Charlotte Bronte to G. H. Lewes, 18 January 1848, written from Haworth Parsonage (FromĀ The Letters of Charlotte Bronte, Ed. Margaret Smith, Clarendon Press). See manuscript images from the British Library.

Dear Sir

I must write to you one more note, though I had not intended to trouble you again so soon. I have to agree with you, and to differ from you.

You correct my crude remarks on the subject of the “influence” so well: I accept your definition of what the effects of that influence should be; I recognize the wisdom of your rules for its regulation.

About “Ranthorpe” I am right. By the last part of that work I understand only from page 271 to the end; the first portion, in which I include the episode of the Hawbuckes, is the best. You yourself admit it. You say “the great merit of the book lies in its views of literature and literary life, and in the reflections.” So I think, and it is in the first part these views are disclosed, and these reflections made. I like them. The views are just, the reflections profound; both are instructive.

What a strange sentence comes next in your letter! you say I must familiarize my mind with the fact that “Miss Austen is not a poetess, has no ‘sentiment’ (you scornfully enclose the word in inverted commas) no eloquence, none of the ravishing enthusiasm of poetry’ — and then you add, I must ‘learn to acknowledge her as one of the greatest artists, of the greatest painters of human character and one of the writers with the nicest sense of means to an end that ever lived.”

The last point only will I ever acknowledge. Can there be a great Artist without poetry? What I call — what I will bend to as a great Artist, there cannot be destitute of the divine gift. But by poetry I am sure you understand something different to what I do — as you do by “sentiment”. It is poetry, as I comprehend the word which elevates that masculine George Sand, and makes out of something coarse, something godlike. It is “sentiment”, in my sense of the term, <a> sentiment jealously hidden, but genuine, which extracts the venom from that formidable Thackeray, and converts what might be only corrosive poison into purifying elixir. If Thackeray did not cherish in his large heart deep feeling for his kind, he would delight to exterminate; as it is, I believe he wishes only to reform.

Miss Austen, being as you say without “sentiment”, without poetry, may be — is sensible, real (more real than true) but she cannot be great.

I submit to your anger which I have now excited (for have I not questioned the perfection of your darling?) the storm will pass over me. Nevertheless I will, when I can (I do not know when that will be as I have no access to a circulating library) diligently peruse all Miss Austen’s works, as you recommend.

I have something else to say. You mention the authoress of “Azeth the Egyptian”: you say you think I should sympathize “with her daring imagination and pictorial fancy.” Permit me to undeceive you: with infinitely more relish can I sympathize with Miss Austen’s clear common sense and subtle shrewdness. If you find no inspiration in Miss Austen’s page, neither do you find there windy wordiness: to use your words once again, she exquisitely adapts her means to her end: both are subdued, a little contracted, but never absurd. I have not read “Azeth”, but I did read or begin to read a tale in the “New Monthly” from the sam[e] pen, and harsh as the opinion may sound to you, I must candidly avow that I thought it both turgid and feeble: it reminded me of some of the most inflated and emptiest parts of Bulwer’s novels: I found in it neither strength, sense, nor originality.

You must forgive me for not always being able to think as you do, and still believe me

Yours gratefully

C Bell.