This 22-page manuscript includes the texts of eight poems that Anne Brontë composed in 1842 and 1843, when she was twenty-two and twenty-three, and another from early 1845. The manuscript is a fair copy—a neat transcription that Brontë made of earlier drafts that do not survive. After she had recopied her drafts onto these sheets, Brontë continued to revise some of the texts, most quite lightly, but one (“To Cowper”) substantively.
Seven of the nine compositions were included in Poems by Currer, Ellis, and Acton Bell (London: Aylott & Jones), the book that Anne and her sisters Charlotte and Emily published pseudonymously in 1846. For publication, several of the titles were changed (“A Hymn,” for example, became “A Doubter’s Prayer”), the punctuation was regularized, and the texts were slightly revised. Two of the poems (“To ——” and “Night”) remained unpublished within Brontë’s lifetime.
Today, the manuscript comprises eleven unbound sheets, each 18 x 11 cm (about 7 x 4 1/3 inches). Over the years, the manuscript has undergone a number of changes in physical format. When she created the manuscript in the 1840s, Brontë almost certainly wrote into a simple bound notebook. Likely in the 1890s, several decades after Brontë’s death, the notebook was taken apart and the individual sheets trimmed very close to Brontë’s handwriting. A “stub” (a thin strip of paper) was adhered to the left edge of each sheet, and the manuscript was then rebound with boards covered in leather. According to conventions of the time, this type of binding made the manuscript both more durable and more attractive to autograph collectors.
J. Pierpont Morgan purchased the manuscript for $250 from the London dealer J. Pearson & Co. in 1900. At some point after Morgan acquired the manuscript, Marguerite Duprez Lahey (1880–1958), a craft bookbinder who did work for Morgan and was later employed by the Pierpont Morgan Library, rebound the volume in paper-covered boards with a leather spine. By the late twentieth century, the binding she had created had significantly deteriorated, and paper conservators at the Morgan removed each sheet from old stubs to which they were glued. There was, of course, no way to return the manuscript to its original format, as there is no record of the appearance of Anne Brontë’s original copybook and its covers were discarded over a century ago.
Introduction, notes, and manuscript transcriptions by Christine Nelson, Drue Heinz Curator of Literary and Historical Manuscripts, 2019. We acknowledge with gratitude the work of scholars Edward Chitham and Christine Alexander.
Note on the text
A transcription of each page of Brontë’s manuscript text, including cancelled words, is provided. Her original spelling and capitalization are retained. An effort has been made to transcribe her punctuation marks, though many are ambiguous.
All but two of the poems in this manuscript appeared in Poems by Currer, Ellis, and Acton Bell (London: Aylott & Jones, 1846); the published texts are provided below the manuscript texts to allow for comparison. The texts of all the poems appear in Edward Chitham’s edition The Poems of Anne Brontë: A New Text and Commentary (London: Macmillan, 1979), poems 19–26 and 37.