Keighley Local Studies Library holds a nationally important collection of books and articles on the Brontë family, Society and Museum.
This year marks 200 years since the birth of Patrick Branwell Brontë, the brother of the Brontë sisters. To summarise the life of any of the Brontë children is to put in stark relief the struggles faced by these talented young adults with little money and few connections, trying to make a living from the few employment opportunities available in any early nineteenth century Yorkshire town. The subsequent toll on their brilliance and creativity, necessarily frustrated by having to pursue work beyond their scope of interest, their subsequent lack of time, inhospitable surroundings and health concerns, led to thwarted ambition in all cases but, in that of Branwell, to the ultimate early destruction of body, mind and spirit.
The following is a short summary of Branwell’s tragic life, highlighting some of the publications and resources available for further study in Keighley Library’s newly extended Brontë collection.
Patrick Branwell Brontë was born in Thornton on the 26th June 1817, fourth child and only son of Patrick and Maria. Largely educated in the classics by his father, he was soon making his own contributions to the Glasstown/Angrian saga and became an early avid reader of Blackwood’s magazine of satire, political commentary, prose stories, book reviews, pictures and poetry. In fact, Branwell pursued literary publication throughout his life, experimenting with all forms of the written word but was especially successful with poetry which was published in newspapers of the time.
Branwell also received art and music lessons locally. He showed early promise as a painter and received lessons from John Bradley, a founder of Keighley’s Mechanics’ Institute and William Robinson, a professional Leeds portrait painter. In 1836, in pursuit of a career as a painter, he went to study at the Royal Academy schools with letters of introduction from Robinson. He returned after a few days, penniless, however, apparently having got no further than The Castle Tavern at Holborn.
Branwell took early music lessons from Keighley’s parish organist, Abraham Sunderland, and eventually played the church organ, though he seemed to prefer the after service entertainments in the Black Bull to more serious spiritual contemplation. However, one should always remember that he was hardly out of his teens at this time (1836-1838). Branwell frequently sought out the company of John Brown, Church sexton, in the neighbouring Black Bull pub and here his conversation was known to be entertaining and witty. He also became a Freemason and secretary in the local lodge.
Between 1838-1839, Branwell became a portrait painter in Bradford, but apparently only got sufficient commissions to cover his basic costs. For the professional challenges he faced in terms of established competition, please see Juliet Barker’s The Brontës, (Abacus, 2010), p.354. He returned home but in 1840 became teacher to the sons of Mr Postlethwaite of Broughton-in-Furness. He continued to write poetry. He was dismissed in June 1840 and recent researchers have speculated that it was perhaps for fathering a child out of wedlock.
Following this dismissal, Branwell became Clerk on the Leeds and Manchester Railway, first at Sowerby Bridge, then Luddenden Foot but following the theft of money by an employee in Branwell’s charge, he was dismissed in March 1842. Nevertheless, this period had been a creative one with the publication of poetry in the Halifax Guardian and he had made a lifelong friend in Francis Grundy, to whom we owe one of the few thoughtful descriptions of Branwell’s character by a personal friend of his own.
Between December 1842 -1845, Branwell was tutor to the Robinson family of Thorp Green, York but, in June 1845, he was dismissed, this time thought to be as a result of an affair with Mrs Robinson.
After this dismissal, Branwell attempted to find another job, wrote more poetry and attempted to write a novel, based on his earlier Angrian writings. Mrs Robinson’s husband died in 1848 but Branwell was unable to forge any kind of a reconciliation with her and his health declined at home rapidly. Branwell died on 24th September 1848, just 31 years old. His death certificate stated death due to, ‘Marasmus’ which is ‘physically wasting away’, The Brontës by Juliet Barker, 92, p1093.
Select Bibliography of books and articles relating to Branwell Brontë at Keighley Local Studies Library
- Branwell Brontë by Winifred Gérin (Hutchinson & Co (Publishers) Ltd, 1961)
- The Infernal World of Branwell Brontë by Daphne Du Maurier (Victor Gollancz Ltd, 1960)
- The Brontë Family with special reference to Patrick Branwell Brontë by Francis A. Leyland (Hurst & Blackett 1886)
- Pictures of the past: Memories of men I have met and places I have seen by Francis H. Grundy (Griffith and Farran, 1879)
Many articles have appeared in the Brontë Society Transactions from 1895, including subjects such as Branwell and his connections to the Freemasons, and his possible contribution to Wuthering Heights as well as discussions on his letters and works and life generally. For a full list of articles, please ask to see the index. Keighley Library has a near complete run to date of the Transactions, available for reference.
Brontë Scrapbooks of news cuttings are updated regularly in Keighley Local Studies Library. They are indexed and include articles and news reports from local newspapers and magazines covering all the latest research, Parsonage Museum acquisitions, film, theatre, radio and television productions.
Works of Branwell Brontë
- Brother in the Shadow, Stories & Sketches by Patrick A Branwell Brontë, Research and Transcriptions by Mary Butterfield, Selection and Editing by R.J. Duckett (Bradford Libraries, 1988)
In 2017, Keighley Library should acquire new publications of Branwell’s letters and works.
Books in Keighley Library that show Branwell’s art works most clearly and comprehensively:
- The Art of the Brontës by Christine Alexander and Jane Sellar (Cambridge University Press, 1995) shows the most comprehensive collection of works, for reference only.
- The Brontës and their World by Phyllis Bentley (Book Club Associates by arrangement with Thames & Hudson Ltd, 1972)
- The Brontës by Juliet Barker, photograph of the lost oil painting of sisters with Branwell, ‘gun’ portrait, plate 16.
Portraits of friends and places frequented
William Robinson of Leeds from a self-portrait, Branwell Brontë (Winifred Gerin), plate 7
John Brown, Haworth sexton and Hartley Colderidge, Joseph Bentley Leyland of Halifax, sculptor, one of Branwell’s closest friends; The Black Bull, Haworth photo in the Brontës’ day; Lord Nelson Inn and Luddenden Inn, all in The Brontës and Their World (Phyllis Bentley).
National & Local Archive Collections
Search http://discovery.nationalarchives.gov.uk for Branwell Brontë for a comprehensive listing.
Haworth Parsonage’s Museum and Library holds amongst other items the Bonnell Collection. Henry Houston Bonnell was a life member of the Brontë Society and collected Brontë material from the 1890s. It includes manuscripts, letters and drawings by Branwell Brontë and annotated books owned by the family. Leeds University also has a collection of note: http://www.library.leeds.ac.uk
Please ask staff for the catalogue and new information booklet.