‘She was pretty, and very childish-looking, dressed in a red-coloured frock with short sleeves and low neck, as then worn by young girls. Miss Wooler in later years used to say that when Mary went to her as a pupil she thought her too pretty to live. She was not talkative at school, but industrious, and always ready with lessons. She was always at the top in class lessons, with Charlotte Brontë and the writer; seldom a change was made, and then only with the three—one move. Charlotte and she were great friends for a time, but there was no withdrawing from me on either side, and Charlotte never quite knew how an estrangement arose with Mary, but it lasted a long time. Then a time came that both Charlotte and Mary were so proficient in schoolroom attainments there was no more for them to learn, and Miss Wooler set them Blair’s Belles Lettres to commit to memory. We all laughed at their studies. Charlotte persevered, but Mary took her own line, flatly refused, and accepted the penalty of disobedience, going supper-less to bed for about a month before she left school. When it was moonlight, we always found her engaged in drawing on the chest of drawers, which stood in the bay window, quite happy and cheerful. Her rebellion was never outspoken. She was always quiet in demeanour. Her sister Martha, on the contrary, spoke out vigorously, daring Miss Wooler so much, face to face, that she sometimes received a box on the ear, which hardly any saint could have withheld. Then Martha would expatiate on the danger of boxing ears, quoting a reverend brother of Miss Wooler’s. Among her school companions, Martha was called “Miss Boisterous,” but was always a favourite, so piquant and fascinating were her ways. She was not in the least pretty, but something much better, full of change and variety, rudely outspoken, lively, and original, producing laughter with her own good-humour and affection. She was her father’s pet child. He delighted in hearing her sing, telling her to go to the piano, with his affectionate “Patty lass.”
‘Mary never had the impromptu vivacity of her sister, but was lively in games that engaged her mind. Her music was very correct, but entirely cultivated by practice and perseverance. Anything underhand was detestable to both Mary and Martha; they had no mean pride towards others, but accepted the incidents of life with imperturbable good-sense and insight. They were not dressed as well as other pupils, for economy at that time was the rule of their household. The girls had to stitch all over their new gloves before wearing them, by order of their mother, to make them wear longer. Their dark blue cloth coats were worn when too short, and black beaver bonnets quite plainly trimmed, with the ease and contentment of a fashionable costume. Mr. Taylor was a banker as well as a monopolist of army cloth manufacture in the district. He lost money, and gave up banking. He set his mind on paying all creditors, and effected this during his lifetime as far as possible, willing that his sons were to do the remainder, which two of his sons carried out, as was understood, during their lifetime—Mark and Martin of Shirley.’
Mary Taylor was called ‘Pag’ by her friends, and the first important reference to her that I find is contained in a letter written by Charlotte to Ellen Nussey, when she was seventeen years of age.
TO MISS ELLEN NUSSEY
‘Haworth, June 20th, 1833.
I received a letter from Pag Taylor yesterday; she was in high dudgeon at my inattention in not promptly answering her last epistle. I however sat down immediately and wrote a very humble reply, candidly confessing my faults and soliciting forgiveness; I hope it has proved successful.
The next letter refers to Mr. Taylor’s death. Mr. Taylor, it is scarcely necessary to add, is the Mr. Yorke of Briarmains, who figures so largely in Shirley. I have visited the substantial red-brick house near the high-road at Gomersall, but descriptions of the Brontë country do not come within the scope of this volume.
TO MISS ELLEN NUSSEY
‘January 3rd, 1841.
‘My dear Ellen,—I received the news in your last with no surprise, and with the feeling that this removal must be a relief to Mr. Taylor himself and even to his family. The bitterness of death was past a year ago, when it was first discovered that his illness must terminate fatally; all between has been lingering suspense. This is at an end now, and the present certainty, however sad, is better than the former doubt. What will be the consequence of his death is another question; for my own part, I look forward to a dissolution and dispersion of the family, perhaps not immediately, but in the course of a year or two. It is true, causes may arise to keep them together awhile longer, but they are restless, active spirits, and will not be restrained always. Mary alone has more energy and power in her nature than any ten men you can pick out in the united parishes of Birstall and Haworth. It is vain to limit a character like hers within ordinary boundaries—she will overstep them. I am morally certain Mary will establish her own landmarks, so will the rest of them.
Soon after her father’s death Mary Taylor turned her eyes towards New Zealand, where she had friends, but two years were to go by before anything came of the idea.
TO MISS EMILY J. BRONTË
‘Upperwood House, April 2nd, 1841.
Mary Taylor and Waring have come to a singular determination, but I almost think under the peculiar circumstances a defensible one, though it sounds outrageously odd at first. They are going to emigrate—to quit the country altogether. Their destination unless they change is Port Nicholson, in the northern island of New Zealand!!! Mary has made up her mind she can not and will not be a governess, a teacher, a milliner, a bonnet-maker nor housemaid. She sees no means of obtaining employment she would like in England, so she is leaving it. I counselled her to go to France likewise and stay there a year before she decided on this strange unlikely-sounding plan of going to New Zealand, but she is quite resolved. I cannot sufficiently comprehend what her views and those of her brothers may be on the subject, or what is the extent of their information regarding Port Nicholson, to say whether this is rational enterprise or absolute madness.
Soon after this Mary went on a long visit to Brussels, which was the direct cause of Charlotte and Emily establishing themselves at the Pensionnat Héger. In Brussels Martha Taylor found a grave. Here is one of her letters.
TO MISS ELLEN NUSSEY.
‘Brussels, Sept. 9th, 1841.
‘My dear Ellen,—I received your letter from Mary, and you say I am to write though I have nothing to say. My sister will tell you all about me, for she has more time to write than I have.
‘Whilst Mary and John have been with me, we have been to Liege and Spa, where we stayed eight days. I found my little knowledge of French very useful in our travels. I am going to begin working again very hard, now that John and Mary are going away. I intend beginning German directly. I would write some more but this pen of Mary’s won’t write; you must scold her for it, and tell her to write you a long account of my proceedings. You must write to me sometimes. George Dixon is coming here the last week in September, and you must send a letter for me to Mary to be forwarded by him. Good-bye. May you be happy.
It was while Charlotte was making her second stay in Brussels that she heard of Mary’s determination to go with her brother Waring to New Zealand, with a view to earning her own living in any reasonable manner that might offer.
TO MISS ELLEN NUSSEY
‘Brussels, April 1st, 1843.
‘ You will have heard of Mary Taylor’s resolute and intrepid proceedings. Her public letters will have put you in possession of all details—nothing is left for me to say except perhaps to express my opinion upon it. I have turned the matter over on all sides and really I cannot consider it otherwise than as very rational. Mind, I did not jump to this opinion at once, but was several days before I formed it conclusively.
TO MISS ELLEN NUSSEY
‘Sunday Evening, June 1st, 1845.
‘Dear Ellen,—You probably know that another letter has been received from Mary Taylor. It is, however, possible that your absence from home will have prevented your seeing it, so I will give you a sketch of its contents. It was written at about 4° N. of the Equator. The first part of the letter contained an account of their landing at Santiago. Her health at that time was very good, and her spirits seemed excellent. They had had contrary winds at first setting out, but their voyage was then prosperous. In the latter portion of the letter she complains of the excessive heat, and says she lives chiefly on oranges; but still she was well, and freer from headache and other ailments than any other person on board.
TO MISS ELLEN NUSSEY
‘Manchester, September 13th, 1846.
‘By this time you will have got Mary’s letters; most interesting they are, and she is in her element because she is where she has a toilsome task to perform, an important improvement to effect, a weak vessel to strengthen.
TO MISS ELLEN NUSSEY
‘June 5th, 1847.
‘Dear Ellen,—I return you Mary Taylor’s letter; it made me somewhat sad to read it, for I fear she is not quite content with her existence in New Zealand. She finds it too barren. I believe she is more home-sick than she will confess. Her gloomy ideas respecting you and me prove a state of mind far from gay.
TO MISS CHARLOTTE BRONTË
‘Wellington, April 10th, 1849.
‘Dear Charlotte,—I’ve been delighted to receive a very interesting letter from you with an account of your visit to London, etc. I believe I have tacked this acknowledgment to the tail of my last letter to you, but since then it has dawned on my comprehension that you are becoming a very important personage in this little world, and therefore, d’ye see? I must write again to you. I wish you would give me some account of Newby, and what the man said when confronted with the real Ellis Bell. By the way, having got your secret, will he keep it? And how do you contrive to get your letters under the address of Mr. Bell? The whole scheme must be particularly interesting to hear about, if I could only talk to you for half a day. When do you intend to tell the good people about you?
‘I am now hard at work expecting Ellen Taylor. She may possibly be here in two months. I once thought of writing you some of the dozens of schemes I have for Ellen Taylor, but as the choice depends on her I may as well wait and tell you the one she chooses. The two most reasonable are keeping a school and keeping a shop. The last is evidently the most healthy, but the most difficult of accomplishment. I have written an account of the earthquakes for Chambers, and intend (now don’t remind me of this a year hence, because la femme propose) to write some more. What else I shall do I don’t know. I find the writing faculty does not in the least depend on the leisure I have, but much more on the active work I have to do. I write at my novel a little and think of my other book. What this will turn out, God only knows. It is not, and never can be forgotten. It is my child, my baby, and I assure you such a wonder as never was. I intend him when full grown to revolutionise society and faire époque in history.
‘In the meantime I’m doing a collar in crochet work.
TO MISS CHARLOTTE BRONTË
‘Wellington, New Zealand,
‘July 24th, 1849.
‘Dear Charlotte,—About a month since I received and read Jane Eyre. It seemed to me incredible that you had actually written a book. Such events did not happen while I was in England. I begin to believe in your existence much as I do in Mr. Rochester’s. In a believing mood I don’t doubt either of them. After I had read it I went on to the top of Mount Victoria and looked for a ship to carry a letter to you. There was a little thing with one mast, and also H.M.S. Fly, and nothing else. If a cattle vessel came from Sydney she would probably return in a few days, and would take a mail, but we have had east wind for a month and nothing can come in.
‘Aug. 1.—The Harlequin has just come from Otago, and is to sail for Singapore when the wind changes, and by that route (which I hope to take myself sometime) I send you this. Much good may it do you. Your novel surprised me by being so perfect as a work of art. I expected something more changeable and unfinished. You have polished to some purpose. If I were to do so I should get tired, and weary every one else in about two pages. No sign of this weariness in your book—you must have had abundance, having kept it all to yourself!
‘You are very different from me in having no doctrine to preach. It is impossible to squeeze a moral out of your production. Has the world gone so well with you that you have no protest to make against its absurdities? Did you never sneer or declaim in your first sketches? I will scold you well when I see you. I do not believe in Mr. Rivers. There are no good men of the Brocklehurst species. A missionary either goes into his office for a piece of bread, or he goes from enthusiasm, and that is both too good and too bad a quality for St. John. It’s a bit of your absurd charity to believe in such a man. You have done wisely in choosing to imagine a high class of readers. You never stop to explain or defend anything, and never seem bothered with the idea. If Mrs. Fairfax or any other well-intentioned fool gets hold of this what will she think? And yet, you know, the world is made up of such, and worse. Once more, how have you written through three volumes without declaring war to the knife against a few dozen absurd doctrines, each of which is supported by “a large and respectable class of readers”? Emily seems to have had such a class in her eye when she wrote that strange thing Wuthering Heights. Anne, too, stops repeatedly to preach commonplace truths. She has had a still lower class in her mind’s eye. Emily seems to have followed the bookseller’s advice. As to the price you got, it was certainly Jewish. But what could the people do? If they had asked you to fix it, do you know yourself how many ciphers your sum would have had? And how should they know better? And if they did, that’s the knowledge they get their living by. If I were in your place, the idea of being bound in the sale of two more would prevent me from ever writing again. Yet you are probably now busy with another. It is curious for me to see among the old letters one from Anne sending a copy of a whole article on the currency question written by Fonblanque! I exceedingly regret having burnt your letters in a fit of caution, and I’ve forgotten all the names. Was the reader Albert Smith? What do they all think of you?
‘I mention the book to no one and hear no opinions. I lend it a good deal because it’s a novel, and it’s as good as another! They say “it makes them cry.” They are not literary enough to give an opinion. If ever I hear one I’ll embalm it for you. As to my own affair, I have written 100 pages, and lately 50 more. It’s no use writing faster. I get so disgusted, I can do nothing.
‘If I could command sufficient money for a twelve-month, I would go home by way of India and write my travels, which p. 247would prepare the way for my novel. With the benefit of your experience I should perhaps make a better bargain than you. I am most afraid of my health. Not that I should die, but perhaps sink into a state of betweenity, neither well nor ill, in which I should observe nothing, and be very miserable besides. My life here is not disagreeable. I have a great resource in the piano, and a little employment in teaching.
‘It’s a pity you don’t live in this world, that I might entertain you about the price of meat. Do you know, I bought six heifers the other day for £23, and now it is turned so cold I expect to hear one-half of them are dead. One man bought twenty sheep for £8, and they are all dead but one. Another bought 150 and has 40 left.
‘I have now told you everything I can think of except that the cat’s on the table and that I’m going to borrow a new book to read—no less than an account of all the systems of philosophy of modern Europe. I have lately met with a wonder, a man who thinks Jane Eyre would have done better to marry Mr. Rivers! He gives no reason—such people never do.
TO MISS CHARLOTTE BRONTË
‘Wellington, New Zealand.
‘Dear Charlotte,—I have set up shop! I am delighted with it as a whole—that is, it is as pleasant or as little disagreeable as you can expect an employment to be that you earn your living by. The best of it is that your labour has some return, and you are not forced to work on hopelessly without result. Du reste, it is very odd. I keep looking at myself with one eye while I’m using the other, and I sometimes find myself in very queer positions. Yesterday I went along the shore past the wharfes and several warehouses on a street where I had never been before during all the five years I have been in Wellington. I opened the door of a long place filled with packages, with passages up the middle, and a row of high windows on one side. At the far end of the room a man was writing at a desk beneath a window. I walked all the length of the room very slowly, for what I had come for had completely gone out of my head. Fortunately the man never heard me until I had recollected it. Then he got up, and I asked him for some stone-blue, saltpetre, tea, pickles, salt, etc. He was very civil. I bought some things and asked for a note of them. He went to his desk again; I looked at some newspapers lying near. On the top was a circular from Smith & Elder containing notices of the most important new works. The first and longest was given to Shirley, a book I had seen mentioned in the Manchester Examiner as written by Currer Bell. I blushed all over. The man got up, folding the note. I pulled it out of his hand and set off to the door, looking odder than ever, for a partner had come in and was watching. The clerk said something about sending them, and I said something too—I hope it was not very silly—and took my departure.
‘I have seen some extracts from Shirley in which you talk of women working. And this first duty, this great necessity, you seem to think that some women may indulge in, if they give up marriage, and don’t make themselves too disagreeable to the other sex. You are a coward and a traitor. A woman who works is by that alone better than one who does not; and a woman who does not happen to be rich and who still earns no money and does not wish to do so, is guilty of a great fault, almost a crime—a dereliction of duty which leads rapidly and almost certainly to all manner of degradation. It is very wrong of you to plead for toleration for workers on the ground of their being in peculiar circumstances, and few in number or singular in disposition. Work or degradation is the lot of all except the very small number born to wealth.
‘Ellen is with me, or I with her. I cannot tell how our shop will turn out, but I am as sanguine as ever. Meantime we certainly amuse ourselves better than if we had nothing to do. We like it, and that’s the truth. By the Cornelia we are going to send our sketches and fern leaves. You must look at them, and it will need all your eyes to understand them, for they are a mass of confusion. They are all within two miles of Wellington, and some of them rather like—Ellen’s sketch of p. 249me especially. During the last six months I have seen more “society” than in all the last four years. Ellen is half the reason of my being invited, and my improved circumstances besides. There is no one worth mentioning particularly. The women are all ignorant and narrow, and the men selfish. They are of a decent, honest kind, and some intelligent and able. A Mr. Woodward is the only literary man we know, and he seems to have fair sense. This was the clerk I bought the stone-blue of. We have just got a mechanic’s institute, and weekly lectures delivered there. It is amusing to see people trying to find out whether or not it is fashionable and proper to patronise it. Somehow it seems it is. I think I have told you all this before, which shows I have got to the end of my news. Your next letter to me ought to bring me good news, more cheerful than the last. You will somehow get drawn out of your hole and find interests among your fellow-creatures. Do you know that living among people with whom you have not the slightest interest in common is just like living alone, or worse? Ellen Nussey is the only one you can talk to, that I know of at least. Give my love to her and to Miss Wooler, if you have the opportunity. I am writing this on just such a night as you will likely read it—rain and storm, coming winter, and a glowing fire. Ours is on the ground, wood, no fender or irons; no matter, we are very comfortable.
TO MISS CHARLOTTE BRONTË
‘Wellington, N. Z., April 3rd, 1850.
‘Dear Charlotte,—About a week since I received your last melancholy letter with the account of Anne’s death and your utter indifference to everything, even to the success of your last book. Though you do not say this, it is pretty plain to be seen from the style of your letter. It seems to me hard indeed that you who would succeed, better than any one, in making friends and keeping them, should be condemned to solitude from your poverty. To no one would money bring more happiness, for no one would use it better than you would. For me, p. 250with my headlong self-indulgent habits, I am perhaps better without it, but I am convinced it would give you great and noble pleasures. Look out then for success in writing; you ought to care as much for that as you do for going to Heaven. Though the advantages of being employed appear to you now the best part of the business, you will soon, please God, have other enjoyments from your success. Railway shares will rise, your books will sell, and you will acquire influence and power; and then most certainly you will find something to use it in which will interest you and make you exert yourself.
‘I have got into a heap of social trickery since Ellen came, never having troubled my head before about the comparative numbers of young ladies and young gentlemen. To Ellen it is quite new to be of such importance by the mere fact of her femininity. She thought she was coming wofully down in the world when she came out, and finds herself better received than ever she was in her life before. And the class are not in education inferior, though they are in money. They are decent well-to-do people: six grocers, one draper, two parsons, two clerks, two lawyers, and three or four nondescripts. All these but one have families to “take tea with,” and there are a lot more single men to flirt with. For the last three months we have been out every Sunday sketching. We seldom succeed in making the slightest resemblance to the thing we sit down to, but it is wonderfully interesting. Next year we hope to send a lot home. With all this my novel stands still; it might have done so if I had had nothing to do, for it is not want of time but want of freedom of mind that makes me unable to direct my attention to it. Meantime it grows in my head, for I never give up the idea. I have written about a volume I suppose. Read this letter to Ellen Nussey.
TO MISS CHARLOTTE BRONTË
‘Wellington, August 13th, 1850.
‘Dear Charlotte,—After waiting about six months we have just got Shirley. It was landed from the Constantinople on Monday afternoon, just in the thick of our preparations for a “small party” for the next day. We stopped spreading red blankets over everything (New Zealand way of arranging the room) and opened the box and read all the letters. Soyer’s Housewife and Shirley were there all right, but Miss Martineau’s book was not. In its place was a silly child’s tale called Edward Orland. On Tuesday we stayed up dancing till three or four o’clock, what for I can’t imagine. However, it was a piece of business done. On Wednesday I began Shirley and continued in a curious confusion of mind till now, principally at the handsome foreigner who was nursed in our house when I was a little girl. By the way, you’ve put him in the servant’s bedroom. You make us all talk much as I think we should have done if we’d ventured to speak at all. What a little lump of perfection you’ve made me! There is a strange feeling in reading it of hearing us all talking. I have not seen the matted hall and painted parlour windows so plain these five years. But my father is not like. He hates well enough and perhaps loves too, but he is not honest enough. It was from my father I learnt not to marry for money nor to tolerate any one who did, and he never would advise any one to do so, or fail to speak with contempt of those who did. Shirley is much more interesting than Jane Eyre, who never interests you at all until she has something to suffer. All through this last novel there is so much more life and stir that it leaves you far more to remember than the other. Did you go to London about this too? What for? I see by a letter of yours to Mr. Dixon that you have been. I wanted to contradict some of your opinions, now I can’t. As to when I’m coming home, you may well ask. I have wished for fifteen years to begin to earn my own living; last April I began to try—it is too soon to say yet with what success. I am woefully ignorant, terribly wanting in tact, and obstinately lazy, and almost too old to mend. Luckily there is no other dance for me, so I must work. Ellen takes to it kindly, it gratifies a deep ardent wish of hers as of mine, and she is habitually industrious. For her, ten years younger, our shop will be a blessing. She may possibly secure an independence, and skill to keep it and use it, before the prime of life is past. As to my writings, you may as well ask the Fates about that too. I can give you no information. I write a page now and then. I never forget or get strange to what I have written. When I read it over it looks very interesting.
TO MISS CHARLOTTE BRONTË
‘Wellington, N. Z.
‘My dear Miss Brontë,—I shall tell you everything I can think of, since you said in one of your letters to Pag that you wished me to write to you. I have been here a year. It seems a much shorter time, and yet I have thought more and done more than I ever did in my life before. When we arrived, Henry and I were in such a hurry to leave the ship that we didn’t wait to be fetched, but got into the first boat that came alongside. When we landed we inquired where Waring lived, but hadn’t walked far before we met him. I had never seen him before, but he guessed we were the cousins he expected, so caught us and took us along with him. Mary soon joined us, and we went home together. At first I thought Mary was not the least altered, but when I had seen her for about a week I thought she looked rather older. The first night Mary and I sat up till 2 a.m. talking. Mary and I settled we would do something together, and we talked for a fortnight before we decided whether we would have a school or shop; it ended in favour of the shop. Waring thought we had better be quiet, and I believe he still thinks we are doing it for amusement; but he never refuses to help us. He is teaching us book-keeping, and he buys things for us now and then. Mary gets as fierce as a dragon and goes to all the wholesale stores and looks at things, gets patterns, samples, etc., and asks prices, and then comes home, and we talk it over; and then she goes again and buys what we want. She says the people are always civil to her. Our keeping shop astonishes every body here; I believe they think we do it for fun. Some think we shall make nothing of it, or that we shall get tired; and all laugh at us. Before I left home I used to be afraid of being laughed at, but now it has very little effect upon me.
‘Mary and I are settled together now: I can’t do without Mary and she couldn’t get on by herself. I built the house we live in, and we made the plan ourselves, so it suits us. We take it in turns to serve in the shop, and keep the accounts, and do the housework—I mean, Mary takes the shop for a week and I the kitchen, and then we change. I think we shall do very well if no more severe earthquakes come, and if we can prevent fire. When a wooden house takes fire it doesn’t stop; and we have got an oil cask about as high as I am, that would help it. If some sparks go out at the chimney-top the shingles are in danger. The last earthquake but one about a fortnight ago threw down two medicine bottles that were standing on the table and made other things jingle, but did no damage. If we have nothing worse than that I don’t care, but I don’t want the chimney to come down—it would cost £10 to build it up again. Mary is making me stop because it is nearly 9 p.m. and we are going to Waring’s to supper. Good-bye.—Yours truly,
TO MISS ELLEN NUSSEY
‘Haworth, July 4th, 1849.
‘I had a long letter from Mary Taylor—interesting but sad, because it contained many allusions to those who are in this world no more. She mentioned you, and seemed impressed with an idea of the lamentable nature of your unoccupied life. She spoke of her own health as being excellent.
TO MISS ELLEN NUSSEY
‘Haworth, May 18th.
‘Dear Ellen,—I inclose Mary Taylor’s letter announcing Ellen’s death, and two last letters—sorrowful documents, all of them. I received them this morning from Hunsworth without any note or directions where to send them, but I think, if I mistake not, Amelia in a previous note told me to transmit them to you.—Yours faithfully,
TO MISS CHARLOTTE BRONTË
‘Wellington, N. Z.
‘Dear Charlotte,—I began a letter to you one bitter cold evening last week, but it turned out such a sad one that I have left it and begun again. I am sitting all alone in my own house, or rather what is to be mine when I’ve paid for it. I bought it of Henry when Ellen died—shop and all, and carry on by myself. I have made up my mind not to get any assistance. I have not too much work, and the annoyance of having an unsuitable companion was too great to put up with without necessity. I find now that it was Ellen that made me so busy, and without her to nurse I have plenty of time. I have begun to keep the house very tidy; it makes it less desolate. I take great interest in my trade—as much as I could do in anything that was not all pleasure. But the best part of my life is the excitement of arrivals from England. Reading all the news, written and printed, is like living another life quite separate from this one. The old letters are strange—very, when begin to read them, but quite familiar notwithstanding. So are all the books and newspapers, though I never see a human being to whom it would ever occur to me to mention anything I read in them. I see your nom de guerre in them sometimes. I saw a criticism on the preface to the second edition of Wuthering Heights. I saw it among the notables who attended Thackeray’s lectures. I have seen it somehow connected with Sir J. K. Shuttleworth. Did he want to marry you, or only to lionise you? or was it somebody else?
‘Your life in London is a “new country” to me, which I cannot even picture to myself. You seem to like it—at least some things in it, and yet your late letters to Mrs. J. Taylor talk of low spirits and illness. “What’s the matter with you now?” as my mother used to say, as if it were the twentieth time in a fortnight. It is really melancholy that now, in the prime of life, in the flush of your hard-earned prosperity, you can’t be well. Did not Miss Martineau improve you? If she did, why not try her and her plan again? But I suppose if you had hope and energy to try, you would be well. Well, it’s nearly dark and you will surely be well when you read this, so what’s the use of writing? I should like well to have some details of your life, but how can I hope for it? I have often tried to give you a picture of mine, but I have not the skill. I get a heap of details, mostly paltry in themselves, and not enough to give you an idea of the whole. Oh, for one hour’s talk! You are getting too far off and beginning to look strange to me. Do you look as you used to do, I wonder? What do you and Ellen Nussey talk about when you meet? There! it’s dark.
‘Sunday night.—I have let the vessel go that was to take this. As there were others going soon I did not much care. I am in the height of cogitation whether to send for some worsted stockings, etc. They will come next year at this time, and who can tell what I shall want then, or shall be doing? Yet hitherto we have sent such orders, and have guessed or known pretty well what we should want. I have just been looking over a list of four pages long in Ellen’s handwriting. These things ought to come by the next vessel, or part of them at least. When tired of that I began to read some pages of “my book” intending to write some more, but went on reading for pleasure. I often do this, and find it very interesting indeed. It does not get on fast, though I have written about one volume and a half. It’s full of music, poverty, disputing, politics, and original views of life. I can’t for the life of me bring the lover into it, nor tell what he’s to do when he comes. Of the men generally I can never tell what they’ll do next. The women I understand pretty well, and rare tracasserie there is among them—they are perfectly feminine in that respect at least.
‘I am just now in a state of famine. No books and no news from England for this two months. I am thinking of visiting a circulating library from sheer dulness. If I had more time I should get melancholy. No one can prize activity more than I do. I never am long without it than a gloom comes over me. The cloud seems to be always there behind me, and never quite out of sight but when I keep on at a good rate. Fortunately, the more I work the better I like it. I shall take to scrubbing the floor before it’s dirty and polishing pans on the outside in my old age. It is the only thing that gives me an appetite for dinner.
‘Give my love to Ellen Nussey.’
TO MISS ELLEN NUSSEY
‘Wellington, N. Z., 8th Jan. 1857.
‘Dear Ellen,—A few days ago I got a letter from you, dated 2nd May 1856, along with some patterns and fashion-book. They seem to have been lost somehow, as the box ought to have come by the Hastings, and only now makes its appearance by the Philip Lang. It has come very apropos for a new year’s gift, and the patterns were not opened twenty-four hours before a silk cape was cut out by one of them. I think I made a very impertinent request when I asked you to give yourself so much trouble. The poor woman for whom I wanted them is now a first-rate dressmaker—her drunken husband, who was her main misfortune, having taken himself off and not been heard of lately.
I am glad to hear that Mrs. Gaskell is progressing with the Life.
‘I wish I had kept Charlotte’s letters now, though I never felt it safe to do so until latterly that I have had a home of my own. They would have been much better evidence than my imperfect recollection, and infinitely more interesting. A settled opinion is very likely to look absurd unless you give the grounds for it, and even if I could remember them it might look as if there might be other facts which I have neglected which ought to have altered it. Your news of the “neighbours” is very interesting, especially of Miss Wooler and my old schoolfellows. I wish I knew how to give you some account of my ways here and the effect of my position on me. First of all, it agrees with me. I am in better health than at any time since I left school. My life now is not overburdened with work, and what I do has interest and attraction in it. I think it is that part that I shall think most agreeable when I look back on my death-bed—a number of small pleasures scattered over my way, that, when seen from a distance, will seem to cover it thick. They don’t cover it by any means, but I never had so many.
‘I look after my shopwoman, make out bills, decide who shall have “trust” and who not. Then I go a-buying, not near such an anxious piece of business now that I understand my trade, and have, moreover, a good “credit.” I read a good deal, sometimes on the sofa, a vice I am much given to in hot weather. Then I have some friends—not many, and no geniuses, which fact pray keep strictly to yourself, for how the doings and sayings of Wellington people in England always come out again to New Zealand! They are not very interesting any way. This is my fault in part, for I can’t take interest in their concerns. A book is worth any of them, and a good book worth them all put together.
‘Our east winds are much the pleasantest and healthiest we have. The soft moist north-west brings headache and depression—it even blights the trees.—Yours affectionately,
TO MISS ELLEN NUSSEY
‘Wellington, 4th June 1858.
‘Dear Ellen,—I have lately heard that you are leaving Brookroyd. I shall not even see Brookroyd again, and one of the people who lived there; and one whom I used to see there I shall never see more. Keep yourself well, dear Ellen, and gather round you as much happiness and interest as you can, and let me find you cheery and thriving when I come. When that will be I don’t yet know; but one thing is sure, I have given over ordering goods from England, so that I must sometime give over for want of anything to sell. The last things ordered I expect to arrive about the beginning of the year 1859. In the course of that year, therefore, I shall be left without anything to do or motive for staying. Possibly this time twelve months I may be leaving Wellington.
‘We are here in the height of a political crisis. The election for the highest office in the province (Superintendent) comes off in about a fortnight. There is altogether a small storm going on in our teacup, quite brisk enough to stir everything in it. My principal interest therein is the sale of election ribbons, though I am afraid, owing to the bad weather, there will be little display. Besides the elections, there is nothing interesting. We all go on pretty well. I have got a pony about four feet high, that carries me about ten miles from Wellington, which is much more than walking distance, to which I have been confined for the last ten years. I have given over most of the work to Miss Smith, who will finally take the business, and if we had fine weather I think I should enjoy myself. My main want here is for books enough to fill up my idle time. It seems to me that when I get home I will spend half my income on books, and sell them when I have read them to make it go further. I know this is absurd, but people with an unsatisfied appetite think they can eat enormously.
‘Remember me kindly to Miss Wooler, and tell me all about her in your next.—Yours affectionately,
Miss Taylor wrote one or two useful letters to Mrs. Gaskell, while the latter was preparing her Memoir of Charlotte Brontë, and her favourable estimate of the book we have already seen. About 1859 or 1860 she returned to England and lived out the remainder of her days in complete seclusion in a Yorkshire home that she built for herself. The novel to which she refers in a letter to her friend never seems to have got itself written, or at least published, for it was not until 1890 that Miss Mary Taylor produced a work of fiction—Miss Miles. This novel strives to inculcate the advantages as well as the duty of women learning to make themselves independent of men. It is well, though not brilliantly written, and might, had the author possessed any of the latter-day gifts of self-advertisement, have attracted the public, if only by the mere fact that its author was a friend of Currer Bell’s. But Miss Taylor, it is clear, hated advertisement, and severely refused to be lionised by Brontë worshippers. Twenty years earlier than Miss Miles, I may add, she had preached the same gospel in less attractive guise. A series of papers in the Victorian Magazine were reprinted under the title of The First Duty of Women. ‘To inculcate the duty of earning money,’ she declares, ‘is the principal point in these articles.’ ‘It is to the feminine half of the world that the commonplace duty of providing for themselves is recommended,’ and she enforces her doctrine with considerable point, and by means of arguments much more accepted in our day than in hers. Miss Taylor died in March 1893, at High Royd, in Yorkshire, at the age of seventy-six. She will always occupy an honourable place in the Brontë story.