Friday, March 26, 2010

Branwell Bronte...A Life

Branwell's Chair
Born 26 June 1817 , Patrick Branwell Bronte - The Misdirected Genius.

Patrick Branwell Brontë was born 26 June 1817, fourth child and only son of Patrick Brontë and Maria Branwell Brontë. He and his sisters grew up in the town of Haworth, a relatively isolated place. Maria died of cancer in 1821, and the two oldest daughters died of consumption in 1825. Together, the four surviving children, Branwell, Charlotte, Emily and Ann, created the worlds of Gondal and Angria, epic sorts of kingdoms populated partly by Branwell's toy soldiers. Branwell and Charlotte worked together on poems and stories about Angria (leaving Anne and Emily to work together on Gondal), and though he was very fond of writing, it was decided early on that Branwell would be a painter. He was apprenticed to a portrait painter named William Robinson, who passed all of his bad habits along to Branwell. William's most notable failure as a teacher was in neglecting to show Branwell the proper way to mix paint. His portrait of his sisters now hangs in the National Gallery. Branwell had originally put himself in the painting, then decided to remove his likeness by painting over it. This paint is now fading, revealing Branwell's ghostly image. In any case, Branwell quickly gave up the idea of making a living as a portrait painter.

In late 1839, he went to tutor two boys in the Lake District. By the summer of 1840, he had been dismissed, probably for fathering a child by one of the maidservants. He quickly got another job in the railroad, and though Charlotte was horrified that he wasn't devoting his life to some form of art, he still kept up his poetry on the side, getting quite a bit of it published in some of the more respected literary papers of the time. He was fired by the railroad in 1842 over a discrepancy in his bookkeeping. The next year, he went to act as tutor to the oldest boy in the family where his sister Anne was governess. This job lasted about as long as his others; in July of 1845 he was abruptly dismissed, probably for having had an affair with the lady of the house, an older woman. Branwell fell into a deep depression when the affair ended. He started drinking heavily and generally worrying himself into illness. Charlotte was merciless in expressing her disapproval over Branwell's behavior, especially his apparent reluctance to find another job. When his mistress' husband died in May 1846, Branwell was convinced he would now marry Mrs. Robinson, though she had no intention of marrying a penniless man seventeen years her junior. She kept Branwell away, sending him money every so often, which he promptly spent on drink and possibly opiates.

His health was terrible by this time. He was plagued by delirium tremens , at one point even setting his own bed on fire, which probably would have killed him if Anne and Emily hadn't managed to put the fire out. His debts were out of control, and legal action was threatened. His last few days were marked by a strange calm on Branwell's part, during which time his father persuaded him to repent. He died fairly peacefully on 24 September 1848. Among his last words: "All my life I have done nothing either great or good."
Branwell Bronte

Branwell Biography - The Brontë Soul

Died 24 September 1848

So Branwell....

Full name of Patrick Branwell Brontë, 'Branwell' as he was called, was the only son born to Patrick and Maria Brontë. He was the fourth born out of all six children. Growing up Branwell was considered by all of the family to be the most talented. As Charlotte herself said in a letter to her publisher upon Branwell's death, "I had aspirations and ambitions for him once." As a child, when he sisters were sent to school, Branwell was tutored in a classical education by his father Patrick Brontë. Patrick wrote profusely in his youth along with his sisters, but especially Charlotte, sharing the creation of Angria. All had high hopes for him to become a portrait painter, for he had a talent for the art. In fact the most famous portrait associated with the Brontës is one that Branwell painted himself. It is called the 'pillar portrait', and it is a painting of Anne, Emily, and Charlotte, his sisters, with a white pillar between Emily and Charlotte. Recent technology has discovered that the 'pillar' was an earlier attempt by Branwell to paint himself in the portrait as well, but in the end decided not to. This was painted in 1838.

"So BRANWELL .... lived a tragic life and died young. Yet he had a genius of his own that , I believe, was hampered by his isolation in Haworth. He became unfit to succeed in the wider world. His imaginative nature and passionate feelings got the better of him. He was said to be a genius at Greek translation, but he had no kind sponsor to set him up and his efforts at publication were a source of frustration and of anger. He was manly, just the same, became a free mason and held his own in boxing matches. The motherless boy also saw his older and loved sisters, Maria and Elizabeth, die. He was a fragile soul; but he died....standing up." Rosi

Francis A Grundy, Branwell's friend, wrote in 1879, about Branwell's genius and folly. Summary follows....

Branwell was a genius, Grundy says, of the highest order....poor, brilliant, gay, moody, wildly excitable, miserable Bronte. Branwell was all brilliance, attractiveness, eagerness for excitement and good company. This generous gentleman of ideas, this madman, died at 28 in a lover's grief. But at 22, what a splendid specimen of brain-power running wild he was! What a glorious talent he still had to waste.

That Rector, that matter-of-fact, hard, upright, distantly-courteous man did not know how to bring out his clever family. The girls worked their way to fame and death, while Branwell worked his way to death alone.

Branwell, like his sisters, was small, red-haired, large of nose, prominent of spectacles, with eyes cast down. Branwell wore his bushy hair brushed up high to increase his height. His forehead was great, bumpy and intellectual and made his small ferrety eyes look even more deep sunk. His lower features were weak and his downcast look was varied by sudden rapid and momentary glances.

I always liked scamps with brains, Grundy continues, and Branwell was all of that. When I first met him he was Station-master at a little roadside station on the Manchester and Leeds Railway. The station was a rude and isolated hut. Alone in the wilds of Yorkshire, with no books, little to do, no prospects and wretched pay, Branwell soon found plenty of hard-headed, wild, half-educated manufacturers for drinking companions. Branwell left the post in disgrace as funds were missing.

Branwell had been an usher in a school where the strapping boys laughed at his tiny size. He had been a private tutor and left under a cloud, (perhaps a sexual affair with a maid had the usual results). He became a portrait painted and had some success in spite of poor and little training. He moped and made trouble at home and became an addicted opium-eater. This seized upon him and caused him to suffer the tortures of the dammed.

Branwell was always in extremes. He could discourse gloriously on many subjects, moral, intellectual or philosophical and then be the foremost drinker in the bar. He was proud of his name, his strength and his abilities. In his fits of passion he would drive his fist through the panels of a door. He would drive over to see his folks, be charming and amusing and go away, bursting into tears. I believe, Grundy states, that he was half mad and unable to control himself.

Branwell, at his sister Ànn`s suggestion, became tutor to a young gentleman and promptly fell in love with the young man`s mother. He was discovered in his love-making and dismissed by the husband who promised to shoot him. Branwell sank into a pit of grief and pain over the lady from which he never recovered. His strength gave way as his habits grew worse. he sought a position and raised hell at home. He was miserable. Grundy invited him to dinner at the Black Bull Inn and the suffering Branwell got out of his bed to attend. As the door opened cautiously, a head appeared. It was a red, unkempt, uncut hair, wildly floating round a great, gaunt forehead; the cheeks yellow and hollow, light of madness - all told the sad tale. A kitchen knife was concealed up Branwell`s sleeve in case it be the Devil awaiting him.

Grundy persuaded Branwell to eat and to drink a little and Branwell told him that he was awaiting his death. He left him standing in the road before the Parsonage, bareheaded and drooping. A few days later, Branwell died.

Grundy says of his friend, ``Patrick Branwell Bronte was no domestic-demon - he was just a man in a mist - who lost his way. More sinned against than sinning....he proved the reality of his sorrows....they killed him.``
Branwell Biography - The Brontë Soul
The Infernal World of Branwell Bronte....Daphne DuMaurier's Account.....notes


As a young man, Branwell Brontë was trained as a portrait painter in Haworth, and worked as a portrait painter in Bradford in 1838 and 1839. His most famous portrait is of his three sisters (he seems to have painted himself out).

In 1840, Brontë became a tutor to a family of young boys in Broughton-in-Furness but was dismissed within six months. During this time he did a translation of Horace. He was then employed on the Luddenden Foot railway station in 1841 but was dismissed in 1842 due to a deficit of eleven pounds in the accounts attributed to incompetence rather than theft. During his period of employment both as a tutor and on the railways he harboured literary ambitions and published poetry under various pseudonyms in the Yorkshire press.

In 1843 Brontë took up another tutoring position in Thorp Green, appointed as the tutor to the Robinson family's young son. He gained this position through his sister Anne, who was the governess to the Robinsons' two older daughters. During this time he corresponded with a number of old friends about his increasing infatuation with Lydia Robinson. He was dismissed on unspecified charges in 1845. It is thought, according to his account to his own family, the Robinson family's silence on the reason for his dismissal, and subsequent gifts of money from Mrs. Robinson through her servants, that he had an affair with Mrs. Robinson and that the affair had been discovered by her husband.

Brontë returned home to his family at the Haworth parsonage, now known as the Brontë Parsonage Museum. He was devastated by Mrs. Robinson's abandonment and the increasing unlikelihood of a reunion and turned to alcohol. He became an alcoholic and was thought to be addicted to laudanum. His behaviour became irrational and dangerous as he developed delirium tremens. Charlotte's letters from this time demonstrate that she was angered by his behaviour, but that her father was patient with his broken son. Although it was at this time that his sisters' first novels were being accepted for publication, it is not known whether he was even informed.

Brontë's severe addictions masked the onset of tuberculosis, and his family did not realise that he was seriously ill until he collapsed outside the house and a local doctor identified him as being in the disease's terminal stages. He died shortly after, intriguingly, while standing up and leaning against a mantelpiece, purely in order to prove that it could be done.



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