George M. Smith, ‘Charlotte Brontë’ (1847–1855), in Cornhill Magazine, New Series, vol. ix (December 1900), pp. 778–95
the ten years from 1840 to 1850 were a very eventful decade to me. In 1844 my father fell into ill health, and went to live at Box Hill near Dorking, where he died in August 1846. Mr Elder had never taken a leading part in the business, and when my father’s health broke down the general management to a great extent fell on me. At this time I was twenty years of age. In the year 1845 we had to face the fact that my father’s condition was hopeless, and he retired from the firm. Mr Elder deciding to retire at the same time, a new partnership was constituted by the remaining partner (whose name I prefer not to mention) and myself. The partnership lasted only about two years, after which time I was under the painful necessity of dissolving it. The entire control of the business now fell upon my rather youthful shoulders. My condition was a very anxious one: nearly every penny my father possessed had been invested in the business; the provision for my mother and my young brothers and sisters was absolutely dependent on its success; and although the business was a profitable one, I had the gravest reasons for anxiety as to its financial position, which had been cruelly undermined. It will be seen that the situation was one to bring out whatever there was in me, and I worked with all the intensity and zeal of which I was capable. The work I got through may be described as enormous. In addition to my previous responsibilities, I had to take in hand the Indian and Colonial correspondence, of which my partner had previously been in charge. This work was, of course, more difficult for me at first, as the details of it were new, but I quickly mastered it. I must in those days have had great powers of endurance; the correspondence was heavy, the letters were often both very long and very important; I used to dictate to a clerk while two others were occupied in copying. It was a common thing for me and many of the clerks to work until three or four o’clock in the morning, and occasionally, when there was but a short interval between the arrival and departure of the Indian mails, I used to start work at nine o’clock of one morning, and neither leave my room nor cease dictating until seven o’clock the next evening, when the mail was despatched. During these thirty-two hours of continuous work I was supported by mutton-chops and green tea at stated intervals. I believe I maintained my health by active exercise on foot and horseback, and by being able after these excessive stretches of work to sleep soundly for many hours; on these occasions I generally got to bed at about eleven, and slept till three or four o’clock the next afternoon.
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