The origins of the Brontë juvenilia are now legendary. In June 1826, Branwell Brontë was famously given a set of wooden toy soldiers by his father, Patrick. This seemingly unimportant event – a father gifting his son a set of toys to play with – has become monumental in the story of the Brontës. Patrick’s gift was the catalyst for the creation of the Brontë siblings’ paracosmic world of Glass Town. Each surviving Brontë sibling (Branwell, Charlotte, Emily, and Anne) picked a soldier, naming them, and creating the characters that would become an integral part of their childhood stories and the later expansion of this world over the next decade (or two decades in Branwell’s case).
Charlotte chose her political hero, the Duke of Wellington; Branwell chose a character who was the antagonist of Charlotte’s hero both on and off the page, Naopoleon Bonaparte; Emily and Anne chose Gravey and Waiting Boy, who would eventually evolve into the famous explorers, Parry and Ross. These soldiers, known as The Twelves, made their way into the Brontës’ earliest writings and eventually became the centre of their imaginary world of Glass Town. Both Charlotte and Branwell wrote accounts of how each soldier was chosen and named, with the former writing a brief description on March 12th 1829 of this event in a fragment headed simply “Young Men’s”. Branwell wrote a somewhat more detailed description titled The History of the Young Men From Their First Settlement To The Present Time (15th December 1830 – 7th May 1831) which was written in the persona of the Glass Town historian, Captain John Bud.
Over the next few years, the siblings spent time recording these events on any scrap of paper they could get their hands on and creating their famous tiny books. These tiny books were greatly influenced by the Brontës’ favourite 19th century periodicals including Fraser’s Magazine and Blackwood’s Magazine and provided the siblings with a secret space where they could play at being editors and writers. These books are extraordinary on so many levels. Despite being matchbox sized, the detail they contain is often unbelievable. Not only do they contain stories, characters, advertisements, but a whole world. I have been privileged to view and handle some of these treasures in the Brontë Parsonage Museum as part of my dissertation research in 2016, and again last year as part of a trip during the Sixth International Literary Juvenilia Conference. They truly are fascinating and have much to teach us about the Brontës’ childhood, their play, and literary influences.
Eight years ago, one of these precious little books went under the hammer at auction, and tragically, the Brontë Parsonage Museum were outbid by a private collector. This tiny book is written by Charlotte and dated 19th August 1830. Like the others, it contains evidence of a private imaginary world, a secret space shared by the siblings, one which, remarkably, still survives almost two hundred years after the budding writers first decided to play at being authors and explore exactly what that meant to them. The book is one in a sequence of six, five of which are known to survive, with four of these already owned by the Parsonage and the familiar name of Lord Charles Wellesley, Charlotte’s favourite nom de plume, graces the head of the second page. To put it bluntly, as a devotee of the Brontë juvenilia, I’m dying to read the contents of this magical little book, and to see where it fits in with the larger Glass Town series.
Now this book is back on the market and the Brontë Parsonage Museum are once again trying to bring the book back to Haworth, the place of its creation so long ago, and its one true home. They have started a campaign which encourages Brontëites to donate anything they can spare in order to bring the book home once and for all. You can click here to be re-directed to the Brontë Parsonage Museum’s website where you can find details of how you can donate and be a part of the Brontë legacy. The Parsonage will of course be drawing on a combination of funds to place their bid and if they are unsuccessful, your money will be returned to you. The book goes under the hammer again on 18th November, so time is running out to save this tiny book from being stuffed away in a private collection again. Bringing it back home would ensure that it can be accessed by visitors and researchers in the future. It would also ensure that I could post about its contents one day 😉 .
If you need any further proof of the extraordinary fantasy worlds of the Brontës and exactly why we should act to save this tiny book, then simply flick through the posts and pages of Brontë Babe Blog where I attempt to introduce readers to these tiny books and the big worlds they contain and inspired.
In Loving Memory of Bob the Bichon.
A lover of life, the Brontës, and Haworth who knows that I’m just going to write because I can’t help it.
By Nicola F. a.k.a. The Brontë Babe.
All quotes are taken from Tales of Glass Town, Angria, and Gondal (Oxford University Press, 2010), edited by Christine Alexander.
Please do not copy, share, or use the images from this post without seeking permission first.