Through the Era of the Novels and the Final Years
William Smith Williams
William Smith Williams
George Smith (publisher)
George Smith

William Smith Williams was the literary advisor (or 'reader', as he was more commonly referred to) to Smith, Elder & Co. - Charlotte's publisher. The company's manager and joint owner was one George Smith. Charlotte ultimately became close friends with these gentlemen, writing frequently to them both. On one occasion, when she was ill, Anne wrote a letter on her behalf to Smith Williams (see 'The Letters of Anne Brontë' - from 'Main Page'). When Anne and Charlotte paid an uninvited visit to the publishers in July 1848 in order to dispel the rumour that the three 'Bell brothers' were in fact all one and the same person, they were greeted by a shocked George Smith. He did, however, take it upon himself to entertain the two ladies during their four-day stay in London. Both these gentlemen lived into old age, Smith Williams dying at the age of 77 in 1875, and George Smith, who went on to become 'the grand old man of English publishing' died in 1901 at the age of 78.

Smith, Elder and Co. (Publishers) premises
Premises of Smith, Elder & Co.
65, Cornhill, London
Chapter Coffee House - Paternoster Row
The Chapter Coffee House
Paternoster Row, London

The picture on the left shows number 65, Cornhill, London - the premises of Smith, Elder & Co. - Charlotte's publishers. It was into this building where she and Anne walked on Saturday, 8 July 1848, and shocked George Smith (who had already published Jane Eyre, but had never met its author) by presenting him with his own letter that he had addressed to 'Currer Bell': it took him several moments to realise that standing in front of him were Currer and Acton Bell - authors of Jane Eyre and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall.

On the right is a picture of the 'Chapter Coffee House' (on Paternoster Row - behind St. Paul's Cathedral), where the girls stayed on this occasion. It was also where Charlotte, Emily and Patrick stayed en route to Brussels in February 1842. The lodgings had been known to Patrick since 1806 when he stayed there while visiting London for his ordination. In this picture, the 'Coffee House' is the building on the left, being viewed from Paul's Alley; Paternoster Row runs across the picture (behind the lady), and St. Paul's Cathedral is situated behind the artist. The narrow Paul's Alley, as observed here, can be seen in the map below (direction of this view on the map: bottom to top).

In her biography, The Life of Charlotte Brontë, Elizabeth Gaskell gave a graphic description of the Chapter Coffee House. She had visited the building the previous June, but by this time it had become vacant:

'Paternoster Row was for many years sacred to publishers. It is a narrow flagged street, lying under the shadow of St. Paul's; at each end there are posts placed, so as to prevent the passage of carriages, and thus preserve a solemn silence . . . The dull warehouses on each side are mostly occupied at present by wholesale stationers; if they be publishers' shops, they show no attractive front to the dark and narrow street. Half-way up, on the left-hand side, is the Chapter Coffee-house. I visited it last June. . . It had the appearance of a dwelling-house, two hundred years old or so, such as one sometimes sees in ancient country towns; the ceilings of the small rooms were low, and had heavy beams running across them; the walls were wainscoted breast high; the staircase was shallow, broad, and dark, taking up much space in the centre of the house. This then was the Chapter Coffee-house, which, a century ago, was the resort of all the booksellers and publishers; and where the literary hacks, the critics, and even the wits, used to go in search of ideas or employment. . .' 66

Map showing location of the 'Coffee House' on Paternoster Row/Paul's AlleyAutographs of the BellsThe map on the left was drawn by Patrick Brontë to indicate the location of the Chapter Coffee House on Paternoster Row.67n Paternoster Row is the one shown running horizontally central through the picture, and the small square in the map-centre represents the 'Coffee House' (click on this map for a larger, more detailed version (27K)).

One of the Brontës' earliest 'fans' was a Mr. Enoch of Warwick, who had been captivated by 'Poems by Currer, Ellis and Acton Bell'. He requested, via the poem-book publishers, Aylott & Jones (who also, incidentally, were situated on Paternoster Row), the Messrs. Bell autographs. The picture on the right shows the set of three psudomonious signatures sent to him by the sisters.


'Haworth' by Elizabeth Gaskell
Haworth Parsonage, Sunday School and Church
By Elizabeth Gaskell
First Brontė biographer - Elizabeth Gaskell
Mrs. Elizabeth Cleghorn Gaskell

Charlotte met the author Elizabeth Gaskell while on a visit to the Lake District in August 1850 - over a year after both Anne and Emily had died. The two became very close friends. Shortly after Charlotte's death, Patrick requested that Mrs. Gaskell write Charlotte's biography. She agreed and subsequently resolved 'to put down everything I remembered about this dear friend and noble woman'. Two years later, 1857 saw the publication of The Life of Charlotte Brontë - making Elizabeth Gaskell the first of what has become a long list of Brontë biographers. The picture on the left shows her own drawing of Haworth, which appeared as an illustration in that book. (published by the same company Charlotte used; namely Smith, Elder & Co.). While a very appealing sketch, perspective is not accurate, and it is a somewhat romanticised view of the area - as proven by contemporary photographs. Elizabeth Gaskell died suddenly on 12 November 1865.

The 'Gun Group Portrait' (c.1834) (photograph of original painting)
The 'Gun Group' Portrait (photograph)
Rev. Arthur Bell Nicholls
Rev. Arthur Bell Nicholls

This is an actual photograph of 'The Gun-Group' portrait - an oil painting produced by Branwell around 1833/34. The photograph is now in extremely poor condition (as seen here - sorry folks, it's not my poor 'scanning' - this is as good as it gets!). The subjects are, from left to right: Anne, Charlotte, Branwell and Emily. Shortly after Patrick Brontë's death in 1861, Charlotte's husband, Arthur Bell Nicholls (pictured on right), took the painting back with him to his home town of Banaghar, in southern Ireland. He tore off the section showing Emily and destroyed the remainder believing the likenesses of the other three to be so poor. The original 'Emily' section is now on display in the National Portrait Gallery, London. This photograph is believed to have been taken around 1860, and was discovered, by Dr. Juliet Barker, amongst some papers left to the Brontë Society in 1989.

Copyright © 1999 Michael Armitage

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