Artwork of the Branwell Brontë letters

Many of Branwell Brontë’s letters to Leyland included striking examples of his artwork. The first drawing in the series titled ‘Resurgam’ is attached to the first letter. This is addressed to Joseph Bentley Leyland and dated 15th May 1842 (BC MS 19c Brontë/02/01/01). It may have inspired Charlotte Brontë at the end of Chapter IX in Jane Eyre – “but now a grey marble tablet marks the spot, inscribed with her name and the word ‘Resurgam.’”

Some drawings allude to Brontë’s personal experiences. The second drawing, ‘Alas poor Caunt!’ is found at the end of the letter to Leyland dated 10 September 1845 (BC MS 19c Brontë/02/01/08). It depicts the boxers William Thompson (‘Bendigo’, 1811-1880) and Ben Caunt (1815-1861), and could be a reference to Branwell’s own background as a boxer.

The drawing on the bottom half of the sheet accompanying the letter to Leyland dated January 1848 (BC MS 19c Brontë/02/01/21) depicts men drunkenly collapsing around a table and is titled ‘The rescue of the punchbowl. A scene in the Talbot.’ The drawing depicts Branwell’s (presumably drunken) behaviour the previous week at the Talbot pub in Halifax, as described in the letter.

The drawing at the top of the letter to Leyland dated October 1846 (BC MS 19c Brontë/02/01/14), titled ‘Paradise and Purgatory,’ depicts John Brown in modes of drunkenness and sobriety. Branwell looked up to the older Brown, who was also known for his fondness for drink.

Some of the sketches refer to Brontë’s increasing sense of anguish over Lydia Robinson, as well as hinting at his own death. An example can be seen in the drawing at the end of the letter to Leyland dated 28th April 1846 (BC MS 19c Brontë/02/01/10). Titled 'Our Lady of greif'[sic] (see image), the drawing is a statue of a woman standing on a plinth in a pose of despair and presumably refers to Lydia Robinson.

Francis Leyland would later write of the sketch: “we need not entertain a doubt as to whom it is intended to represent.” In the accompanying letter Brontë discusses his sadness in Haworth, claiming that none of his family sympathise with his plight.

Pen and Ink Sketch by Branwell

Copyright University of Leeds