And then again she was heart-whole. This surely is curious. Charlotte Bronte heart-whole at the age of thirty-one! Charlotte Bronte, the first novelist to make women in fiction passionate human beings; the writer who, boldly and to the horror of Puritanical critics, broke away from the old tradition and allowed her girl characters to think and feel, endowing them with something great and more real than a blushing, simpering coyness! Yes, it is indeed strange. And she had not even been in love, although she had already had two offers of marriage, two in one year, her twenty-fourth, before she had displayed any promise of literary fame and greatness.

The first suitor, the Rev. Henry Nussey, was a brother of her dear friend Ellen Nussey, a really sincere and noble-minded man. And he loved Charlotte dearly, very dearly. But she, it would seem, despite the man's ardent declaration, and although gratified by his devotion, never for a moment seriously contemplated marrying him.

"Before answering your letter," she wrote on March 5, 1839, "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 what course to pursue, it seemed to me that delay was wholly unnecessary. . . I feel convinced that mine is not the sort of disposition calculated to form the happiness of a man like you . . . and I will never, for the distinction of attaining matrimony and escaping the stings of an old maid, take a worthy man whom I am conscious 1 cannot render happy."

And then she wrote to Ellen:

"There were in his proposal," she said, "some things which might have proved a strong temptation. I thought if I were to marry Henry Nussey, his sister could live with me, and how happy I should be. But again I asked myself two questions: Do I love him as much as a woman ought to love the man she marries? Am I the person best qualified to make him happy?

"Alas, Ellen, my conscience answered 'no' to both these questions. I felt that I had not, and could not have, that intense attachment which would make me willing to die for him; and if ever I marry it must be in the light of that adoration I will regard my husband."

No, she could never marry Ellen's brother. In him she could never realise her own ideal. The man she learned to love - why, she cried, "the whole world, weighed in the balance against his smallest wish, should be light as air."

Then she added, with a touch of pathos: "Ten to one I shall never have the chance again; but n'importe."

She did, though, and only a few months later. During the summer, in fact, an old friend of the family came to pay a visit at the rectory, and with him he brought a young clergyman, fresh from Dublin University, a lively, clever, witty young Irishman. The man amused Charlotte; she talked to him gaily, laughing at his jests without restraint until, as the day wore on, "he began to season his conversation with something of Hibernian flattery." Then she cooled towards him. This was not at all to her liking.

But presently the man departed. And after he had gone Charlotte thought no more about him until, a few days later, she received a letter in a strange handwriting. Who could the writer be? Consumed with curiosity, she tore the letter open, and read - surely as ardent a declaration of love as has been ever penned. The writer was her young Irish friend!

"I have heard of love at first sight," she wrote afterwards; "but this beats all. I leave you to guess . . . my answer."

And the nature of that answer, reader, perhaps you, too, can guess. Charlotte Bronte was not a hare-brained girl. For love, for a true, deep love, she longed; and to it she would have yielded herself utterly and gladly. But to that tawdry substitute, an emotional attachment - never.

But that love which she required is a rare and priceless jewel indeed. Many people seek for it; few ever find it. In the end, the great majority clutch feverishly at the sham. And so, as the years rolled on, romance became almost a stranger to her; work absorbed all her energies.

Yet still she thought a great deal about love - about love and marriage. This, of course, her art demanded of her; it demanded that she should understand the emotions of her sex. But her own she failed utterly to understand. And many a great writer and many a great thinker has suffered similarly.

And then, again, although in her inmost heart Charlotte remained faithful to the man of her dreams, Time - Time, the great changer of all things - completely revolutionised her views on life. The girl's longing for a man for whose sake she could wish to die; a man whose smallest wish would outweigh in the balance the whole world, yielded to the woman's wish for love, for somebody to care for her and cherish her.

It is a sad tale, the story of Charlotte Bronte's love, but still there is something infinitely beautiful about it.

It is a sad tale, the story of Charlotte Bronte's love, but still there is something infinitely beautiful about it.

something truly noble From a portrait by J. H. Thompson

"My good girl," she wrote to Ellen Nussey, "Une grande passion c'est une grande folie. Mediocrity in all things is wisdom; mediocrity in sensations is superlative wisdom."

And then again she wrote:

"No girl should fall in love till the offer is actually made. This maxim is just. I will even extend and confirm it. No young lady should fall in love till the offer has been made, accepted, the marriage ceremony performed, and the first half year of married life has passed away. A woman may then begin to love, but with great precaution, very coolly, very moderately, very rationally. If she ever loves so much that a harsh word or a cool look cuts her to the heart she is a fool. If she ever loves so much that her husband's will is her law, and that she has got into the habit of watching his looks in order that she may anticipate his wishes, she will soon be a neglected fool."