Work and Love
Patrick Branwell Brontë, 1817-1848As the only Brontë son, Branwell was slated to be successful and provide support for his sisters. Besides tutoring in the classics from his father, Branwell also received painting lessons and in 1838 he set out to be a portrait painter in Bradford. This venture failed and, like Charlotte, Branwell tried tutoring to pay his way. After a five month post in 1840, he took a job as a railway clerk. After a promotion in 1842, his career was cut short when he was let go for discrepancies in his accounts. 1843 found Branwell returned to tutoring, but he was dismissed in 1845, possibly for an inappropriate relationship with his employer's wife. This event seemed to send Branwell into a decline. He made an attempt to support himself by writing, but despite publishing several items, was not able to earn enough. He began drinking and taking opium and ran up debts. Instead of supporting his sisters, he became a burden to them. His emotional distress was aggravated by an undiagnosed case of tuberculosis and by early 1848 his health had deteriorated to the point where he could not longer care for himself. He died at home at the age of thirty-one.
Ann Marshall, Mrs Robinson's maid, had seen Branwell do enough with Mrs Robinson to hang him.....John Brown.
Penmaenmawr (Winter 1845)[An excerpt from a longer poem written in Branwell's despair over the end of his relationship with Mrs. Robinson]
I knew a flower whose leaves were meant to bloom
Till Death should snatch it to adorn the tomb,
Now, blanching 'neath the blight of hopeless grief
With never blooming and yet living leaf;
A flower on which my mind would wish to shine,
If but one beam could break from mind like mine:
I had an ear which could on accents dwell
That might as well say 'perish' as 'farewell' -
An eye which saw, far off, a tender form
Beaten, unsheltered, by affliction's storm -
An arm - a lip - that trembled to embrace
My Angel's gentle breast and sorrowing face
A mind that clung to Ouse's fertile side
While tossing - objectless - on Menai's tide!
Lydia Gisborne (June 1846)[Gisborne was Mrs. Robinson's maiden name. This poem contains Branwell's reflections on the times he spent with her at her home, Thorp Green.]
On Ouse's grassy banks - last Whitsuntide,
I sat, with fears and pleasures, in my soul
Commingled, as 'it roamed without control,
' O'er present hours and through a future wide
Where love, me thought, should keep, my heart beside
Her, whose own prison home I looked upon:
But, as I looked, descended summer's sun,
And did not its descent my hopes deride?
The sky though blue was soon to change to grey -
I, on that day, next year must own no smile -
And as those waves, to Humber far away,
Were gliding - so, though that hour might beguile
My Hopes, they too, to woe's far deeper sea,
Rolled past the shores of Joy's now dim and distant isle.
by Branwell Brontë
I sit, this evening, far away,
From all I used to know,
And nought reminds my soul to-day
Of happy long ago.
Unwelcome cares, unthought-of fears,
Around my room arise;
I seek for suns of former years
But clouds o'ercast my skies.
Yes--Memory, wherefore does thy voice
Bring old times back to view,
As thou wouldst bid me not rejoice
In thoughts and prospects new?
I'll thank thee, Memory, in the hour
When troubled thoughts are mine--
For thou, like suns in April's shower,
On shadowy scenes wilt shine.
I'll thank thee when approaching death
Would quench life's feeble ember,
For thou wouldst even renew my breath
With thy sweet word 'Remember'!
Only about one-tenth of Branwell's writings have survived. Of those writings known to exist, most were privately printed up to the early 1930s. The first full-length work to appear in print was Branwell's translation of the first book of Horace's Odes (1923), a work highly praised. The following year saw the publication of the prose fragment And the Weary Are at Rest, which Branwell composed circa 1845, reflecting his sorrowful involvement at the Robinson household.
This emphasis on the self and on his emotions, particularly the dark side of human emotions, is typical of Branwell's subject matter. Above all, he was introspective, dwelling on the affections of his childhood and his sorrow over the deaths of his sisters. He wrote of painful subjects, including the futility of human beings to experience joy amidst all of life's suffering. In his poem “Misery I,” written in 1835 after returning home from his unsuccessful London trip, he gave words to the memory of his grief over Maria's death some twelve years earlier. He also described his immense despair over having been ignored by Blackwood's magazine, which failed to respond to three letters he had sent in the hopes of joining their staff. In his poem “Misery II,” written in 1836, Branwell brought up the issues of judgment and damnation and explored his religious doubts and cynicism, strong ideas for a young man who had been brought up in an exceptionally religious household. The theme of guilt also figures prominently in the poems written after his failed trip to London.
Branwell's most important work is his continuous biography of Alexander Percy, a larger-than-life sinner who searches for liberty and freedom. Percy is a character in Branwell's Angrian writings, a body of tales set in a vast, colonial English society undergoing the establishment of a monarchy. Revolving around the basic conflict between order and anarchy, the tales involve wars and uprisings, political manipulations and powerful greed, wild carousing, and sorrowful romantic liaisons. Containing several long stories including the fictional chronicles The Life of … Northangerland (written in 1835) and Real Life in Verdopolis (written in 1833), as well as some poems, the Angrian writings feature the dramatic and extraordinary character of Percy, also known as the Earl of Northangerland, Lord Elrington, or the Rogue. A ruthless man without virtue, Percy has his roots in Milton's Lucifer, an indomitable anti-hero with an unrestrained appetite. Branwell was fascinated with Percy, as he was with the entire Angrian kingdom, and eventually described the melodramatic character as his alterego.