The Brontės: Their Lives, Friendships and Correspondence, ed. Thomas James Wise and John Alexander Symington, 4 vols.
(Oxford: Basil Blackwell for the Shakespeare Head Press, 1932)
|Heald, Harriet||Vol. III: 65|
|Heald, Mary||Vol. III: 64|
|Heald, Miss||Vol. I: 165, 293;Vol. II: 268, 325, 348;Vol. III: 13|
|Heald, Mrs||Vol. II: 89, 303|
|Heald, Rev. William Margetson, Vicar of Birstall||Vol. I: 159, 165, 172n, 215;Vol. III: 23, 64;Vol. IV: 154|
|Heald's House, Dewsbury Moor||Vol. I: 159|
Charlotte Bronte's closest confidantes were Ellen Nussey and Mary Taylor, who were at school with her and became life-long friends.
All three knew the Healds at Birstall, and Ellen knew them particularly well. It seems from this editors' note (vol I, p. 172) that her brother Henry had been at university with William Margetson Heald:
Mr Nussey certainly did not lack for rigour, for even when an undergraduate he recalls with satisfaction "This evening at a full meeting Mr Heald exhorted from 2 Corinthians vi 14 on the action of a member having married a worldly-minded man".Coincidentally in 1837 the school all three had attended, and where Charlotte taught from 1835 to 1839, moved from Roe Head to Heald's House on Dewsbury Moor, which (editors' note, vol I p. 159) had been the birthplace of Rev. Heald. (See this page for more about Heald's House).
Many of the mentions in the letters are passing references to the health of Miss Heald, presumably William Margetson Heald's elder sister Harriet, whose illness seems to have tragically paralleled those of Charlotte's sisters, dying of tuberculosis.
On a lighter note, though, is Charlotte's confidence in the obscurity of the 'originals' for her characters in Shirley . As William Margetson Heald's letter to Ellen Nussey makes clear , she had clearly reckoned without the power of local Yorkshire gossip, and the sort of pressure that might be brought to bear !
Charlotte Bronte to Ellen Nussey, May 5 1838 (Vol I p. 165):
... Yesterday I heard that you were ill -- Mr and Miss Heald were at Dewsbury Moor and it was from them I obtained the information.'Caliban' to Ellen Nussey, August 20 1840 (Vol I p. 215):
... I hope George will be better soon -- did Mr Heald accompany him to Scotland ?Mary Taylor to Ellen Nussey, February 18 1843 (Vol I p. 293):
... Present my remembrances to Miss Heald if she sent any to me, and I have really forgotten, and your letters to me are so abominably written that I cannot afford time to read it over again.Charlotte Bronte to Ellen Nussey, April 20 1846 (Vol II p. 89):
... It is to be hoped that Mrs Heald will now have better health.Charlotte Bronte to Ellen Nussey, October 29 1848 (Vol II p. 268):
[Charlotte's own sisters are desperately ill]Charlotte Bronte to Ellen Nussey, January 22 1849 (Vol II p. 303):
... I am truly sorry to hear of Miss Heald's serious illness, it seems to me that she has been for some years out of health now
These things make us feel as well as know that this world is not our abiding-place.
We should not knit human ties too close, or clasp human affections too fondly. They must leave us, or we must leave them one day. Good bye for the present. God restore health and strength to you and all who need it.
Anne really did seem to be a little better.Charlotte Bronte to Ellen Nussey, April 12 1849 (Vol II p. 325):
... I am to commission you to get her just such a respirator as Mrs Heald had -- and at about the same price -- she would not object to a higher price if you thought it better.
... I am sorry to hear that poor Miss Heald and Mrs Chas Carr have been ill again -- Are they any better now ?Charlotte Bronte to Ellen Nussey, June 23 1849 (Vol II p. 348):
... Write again very soon and tell me how poor Miss Heald goes on.Charlotte Bronte to Ellen Nussey, August 23 1849 (Vol III p. 13):
... I am glad to hear that Miss Heald continues tolerable, but, as you say, it really seems wonderful.Charlotte Bronte to W.S. Williams, September 21 1849 (Vol III p. 23):
[Mr Williams had asked whether the characters in Shirley were based on real individuals]William Margetson Heald to Ellen Nussey, October 11 1849 (Vol III p. 64):
... The original of Mr Hall I have seen; he knows me slightly; but he would as soon think I had closely observed him or taken him for a character -- he would as soon, indeed, suspect me of writing a book -- a novel -- as he would his dog Prince.
Dear Ellen,CB Nicholls to Ellen Nussey, October 11 1854 (Vol IV p. 164):
Fame says that you are on a visit with the renowned Currer Bell, the 'great unknown' of the present day. The celebrated 'Shirley' has just found its way hither. And as one always reads a book with more interest when one has a correct insight into the writer's designs, I write to ask a favour, which I ought not to be regarded as presumptuous in saying that I think I have a species of claim to ask, on the ground that it is a sort of "poetical justice". The interpretation of this enigma is, that the story goes, that either I or my father, exactly I do not know which, are part of 'Currer Bell's' stock-in-trade, in that Mr Hall is represented as black, bilious, of dismal aspect, stooping a trifle, and indulging a little now and then in the indigenous dialect. This seems to sit very well on your humble servant -- other traits do better for my good father than myself. However, though I had no idea that I should be made a means to amuse the public, Currer Bell is perfectly welcome to what she can make of so uncompromising a subject, But I think I have a fair claim in return to be let in to the secret of the company I have got into.. Some of them are good enough to tell, and need no Oedipus to solve the riddle. I can tabulate for instance the Yorke family for the Taylors, Mr Moore -- Mr Cartwright, and Mr Helstone is clearly meant for Mr Roberson, though the authoress has evidently got her idea of his character through an unfavourable medium, and does not understand the full value of one of the most admirbale characters I ever knew or expect to know. Mary thinks she descries Cecilia Crowther and Miss Johnstone (afterwards Mrs Westerman) as the two old maids. Now pray get us a full light on all the other names and localities that are adumbrated in this said 'Shirley'. When some of the prominent characters will be recognised by all who know our quarters there can be no harm in letting one know who may be intended by the rest. And if necessary, I will bear Currer Bell harmless, and not let the world know that I have my intelligence form headquarters. As I said before, I repeat now, that as I or mine are part of the stock in trade, I think I have an equitable claim to this intelligence, by way of my dividend. Mary and Harriet wish also to get at this information; and the latter at all events seems to have her own peculiar claim, as fame says she is 'in the book' too. One had need "walk warily in these dangerous days", when as Burns (is it not he?) says --'A chield's among you taking notes,Yours sincerely,
and faith he'll prent it'
Mary and Harriet unite with me in the best wishes of the season to you and C--- B---. Pray give my best respects to Mr Bronte also, who may have some slight remembrance of me as a child. I just remember him when at Hartshead.
[Rev Heald's sister Harriet was buried on 29 Sep 1854]
... I cannot say that I wonder at Mr Heald's resignation. It seems to me that all who truly believe the doctrines and trust the promises of Christianity must, after watching the sufferings of sickness and agonies of death in one they love feel in the first instance a sort of peace in their release, and resignation to their loss. It is some time afterwards that dark and durable regrets arise, and perhaps surrounded by his family and parishioners, he may be spared some of these.
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