BRONTE, Charlotte (1816-1855). Two important autograph letters signed, the first written at the age of twenty to Robert SOUTHEY, thanking him for his opinion of her poetry, the second giving permission for Robert Southey's letter to her to be published with omissions; together with the letter by Southey to her.
Autograph letter signed ('Charlotte Bronte') to Robert Southey, Haworth, 16 March 1837, written on receipt of his reply (included in this lot) to an earlier letter she had written to him, thanking him for 'the kind and wise advice ... so considerate its tone, so noble in its spirit ... At the first perusal of your letter I felt only shame, and regret that I had ever ventured to trouble you with my crude rhapsody. I felt a painful heat rise to my face when I thought of the quires of paper I had covered with what once gave me so much delight, but which now was only a source of confusion', reflecting further on his letter, 'You do not forbid me to write; you do not say that what I write is utterly destitute of merit; you only warn me against the folly of neglecting real duties ... You kindly allow me to write poetry for its own sake provided I have undone nothing which I ought to do in order to pursue that single, absorbing exquisite gratification', suggesting the contents of her initial letter to him was 'all senseless trash', but assuring him, 'I am not altogether the idle, dreaming being it would seem to denote', describing her background, her education and the obligation she felt to become a governess, a task which left her during the day 'without ... a moment's time for one dream of the imagination', writing of her father's wise councel to observe 'the duties a woman ought to fulful', but admitting that 'sometimes when I'm teaching, and sewing I'd far rather be reading or writing', and pledging should she ever feel the ambition to see her name in print, she will think of this letter and suppress the desire and even thirty years hence will look back on this exchange of letters 'as a bright dream', 3¼ pages, 4to, integral address leaf 'R. Southey Esq.. Greta Hall Keswick Cumberland', postmark D[ewsb]ury, (seal tear affecting one word of text, folds of address panel weak).
Autograph letter signed ('C. Bronte') to the Revd. C.C. Southey, Haworth, 26 August 1850, replying to his letter asking for permission to publish two letters his father had written to her, adding that she feels they should be published but without her name and omitting a passage she had marked which seemed to her 'somewhat silly', and commenting, 'At this moment I am grateful to his memory for the well-timed check received in my girlhood at his hand, 2 pages, 8vo.
Autograph letter signed by Robert SOUTHEY to Charlotte Bronte, Keswick, 12 March 1837, written in reply to her letter of 29 December 1836 in which she had included some poetry, apologising for his failure to reply earlier because of absence from home and a reluctance 'to cast a damp over the high spirits, & the generaous desires of youth', attempting to bring her down to earth from the 'visionary world' she evidently inhabited, and gently chiding her about her description of him 'stooping from a throne of light & glory':
'Had you happened to be acquainted with me, a little personal knowledge would have tempered your enthusiasm. You who so ardently desire "to be for ever known" as a poetess, might have had your ardour in some degree abated, by seeing a poet in the decline of life'.
He believes that she possesses '& in no inconsiderable degree that Wordsworth calls "the faculty of verse"', but points out that this was not rare at the time, 'Whoever therefore is ambitious of distinction in this way, ought to be prepared for disappointment', adding that though he had made literature his profession and never for a moment regretted his choice, he felt duty bound to caution every young man who asks for encouragement and advise:
'You will say that a woman has no need of such a caution, there can be no peril in it for her ... Literature cannot be the business of a woman's life, & it ought not to be. The more she is engaged in her proper duties, the less leisure she will have for it ... To these duties you have not yet been called ... You will then not seek in imagination for excitement'.
He concludes, 'do not suppose that I disparage the gift which you possess ... Write poetry for its own sake, not in a spirit of emulation, & not with a veiw to celebrity', 3 pages, 4to, integral address leaf 'To Miss Charlotte Brontë Haworth near Bradford Yorkshire' postmarked Keswick, with Charlotte Bronte's rule in pencil against eight lines, and her tentative scribble 'rhapsody raphsody' on address leaf; also an autograph letter by the Revd. C.C. Southey to Lord Houghton, n.p., n.d., referring to the latter's purchase, at a recent sale, of a letter of his father, Robert Southey, to Charlotte Bronte, and offering him Charlotte's Bronte'a reply at a price of ¨2.2s.
A CELEBRATED EXCHANGE known to modern scholarship only from printed texts. Charlotte Bronte's original letter to Southey has not been located so the passages Southey quotes in the letter offered for sale (which Charlotte asked his son not to publish) are the only record we have of her effusions to the Poet Laureate, then in his early fifties. Although as Juliet Barker has pointed out, it is ironic that Southey could see no worthwhile future, except in the traditional roles of wife and mother, for a woman whose novels were later to achieve a more lasting fame than his own works, it is perhaps to Southey's credit that he writes to her at such length.
He also replied to this second letter (his letter is quoted by C.C. Southey), and the Bronte Parsonage Museum possesses a 'letter wrapper from Southey, 21 April 1837' docketed by Charlotte (see Barker, pp.263, 888).
Literature: Charles Cuthbert Southey, ed. The Life and Correspondence of the late Robert Southey, vol.VI, 1850, pp.327-30.
T.J. Wise and J.A. Syminton, The Lives, Friendships and Correspondence of the Bronte Family, 1933.
Juliet Barker, The Brontes, 194. (4)