BRONTË, CHARLOTTE (1816-1855)
AUTOGRAPH MANUSCRIPT POEM WRITTEN IN HER MINUSCULE HAND SIGNED 'C. BRONTE', dated by her 14 December 1829 and with the autograph note 'from the Young Mans Intelligencer', on a small slip of paper (c. 3 x 3 inches, formerly part of the address leaf of a letter - on the verso survive 'Miss Br' and 'Rev' with a hand-inscribed postal rate), [Haworth Rectory], 14 December 1829
I've been wandering in the greenwoods
And mid flowery smiling plains
I've been listening to the dark floods
To the thrushes thrilling strains
I have gathered the pale primrose
And the purple violet sweet
I've been where the Asphodel grows
And where lives the red deer fleet.
I've been to the distant mountain,
To the silver singing rill
By the crystal murmering mountain,
And the shady verdant hill.
I've been where the poplar is springing
From the fair Inamelled ground
Where the nightingale is singing
With a solemn plaintive sound.
The printed version in The Poems of Charlotte Brontë was taken from this manuscript when it was in the possession of Robert Barrett of Kenilworth, Illinois. Winnifrith provided punctuation not in the manuscript, altered the spelling of 'Inamelled' and gave 'Asphodel' a lower case initial letter. The precocious Brontë children produced family literary magazines, in imitation of Blackwood's, written in minuscule hands, 'The Young Man's Intelligencer' being one of the 'Glass Town' publications. Branwell was editor until July 1829 when he handed over to Charlotte. The hand has been authenticated by the Brontë Society and Dr Christine Alexander (for a full discussion of the early manuscripts see her Early Writings).
Juliet Barker explains that it was probably the expense and shortage of supply of paper that led to the tiny writing adopted by the Brontë children -- 'they developed a minuscule hand, designed to look like bookprint, which allowed them to write many more words to the page. The writing cannot be read without a magnifying glass but as all the young Brontës were shortsighted, this would not have been so much of a problem to them. The tiny hand also had the advantage of being illegible to their father and aunt, so the children enjoyed the delicious thrill knowing that the contents of their little books were a secret shared only among themselves.' The present manuscript is written on the recto of an address leaf addressed to Miss Br[ontë].
This poem is one of her earliest (which date from July to December 1829). In all she wrote about 200 and in 1836, when she wrote to Southey asking for his opinion of her talents, she told him that she wished 'to be for ever known' as a poetess. Southey infamously told her she possessed 'in no inconsiderable degree...the faculty of verse... But it is not with a view to distinction that you should cultivate this talent, if you consult your own happiness.'
POETICAL MANUSCRIPTS BY CHARLOTTE BRONTË ARE EXTREMELY RARE; only two others have been sold at auction in forty years or more. THIS MAY BE THE LAST POEM BY HER IN PRIVATE HANDS - the two others known to have been owned by an individual were sold for $62,500 at the William Self sale on 4 December 2009, lot 13, by Christie's in New York (both formerly Arthur Houghton, sold Christie's London 1979) and are likely to be in institutional hands now. Another was recorded as unlocated by Rosenbaum and White (Brc 69) in 1990 and one is presumed (though without any knowledge) to still be in the possession of the descendants of Sir Alfred J. Law (BrC 99). Otherwise all the other known manuscripts are in institutional collections. The main repository for Brontë manuscripts is at the Brontë Parsonage Museum, Haworth; the Morgan Library also has substantial holdings.
PROVENANCE: Barrett Collection, Kenilworth, Illinois.
REFERENCES: Juliet Barker, The Brontës, 1994; The Poems of Charlotte Brontë, edited by Tom Winnifrith, 1984; Christine Alexander, The Early Writings of Charlotte Brontë, 1983; Christine Alexander and Margaret Smith, The Oxford Companion to the Brontës, 2003; Index of English Literary Manuscripts, Volume IV, 1800-1900, Part I, compiled by Barbara Rosenbaum and Pamela White, BrC 37.