October 22, 2017
The Death of Anne BronteOn this day in 1849 Anne Bronte died of tuberculosis, at age twenty-nine. This was the third death in eight months among the Bronte siblings, Emily's and Branwell's coming earlier. A total of six Bronte children were born in a six-year period, 1814-1820: the two eldest died of tuberculosis at age eleven and ten, and within six weeks of each other; the three youngest died of the same disease (along with alcohol and opium, in Branwell's case), all three in their late twenties or early thirties; Charlotte would die six years later, age thirty-nine, during the last stages of pregnancy and from an unclear cause.
The standard view of Anne is that she had less talent than her siblings, and was cut from a plainer cloth: Charlotte was dominant and ambitious, Emily was odd and reclusive, Branwell was mercurial; Anne was meek, normal, and churchy. Compared to the opposite dramas of Branwell's and Emily's deaths -- Branwell indulgent, Emily a picture of "ruthless stoicism" -- Anne's death, as described by Charlotte, was almost a non-event:
There are few personal documents which can give us a sense of the real Anne, though her scribble of "sick of mankind and its disgusting ways" on the back of her prayer book seems to indicate a fiery spirit. Perhaps there is more than devotion and compliance in her "Last Lines," written several weeks after Emily's death and with her own in view:
Whate'er may be my written fate:
Whether thus early to depart,
Or yet a while to wait.
If Thou shouldst bring me back to life,
More humbled I should be;
More wise, more strengthened for the strife,
More apt to lean on Thee.
Should death be standing at the gate,
Thus should I keep my vow;
But, Lord! whatever be my fate,
Oh, let me serve Thee now!
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