William Weightman: The Brontës’ Valentine

The esteemed Durham graduate, William Weightman, became the Reverend Partick Brontë’s second curate in August 1839. Recently, he had just graduated with a Licentiate in Theology at Durham University. This was a fairly new qualification, Durham the first university to attempt to apply Anglican doctrine to academia – Bob Gamble discusses this further in his “Northern Lights: The University of Durham and William Weightman,” Brontë Studies (forthcoming Oct 2014).article-2342097-1A461714000005DC-572_634x786 Although many would think immediately of L.Th in Theology to be fairly straight-laced, a cartoon, drawn be one of this university contempories, Cuthbert Bede, reveals a naughtier side to Durham’s Anglican students.

After completing his licentiate and becoming ordained by the Bishop of Ripon, Weightman was sent to Haworth. It is clear that he made an impact on the Parsonage; Charlotte’s letters reveal that the whole family frequently enjoyed his company. In 1840, Weightman discovered that the sisters had never received a Valentines card (cue awws!) so he walked 10 miles to post them an anonymous card (cue more awws). The girls were not fooled though; they soon recognised the Bradford post-mark put two and two together. Unfortunately we only know the titles from three of his cards: ‘Fair Ellen, fair Ellen’ [to Ellen Nussey], ‘Away fond Love’ and ‘Soul divine’. We do, however, know Charlotte’s poetic response to Weightman’s ‘cruel’ trick:

A Rowland for your Oliver

We think you’ve justly earned;

You sent us each a valentine,

Your gift is now returned.

We cannot write or talk like you;

We’re plain folks every one;

You’ve played a clever trick on us,

We thank you for the fun.

Believe us when we frankly say

(Our words, though blunt are true),

At home, abroad, by night or day,

We all wish well to you.

And never may a cloud come o’er

The sunshine of your mind;

Kind friends, warm hearts, and happy hours,

Through life we trust you’ll find.

Where’er you go, however far

In future years you stray,

There shall not want our earnest prayer

To speed you on your way. . .[i]

image1-2Weightman’s charm captured the hearts of all the Brontë girls [especially Anne], Charlotte writing ‘he is a thorough male flirt’ and that ‘he has scattered his impressions far and wide’ – he obviously had an eye for all of them too![ii] Charlotte’s letters seem to suggest that he returned Anne’s supposed strong affections: ‘He sits opposite Anne in church sighing softly and looking out of the corners of his eyes to win her attention – and Anne is so quiet, her look so downcast – they are a picture.’[iii]

Like most Brontë stories nevertheless, this is another that ends in tragedy. Weightman caught cholera whilst visiting the sick and died on 6th September 1842 at the age of 28. The Brontë family was devastated, Revd Brontë acknowledging at his funeral sermon that they were ‘always like father and son’.[iv] Anne’s poem, written in December 1842, is thought to be an attempt to come to terms with her grief. I will leave you with it:

I will not mourn thee, lovely one,

Though thou art torn away.

‘Tis said that if the morning sun

Arise with dazzling ray

And shed a bright and burning beam

Athwart the glittering main,

‘Ere noon shall fade that laughing gleam

Engulfed in clouds and rain.

And if thy life as transient proved,

It hath been full as bright,

For thou wert hopeful and beloved;

Thy spirit knew no blight.

If few and short the joys of life

That thou on earth couldst know,

Little thou knew’st of sin and strife

Nor much of pain and woe.

If vain thy earthly hopes did prove,

Thou canst not mourn their flight;

Thy brightest hopes were fixed above

And they shall know no blight.

And yet I cannot check my sighs,

Thou wert so young and fair,

More bright than summer morning skies,

But stern death would not spare;

He would not pass our darling by

Nor grant one hour’s delay,

But rudely closed his shining eye

And frowned his smile away,

That angel smile that late so much

Could my fond heart rejoice;

And he has silenced by his touch

The music of thy voice.

I’ll weep no more thine early doom,

But O! I still must mourn

The pleasures buried in thy tomb,

For they will not return. [v]

[i] Victor Neufeldt, The Poems of Charlotte Brontë, 271.

[ii] Margaret Smith, The Letter of Charlotte Brontë, 222-4.

[iii] Juliet Barker, The Brontës, 366.

[iv] Brontëana, 258.

[v] Despondency and Other Poems, 10.


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