Below, on the occasion of her twenty-seventh birthday, Emily Brontë recounts the travels and literary efforts of her previous four years. The letter’s recipient, Ellen Nussey, was a longtime correspondent of the Brontë sisters. Her recollections and archives provided historian Elizabeth Gaskell with the information needed to write the seminal biography of Emily’s sister Charlotte, The Life of Charlotte Brontë, which would be published in 1857. Below, Emily mentions her “work on the First Wars,” which possibly inspired her sister Charlotte’s novel Shirley, a fictional exploration of the Napoleonic Wars and their resulting political and economic travails. Emily wrote this letter in haste, “full of business,” which perhaps accounts for the unusual punctuation (note the excess of dashes and absence of periods).
My birthday—showery—breezy–cool—I am twenty seven years old today—this morning Anne and I opened the papers we wrote 4 years since on my twenty third birthday—this paper we intend, if all be well, to open on my 30th three years hence in 1848—since the 1841 paper, the following events have taken place.
Our school-scheme has been abandoned and instead Charlotte and I went to Brussels on the 8th of Febrary 1842. Branwell left his place at Luddenden Foot C and I returned from Brussels November 8th 1842 in consequence of Aunt’s death—Branwell went to Thorp Green as a tutor where Anne still continued—January 1843 Charlotte returned to Brussels the same month and after staying a year came back again on new years [sic] day 1844. Anne left her situation at Thorp Green of her own accord—June 1845 Branwell. Left—July 1845.
Anne and I went our first long journey by ourselves together—leaving home on the 30th of June-Monday sleeping at York—returning to Keighley Tuesday evening, sleeping there and walking home on Wednesday morning—though 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 Esualdar, 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—The Gondals still flourish 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 Sophona—We intend sticking firm by the rascals [sic] as long as they delight us which I am glad to say they do at present—I should have mentioned that last summer the school scheme was revived in full vigor—We had prospectuses printed, dispatched letters to all acquaintances imparting our plans and did our little all—but it was found no go—now I don’t desire a school at all and none of us have any great longing for it. We have cash enough for our present wants with a prospect of accumulation—we are all in decent health—Only that papa has a complaint in his eyes and with the exception of B who I hope will be better and do better, hereafter. I am quite contented for myself—not as idle as formerly, altogether as hearty and having learnt to make the most of the present and hope for the future with less fidgetiness that I cannot do all I wish—seldom or ever troubled with nothing to do, and merely desiring that every body [sic] could be as comfortable as myself and as undesponding and then we should have a very tolerable world of it
By mistake I find we have opened the paper on the 31st instead of the 30th. Yesterday was much such a day as this but the morning was divine–
Tabby who was gone in our last paper is come back and has lived with us—two years and a half and is in good health—Martha who also departed is here too. We have got Flossey, got and lost Tiger—lost the Hawk. Hero which with the geese was given away and is doubtless dead for when I came back from Brussels I enquired on all hands and could hear nothing of him—Tiger died early last year—Keeper and Flossey are well also the canary acquired 4 years since
We are now all at home and likely to be there some time—Branwell went to Liverpool on ‘Tuesday’ to stay a week. Tabby has just been teasing me to turn as formerly to-‘pilloputate’. Anne and I should have picked the black currants if it had been fine and sunshiny. I must hurry off now to my taming and ironing I have plenty of work on hands and writing and am altogether full of business with best wishes for the whole House till 1848 July 30th and as much longer as may be I conclude
E J Brontë
Notes: The “article” that Anne was working on was likely the unpublished and now lost Passages in the Life of an Individual, which some scholars believe was an early title for Agnes Grey, though this remains uncertain.
The Brontë sisters’ journey to Brussels had a significant influence on their lives and works: at Monsieur and Madame Heger’s boarding school, where they studied for six months, the sisters were encouraged to explore their philosophical and literary interests, attend lectures, write, and learn French.
From Wuthering Heights: A Longman Cultural Edition. Edited by Alison Booth. New York: Longman, Inc., 1998. pp 371-372.
Explore the history of the Brontë sisters in Brussels, an important milestone in the sisters’ lives.
Read about Constantin Heger, an instructor at their school in Brussels who taught the sisters.
An essay on the publication history of Emily Brontë’s Agnes Grey.