• The William E. Self Library, I auction at Christies

    Sale 2153

    The William E. Self Library, Important English and American Literature

    4 December 2009, New York, Rockefeller Plaza

  • Lot 14

    BRONTË, Charlotte. Autograph letter signed ("C., Bronte") to Henry Nussey (brother of her friend Ellen Nussey), Haworth, 5 March 1839.

    Price Realised  


    BRONTË, Charlotte. Autograph letter signed ("C., Bronte") to Henry Nussey (brother of her friend Ellen Nussey), Haworth, 5 March 1839.
    3¼ pages, 4o (225 x 185mm), page 4 with several lines text, signature and address panel. Postmarked, second leaf neatly inlaid to a larger sheet. A small (85 x 25mm). piece bearing original signature cut from pages 3-4, but expertly restored.


    A famous letter, widely quoted, in which Charlotte Brontë firmly but gracefully declines a marriage proposal from the Reverend Henry Nussey. After becoming curate of the parish church of Earnley, near Chichester, Henry had begun to search for an appropriate wife. He had known Charlotte through her friendship with his younger sister, Ellen, from about 1835. But his offer of marriage came as a surprise to Charlotte, who writes, "Before answering your letter, I might have spent a long time in consideration of its subject; but as from the first moment of its reception and perusal I determined on which course to pursue, it seemed to me that delay was wholly unnecessary. You are aware that I have many reasons to feel gratified to your family, that I have peculiar reasons for affection towards one at least of your sisters, and also that I highly esteem yourself. Do not therefore accuse me of wrong motives when I say that my answer to your proposal must be a decided negative. In forming this answer -- I trust I have listened to the dictates of conscience more than to those of inclination; I have no personal repugnance to the idea of a union with you -- but I feel convinced that mine is not the sort of disposition calculated to form the happiness of a man like you. It has always been my habit to study the character of those amongst whom I chance to be thrown, and I think I know yours and can imagine what description of woman would suit you for a wife. Her character should not be too marked, ardent and original -- her temper should be mild, her piety undoubted, her spirits even and cheerful, and her 'personal attractions' sufficient to please your eye and gratify your just pride. As for me, you do not know me, I am not this serious, grave, cool-headed individual you suppose -- You would think me romantic and eccentric -- you would say I was satirical and severe. However, I scorn deceit and I will never for the sake of attaining the distinction of matrimony and escaping the stigma of an old maid take a worthy man whom I am conscious I cannot render happy."
    "Before I conclude let me thank you warmly for your other proposal regarding the school near Torrington...the fact is I could not at present enter upon such a project because I have not the capital necessary...It is a pleasure to me to hear that you are so comfortably settled...let me say also that I admire the good sense, and absence of flattery and cant which your letter displayed --! I shall always be glad to hear from you as a friend."

    Charlotte's polite demurral seemingly aroused no apparent resentment on the part of the Nusseys, nor does it seem to have weighed on Charlotte's mind, for she remained on companiable terms with Henry for many years, as attested by the following two letters. Published in Letters ed. T.J. Wise and Symington, no.72.

    Provenance: Library Fund of the Grolier Club Benefit Auction (sale, Christie's New York, 25 March 1980, part lot B).

    Contact Client Service
    • info@christies.com

    • New York +1 212 636 2000

    • London +44 (0)20 7839 9060

    • Hong Kong +852 2760 1766

    • Shanghai +86 21 6355 1766

    Contact the department