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‘Like a tree in full bearing struck at the root'

This week's blog returns to serious literary matters with a fictional piece by Robert Carrick based on part of a letter which Charlotte Bronte wrote to her publisher on Christmas Day after the death of her sister Emily in December 1848 at the age of thirty.

A longer excerpt reads: '... in the prime of her own days, in the promise of her powers; her existence now lies like a field of green corn trodden down, like a tree in full bearing struck at the root. I will only say, sweet is rest after labour and calm after tempest ...'

Emily Bronte Charlotte Bronte

On the first working day of 1849, George Smith walked through the deep snow of Waterloo Place and into the cosy office of the publishing house, Smith, Elder & Co.

Dressed in a black frock coat, cream satin double vest and a red neckerchief, he was well aware that his female employees regarded him as a 'dashing' gentleman, now in his twenties.

His assistant, Lucy Blenkinsop, took his derby hat and his coat as he shook the snow from his boots and ran his fingers through his neatly parted black hair.

‘Happy New Year, Mr Smith. Some correspondence has arrived for you. I left it on your desk,’ Lucy said, as she blushed.

‘Happy New Year to you too, Miss Blenkinsop. Bring me some tea, will you?’

‘Certainly, Sir.’

George made his way into his wood panelled office that overlooked the street. On the top of a pile of unsolicited manuscripts from would-be authors, was a letter. He recognised the handwriting immediately. The letter was from their great 'discovery', the talented writer, Charlotte Brontë.

The company had enjoyed tremendous commercial success since 1847 in publishing Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre and, in addition to providing her with a financial reward, he had lavished her with nights at the opera at Covent Garden and visits to the galleries of London. Deep down, he knew that Charlotte, like so many other of his female associates, had fallen in love with him, although he was disinclined to reciprocate.

Perhaps Charlotte has written to wish me a Merry Christmas, George thought, as he carefully prised open the envelope with his silver letter opener.

Sure enough, the letter was written on December 25, 1848, but as he read on, his heart sank.

After absorbing Charlotte's grim message of the death of her sister, Emily, he walked to the window and his publisher’s mind turned to the language in which it was written.

‘Like a tree in full bearing struck at the root,’ he said out loud. ‘Charlotte’s words are of the prime of Emily's life cut short.’

George knew that he could never console Charlotte. All he could hope for was that even in her sorrow, she would again be driven to write.

An older George Smith of Smith, Elder & Co. publishing house at 15 Waterloo Place in London.

Bronte timeline:

  • October 1847 - Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë is published

  • December 1847 - Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë is published

  • 19 December 1848 - Emily Brontë dies

  • December 25th, 1848 - Charlotte Brontë writes to her publisher George Smith

  • Charlotte Bronte's novels, Shirley, A Tale is published in 1849, Villette is published in 1853, and The Professor is published posthumously in 1857 by her widower husband, the curate Arthur Bell Nicholls, after her death in 1855.

Copyright: story Robert Carrick; photos,, & Wiki. Charlotte Bronte's letter is published in Letters of Great Women Lucinda Hawksley (ed.) Welbeck London 2021.



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