"The wreck of talent, the ruin of promise..."

Charlotte Brontë writes to her London publisher about her brother Branwell's death.

In 1848-49, three of the four famous Brontë siblings died within an eight month period. Branwell, the only brother, was the first to die, succumbing to chronic bronchitis on Sept. 24, 1848 at the age of 31. Branwell’s health was also depleted by years of alcohol and opiate abuse. Emily and Anne both died of pulmonary tuberculosis (in December 1848 and May 1849, respectively).

In this letter, dated Oct. 2, 1848, Charlotte Brontë writes to her London publisher, W.S. Williams, about her brother's death. She is more upset about the "emptiness" of Branwell’s life than about his untimely death, which she refers to as a "mercy [rather] than a chastisement."

She says: "It is not permitted us to grieve for him who is gone as others grieve for those they love; the removal of our only brother must necessarily be regarded by us rather in the light of a mercy than a chastisement. Branwell was his Father's and his sisters' pride and hope in boyhood, but since manhood, the case has been otherwise. It has been our lot to see him take a wrong bent; to hope, expect, wait his return to the right path; to know the sickness of hope deferred, the dismay of prayer baffled, to experience despair at last; and now to behold the sudden early obscure close of what might have been a noble career.

I do not weep from a sense of bereavement – there is no prop withdrawn, no consolation torn away, no dear companion lost – but for the wreck of talent, the ruin of promise, the untimely, dreary extinction of what might have been a burning and a shining light. My brother was a year my junior; I had aspirations and ambitions for him once – long ago – they have perished mournfully – nothing remains of him but a memory of errors and sufferings – there is such a bitterness of pity for his life and death – such a yearning for the emptiness of his whole existence as I cannot describe – I trust time will allay these feelings."

She also expresses regret that he did not know of his sisters' novels: "My unhappy brother never knew what his sisters had done in literature – he was not aware that they had ever published a line; we could not tell him of our efforts for fear of causing him too deep a pang of remorse for his own time misspent, and talents misapplied – Now he will never know. I cannot dwell longer on the subject at present; it is too painful."

Charlotte Brontë regrets that her brother never knew his sisters were published authors.

For more information about this manuscript, click here.

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