BRONTE, Charlotte (1816-1855). Author.
Autograph Letter (third person) to the Mayor of Oxford [Richard Spiers, mayor 1853-54], 1 page 8vo in her usual rather faint ink, Haworth, 19 June 1854. (Old mounting strip to the reverse only, a very faint pencilled note at the head). The lost reply to an invitation from the mayor and mayoress to an evening reception at [the old] Oxford Town Hall on 22 June.
The letter, set out in correct formal and disingenuous terms addresses the Mayor alone, and is the missing response to the invitation from the Mayor and Mayoress preserved in the Brontë Parsonage Museum, tentatively dated to 15 June 1854, published in The Letters of Charlotte Brontë, edited by Margaret Smith, Oxford 1995-2004, vol. three, p. 269, with the footnote 'CB no doubt refused, but no letter from her has been located'.
'... She would have had great pleasure in attending his Evening Reception were she not pledged to other engagements which she has not the option of deferring'Charlotte Brontë was indeed busy at this time, and it is in any case unlikely in the extreme that she would have contemplated accepting such an invitation. In April she had become, rather reluctantly, engaged to her father's curate, the Revd Arthur Bell Nicholls (1819-1906), announcing to her friends that 'what I taste of happiness is of the soberest order' but that she had 'hopes for some real germs of happiness'. The wedding was set for 29 June and took place at eight in the morning and was followed by a honeymoon in Ireland. She died less than a year later.
As to the party which Charlotte missed at Oxford, the Illustrated London News reported the event in considerable detail and included an illustration of the assembled company:
'... On Tuesday, the 22nd ult., a banquet was given at the town hall, which, in point of elegance and splendour, far surpassed the ordinary style of corporation entertainments. On this occasion, in addition to his corporate friends and fellow-citizens, the Mayor had invited the leading members of the University and county gentry - including Sir H. Peyton, Bart.; the High Sheriff; the Right Hon. J. W. Henley, M.P., Mr J. H. Langston, M.P.; the Right Hon. E. Cardwell, M.P.; Mr G. Harcourt, M.P., etc..
'The Reception by the Mayor and Mayoress in the Town-hall on Thursday evening was brilliantly attended. The invitations were extended to 1000. The object of this gathering was to bring again together the most distinguished members of the University, the county gentry, and the citizens, and to place before their notice works of art, rare literary works, and other objects calculated to gratify intelligent curiosity, and afford intellectual enjoyment. In this object the Mayor and Mayoress most eminently succeeded.
'The town-hall presented a most brilliant appearance, for around its walls were hung some of the choicest works of Millais, Hunt, Collins, Ansdell, Allom, Prout, D. Cox, and others illustrious in art; while on stands in many parts of the room were ranged a collection of water colour drawings, by some of the most distinguished artists of the present day. In the various recesses and in the centre of the room were models of the most finished pieces of sculpture, by Calder Marshall, Macdowall, and others, imparting a degree of grace and beauty to the scene which could not be surpassed.
'Soon after eight o'clock the company began to assemble. The list of guests included many of the most distinguished names in literature, science, and art. As they arrived they were introduced by Stewards to the Mayor, who then introduced them to the Mayoress, and she, as well as the Mayor, gave to each a cordial welcome. About ten o'clock the whole of the company had arrived, and, notwithstanding that upwards of 1000 persons were congregated together, there was an entire absence of confusion and pressure, owing to the excellent arrangements laid down and the admirable manner in which they were carried out by the Stewards, who undertook, as a labour of love, the duties which were assigned to them..
'The Town-hall-yard was covered with a spacious tent, in which refreshments were dispensed. The Public Library was crowded during the night with parties examining the beautifully illustrated works, lent for the occasion by the Architectural Society, other public bodies, and private individuals. ...'
With a small photograph of a version of the portrait of Charlotte Brontë by George Richmond.
The image links to a larger or more detailed version.