A Frosty Morning JMW Turner

A Frosty Morning JMW Turner
A Frosty Morning is one of my favourite Turners. With thanks to Tate Britain

Friday, 31 August 2018

Charlotte Bronte's Devotee? - a first draft

I mark 31 August 2018 as the day I sent off a first draft of my biography of William Smith Williams.

It has been a labour of love, a quest for the man behind Charlotte Brontë’s description of him: 'a faded Tom Dixon.' (He could hardly have been less so).


I was helped in my search by the genealogical work carried out by Mr Norman Penty and written up in his booklet, The Discovery of Charlotte Brontë William Smith Williams 1800-1875 – a Genealogical Quest. In 2006 Mr Penty contacted me and told me of the family tree that he had painstakingly researched. He contacted me because my name appears in the tree as the great grand son of WSW’s brother. The other huge source of help was from the late Margaret Smith’s edition of the letters of Charlotte Brontë. I visited the Brontë archive at Haworth, the Ruskin archive at Lancaster and the Smith Elder archive in Edinburgh, discovering in each place true gems. I researched extensively on line and in libraries. WSW's descendants in New Zealand and Australia provided a much need family perspective.

I found a true nineteenth century Renaissance man as at home with art as with literature, and with politics as with science. The question mark in the suggested title is deliberate. He is known as Charlotte Brontë’s mentor, a task he carried out with devotion. However, whilst she may have been the most prominent, she was very far from the only writer to whom WSW devoted his energies and very particular skills. 

The draft is divided into twelve chapters:

1 Childhood
2 Apprenticeship
3 The Hullmandel Years
4 The House of Smith, Elder & Co
5 The Bronte Years – Jane Eyre
6 The Bronte Years – Friendship
7 The Bronte Years – Art and Tragedy
8 The Bronte Years – Shirley, The Cornhill Parcels and Education
9 The Bronte Years – Villette, A Cooling Relationship
10 The Cornhill and Other Authors
11 The Ruskin Years

12 Home Life and Legacy

I now begin my search for a suitable publisher.



1 comment:

  1. It's interesting how he and CB were quite close while her siblings were falling and dying...she turned to him to unburden her mind and heart . I believe she greatly appreciated his mind, certainly his discernment and his soft heart... as she wrote to him after Emily's death

    "To papa I must only speak cheeringly, to Anne only encouragingly—to you I may give some hint of the dreary truth."
    And

    " I have got used to your friendly sympathy, and it comforts me".

    Quite an admission from CB

    You will know much more than I about the topic, but I believe the cooling between them happen because she was a pessimist and he, an optimist. While she was in great grief, they drew close....but eventually there must be cooling between such.

    Here is a long quote of Charlotte's to WSW which illustrates something of what I mean

    "You and Emerson judge others by yourselves; all mankind are not like you, any more than every Israelite was like Nathaniel.

    Is there a human being,” you ask, “so depraved that an act of kindness will not touch—nay, a word melt him?” There are hundreds of human beings who trample on acts of kindness and mock at words of affection. I know this though I have seen but little of the world.

    I suppose I have something harsher in my nature than you have, something which every now and then tells me dreary secrets about my race, and I cannot believe the voice of the Optimist, charm he never so wisely. On the other hand, I feel forced to listen when a Thackeray speaks. I know truth is delivering her oracles by his lips."

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