Draft of a letter to Hartley Coleridge, dated Haworth, December 1840
Henry H. Bonnell Collection, bequest of Helen Safford Bonnell, 1969
In 1840, Brontë sent a manuscript of her work in progress to the poet Hartley Coleridge, asking his advice on pursuing a writing career. She decided to keep her identity – and sex – a secret. Coleridge looked over the manuscript, wrapped it up in this sheet of paper, and returned it to C. T. (the pseudonym Brontë had chosen) at the parsonage in Haworth. Coleridge’s accompanying letter does not survive, but it did not, evidently, contain a rave review.
Brontë turned the wrapper over and used pencil to draft a reply to Coleridge. She thanked him for taking the time “to read and notice the demi-semi novelette of an anonymous Scribe who had not even the manners to tell you whether he was a man or a woman or whether his C T meant Charles Tims or Charlotte Tomkins.” At the same time, Brontë challenged Coleridge to confront his assumptions about gender and authorship. (She later revised and recopied the letter; what is shown here is her first draft.)
Authors are generally very tenacious of their productions but I am not so attached to this production but that I can give it up without much distress
You say the affair is begun on the scale of a three volume novel I assure you Sir you calculate very moderately – for if I had materials in my head I daresay for half a dozen – No doubt if I had gone on I should have made a Sir Charles Grandison Richardsonian concern of it Mr West should have been my Sir Charles Grandison – Percy my Mr B – and the ladies you should have represented – Pamela, Clarissa Harriet Byron &c. Of the one I have sketched – it is very edifying and profitable to create a little world out of your own brain – and people it with inhabitants who are like so many Melchisedecs & have no father nor mother but your own imagination – by daily conversation with these individuals – by interesting yourself in their family affairs and enquiring into their histories you acquire a tone of mind admirably calculated to ennable you to cut a solid & respectable figure in practical life.
The ideal and the actual are no longer distinct notions in your mind but amalgamate in an interesting medley from whence result looks, thoughts and manners bordering on the idiotic
I am sorry I did not exist si fifty or sixty years ago when the lady’s magazine was flourishing like a green-bay tree – in that case I should n I make no doubt my aspirations after literary fame would have met with due encouragement – and I should have had the pleasure of introducing Messrs Percy & West into the very best society – and recording all their sayings and doings in double-columned-close-printed pages side by side with Count Albert or the haunted castle – Evelina or the Recluse of the lake – Sigismund or the Nunnery & many other equally effective and brilliant productions – You see Sir I have read the lady’s Magazine and know something of its contents – though I will not be quite certain of the correctness of the titles I have quoted – I recollect when I was a child getting hold of some antiquated odd volumes and reading them by stealth with the most exquisite pleasure.
You give a correct description of the patient Grizzles of those days – my Aunt was one of them and to this day she thinks the tales of the Lady’s Magazine infinitely superior to any trash of Modern literature. So do I for I read them in childhood and childhood has a very strong [illeg.] of admiration but a very weak one of Criticism
The idea of applying to a ‘regular’ Novel-publisher and seeing Mr West and Mr Percy at full-length in three vols is very tempting – but I think on the whole from what you say I had better lock up this precious manuscript – wait patiently till I meet with some Maecenas who shall discern and encourage my rising talent – & meantime bind myself apprentice to a chemist & druggist if I am a young gentleman or to Mantua maker & milliner if I am a young lady
You say something about my politics – intimating that I you suppose me to be a high Tory – belonging to the same party which claims for its head the his Serene highness the prince of powers of the air
I would have proved that to perfection if I had gone on with the work – I would have made old Thornton a just representative of all the senseless frigid prejudices of the high T Conservatism – I think I would have introduced a Puseyite too and polished off the high Church – with the best of Warren’s jet blacking
I am pleased that you cannot quite decide whether I am of the soft or the hard sex an attorney’s clerk or a novel-reading dressmaker I will not help you at all in the discovery and as to my handwriting you with the ladylike tricks in my style and imagery you must not draw any conclusion from that – Several young gentlemen curl their hair and wear corsets – and several young ladies are excellent whips and by no means despicable jockies – besides I may employ an amanuensis
Seriously Sir I am very much obliged to you for your kind and candid letter and on the whole I wonder to you took the trouble to read and notice the demi-semi novelette of an anonymous Scribe who had not even the manners to tell you whether he was a man or a woman whether his C T meant Charles Tims or Charlotte Tompkins