• 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 21

    [BRONTË, Charlotte]. Poetry Past and Present. A Collection for Every-Day reading and Amusement. London: John and Charles Mozley, 1849.

    Price Realised  


    [BRONTË, Charlotte]. Poetry Past and Present. A Collection for Every-Day reading and Amusement. London: John and Charles Mozley, 1849.

    12o (139 x 88 mm). Illustrations in text. Contemporary green polished calf, spine gilt, edges gilt.

    Provenance: CHARLOTTE BRONTË (inscription on front free endpaper).


    INSCRIBED BY CHARLOTTE BRONTË on the verso of the front free endpaper: "C. Brontë, to Emily -- Haworth. In remembrance. July 18, 1849. Glad I shall be to be home again. 'Once more I return to my dear native home, And from the old Farm ne'er again will I roam.' I love these lines; but can I safely say this? C.B."

    Seven months after the death of her beloved sister Emily, and just a few weeks after she buried her sister Anne, Charlotte Brontë reflects on her return to Haworth and the great change in her life. It had been a tumultuous and tragic year for Charlotte. After her brother Branwell's death on 24 September 1848 from tuberculosis, Emily caught a cold at his funeral which too led to tuberculosis. She died less that three months later, on the 19th of December. Over that Christmas, Anne caught influenza and in January a Leeds physician diagnosed her condition as consumption. Mildly improving, she decided to return to Scarborough, the seaside town where the Brontë's traditionally took holidays. Leaving on the 24th of May 1849, Anne said goodbye to her father at Haworth and set off to Scarborough with Charlotte and their friend Ellen Nussey. By the 27th it was clear she her condition had advanced; she died the next day, on Monday the 28th. Charlotte made the decision to "lay the flower where it had fallen," and buried Anne not in Haworth with the rest of the Brontës, but at Scarborough. The funeral was held on the 30th, too soon for their father Patrick to arrive.

    Charlotte returned to Haworth and meditated: "A year ago -- had a prophet warned me how I should stand in June 1849 -- how stripped and bereaved -- had he foretold the autumn, the winter, the spring of sickness and suffering be gone through -- I should have thought -- this can never be endured. It is over. Branwell -- Emily -- Anne are gone like dreams ... One by one I have watched them fall asleep on my arm -- and closed their glazed eyes -- I have seen them buried one by one and -- thus far -- God has upheld me. From my heart I thank Him" (quoted in Rebecca Fraser, Charlotte Brontë: A Writer's Life, New York, 1988, p.326). Charlotte turned her focus to her work on Shirley, a necessary distraction and means to focus her grief into art. Clearly though the tragedies loomed large in the ensuing months, as the weight of her burden is felt in the terse construction of her inscription in this anthology. Her return to Haworth is welcome after the recent horror of her journey to Scarborough to witness her last sibling's death. But there was perhaps at this time, so soon after, no real safety in the comfort of this couplet, the comfort of home: the scene, after all, of illness, pain and death. That summer she wrote to William Smith Williams, her reader at her publisher Smith, Elder and Co.: "The loss of what we possess nearest and dearest to us in this world produces an effect on the character: we search out what we have yet left that can support, and, when found, we cling to it with a hold of new-strung tenacity" (quoted in Fraser, p.340). AN EXCEPTIONALLY POIGNANT REFLECTION BY CHARLOTTE BRONTË IN THE WAKE OF HER FAMILY TRAGEDIES.

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