The Brontës and their reading: what the Brontës read and their Home School experience

4 – Where did the Brontës get their books?

In part one of an examination of Brontë reading, we looked at some of the books that edified, influenced and comforted the Brontës throughout their lives. We touched on a couple of sources of books and journals, however, this is still a subject of some speculation, especially considering that the Brontës, even after publication, would never have had much spare money to subscribe widely to journals or to purchase many books.

Keighley and Haworth Mechanics’ Institutes

Both Juliet Barker and Bob Duckett, library historian, note that the parsonage library was small and of mainly classical subjects and natural history. Both give excellent accounts of book and journal sources. Both have successfully argued that the Brontë girls did not directly borrow works from Keighley’s Mechanics’ Institute, though it is likely that as a member himself, Patrick was familiar with its library (the Institute’s archive, including catalogues and annual reports, is available to view in Keighley Local Studies Library from c1835). However, Patrick was the first President of the Haworth Mechanics’ Institute and Charlotte was an active supporter.

Mechanics Institute

Circulating Libraries

It is generally agreed that Charlotte used the circulating libraries in Keighley, based on evidence from Mrs Gaskell and on Charlotte’s association with Thomas Hudson of High Street library and bookshop and Robert Aked in Low Street, printer and circulating library service. The latter also printed Haworth Church hymn sheets and printed Patrick’s works such as The Sign of the Times (1835). Both Patrick and Charlotte ordered books from John Greenwood’s of Haworth and by 1853, there were 5 booksellers in Keighley, 21 in Leeds and 8 in Halifax.

c1849 OS map

Local Families

Bob Duckett identifies local families such as the Greenwoods of Old Oxenhope who lent books to the Brontës. He has also written extensively about the Heatons and their library at Ponden Hall, often the stopping place for the Brontës on their walks, especially perhaps Emily who may have used some Heaton family history for Wuthering Heights. We do know that Charlotte and her sisters also visited the home of Dr John and Marianne Milligan. They lived in South Street. Mrs Milligan was from Haworth herself and married the Keighley surgeon and workhouse doctor to the Union (from 1838). Dr Milligan was a book collector and became vice president of the Mechanics’ Institute. He lectured on health and disease in manufacturing communities and the effect of poverty. Keighley Library now has a small collection of his former library.

A Curiosity for you

As there is much online on this topic, we would like to leave you amongst the bookshelves of Eshton Hall near Kildwick, the home of Frances Mary Richardson Currer (1785-1861), daughter of Rev. Henry R. Currer. Miss Currer was very wealthy, a bibliophile and a generous philanthropist and a member of Keighley’s Mechanics’ Institute. It is also speculated that she was at one time the anonymous benefactor of Patrick Brontë. She was patron of the Cowan Bridge School, also a neighbour of the Sidgwicks of Stonegappe where Charlotte was a governess in 1839. It is probable that she was the source of the name “Currer” Bell used by Charlotte as her pseudonym. Did any of the Brontës ever visit Eshton Hall’s magnificent library?

https://theoxfordculturereview.com/2016/02/14/the-long-view-so-very-conspicuous-frances-currer-the-forgotten-bibliomaniac/

http://www.kirkbymalham.info/KMI/winterburn/eshtonhall.html

Jeffreys map 1771

References

The Brontës. Juliet Barker (Phoenix, 1995)

‘Where did the Brontës get their books?’ Bob Duckett in Brontë Studies, Vol 32, Part 3, Nov. 2007 (Brontë Society, 2007)

‘The Rev. Patrick Brontë and the Keighley Mechanics’ Institute.’ Dr Ian Dewhirst. Brontë Society Transactions, Vol. 14. No. 5 (Part 75). 1965

Free online leaflets and fact sheets on the Brontë family are available at:

https://www.bradford.gov.uk/libraries/local-and-family-history/local-studies-guides/

The most useful for this study are:

The Brontë Collection. Angela Speight (Keighley Local Studies Library, 2017)

Keighley & the Brontë Connection and Haworth & the Brontë Connection, both guides to resources in Keighley Local Studies Library. Gina Birdsall (Keighley Local Studies Library, 2017) These include details of further publications by renowned Brontë expert and author Ann Dinsdale, Prinicpal Curator, Haworth Parsonage and Steven Wood, author and specialist local historian on all things Haworth.

Newspapers and Magazines

Newspapers and magazines played a large part in the lives of the Brontës. The most predominant influence was that of Blackwood’s.

Blackwood’s Magazine.

Blackwood’s Magazine was a monthly journal published by William Blackwood of Edinburgh from 1817. It contained comment and satire on contemporary politics and literature with extensive and detailed reviews on new works of politics, travel, history and fiction. This magazine appears to have influenced them greatly and inspired their own works of imagination and illustration.

https://onlinebooks.library.upenn.edu/webbin/serial?id=blackwoods

Newspapers and other journals

The Brontës could not afford many subscriptions. Patrick subscribed to Fraser’s, the Leeds Mercury and the Leeds Intelligencer and it was Rev. Jonas Driver of Haworth who leant the family Blackwoods and John Bull.

However, newspapers and journals were not just read by the Brontës but were, particularly for Branwell, a source of publication for his poetry and those of his local poet friends. As well as reading Bell’s Sporting Weekly, he sent poetry of to the Bradford Herald, the Halifax Guardian, the Leeds Intelligencer and the Yorkshire Gazette. The latter was a York newspaper produced by the bookseller and stationer, Henry Bellerby who also ran a public library from his Stonegate shop from which Branwell also borrowed books (The Brontës, p464).

The Brontës may well have had access to the Keighley & Haworth Argus and The Keighley Visitor, as both were connected to a bookseller, Mr Thomas Duckett Hudson, and a printer, Mr Robert Aked, with a circulating library used by Charlotte. Whether or not the Brontë sisters generally read any of the journals in which their own poetry and novels were to be reviewed is not clear for this blog. Such reviews, however, appeared in the Athenaeum, the Critic, the Atlas, the Britannia, the Spectator and the Dublin University magazine. For information on other related journals look at Juliet Barker’s The Brontës and articles from the Brontë Studies published by the Brontë Society referenced at the end of this blog.

https://blog.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk/2020/04/06/new-titles-6-april-2020/

https://www.bradford.gov.uk/libraries/library-services-online/digital-library/

Local outdoor and indoor visits (or just online) during  relaxing lockdown

Haworth Parsonage and village. https://www.bronte.org.uk/

If you have never visited this wonderful, still atmospheric place or not been for some time then you have missed out. Continually upgraded, with wonderful exhibitions and packed full of Brontë artefacts and manuscripts, it is quite breath-taking in its scope. Treat yourself and follow in the footsteps of the Brontës and the literary curious such as Virginia Woolf, Simon Armitage and Kate Bush. You will be informed and inspired. On a good day, take a picnic. It is Anne Brontë’s bicentenary in 2020 so look out for any continuing events/exhibitions about this brilliant writer who, uniquely for the time, tackled alcoholism and domestic abuse in marriage. https://www.telegraph.co.uk/books/classic-books/time-celebrate-anne-wildest-bronte-sister/

Scarborough the fair

Scarborough is a great Yorkshire seaside resort and has strong Brontë associations, being a favourite place of Anne Brontë as well as her final resting place. Follow this link for the history of the Brontë connection:

https://storiesfromscarborough.wordpress.com/2016/03/30/anne-bronte-scarborough-connections-part-i/

Other useful related links:

The Lakes and the Romantic poets  https://www.visitcumbria.com/william-wordsworth/

Mrs Gaskell in Manchester https://elizabethgaskellhouse.co.uk/

John Ruskin in the Lakes and Sheffield: https://www.visitcumbria.com/john-ruskin/ and

https://www.guildofstgeorge.org.uk/projects/ruskin-in-sheffield

Conclusion

The bookish interests of the Brontës were wide ranging. They were acquainted through the sisters’ London contacts with some of the great literati of the early 19th Century, they were aware of the political concerns (the aftermath of the French revolution) and changes of this internationally and locally turbulent time (industrial changes and the Chartist movement), also influenced by their father Patrick’s work as vicar and his involvement with religious debate, parish health, welfare and education, not to mention Branwell’s own wide variety of local friendships, some literary , such as the Gargrave poet Robert Story, John James, local historian (History of Bradford) and Joseph B. Leyland, a Halifax sculptor who was lauded in London for his talent.

It’s sad to think that none of the Brontë siblings ever had the opportunity of a university education and it’s likely that all the sisters at one time or another would have echoed these words extracted from a letter written by Branwell to his close friend Joseph Leyland:

“I used to think that if I could have for a week the free range of the British Museum – the Library included – I could feel as though I were placed seven days in paradise, …” (The Brontës, p. 230)

NOTE:  Keighley Local Studies Library is currently closed so we apologise for the limited references for this introduction. In his article referenced below, Bob Duckett lists other in- depth studies of the books read by the Brontë family.

References

The Mother of the Brontës. When Maria Met Patrick, Sharon Wright (Pen and Sword History, 2019)

The Brontës. Juliet Barker (Phoenix, 1995)

Classics of Brontë Scholarship. Selected & introduced by Charles Lemon (The Brontë Society, 1991), various studies included

Portrait of a Governess, disconnected, poor and plain. Brontë Parsonage Museum (The Brontë Society, 1991), brochure

Why not join the Brontë Society and get your own copies of Brontë Studies with up to the minute scholarship and discussion on all things Brontë: https://www.bronte.org.uk/about-us/our-history

 

 

 

Gina Birdsall and Angela Speight, Keighley Local Studies Library

The Brontës and their reading: what the Brontës read and their Home School experience

3: Tutor –Governess –Schoolmistress

All the girls were sent to school at different times to be educated for governesses and Branwell himself took on some more detailed study of the Classics when he decided to become a tutor. The following standard work for governesses during the nineteenth century was included in the small Brontë library: Miss Richmal Mangnall’s Historical and Miscellaneous Questions for the use of young people (1813 edition). It included various questions and answers, arranged like a quiz book. This apparently continued to be used in the education of young women until the turn of the twentieth century.

The education for a governess was not so extensive as that received by boys but Charlotte and Emily went to Brussels to improve their French and German in order to plan for opening their own school and expanded their knowledge of European history, drawing and music and foreign literature such as the works of the French author Victor Hugo (The Hunchback of Notre Dame).

http://brusselsbronte.blogspot.com/2020/03/visit-to-mariemont-museum-to-see.html

https://www.britannica.com/biography/Victor-Hugo

Religion and the Natural World

Each child owned at least one Bible and a Book of Common Prayer. They also attended Church services and Sunday school. Patrick had always emphasized the importance of reading the Bible. Juliet Barker also speculates that Aunt Branwell may have had some “Methodist Magazines” full of miracles and apparitions (The Brontës p.146). Later all the children would take their turn as teachers in the new (1832) Sunday school at Haworth. As adults all the siblings struggled with their faith at different times in their lives and this was a period of lively religious debate, even in Haworth and Keighley.

Living as they did virtually on the moors, it is not surprising that the Brontë family had access to books on the natural world and apart from the classics and religion, the books in Patrick’s library were largely on natural history. They had several books that were illustrated by Thomas Bewick, such as the History of British Birds and probably his illustrated editions of Fables for Children (The Brontës, p. 150). Another popular book at the time was also Gilbert White’s Natural History of Selborne. They would also possibly have had access to local herbal remedies, botanical and natural folklore and folktales through their servants and local village contacts.

Bewick’s History of British Birds (British Library)

Gina Birdsall and Angela Speight

The Brontës and their reading: A lockdown look at what the Brontës read and their Home School experience

When the Brontë children were not busy writing and illustrating their own stories and histories, they were all receiving home education at the hands of Patrick and Aunt Elizabeth. In this second article in our series, we take a look at the early years of the Brontë home school experience.

2: Home School – early days

According to Juliet Barker, Patrick used various copies of the Bible and Prayer Books as a tool for instructing his children in the classics. Branwell received the most dedicated instruction generally but his sisters attended some of his lessons including ancient history. There was also the use of English verse versions of Virgil by John Dryden. Emily translated Virgil’s Aeneid from Latin and later Anne knew enough to teach both Latin and Greek as a governess.

Anne Bronte

Standard texts for education included Oliver Goldsmith’s History of England, J. Goldsmith’s A Grammar of General Geography and Thomas Salmon’s New Geographical and Historical Grammar. A book popular in all such households of the time was Hannah More’s Moral Sketches. Other favoured books of the time used by them were John Milton’s Paradise Lost and John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress (a couple of other lively recommendations for the young grumblers in your lockdown household). Patrick also had his Cambridge classic texts of Homer and Horace.

All the children would receive some education in history and modern languages such as French and German and shared a great interest in Napoleon and the Duke of Wellington. Other works familiar to the children were the novels of Walter Scott and the Romantic poets such as Lord Byron, also of course, Shakespeare and such books as Swift’s Gullivers’ Travels and The Arabian Nights.

Adult Fare: holidays, unemployment and leisure reading

Poetry

All the Brontës reflected the contemporary interest and love for poetry. It is known that Charlotte knew much by heart including verses in French. Writing to her friend Ellen Nussey in 1834, Charlotte advised her to read William Shakespeare, John Milton, Oliver Goldsmith, Alexander Pope, William Wordsworth and Robert Southey, amongst others. In fact, both Charlotte and Branwell wrote to poets of the day, Charlotte to Robert Southey, then Poet Laureate, from whom she got mixed feedback and Branwell to Wordsworth and Hartley Coleridge, receiving a letter of encouragement from the latter. Emily enjoyed the work of the Scottish poet David Moir whose poetry was published in Blackwood’s Magazine under the pseudonym “Delta” (The Brontës p.274).

Robert Southey letter to Charlotte (British Library)

Robert Southey (Poetry Foundation.org)

Search the poets: https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poets/browse#page=1&sort_by=recently_added&school-period=164

Novels

The Brontës, including Patrick, were influenced by Sir Walter Scott, Patrick had his own copy of the Lay of the Last Minstrel. Anne and Emily were particular fans. As early as 9 years old, Emily borrowed the scenery of Scott’s novels for Gondal and made him the chief man of her play ‘Tales of the Islanders’ (The Brontës p146).

Juliet Barker recounts (p.634) the receipt of a parcel of 20 books from Smith, Elder &Co for Charlotte including Hazlitt’s Essays, Charles Lamb’s Letters, Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility and Meinhold’s Amber Witch. There were also books on feminine issues: Julia Kavanagh’s Women in France during the Eighteenth Century, Alexander Scott’s Suggestions on Female Education, Woman’s Friendship and Woman and her Master.  Jane Austen, however, was never a favourite of Charlotte’s.

After her sisters’ deaths, on a visit to the Lakes with her later friend, Elizabeth Gaskell (they met in 1850), Charlotte reveals a liking for John Ruskin and Thomas Arnold and a loathing for Tennyson (The Brontës p. 652). She loved Harriet Martineau’s Deerbrook, however. Harriet Martineau wrote novels and books on political economy and became a correspondent of Charlotte’s before a major falling out later. Harriet went as far as giving Charlotte the gift of her recent book Eastern life, present and past, the copy is inscribed and is part of the Brontë collection at Keighley Local Studies Library.

Charlotte Brontë

Such wide-ranging interests would have been shared with, and by the sisters. There were also the influences of educated friends’ reading: such as Martha and Mary Taylor (who were the first to go to Brussels), Ellen Nussey and the sisters’ mutual association with the publisher George Smith of Smith, Elder & Co. and his involvement  with the London literati such as Charles Dickens and William Thackeray (Vanity Fair) for whom Charlotte was full of awe and admiration (The Brontës, p. 552) and whom she eventually met in a meeting arranged by George Smith.  There is an excellent radio drama on BBC iPlayer of Charlotte’s and Anne’s visit to London to the home of George Smith called Charlotte in Babylon. It’s in 4 parts: https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b074bnfv

https://www.newstatesman.com/books/2010/09/elizabeth-gaskell-cranford

https://www.edinburghmuseums.org.uk/venue/writers-museum for Robert Burns and Sir Walter Scott (also http://www.walterscott.lib.ed.ac.uk/home.html for the digital archive)

https://www.britannica.com/biography/Thomas-De-Quincey Thomas de Quincey was another writer contacted by Branwell. An English essayist and critic, born in Manchester, he was a great admirer of Samuel Taylor Coleridge and Wordsworth with whom he associated and at different times rented out the home of Wordsworth in Grasmere. He struggled as a writer but became famous later for Confessions of an English Opium-Eater.

Branwell Brontë

Gina Birdsall and Angela Speight, Keighley Local Studies

In our next article we will look at the education of the older Brontë children for tutor and governess roles.

The Brontës and their reading: A lockdown look at what the Brontës read and their Home School experience

In this first article in our new series, we take a look at the books used and of the bookish backgrounds of the educators: Maria and Elizabeth Branwell (Mother and Aunt) and Patrick Brontë, Rev. of Haworth Parsonage.

1: Home Tutors

Maria (1783-1821) and Elizabeth Branwell

Born into a prosperous merchant family, prominent in the affairs of Penzance when Britain was a great sea power in the world, the two sisters did not lack education, access to books or knowledge of current affairs through newspapers, most important no doubt,  given the family’s close dependence on their developments abroad. Within Penzance society, the girls also became quite the socialites, mixing regularly in company before the close deaths of their parents and elder brother.

Amongst the books noted by Sharon Wright (Mother of the Brontes, 2019) are works of poetry, The Lady’s Magazine, gothic literature, such as the 1794 blockbuster, The Mysteries of Udolpho byAnn Radcliffe, also remarked upon by Jane Austen in Northanger Abbey. They were also members of the Penzance Ladies’ Book Club which subscribed to magazines, reviews and the latest bestsellers. As Sharon Wright notes, when Maria met Patrick on a visit to Yorkshire, she was an educated gentlewoman with an independent income and good social connections.

https://www.bl.uk/collection-items/the-mysteries-of-udolpho

https://blogs.kent.ac.uk/ladys-magazine/

https://morrablibrary.org.uk/2018/08/the-elizabeth-treffry-collection-on-women-in-cornwall-and-the-isles-of-scilly-a-gift-from-the-hypatia-trust/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Morrab_Library

Penzance history http://www.penwithlocalhistorygroup.co.uk/publications/?id=4

https://library.leeds.ac.uk/special-collections/view/397

Rev. Patrick Brontë

After humble, rural beginnings Patrick, with a single-minded devotion to learning, became very well educated with a charity scholarship to study Theology at St John’s College, Cambridge, graduating in 1806. Such an education for the Church would have included a thorough grounding in the Classics, Greek and Latin histories such as Tacitus Agricol and poetry, e.g. Virgil’s Georgics. Such was his proficiency that Juliet Barker notes his prize books of Samuel Clarke’s 1729 edition of Homer’s Iliad and Richard Bentley’s 1728 edition of the works of Horace (The Brontës, p.10).


Rev. Patrick Brontë

If you have lacked an education in the classics which many of us have, Natalie Haynes on Radio 4 has done much to revive interest in them outside the public school system, check her enthusiastic and entertaining programmes now available on BBC iPlayer at: https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b077x8pc/episodes/player

https://www.joh.cam.ac.uk/search/node?keys=patrick+bronte books related to Patrick in the library at St John’s

What they read https://www.classicaleducationtoday.com/2017/07/08/what-the-bronte-sisters-read/

Your access to a classical education: https://classics.williams.edu/resources/online-resources-2/ with free access to works at http://classics.mit.edu/Browse/index.html
https://www.britannica.com/topic/historiography historians of the eighteenth century

Folklore, myths and legends

Patrick, Maria and Elizabeth were all from backgrounds steeped in folk tales, myth and legends. Patrick coming from a rural Irish background and Maria and Elizabeth from a Cornish one, as Sharon Wright says, “ghosts and smugglers, legends and liturgy.” Emily Brontë, especially, also spent time working alongside the servants such as Tabby Aykroyd and they, rather like grandparents, would have had a fund of local knowledge on the Haworth area, local family stories and folklore.

Brontë images index at Keighley Local Studies Library

Look out for our next article which will feature the Brontë’s Home School.

Gina Birdsall and Angela Speight