Anne drew strongly on her own life and experience as a governess. Her rather plain first-person female narrator begins the story young, inexperienced, and idealistic. Like Anne, she might well say that she has "some very unpleasant and undreamt of experience of human nature". Her experience does not destroy her sweetness of character, but rather strengthens it. Agnes Grey is a wish-fulfillment story in which patience and virtue are rewarded. It is also a quiet but sharply-pointed critique of the life of a governess and the instruction of children at the time. Anne portrays her characters and their surroundings with the minute attention to detail of a camera eye. Focusing on the direct experience of daily life in a constrained environment, and recognizing the importance of subtle impressions, Anne's writing is reminiscent of Jane Austen. Anne's understated humour and occasional satire also remind the reader of Austen. (Given these similarities, it is worth noting that Charlotte Brontë disliked Jane Austen's writing.)

After sending out the manuscripts of their first novels, the sisters had quickly begun new works. Charlotte followed Anne's lead in creating a plain governess heroine, in the much more romantic Jane Eyre. Emily may also have begun a new book, but if she did its manuscript has never been found. Anne began writing The Tenant of Wildfell Hall.

The first three manuscripts were to make the rounds of the publishing houses for most of a year. Wuthering Heights and Agnes Grey were eventually picked up by Thomas Cautley Newby. The manuscript of The Professor was noticed by Mssrs. Smith and Elder, who preferred not to publish it, but hoped that Charlotte's next work would be more marketable. Smith, Elder were considerably more responsive than Newby once an agreement had been reached, and Wuthering Heights and Agnes Grey finally appeared in print in December 1847, two months after the publication of Charlotte's wildly successful Jane Eyre. Most of the reviewers' attention focused on Wuthering Heights. One reviewer did compare Agnes Grey (somewhat unfavourably) to the works of Miss Austin [sic].

The depiction of Lowood school in Jane Eyre , based as it was on the Clergy Daughter's School, had started rumours about the identity of its author. Although Charlotte told Patrick Brontë that she was the author of Jane Eyre, the sisters had otherwise maintained their anonymity. The very success of Jane Eyre was to be their undoing. In July, 1848, Thomas Newby marketed Anne's second book to an American publisher as the latest work of Currer Bell, affirming that "to the best of his knowledge" the Bells were one person. Smith, Elder & Co., who had been promised Currer's next book, were alarmed and furious. Charlotte and Anne saw only one way to prove, beyond doubt, that Currer, Ellis, and Acton Bell were separate people. They went to London to reveal their identities to the publishers. Emily flatly refused to go with them, and was adamant that the secret must go no further. It was a vain hope, once the secret was out.

The book so misleadingly advertised was The Tenant of Wildfell Hall. In it Anne Brontë deals with several themes. She is concerned about the preparation of young women for marriage, an issue affecting the young Robinson girls who she had tutored. Their mother was pressuring them to marry, since she herself wished to remarry. They turned to Anne for advice. Anne may also have found a model for an unhappy marriage in a Mrs. Collins, who visited once or twice at the parsonage. Anne is also concerned with the preparation of young boys for adulthood, a particularly salient concern, given Branwell's failure to fulfill his youthful promise. The twin themes of character and education are woven throughout the novel, in the experiences of Helen, who has been poorly prepared to choose a marital partner; her husband Arthur Huntingdon; and later her young son, also named Arthur, whose father appears likely to give him the worst possible 'education'. A careful reading of the novel, and a close comparison of The Tenant of Wildfell Hall with Emily's Wuthering Heights, suggest that it is also a realist's response to the romanticization of violence and conflict that had occurred in her sisters' writings. Anne pointedly emphasizes the degradation of drunkenness and violence, and any initial attractiveness of her 'Byronic' character, Huntingdon, is outweighed by her painstaking and detailed description of his degradation and death.

It is believed that many of these details were based on Anne's observation of Branwell. Branwell's emotional and physical condition had continued to worsen. Branwell initially seems to have believed that Mrs. Robinson loved him, and hoped that she would marry him if her husband died. Instead, after her husband's death in May 26, 1846, she moved to the home of a distant cousin in Birmingham, Sir Edward Scott. He later became her second husband. She consistently distanced herself from Branwell, using intermediaries to dissuade him from approaching her. She also sent him occasional gifts of money, which he used to drink himself into oblivion. Between 1845 and 1848, Branwell destroyed his health. He had attacks of delirium tremens, and on one occastion his bedclothes caught on fire while he was drunk. Anne discovered him and tried to rouse him, then called the stronger Emily, who was able to drag him to safety. Eventually Branwell caught influenza, and possibly tuberculosis. He died on Sunday, 24th September, 1848.

The Tenant of Wildfell Hall was an immediate success. It is easy today to underestimate the extent to which it was a challenge to existing social and legal structures. May Sinclair, in 1913, said that the slamming of Helen Huntingdon's bedroom door against her husband reverberated throughout Victorian England. Anne's heroine eventually leaves her husband to protect their young son from his influence. She supports herself and her son by painting, while living in hiding, fearful of discovery. In doing so, she violates not only social conventions, but English law. At the time, a married woman had no independent legal existence, apart from her husband (c.f. Caroline Norton's English Laws for Women). She could not own her own property, sue for divorce, or control custody of her children. If she attempted to live apart from him, her husband had the right to reclaim her. If she took their child with her, she was liable for kidnapping. In living off her own earnings, she was held to be stealing her husband's property, since any income she made was legally his.

In the second edition of the book, which appeared in August 1848, Anne clearly stated her intentions in writing it. She presented a forceful rebutal to critics who considered her portrayal of Huntingdon overly graphic and disturbing. (Charlotte was among them.)

"when we have to do with vice and vicious characters, I maintain it is better to depict them as they really are than as they would wish to appear. To represent a bad thing in its least offensive light, is doubtless the most agreeable course for a writer of fiction to pursue; but is it the most honest, or the safest? Is it better to reveal the snares and pitfalls of life to the young and thoughtless traveller, or to cover them with branches and flowers? O Reader! if there were less of this delicate concealment of factsthis whispering 'Peace, peace,' when there is no peace, there would be less of sin and misery to the young of both sexes who are left to wring their bitter knowledge from experience." (Barker, pp. 532)

Anne also sharply castigated reviewers who speculated on the sex of the authors, and the appropriateness of their writing to their sex, in words that do little to reinforce the stereotype of Anne as meek and gentle.

"I am satisfied that if a book is a good one, it is so whatever the sex of the author may be. All novels are or should be written for both men and women to read, and I am at a loss to conceive how a man should permit himself to write anything that would be really disgraceful to a woman, or why a woman should be censured for writing anything that would be proper and becoming for a man. " (Barker, p. 564)

The increasing popularity of the Bell's work led to renewed interest in the Poems by Currer, Ellis, and Acton Bell, originally published by Aylott and Jones. The remaining print run was purchased by Smith, Elder, and reissued under new covers in November 1848. It still sold poorly. Anne, however, was beginning to find a market for her more recent poetry. "The Three Guides" appeared in Frazier's Magazine in August; "The Narrow Way" in December.

In the period between 1846 and 1848, health was a continuing concern: Patrick's health, Branwell's health, the sisters' healths. Though the whole family had suffered from coughs and colds during the fall of 1848, it was Emily who next became severely ill. She refused all offers of medicine or medical help, and her condition deteriorated rapidly. On Tuesday, December 19, 1848, she died of tuberculosis, the dread scourge of consumption.

The Sands

Anne was also ill. Although Anne and Emily had grown apart since their childhood, there was still a strong bond between them. In "Self-Communion" (1847-May 1848) while reflecting on their relationship, Anne remembered the pain she had felt on realizing that they did not share the same concerns. She described herself and her sister then as two trees "that at the root were one" but of which "the stems must stand alone". Her sister's death deeply affected her and her grief further undermined her physical health. Charlotte wrote, determined to support her remaining family, "The sight too of my sister Anne's very still but deep sorrow wakens in me such fear for her that I dare not falter." (Barker, p. 578)

It was a well-justified fear. Over Christmas, Anne caught influenza. Patrick Brontë called in a specialist in cases of consumption. Mr Teale examined Anne on January 5, 1849, and could offer little hope. Anne met the news with characteristic determination and self-control, qualities she displayed throughout her illness, even when undergoing painful treatments. "Anne is very patient in her illness", Charlotte wrote "as patient as Emily was unflinching. I recall one sister and look at the other with a sort of reverence as well as affectionunder the test of suffering neither have faltered." (Barker, p 582).

In The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, Helen Huntingdon finds consolation at her husband's death in the doctrine of universal salvation. She believes that her husband will not be eternally damned despite his sins. Huntingdon himself, in dying, feels no such surety. From her childhood, Anne Brontë had found consolation in the belief that all sinners could in time be received with joy in Heaven. "I drew it secretly from my own heart and from the word of God before I knew that any other held it." (Barker, p 580). She had not always found it easy to believe, though, and now, facing her own death, past religious doubts again distressed her.

Privately, in a final "pillar of witness" poem, Anne expressed the pain, fear and distress that she carefully controlled before her family. She feared not only suffering and death, but loss of faith, the possibility of sin brought on by the experience of suffering. She regretted the loss of hope as well as joy: hope for a long and happy and fulfilling life of contribution and achievement. Returning to the same poem three weeks later, Anne determined "to gather fortitude from Pain" and "hope & holiness" by fixing her heart on God during this trial. Though she writes longingly of her resolutions "if thou shouldst bring me back to life", the main wish expressed in her concluding lines is "But Lord whate'er my future fate / So let me serve thee now." (Barker, p. 582-583.)

In February, Anne seemed somewhat better. In March, Ellen Nussey invited her to Brookroyd, to be nursed by Ellen and her sisters. Anne made a counter-proposal. Through Charlotte, she asked if Ellen would accompany her to Scarborough. Anne had always loved the sea there, and there was some slight hope that the climate might be beneficial. Charlotte chose to ignore Anne's own wishes, and argue against the plan, suggesting that it would be better to wait. Anne feared that she had little time to waste, and wrote to Ellen herself, asking her help and painstakingly refuting counter-arguments. She speaks clearly and calmly of her illness and of death.

"I have a more serious reason than this for my impatience of delay: the doctors say that change of air or removal to a better climate would hardly ever fail of success in consumptive cases if taken in time, but the reason why there are so many disappointments is, that it is generally deferred till it is too late. Now I would not commit this error; and to say the truth, thouhg I suffer much less from pain and fever than I did when you were with us, I am decidedly weaker and very much thinner my cough still troubles me a good deal, especially in the night, and, what seems worse than all, I am subject to great shortness of breath on going up stairs or any slight exertion. Under these circumstances I think there is no time to be lost... I have no horror of death: if I thought it inevitable I think I could quietly resign myself to the prospect... But I wish it would please God to spare me not only for Papa's and Charlotte's sakes, but because I long to do some good in the world before I leave it. I have many schemes in my head for future practisehumble and limited indeedbut still I should not like them all to come to nothing, and myself to have lived to so little purpose. But God's will be done. " (Barker, p 589)

Though ill, Anne's strength of will was the equal of Charlotte's. In the end Patrick intervened, removing Charlotte's last defense against the plan by stating his willingness to be left with the servants in Haworth, and requesting that Charlotte accompany Anne. On May 24, 1849, Anne said her good-byes to her father and the servants at Haworth, and set off for Scarborough with Charlotte and Ellen. They stayed overnight in York, gratifying Anne's desire to see her beloved York Minster. Anne found great joy in returning to York and Scarborough, and showing well-loved places to Charlotte and Ellen. However, it was clear that Anne had little strength left.

On Sunday, May 27th, she asked Charlotte whether it would be easier for her if Anne returned home to die instead of remaining at Scarborough. A doctor, consulted the next day, indicated that death was already close. Anne received the news quietly. She spent time in prayer, and spoke of her confidence in God. She expressed her love and concern for Ellen and Charlotte, and seeing Charlotte's distress, whispered to her to "take courage". Conscious, calm, and aware of others until the last, Anne died at about two o'clock, Monday, May 28th, 1849. The doctor, who had returned several times throughout the day, said that he had never seen such a tranquil deathbed.

Charlotte arranged to bury Anne in Scarborough, the place she loved. It was a pragmatic as well as an emotional decision; the two-day journey back to Haworth would have been difficult and expensive. The funeral was held on Wednesday, May 30th, which did not allow time for Patrick Brontë to make the 70-mile trip to Scarborough, had he wished to do so. The service was read at Christ Church, because the parish church of St. Mary was being renovated. Anne was buried at St. Mary's, overlooking the sea. That the church records list Anne as having been 'from Scarboro, near York' rather than from Haworth may indicate that the clergyman remembered Anne from her time at Thorp Green. Charlotte commissioned a stone to be placed over her grave, with the simple inscription "Here lie the remains of Anne Brontë, daughter of the Revd. P. Brontë, Incumbent of Haworth, Yorkshire. She died, Aged 28, May 28th, 1849". (Barker, p. 596)

It was somewhat unfortunate that Charlotte, who showed little sympathy with or understanding of Anne's character, became the de facto literary executor of her work. Charlotte tended to see Anne as mild and uninteresting, a minor talent whose work was of little value. This is hardly surprising; she held a similar view of Jane Austen. "She does her business of delineating the surface of the lives of genteel English people curiously well; there is a Chinese fidelity, a miniature delicacy in the painting: she ruffles her reader by nothing vehement, disturbs him by nothing profound; the Passions are perfectly unknown to her... Jane Austen was a complete and most sensible lady, but a very incomplete, and rather insensible (not senseless) woman... " (Barker, pp. 634-635). Charlotte, with her Gothic red visions and Romantically expressed passions for "what the blood rushes through", did not recognize that equally strong feeling might be expressed in "human eyes, mouth, hands and feet; what sees keenly, speaks aptly, moves flexibly". The sisters were reminiscient of Austen's Marianne and Elinor Dashwood, but never achieved the mutual understanding found by the fictional characters.

In 1850, discussing with Smith, Elder the possibility of republishing The Tenant of Wildfell Hall Charlotte wrote damningly "'Wildfell Hall' it hardly appears to me desirable to preserve. The choice of subject in that work is a mistakeit was too little consonant with the charactertastes and ideas of the gentle, retiring inexperienced writer." (Barker, p. 654) Charlotte failed to acknowledge the motivations behind Anne's work, and found it disconcerting because it challenged her own conception of Anne's character. The subsequent publication history of The Tenant of Wildfell Hall has been a difficult one. Many editions have been published without the initial sections of the book, demolishing its structure. Luckily, the recent Penguin edition is based on the original Newby publication, not later mutilated versions.

Charlotte did agree to have Smith, Elder reprint Wuthering Heights and Agnes Grey in 1850. She added a biographical notice in which she attempted to counter criticisms of the Bell's works as crude and degrading by portraying her sisters as inexperienced, unlearned writers, working according to the "dictates of intuition" and innocently describing truths from their rural seclusion. (Barker, p. 655) The Brontë myth was born.

Charlotte also appended a number of Anne and Emily's poems to the new edition. She selected seven of Anne's poems, and eighteen of Emily's, making substantial revisions to them before they went to press. Many of the changes were unnecessary (cf. "In Memory of a Happy Day in February", 1850); in some cases they substantially changed the sense or intent of the poem. Charlotte chose not to include some sections of the poems, and to four poems, she added stanzas of her own composition. These editorial changes are not documented in the 1850 text. A complete collection of Anne's poems, based on the original manuscripts, and noting variants from other publications, can be found in The Poems of Anne Brontë (1979) by Edward Chitham. Chitham has also published a biography of Anne's life.

For many years, Anne Brontë has been remembered primarily as the third Brontë sister, the meek one. Her works have been largely forgotten. This has occurred to a large extent because Anne is very different, as a person and as a writer, from Charlotte and Emily. The controlled, reflective camera eye of Agnes Grey is closer to Jane Austen's Persuasion than to Charlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre. The painstaking realism and social criticism of The Tenant of Wildfell Hall directly counters the romanticized violence of Wuthering Heights. Anne's religious concerns, reflected in her books and expressed directly in her poems, were not concerns shared by her sisters. Now, with increasing critical interest in women authors, her life is being reexamined, and her work reevaluated.

Selected Poems:

Poems are presented in order by estimated date of composition.

written January 1st 1840

'Maiden, thou wert thoughtless once
  Of beauty or of grace,
Simple and homely in attire
  Careless of form and face.
Then whence this change, and why so oft
  Dost smooth thy hazel hair?
And wherefore deck thy youthful form
  With such unwearied care?

'Tell usand cease to tire our ears
  With yonder hackneyed strain
Why wilt thou play those simple tunes
  So often o'er again?'
'Nay, gentle friends, I can but say
  That childhood's thoughts are gone.
Each year its own new feelings brings
  And years move swiftly on,

"And for these little simple airs,
  I love to play them o'er
So much I dare not promise now
  To play them never more.'
I answered and it was enough;
  They turned them to depart;
They could not read my secret thoughts
  Nor see my throbbing heart.

I've noticed many a youthful form
  Upon whose changeful face
The inmost workings of the soul
  The gazer's eye might trace.
The speaking eye, the changing lip,
  The ready blushing cheek,
The smiling or beclouded brow
  Their different feelings speak.

But, thank God! you might gaze on mine
  For hours and never know
The secret changes of my soul
  From joy to bitter woe.
Last night, as we sat round the fire
  Conversing merrily,
We heard without approaching steps
  Of one well known to me.

There was no trembling in my voice,
  No blush upon my cheek,
No lustrous sparkle in my eyes,
  Of hope or joy to speak;
But O my spirit burned within,
  My heart beat thick and fast.
He came not nighhe went away
  And then my joy was past.

And yet my comrades marked it not,
  My voice was still the same;
They saw me smile, and o'er my face
  No signs of sadness came;
They little knew my hidden thoughts
  And they will never know
The anguish of my drooping heart,
  The bitter aching woe!

Olivia Vernon.

First Publication: Retitled "Self-Congratulation", In Poems by Currer, Ellis, and Acton Bell, London: Aylott and Jones, 8, Paternoster Row, 1846. pp. 155-157.

In its original form, which was substantially modified before publication, this piece is titled simply "A Fragment". It is noted as written January 1st, 1840. Chitham (1979) believes this to be the first of Anne's poems of personal experience, and not a Gondal poem as might be suggested by its signature "Olivia Vernon". Its portrayal of passionate feeling combined with stern self-control is in keeping with Anne's character, and the beloved person who "came not nigh" is believed by some to have been William Weightman, Patrick Brontë's curate.

Sunday December 13th 1840

O, let me be alone a while,
  No human form is nigh.
And may I sing and muse aloud,
  No mortal ear is by.

Away! ye dreams of earthly bliss,
  Ye earthly cares begone:
Depart! ye restless wandering thoughts,
  And let me be alone!

One hour, my spirit, stretch thy wings,
  And quit this joyless sod,
Bask in the sunshine of the sky,
  And be alone with God!

First Publication: The Complete Works of Emily Brontë. Volume I, Poetry. by Clement K. Shorter (Ed.) London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1910.

When first published, this poem was attributed to Emily Brontë, rather than Anne. The error was apparently due to a belief that Anne never wrote in the characteristic Brontë "small-script" while Emily did. Differences in their handwriting, however, clearly indentify this poem as Anne's.

Begun in February Finished November 10th 1842

Blessed be Thou for all the joy
  My soul has felt today!
O let its memory stay with me
  And never pass away!

I was alone, for those I loved
  Were far away from me,
The sun shone on the withered grass,
  The wind blew fresh and free.

Was it the smile of early spring
  That made my bosom glow?
'Twas sweet, but neither sun nor wind
  Could raise my spirit so.

Was it some feeling of delight,
  All vague and undefined?
No, 'twas a rapture deep and strong,
  Expanding in the mind!

Was it a sanguine view of life
  And all its transient bliss
A hope of bright prosperity?
  O no, it was not this!

It was a glimpse of truth divine
  Unto my spirit given
Illumined by a ray of light
  That shone direct from heaven!

I felt there was a God on high
  By whom all things were made.
I saw His wisdom and his power
  In all his works displayed.

But most throughout the moral world
  I saw his glory shine;
I saw His wisdom infinite,
  His mercy all divine.

Deep secrets of his providence
  In darkness long concealed
Unto the vision of my soul
  Were graciously revealed.

But while I wondered and adored
  His wisdom so divine,
I did not tremble at his power,
  I felt that God was mine.

I knew that my Redeemer lived,
  I did not fear to die;
Full sure that I should rise again
  To immortality.

I longed to view that bliss divine
  Which eye hath never seen,
Like Moses, I would see His face
  Without the veil between.

First Publication: Wuthering Heights and Agnes Grey A new edition together with a selection of literary remains. London: Smith, Elder, 1850.

The ms is dated "Begun in February Finished November 10th 1842". There are both minor and major differences between the ms and the published 1850 text (which is given here) in punctuation and wording. Charlotte Brontë edited the 1850 text, changing /knew/ to /felt/ at line 25; /Were brought to my delighted eyes/ to /Unto the vision of my soul/ at line 35; /I felt/ to /Full sure/ at line 43; and /To see the glories of his face/ to /Like Moses, I would see His face/ in line 47.

Written early in 1845

I LOVE the silent hour of night,
For blissful dreams may then arise,
Revealing to my charmed sight
What may not bless my waking eyes.

And then a voice may meet my ear,
That death has silenced long ago;
And hope and rapture may appear
Instead of solitude and woe.

Cold in the grave for years has lain
The form it was my bliss to see;
And only dreams can bring again,
The darling of my heart to me.

First Publication: Brontë Poems A.C. Benson, Ed. London: Smith, Elder, 1915. p. 289.

The manuscript version of the poem says "Written early in 1845". There are minor differences in punctuation.


WHILE on my lonely couch I lie,
I seldom feel myself alone,
For fancy fills my dreaming eye
With scenes and pleasures of its own.

Then I may cherish at my breast
An infant's form beloved and fair,
May smile and soothe it into rest
With all a Mother's fondest care.

How sweet to feel its helpless form
Depending thus on me alone!
And while I hold it safe and warm
What bliss to think it is my own!

And glances then may meet my eyes
That daylight never showed to me;
What raptures in my bosom rise,
Those earnest looks of love to see,

To feel my hand so kindly prest,
To know myself beloved at last,
To think my heart has found a rest,
My life of solitude is past!

But then to wake and find it flown,
The dream of happiness destroyed,
To find myself unloved, alone,
What tongue can speak the dreary void?

First Publication: Brontë Poems A.C. Benson, Ed. London: Smith, Elder, 1915. pp. 290-291.

The manuscript version of the poem dates to "Spring 1845". There are minor differences in punctuation and spelling. The original manuscript contains an additional final verse, given below. In the manuscript it is crossed through. It is not known if the marking was Anne's.

  A heart whence warm affections flow,
  Creator, thou hast given to me,
  And am I only thus to know
  How sweet the joys of love would be?

April 1847

Severed and gone, so many years!
And art thou still so dear to me,
That throbbing heart and burning tears
Can witness how I cling to thee?

I know that in the narrow tomb
The form I loved was buried deep,
And left, in silence and in gloom,
To slumber out its dreamless sleep.

I know the corner where it lies,
Is but a dreary place of rest:
The charnel moisture never dries
From the dark flagstones o'er its breast,

For there the sunbeams never shine,
Nor ever breathes the freshening air,
But not for this do I repine;
For my beloved is not there.

O, no! I do not think of thee
As festering there in slow decay:
'Tis this sole thought oppresses me,
That thou art gone so far away.

For ever gone; for I, by night,
Have prayed, within my silent room,
That Heaven would grant a burst of light
Its cheerless darkness to illume;

And give thee to my longing eyes,
A moment, as thou shinest now,
Fresh from thy mansion in the skies,
With all its glories on thy brow.

Wild was the wish, intense the gaze
I fixed upon the murky air,
Expecting, half, a kindling blaze
Would strike my raptured vision there,

A shape these human nerves would thrill,
A majesty that might appal,
Did not thy earthly likeness, still,
Gleam softly, gladly, through it all.

False hope! vain prayer! it might not be
That thou shouldst visit earth again.
I called on HeavenI called on thee,
And watched, and waitedall in vain.

Had I one shining tress of thine,
How it would bless these longing eyes!
Or if thy pictured form were mine,
What gold should rob me of the prize?

A few cold words on yonder stone,
A corpse as cold as they can be
Vain words, and mouldering dust, alone
Can this be all that's left of thee?

O, no! thy spirit lingers still
Where'er thy sunny smile was seen:
There's less of darkness, less of chill
On earth, than if thou hadst not been.

Thou breathest in my bosom yet,
And dwellest in my beating heart;
And, while I cannot quite forget,
Thou, darling, canst not quite depart.

Though, freed from sin, and grief, and pain
Thou drinkest now the bliss of Heaven,
Thou didst not visit earth in vain;
And from us, yet, thou art not riven.

Life seems more sweet that thou didst live,
And men more true that thou wert one:
Nothing is lost that thou didst give,
Nothing destroyed that thou hast done.

Earth hath received thine earthly part;
Thine heavenly flame has heavenward flown;
But both still linger in my heart,
Still live, and not in mine alone.

First Publication: Brontë Poems A.C. Benson, Ed. London: Smith, Elder, 1915.

This Edition: The Poems of Anne Brontë E. Chitham, Ed. London and Basingstoke: The Macmillan Press Ltd, 1979.

The manuscript of the poem is dated April, 1847. It contains a number of modifications and alternate forms. The A. C. Benson publication omits seven of the stanzas given here from the original manuscript, and modifies punctuation and in a few cases, wording.

November 1847-17th April 1848

[Page 303]

"The mist is resting on the hill;
  The smoke is hanging in the air;
The very clouds are standing still:
  A breathless calm broods everywhere.
Thou pilgrim through this vale of tears,
  Thou, too, a little moment cease
Thy anxious toil and fluttering fears,
  And rest thee, for a while, in peace. "

"I would, but Time keeps working still
And moving on for good or ill:
  He will not rest or stay.
In pain or ease, in smiles or tears,
He still keeps adding to my years
  And stealing life away.
His footsteps in the ceaseless sound
  Of yonder clock I seem to hear,
That through this stillness so profound
  Distinctly strikes the vacant ear.
For ever striding on and on,
  He pauses not by night or day;

[Page 304]

And all my life will soon be gone
  As these past years have slipped away.
He took my childhood long ago,
And then my early youth; and lo,
  He steals away my prime!
I cannot see how fast it goes,
But well my inward spirit knows
  The wasting power of time."

"Time steals thy moments, drinks thy breath,
  Changes and wastes thy mortal frame;
But though he gives the clay to death,
  He cannot touch the inward flame.
Nay, though he steals thy years away,
  Their memory is left thee still,
And every month and every day
  Leaves some effect of good or ill.
The wise will find in Memory's store
A help for that which lies before
  To guide their course aright;
Then, hush thy plaints and calm thy fears;
Look back on these departed years,
  And, say, what meets thy sight?"

"I see, far back, a helpless child,
  Feeble and full of causeless fears,
Simple and easily beguiled
  To credit all it hears.

[Page 305]

More timid than the wild wood-dove,
  Yet trusting to another's care,
And finding in protecting love
  Its only refuge from despair,
Its only balm for every woe,
The only bliss its soul can know;
  Still hiding in its breast.
A tender heart too prone to weep,
A love so earnest, strong, and deep
  It could not be exprest.
Poor helpless thing! what can it do
  Life's stormy cares and toils among;
How tread this weary desert through
  That awes the brave and tires the strong?
Where shall it centre so much trust
  Where truth maintains so little sway,
Where seeming fruit is bitter dust,
  And kisses oft to death betray?
How oft must sin and falsehood grieve
A heart so ready to believe,
  And willing to admire!
With strength so feeble, fears so strong,
Amid this selfish bustling throng,
  How will it faint and tire!
That tender love so warm and deep,
  How can it flourish here below?
What bitter floods of tears must steep
  The stony soil where it would grow!

[Page 306]

O earth! a rocky breast is thine
  A hard soil and a cruel clime,
Where tender plants must droop and pine,
  Or alter with transforming time.
That soul, that clings to sympathy,
As ivy clasps the forest tree,
  How can it stand alone?
That heart so prone to overflow
E'en at the thought of others' woe,
  How will it bear its own?
How, if a sparrow's death can wring
  Such bitter tear-floods from the eye,
Will it behold the suffering
  Of struggling, lost humanity?
The torturing pain, the pining grief,
  The sin-degraded misery,
The anguish that defies relief?"

  "Look back againWhat dost thou see?"

"I see one kneeling on the sod,
  With infant hands upraised to Heaven,
A young heart feeling after God,
  Oft baffled, never backward driven.
Mistaken oft, and oft astray,
It strives to find the narrow way,
  But gropes and toils alone:
That inner life of strife and tears,
Of kindling hopes and lowering fears
  To none but God is known.

[Page 307]

'Tis better thus; for man would scorn
  Those childish prayers, those artless cries,
That darkling spirit tossed and torn,
  But God will not despise!

"We may regret such waste of tears
  Such darkly toiling misery,
Such 'wildering doubts and harrowing fears,
  Where joy and thankfulness should be;
But wait, and Heaven will send relief.
  Let patience have her perfect work:
Lo, strength and wisdom spring from grief,
  And joys behind afflictions lurk!
It asked for light, and it is heard;
  God grants that struggling soul repose
And, guided by His holy word,
  It wiser than its teachers grows.
It gains the upward path at length,
And passes on from strength to strength,
  Leaning on Heaven the while:
Night's shades departing one by one,
It sees at last the rising sun,
  And feels his cheering smile.
In all its darkness and distress
  For light it sought, to God it cried;
And through the pathless wilderness,
  He was its comfort and its guide."

[Page 308]

"So was it, and so will it be:
Thy God will guide and strengthen thee;
  His goodness cannot fail.
The sun that on thy morning rose
Will light thee to the evening's close,
  Whatever storms assail. "

"God alters not; but Time on me
  A wide and wondrous change has wrought:
And in these parted years I see
  Cause for grave care and saddening thought.
I see that time, and toil, and truth,
  An inward hardness can impart,
Can freeze the generous blood of youth,
  And steel full fast the tender heart. "

"Bless God for that divine decree!
That hardness comes with misery,
  And suffering deadens pain;
That at the frequent sight of woe
E'en Pity's tears forget to flow,
  If reason still remain!
Reason, with conscience by her side,
  But gathers strength from toil and truth;
And she will prove a surer guide
  Than those sweet instincts of our youth.
Thou that hast known such anguish sore
  In weeping where thou couldst not bless,

[Page 309]

Canst thou that softness so deplore
  That suffering, shrinking tenderness?
Thou that hast felt what cankering care
A loving heart is doomed to bear,
  Say, how canst thou regret
That fires unfed must fall away,
Long droughts can dry the softest clay,
  And cold will cold beget?"

"Nay, but 'tis hard to feel that chill
  Come creeping o'er the shuddering heart.
Love may be full of pain, but still,
  'Tis sad to see it so depart,
To watch that fire whose genial glow
  Was formed to comfort and to cheer,
For want of fuel, fading so,
  Sinking to embers dull and drear,
To see the soft soil turned to stone
  For lack of kindly showers,
To see those yearnings of the breast,
Pining to bless and to be blessed,
Drop withered, frozen one by one,
Till, centred in itself alone,
  It wastes its blighted powers.

"Oh, I have known a wondrous joy
  In early friendship's pure delight,
A genial bliss that could not cloy
  My sun by day, my moon by night.

[Page 310]

Absence, indeed, was sore distress,
  And thought of death was anguish keen,
And there was cruel bitterness
  When jarring discords rose between;
And sometimes it was grief to know
  My fondness was but half returned.
But this was nothing to the woe
  With which another truth was learned:
That I must check, or nurse apart,
Full many an impulse of the heart
  And many a darling thought:
What my soul worshipped, sought, and prized,
Were slighted, questioned, or despised;
  This pained me more than aught.
And as my love the warmer glowed
  The deeper would that anguish sink,
That this dark stream between us flowed,
  Though both stood bending o'er its brink;
Until, as last, I learned to bear
  A colder heart within my breast;
To share such thoughts as I could share,
  And calmly keep the rest.
I saw that they were sundered now,
  The trees that at the root were one:
They yet might mingle leaf and bough,
  But still the stems must stand alone.
O love is sweet of every kind!
  "Tis sweet the helpless to befriend,

[Page 311]

To watch the young unfolding mind,
  To guide, to shelter, and defend:
To lavish tender toil and care,
  And ask for nothing back again,
But that our smiles a blessing bear
  And all our toil be not in vain.
And sweeter far than words can tell
Their love whose ardent bosoms swell
  With thoughts they need not hide;
Where fortune frowns not on their joy,
And Prudence seeks not to destroy,
  Nor Reason to deride.

"Whose love may freely gush and flow,
  Unchecked, unchilled by doubt or fear,
For in their inmost hearts they know
  It is not vainly nourished there.
They know that in a kindred breast
  Their long desires have found a home,
Where heart and soul may kindly rest,
  Weary and lorn no more to roam.
Their dreams of bliss were not in vain,
As they love they are loved again,
  And they can bless as they are blessed.

"O vainly might I seek to show
The joys from happy love that flow!
The warmest words are all too cold
The secret transports to unfold

[Page 312]

Of simplest word or softest sigh,
Or from the glancing of an eye
  To say what rapture beams;
One look that bids our fears depart,
And well assures the trusting heart.
It beats not in the world alone
Such speechless rapture I have known,
  But only in my dreams.

"My life has been a morning sky
  Where Hope her rainbow glories cast
O'er kindling vapours far and nigh:
  And, if the colours faded fast,
Ere one bright hue had died away
  Another o'er its ashes gleamed;
And if the lower clouds were grey,
  The mists above more brightly beamed.
But not for long;at length behold,
  Those tints less warm, less radiant grew;
Till but one streak of paly gold
  Glimmered through clouds of saddening hue.
And I am calmly waiting, now,
  To see that also pass away,
And leave, above the dark hill's brow,
  A rayless arch of sombre grey."

"So must it fare with all thy race
  Who seek in earthly things their joy:

[Page 313]

So fading hopes lost hopes shall chase
  Till Disappointment all destroy.
But they that fix their hopes on high
Shall, in the blue-refulgent sky,
  The sun's transcendent light,
Behold a purer, deeper glow
Than these uncertain gleams can show,
  However fair or bright.
O weak of heart! why thus deplore
  That Truth will Fancy's dreams destroy?
Did I not tell thee, years before,
  Life was for labour, not for joy?
Cease, selfish spirit, to repine;
  O'er thine own ills no longer grieve;
Lo, there are sufferings worse than thine,
  Which thou mayst labour to relieve.
If Time indeed too swiftly flies,
Gird on thine armour, haste, arise,
  For thou hast much to do;
To lighten woe, to trample sin,
And foes without and foes within
  To combat and subdue.
Earth hath too much of sin and pain:
The bitter cupthe binding chain
  Dost thou indeed lament?
Let not thy weary spirit sink;
But strivenot by one drop or link
  The evil to augment.

[Page 314]

Strive rather thou, by peace and joy,
The bitter poison to destroy,
  The tyrant chain to break.
O strive! and if thy strength be small,
Strive yet the more, and spend it all
  For Love and Wisdom's sake!"

"O I have striven both hard and long
But many are my foes and strong.
My gains are lightmy progress slow;
For hard's the way I have to go,
And my worst enemies, I know,
  Are these within my breast;
And it is hard to toil for aye,
Through sultry noon and twilight grey
  To toil and never rest."

"There is a rest beyond the grave,
  A lasting rest from pain and sin,
Where dwell the faithful and the brave;
  But they must strive who seek to win."

"Show me that restI ask no more.
Oh, drive these misty doubts away;
And let me see that sunny shore,
  However far away!
However wide this rolling sea,
However wild my passage be,
Howe'er my bark be tempest-tost,
  May it but reach that haven fair,

[Page 315]

May I but land and wander there,
  With those that I have loved and lost:
With such a glorious hope in view,
I'll gladly toil and suffer too.
Rest without toil I would not ask;
I would not shun the hardest task:
Toil is my gloryGrief my gain,
If God's approval they obtain.
Could I but hear my Saviour say,
  'I know thy patience and thy love;
How thou hast held the narrow way,
  For my sake laboured night and day,
And watched, and striven with them that strove;
  And still hast borne, and didst not faint,'
Oh, this would be reward indeed!"

  "Press forward, then, without complaint;
Labour and loveand such shall be thy meed."

April 17, 1848

First Publication: 'Self-Communion' T.J. Wise, Ed. Private printed, 1900. (30 copies)

This Edition: Brontë Poems A.C. Benson, Ed. New York and London: G.P. Putnam's Sons, The Knickerbocker Press, 1915. pp. 303-315.

There are two manuscript copies of this poem. They differ considerably in layout and punctuation, and slightly in spelling and wording from this version, published in 1915. The manuscript is notated: "November 184717th April 1848", indicating that Anne returned to it repeatedly. It is one of her longest and most sustained poems, developing contrasting voices of feeling and reason, and reconciling them in addressing her life and experience.