"My book—alas! is laid aside for the present ... imagination is pale, stagnant, mute..." An important and moving letter by Charlotte Brontë, written to W. S. William of Smith, Elder, her publishers. This letter was written in the brief interval between the death of her brother Bramwell (of chronic bronchitis exacerbated by heavy drinking) on 24 September and that of her sister Emily (of pulmonary tuberculosis) on 19 December. Her sister Anne would also die of tuberculosis in the spring of the next year.
After the success of her first novel, Jane Eyre, in 1847, Brontë immediately began work on her second novel, Shirley (pub. 1849). The loss of all three of her siblings understandably brought work on the novel to a halt—precisely on the day this letter was written. This revealing letter is worth quoting at length: "Not feeling competent this evening either for study or serious composition, I will console myself with writing to you. My malady—which the doctors call a bilious fever—lingers ....
"My book—alas! is laid aside for the present; both head and hand seem to have lost their cunning; imagination is pale, stagnant, mute—this incapacity chagrins me; sometimes I have a feeling of cankering care on the subject—but I combat it as well as I can—it does no good.
"... Do not talk about being on a level with 'Currer Bell', or regard him as 'an awful person'; if you saw him now, sitting muffled at the fireside, shrinking before the east wind (which for some days has been blowing wild and keen over our cold hills)—and incapable of lifting a pen for any less formidible task than that of writing ... to an indulgent friend—you would be sorry not to deem yourself greatly his superior ....
"Thought and Conscience are, or ought to be, free, and at any rate, if your views were universally adopted there would be no persecution, no bigotry. But never try to proselytise—the world is not yet fit to receive what you and Emerson say: Man, as he now is, can no more do without creeds and forms in religion, than he can do without laws and rules of social intercourse. You and Emerson judge others by yourselves; all mankind are not like you, any more than every Israelite was like Nathaniel.
"'Is there a human being' you ask, 'so depraved that an act of kindness will not touch—nay, a word melt him?' There are hundreds of human beings who trample on acts of kindness, and mock at words of affection. I know this though I have seen but little of the world. I suppose I have something harsher in my nature than you have—something which every now and then tells me dreary secrets about my race, and I cannot believe the voice of the optimist, charm he never so wisely—on the other hand, I feel forced to listen when a Thackerey speaks: I know Truth is delivering her oracle by his lips ....
"The study of motives is a strange one; not to be pursued too far by one fallible human being in reference to his fellows. Do not condemn me as uncharitable. I have no wish to urge my convictions on you ...."
A remarkable letter, dating from the darkest, most difficult period of Charlotte Brontë's short life.
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