Exciting happenings are rare at Haworth; so rare, indeed, that almost any happening is deemed exciting - or was ninety years ago. Since then, no doubt, the little township has changed considerably. And now, perhaps, public interest is roused less easily.
But in 1820 Haworth was quite a small village, perched high on a hill in the wilds of Yorkshire - a. bleak, forsaken spot. And the sight of seven country carts, laden with books and furniture, toiling up its one long street was no ordinary spectacle. The villagers turned out en masse to watch their slow and tedious progress. But, of course, they did. Those carts heralded the advent of the new parson. And what manner of man was he? His parishioners naturally were curious to know. Nor were they disappointed. Indeed, the object of their curiosity followed in the wake of his household gods.
But the Rev. Patrick Bronte was a very ordinary parson - a stern somewhat bigoted little man, of Irish birth, forty-three years old and very poor. Eight years before he had married a pretty Cornish girl, six years his junior. She arrived at Haworth with him, now a pale, delicate, worn-out woman, the mother of six young children.
Haworth certainly was no place for her Nor did she survive its rigours long. Indeed but eighteen months after her arrival - in September, 1821, to be precise - she died the first of the Brontes to find a final resting-place in the little churchyard which ad-joined the grim and sombre rectory.
And if life there had been dull for the children before her death, it became a thousandfold more so after. They were left almost entirely to their own devices. Their father they very rarely saw, even at mealtimes. He suffered from digestive troubles, and so preferred to eat alone, hoping thus to avoid being tempted by forbidden delicacies. And companionship - he had no need for it; nor did he seek it. He allowed parochial duties only to interrupt communion with his books.
His children therefore, as was inevitable, grew into wild, imaginative pupils of the moors. The joys of the big world and the society of their fellows held no attractions for them. But, none the less, they were all delicate, and, perhaps for this very reason, sorrow and misfortune dogged their footsteps from the outset.
In the spring of 1825 the eldest child, Maria, died, aged twelve; and, only five weeks later, the second daughter also, little Elizabeth. But there were still four children left- three girls and one boy. The boy, however, Branwell Bronte, did not make exactly a success of life. This often is the case with parsons' sons, especially when the son in question is the only brother of three doting sisters. Branwell, in fact, became a dissolute young man, and proved a constant source of worry to his sisters, and anger to his father, until at last, in 1848, he, too, died, the victim of his own excesses.
And yet, given the chance, he might have done something really great, for he was a youth with much ability. But he happened to possess the artistic temperament - the artistic temperament, no money, a narrow-minded father, and the dullest of country rectories for his home. No wonder, then, he proved a failure.
And his sisters, too, possessed this temperament. But to them it came not as a misfortune, but as a blessing, for it united them by the very powerful bond of a wonderful companionship, giving them hopes, ideals, and aims which they could share in common, when once again they found themselves united under their father's roof.
Once again - yes, after leaving school each went out into the world alone, and sought to earn a livelihood by teaching. But in time each failed. Trained as they had been, the slaves of weird, imaginative fancies, they could not adapt themselves to the social conditions amid which they found themselves.
And so it came about that they returned to Haworth, and set to work there to realise their childish dreams; in fact, to write. But nobody knew of their endeavours. In secret for several years they worked and studied feverishly. There was nothing to disturb, no one to question them. Nor did they toil in vain.
In the autumn of 1847, in short, the literary world was startled by the appearance of three remarkable novels - "Jane Eyre," "Wuthering Heights," and "Agnes Grey." But who were the authors? Who were Currer, Ellis, and Acton Bell? Nobody had ever heard of them. And not even Mr. Bronte suspected for a moment that they were respectively his three daughters - Charlotte, Emily, and Anne.
Indeed, not until the success of her book,
Jane Eyre," was unmistakable and assured, did Charlotte tell Mr. Bronte of her enterprise. And then casually she remarked to him one day: "Papa, I've been writing a book." "Have you, my dear?" was the reply. "Yes; and I want you to read it."
The old man smiled indulgently.
"I fear it will try my eyes too much," he said.
"Oh!" Charlotte exclaimed, "but it's not in manuscript - it's printed."
"Printed!" Mr. Bronte was now thoroughly aroused. "Printed?" he asked. "My dear, have you considered the expense? How can such a book get sold? No one even knows your name!"
Such was the father of Charlotte Bronte. But she, of course, was now a famous woman; yet still a sad one. Hers was indeed a sorry heritage of sorrows. In December,
1848, only three months after her brother's death, she lost her sister Emily. And then, in the May of the following year, her other sister died.
Charlotte then found herself alone in the world, alone with "Shirley," the child of her brain, as yet unborn; a woman thirty-one years old, not embittered but made sweet by trouble, and very beautiful. Not that her features were perfect; they were not. But, as Mrs. Gaskell has declared, "unless you began to catalogue them, you were hardly aware of the fact, for the eyes and the power of the countenance over-balanced every physical defect."