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English Literature, History, Children’s Books & Illustrations
Lot 91. The Life of Charlotte Brontë. London: Smith, Elder % Co., 1857
Estimate: 100,000 - 150,000 GBP
ProvenanceSir Joseph Radcliffe, Bart. (1858-1949), Rudding Park, Harrogate, armorial bookplates
Catalogue NoteAn important cache of six letters by Charlotte Brontë, including several written in the throes of her religious crisis of 1836. She had admitted to Ellen Nussey that she was unfulfilled and frustrated teaching at Roe Head School. Nussey replied with conventional Christian pieties, and in several of these letters Brontë appears to be desperately searching for consolation in the faith propounded by her friend. Ellen Nussey (1817-1897) was Charlotte Brontë's most important correspondent: they exchanged over 500 letters between 1831, when they met as fellow students at Roe Head School, and Charlotte's death in 1855. She refused Rev. Nicholls's request to destroy Charlotte's letters to her and made some 350 letters available to Mrs Gaskell for the Life: "but for these letters and her acquaintance with the members of the Brontë household our knowledge of that remarkable family must have been meagre indeed" (William Scruton, 'Reminiscences of the late Miss Ellen Nussey', Transactions ... of the Brontë Society, Vol. 1, Pt. VIII, 1898). The letters were widely dispersed following their sale to the infamous collector and forger T.J. Wise. These letters have hitherto only been published from transcripts.
8vo, first edition, two volumes, with six autograph letters by Charlotte Brontë tipped in:
to Ellen Nussey, in French, describing her return to Haworth Parsonage following her visit to Nussey, with a post-script in English ("...I depend upon your honour that you will not show this letter to any living Creature..."), 4 pages, autograph address panel, postal markings, 4to, Haworth, 18 October 1832;
to Ellen Nussey, writing in passionate terms about her religious crisis ("...I have stings of Conscience, visitings of remorse, glimpses of holy, of inexpressible things which formerly I used to be a stranger to - it may all die away and I may be in utter midnight but I implore a merciful Redeemer that if this be the real dawn of the Gospel it may still brighten to perfect day..."), 3 pages, one page cross-written, autograph address leaf, 8vo, ?Roe Head School, ?late 1836/early 1837;
to Ellen Nussey, writing in overwrought terms on Nussey's temporary departure from the area ("...it is an inscrutable fatality...") and on her continuing struggle to find peace through Christianity, 3 pages, integral address leaf, 8vo, [Roe Head School], 20 February 1837;
to Ellen Nussey, at the end of term as a schoolteacher ("...the whole house is in the bustle of packing..."), now cautiously rejecting Nussey's religious overtures, with several proper names crossed through by Nussey, 3 pages, integral address leaf, 8vo, Roe Head School, ?14 December 1836;
to Ellen Nussey, thanking her for her gift of cuffs, which which had not been stolen when the letter was opened in the post, also commenting critically on friends and family, written when she was at work on Jane Eyre, 4 pages, 12mo, [Haworth], 28 January 1847;
to Mrs Clapham, Ellen Nussey's sister, following her marriage (signed "C.B. Nicholls"), on a proposed visit to Brookroyd and sickness in the Brontë and Nussey families ("...As to infection - I have not the slightest fear on my own account - but there are cases as I need not remind you, where wives have just to put their own judgment on the shelf, and do as they are bid..."), written just weeks before her descent into her final illness, 3 pages, 8vo, Haworth, 28 December 1854;
also with an autograph letter signed by William Reardon, Halifax poet and friend of Branwell Brontë, perhaps a retained copy, to the editors of The Examiner and The Times, entitled "Mrs Gaskell & the Rev. P. Brontë", vigorously attacking Gaskell's representation of Patrick Brontë ("...If it were necessary to introduce in the background a gloomy figure to heighten the effect of the "Three Brontë Sisters", surely poor Branwell's spectral shadow might have sufficed for such a purpose, without dragging in the "child-reft father", tarred & feathered by the malice of an ignorant country gossip..."), 8 pages, 8vo, Bradford, 25 July 1857, early twentieth century crushed brown morocco gilt ("Bound for William Brown, Edinburgh"), top edges gilt, most letters strengthened, some fold tears.