This essay places Emily Brontë's poetry within a tradition of eighteenth-century discourses on enthusiasm of both a poetical and religious nature. The question of where Brontë's fervent writing style, most often associated with her fiery novel Wuthering Heights, originated has long been debated, and it is suggested here that one available answer is enthusiasm. Two sources of enthusiasm pertinent to Brontë are explored: Methodism, with its dislike of doctrine and pantheistic emphasis on nature; and eighteenth-century poetics, as defined through figures like John Dennis and Edward Young. Religious and poetical enthusiasm are necessarily merged for Brontë, both infused by a kind of spiritual sublimity and dependence on the idea of transport she employed within her verse. Recognizing this allows the reader to historicize this often cryptic poet and thus rescue her from more arguably tenuous claims which deem her a mystic, a Shelleyan heretic, a writer repressed by Christianity, a victim of a tragic romance or simply a very angry woman. By instead locating her within an enthusiastic literary tradition, Brontë may be seen not only as a woman writer aware of her religious environment, but as a Romantic whose poetry accords as much with the sentiment of Night Thoughts as Mont Blanc.
In 1848, the critic E. P. Whipple condemned the author of Wuthering Heights as a "spendthrift" of "malice and profanity" who "overdoes the business" of literary expression (63). Charlotte Brontë too seems to have been bewildered by, and apologetic for, the intensity of Emily Brontë's emotive writing style, one driven by "a secret power and fire that might have informed the brain and kindled the veins of a hero" (xxxii). The burning and unruly emotion that marks the extreme passion felt by Catherine and Heathcliff is even more apparent in Brontë's Gondal sequence, a series of poems set amidst a civil war and narrated by visionary and effusive speakers. What sparked the violence of expression inherent to Emily Brontë's work, notably her poetry, is a question which I suggest may be addressed through the concept of enthusiasm, both as a religious and poetic concept. Wuthering Heights and the Gondal poems alike reflect Brontë's fascination with enthusiasm as it was signified both through Methodism, the religion that predominated in her home town, and eighteenth-century poetic theory, with its advocation of sublime emotion.
Brontë's relationship to these two sources of enthusiasm, Methodism and eighteenth-century poetics, will set the agenda for the discussion in this paper. Methodism, with its dislike of doctrine and almost pantheistic emphasis on nature, appealed to Brontë whose most famous poem, "No coward soul is mine" rejected the "thousand creeds" of orthodox Anglican religion as "withered weeds" (9, 11). Such verse was dramatically influenced by the eighteenth-century poetics of figures like John Dennis and Edward Young whom Brontë encountered in the family library. These writers offered a still religiously sublime alternative to the sometimes stagnant verses of the Methodist hymn writer. To suggest that Brontë's furious turn of expression originates from Methodist and poetic enthusiasm is important, I think, because it rescues her from more arguably tenuous charges which deem her a mystic, a Shelleyan heretic, a writer repressed by Christianity, a victim of a tragic romance or simply a very angry woman. By instead recognizing her as part of an enthusiastic literary tradition, Brontë may be seen not only as a woman writer aware of her religious environment, but as a Romantic whose poetry accords as much with the sentiment of Night Thoughts as Mont Blanc.
Brontë's poetry, transcribed into two separate notebooks, Gondal and non-Gondal, is rarely interpreted within its religious context. Her references to God, for example, when stripped of their religious frame, are read as anomalies obscuring the work of an otherwise clearly heretical poet. Several critics have commented upon the poet's historical position within Methodism, G. Elsie Harrison being the first to position Methodism as the "clue" to the Brontës' Wesleyan heritage. She argues that the "essence of old Methodism" submerged the Brontë household, preached by Patrick Brontë, whose poems, like Emily's, were "couched in the meter of Wesleyan hymns" (Clue 4). The most fervent of Haworth's residents, however, was Aunt Branwell, whom Brontë replaced as the "strong center of the household," according to Harrison, serving also to sustain her religious beliefs (130-31). Harrison reads Wuthering Heights with reference to Wesley's journal, the sermons of Jabez Bunting, and a letter by the Methodist William Grimshaw, curate of Haworth from 1742 (164-66). She even attributes Brontë's refusal to take opiates while dying to a Methodist aversion to drug-intake as that which interfered with God's natural plan (175). Harrison imposes a Methodist frame upon all of the Brontës, but it is "Emily" that she singles out as the writer who "achieved her reputation on her Methodist background" (Haworth 6). Brontë, Harrison claims, "had the good sense to stay at home with God and love and the Yorkshire moors" reading "'mad Methodist Magazines'" and imbibing "the essence of that Grimshaw legend" (38). These "mad Methodist Magazines, full of miracles and apparitions" appear in Charlotte's novel Shirley (1849), itself, as Juliet Barker suggests, a "portrayal of Emily as she might have been" (Barker 612). If Shirley Keeldar is Emily Brontë, then Shirley the novel is a "Methodist book" argues Harrison, with a logic that marks much of her conjectural commentary (Clue 180).
While Harrison goes too far in her Methodist narrative, many of her points have been substantiated by other critics. Amber M. Adams links Patrick Brontë with John Wesley through their mutual acquaintance, Thomas Tighe, vicar of Drumballyroney, County Down, who arranged Patrick's entrance to St. Johns, Cambridge (27). G. R. Balleine, Michael Baumber, John Lock and W. T. Dixon focus on William Grimshaw as an important influence on the Brontës. Valentine Cunningham and Stevie Davies both note Brontë's understanding of enthusiasm as a "referent for passion," although they do not relate it to her poetics (124; 145). Davies, too, comments on the "Methodist-inclined form of Anglicanism" Patrick practiced at Haworth Church (139, 154). James Fotherington notes that the Brontë's "Puritan ethics, their evangelical creed and seriousness" coloured the "spirit" of their writing (309). Susan Howe compares Brontë's poetry to the preaching style of the American Methodist, Jonathan Edwards. J. Hillis Miller notes the striking similarity between Brontë and Wesley's prose presentations of nature. Ken C. Burrows has proposed that Brontë manipulated Methodist hymn meter to create an "anti-hymn" genre which rejected "a form of worship" she "found stultifying," and enacted an "indictment" of Methodism as that which imprisoned the spirit (52). And Tom Winnifrith focuses on the "Wagnerian doctrine of redemption" central to Brontë's work, one that arguably balances the orthodox Anglicanism of Nelly Dean and extreme dissenting Calvinism of Joseph (9, 14).
Most recently, Marianne Thormählen has traced the theological implications of the Brontës' writing in her study, The Brontës and Religion, usefully cataloguing the religious literature Emily read. Yet Thormählen remains unwilling to question how the poet wrangled with these theological ideas. This is largely a consequence of her focus on the Brontës' prose as a formative of a series of books that "confirm fundamental Christian tenets," Wuthering Heights elevated as a Christian critique of the irreverent sinner (6). Such arguments, however, cannot be applied to Emily's poetry in the same way. Where such poetry is considered, it is collectively rendered "an intriguing sample-card of views" on "what happens after death" rather than an engagement with religious ideas and the manner through which such ideas might be expressed. Indeed, Thormählen's contention that "the restrictions" against which Brontë's narrators "chafe are [merely] tangible ones (such as grave mounds and dungeon walls)" leads her away from their struggle to find a suitable voice to discuss theological principles, a voice that is deeply marked by enthusiasm (73).
The relative unwillingness of modern criticism to explore Brontë's own understanding of theological ideology outside of speculation, especially within her verse, is in part a result of her positioning within Romanticism. Although historically located between the Romantic and Victorian eras, Brontë is rendered Romantic by countless critics, considered "romantic in her temper and phrasing" and aligned with all the canonical male Romantic poets (Fotherington 107-33). Yet as Robert Ryan argues, critics tend to take the Romantics seriously as "religious thinkers" only so far as they articulate "private intuitions of a noumenal order rather than as active participants in the public religious life of their times" (8). While recent work follows Ryan's contention that the Romantics were in fact preoccupied by questions of religion spurred by the Protestant revival, little of it addresses women poets, with Anna Barbauld and Hannah More as the main exceptions (Ryan 1, 10). Contextualizing Brontë's verse within revivalism illuminates both her literary expression and religious values, and it is the religious fervor associated with both Methodism and the "warmer" factions of Anglicanism to which I now turn.
Brontë's awareness of Methodism, the religion dominating both her home and society, was profound. Methodism had its most dramatic outbursts in the West Riding area of Yorkshire, in which Haworth is situated and where Brontë lived, accommodating over 17,000 Methodist members from the half-million Methodist population of Britain in the nineteenth century. This number was supported by Methodist schools such as the Clergy Daughter's School at Cowan Bridge, attended by Brontë from the age of six, and the Wesleyan Woodhouse Grove, where Brontë's clergyman father was an examiner (Baxter 66). Haworth itself is considered by some church historians to have been the original site of Evangelical radicalism, the favourite preaching ground of John Wesley, leader of the Methodist movement, and where William Grimshaw, the preacher who Wesley chose to succeed him, was rector from 1742.
The Methodist faith forged by Wesley and Grimshaw attracted penitent individuals because of the excitement and vibrancy associated with the conversion experience, one which came to be recognized as a form of enthusiasm. Religious enthusiasm signified a state of profound divine inspiration wherein the individual was overcome by a spiritual feeling that provoked intense passion, fury, anger and imaginative powers, each testifying to God's dominion. Such effusive involvement with one's faith effected an overdose of religion deemed enthusiastic and the roots of this word, "en" and "theos," suggest that enthusiasts were seen to be "in God" in an unusual way. Wesley's particular conversion technique consisted of provoking sinners into a state of religious delirium in which they would fall to the ground crying and groaning out in prayer, often fainting dramatically and speaking in tongues. These individuals generally underwent a sudden and inspired religious regeneration aided by Wesley who was on hand to save them from intrusive demons and, in doing so, to demonstrate the power of God.
Such behavior was instantly regarded with distrust by those who recalled enthusiasm from the civil war as an evil that had provoked dissonant behaviour with terrible results, including the execution of Charles I (Gunter 16, 120). Robert Southey, for example, declared in a review of Myle's History of the Methodists for the Annual Review for 1803, that a "worse danger than the spread of [m]ethodism can scarcely be apprehended for England" and rendered enthusiasm a mental disease in his Life of Wesley (qtd. in Carnall 207). Bishop George Lavington of Exeter also attacked Wesley in a series of public letters to which Brontë had access in her father's theological library. Within the letters, Lavington accused Wesley of promoting an enthusiasm he believed lowered Protestantism to the contemptible level of Catholicism. For Lavington, enthusiasm compelled its partakers "into direct Madness and Distraction, either of the moaping, or the raving kind; or both of them, by successive Fits; or into the manifold Symptoms of a Delirium, and Phrenzy" intoxicating them with the "Phantoms of a crazy brain" (1: 49; 3: 12). A language of enthusiasm influenced by Methodism, then, was a serious threat to English civility and reason, especially if used by women whom Southey, at least, believed should avoid the practice of writing altogether (qtd. in Gordon 65).
For Brontë, a pupil of a Methodist school and daughter of a minister preaching in a historically Methodist pulpit, Methodism indeed offered a language through which to voice an extremity of passionate expression, one which appealed to men and women alike. Coleridge, for example, suggested in his Notes on English Divines that enthusiasm allowed "an undue" or "unusual vividness of ideas" (qtd. in Tucker 47). It is such a vividness of ideas that marks Brontë's writing, the most prominent verbs in Wuthering Heights being "writhe, drag, crush, grind, struggle, yield, sink, recoil, outstrip, tear, drive asunder" (Miller 167). These verbs parallel those used by Lavington to describe Methodist practices, consisting, he declares, of a succession of "Shriekings, Roarings, Groanings, Tremblings, Gnashings, Yellings, Foamings, Convulsions, Swoonings, Droppings, Blasphemies, Curses, dying and despairing Agonies" (3: 23). Catherine and Heathcliff too are enraptured by a Christian frenzy which strongly recalls enthusiasm. Catherine constantly confesses that she is in a nervous and deranged state to Nelly, who in turn draws our attention to the "maniac fury" that kindles under Catherine's brows; and Heathcliff is emphatically portrayed by Brontë as "praying madly like a Methodist" for Catherine's return, delirious as he wanders the moors searching for her ghost (158).
Brontë's intimate description of Heathcliff's death at the end of the novel has even been traced by Katherine Sorensen to an incident recorded in the 24 June entry of Wesley's 1750 journal in which an Irishman tells the tale of his deceased son, John Dudley (Sorensen 1). Like Heathcliff, Dudley is obsessed by a dead woman, is in good health but feels close to death, prays with disturbing fervency, refuses to eat and wanders out after dark in an animated mood, only to be found dead the next day. Both men's bodies have undergone a "change," a phrase used by Methodists to designate religious conversion, and have been washed clean by the rain as if baptized into a new religion. Heathcliff's death, then, like the enthusiastic passion he displays during the novel, seems heavily based on Methodist sources. Figured through a religious fervor which subsists outside of any doctrinal system, Catherine and Heathcliff's passion parallels Methodist faith, also free from doctrine, Wesley always claimed, and grounded in the authority of feeling.
Wuthering Heights, then, indicates that Brontë associated Methodism with an enthusiasm indicative of fierce and passionate feeling. The Gondal sequence underlines this further, its main figure, Queen A. G. A., gaining power over others from her enthusiastic actions and by virtue of her capacity to invoke passion in others. Indeed, she betrays her first lover (Alexander, Lord of Elbë), who throws himself into battle where he is killed, causes the suicide of her second lover (Lord Alfred of Aspin Castle), exiles the third from the island of Gondal over which she rules (Amedeus), drives the fourth into a madness wherein he too commits suicide (Fernando de Samara), exploits the generosity of a fifth (Lord Eldred), and kills the child fathered by a sixth (Brenzaida). A. G. A. derives her power over these lovers by envisioning that her every action is inspired by an ardent God, believing that she owns a unique position in the world and refusing to repent for her many morally wrong actions. In this way she almost exactly accords with Wesley's definition of the enthusiast in his sermon, "The Nature of Enthusiasm" (1750). Wesley's enthusiast, like A. G. A., feels his "visions or dreams" to be sent directly from God, imagines that he is the "peculiar favourite of heaven" and claims redemption without repentance, too caught up in his devotional fervour (50, 54, 57).
Such ardency of belief found expression not only in the confessional narratives of Wesley's sermons, but also through a form of poetical enthusiasm popular in the eighteenth century. Communicated by the hymnal style of Watts, the Wesleys and Cowper and the verbose blank verse of Blair and Young alike, such enthusiasm elated its readers and heated a religion grown, as Dean Edward Young declared, "lukewarm" (qtd. in Bliss 127). The poetical frame in which A. G. A. speaks draws on this very enthusiasm, infused with the "long, short, and common measures" (Burrows 49; Davie 107) of the hymn, but marked by impassioned outbursts. Her narration, "O God of heaven! the dream of horror," combines both religious and poetic enthusiasm demonstrating how the two overlap, written at times like a Methodist hymn and at other points in couplets, always expressive of A. G. A.'s enthusiastic eruptions. The narrator of "Written in Aspin Castle" even declares that A. G. A. provokes enthusiasm both religiously, in that she appears like a god, and poetically, inspiring the speaker to effusively elaborate the details of a statue of her built by a one-time lover:
"There stands Sidonia's deity!
In all her glory, all her pride!
And truly like a god she seems
Some god—of wild enthusiast's dreams".
The word "Sidonia" immediately recalls the eighteenth-century muse, Milton, his Sidonian virgins appearing in Book I of Paradise Lost, and A. G. A.'s otherworldly presence is signified through a language of excessive sensibility and Methodist fervor. Drawing on such a language, Brontë underlines her awareness of, not only Methodism, but eighteenth-century poetic theory, factors which each effect how we understand Brontë's relationship to religion. For as a poet often aligned with a kind of Shelleyan heretical atheism, Brontë's interest in Methodism is erased and another Romantic poet rendered secular. Reading her work in relation to eighteenth-century poetics, however, imbued as it was by deeply religious sublimity and enthusiasm, Brontë can be recognized as a Romantic whose very poetical expression was derived from religion.
Brontë was familiar with eighteenth-century poetics and theories of the sublime, annotating Macpherson's Poems of Ossian and reading Burke's Inquiry, Young's Night Thoughts and Thomson's The Seasons in the family library. Enthusiasm and the sublime were constantly paired in relation to poetry in the eighteenth century, poetry itself long associated with invoking a kind of religious sublime. The contemporary Robert Lowth remarked that poetical language originated from the feeling of enthusiasm within the mind, while James Usher stated that "Enthusiasm is the very soul of poetry" (qtd. in Tucker 79, 84). For Joseph Addison, enthusiasm indicated a sometimes dangerous "influence of passion" and "imagination," but he also argued that strong feeling could arouse imaginative thoughts, a "man in a dungeon" more "capable of entertaining himself with scenes and landscapes" than the free man who relies on that which he sees "before the eye" ("Devotion" 72; "Pleasures" 394). The eighteenth-century critic John Dennis most clearly connected enthusiasm with sublimity, christianizing Longinus in order to resolutely define the sublime affect as derivative from religious ideas (Irlam 64). The Grounds of Criticism in Poetry (1704), for example, claims that poetry consists in enthusiastic passion inspired by religious ideas that invoke the sublime. Dennis writes: "the Nature of Poetry consists in Passion [. . .] which can be nothing but strong Enthusiasm; [and] Religion is the greatest, noblest, strongest source of Enthusiasm" (332). Moreover, "Since therefore the Enthusiasm in the greater Poetry, is to hold proportion with the Ideas; and those Ideas are certainly the greatest, which [. . .] shew the Attributes of God [. . .] it follows, That the greatest and strongest Enthusiasm that can be employ'd in Poetry, is only justly and reasonably to be deriv'd from Religious Ideas" (340). In turn, these ideas found the sublime by "moving the Soul from its ordinary Situation by the Enthusiasm which naturally attends them" (359). Dennis thus firmly located an enthusiastic sublime as essential to poetry, especially that verse which addressed God as that which inspired the imagination and so allowed the mind to expand in order to comprehend divinity.
While Brontë was influenced by early Romanticism, then, the at once divinely meditative and ardent verse of Blair and Young seems more comparable with Brontë's verse, especially grave-yard poems like "The night of storms has passed" and "I see around me tombstones grey." Overcast by an ominous twilight and infused with indistinct phantoms, these poems entomb the reader in a darkness invoked to enable contemplation of the soul and God. "The night of storms has passed," for example, envisions the dark hallucinations of its narrator, obsessed with "parted ghosts" who:
Above their prisoned dust to grieve
And wail their woeful doom.
Reeling from these apparitions, the narrator is then confronted further by:
a shadowy thing
Most dim and yet its presence there
Curdled my blood with ghastly fear
And ghastlier wondering.
Such images recall both the grinning "grisly spectres" that haunt the "witching time of night" in Blair's "The Grave" and the "shadowy shapes" that howl "amidst the midnight storm" in Collins's "Ode to Fear" (40, 55; 2, 13). Similarly, "I see around me tombstones grey" is focused on the "Torments and madness, tears and sin!" the grave-yard produces in her, equivalent to the "Fear! ah frantic Fear!" of Collins' Ode and thus marked by the same sense of panic and delirium (20; 5). Indeed, many of Gondal's narrators speak as if they were products of the eighteenth century, engaging in epiphanic interludes, ecstatic visions and sentimental outpourings peppered with exclamation marks and theological allusions. Removing the speaker from the world, such language serves to separate Brontë's narrators from religious orthodoxy while allowing them to experience the enthusiastic sublime Dennis outlines.
"Gleneden's Dream," for example, recounts the imprisonment of the narrator by his arch rival, Julius Brenzaida. In a vision sent from God, Gleneden is driven into an enthusiastic frenzy, madness striking "its poignard" in his "brain" (31-32). Crying that he once would "shudder" to kill even a "wounded deer," Gleneden becomes crazed and violent, fantasizing that he stabs Brenzaida through the heart (53-54). In enthusiastic form, the narrator exclaims his sins, announcing that "Shadows come! What means this midnight?" falling into a dementia from which he never recovers. While Gleneden's demise is lamentable, he is arguably better off amidst the enthusiasm which allows him to feel as if he has conquered his enemy than rotting idly within the cell. Feeling such wild visions in the prison space, Gleneden strongly recalls eighteenth-century archetypes of privation and feeling, secluded, visionary and ecstatic (Irlam 104). Like Addison's "man in a dungeon," he experiences an enthusiastic sublime because forced to rely on feeling rather than sight. And like the narrator of Young's Night Thoughts (1742), Gleneden trusts a belief in personal feeling as an authentic guide to his actions, a tenet central to the enthusiastic Methodism of Wesley. As the narrator declares in Night VII, urging his reader to prize strong feeling in religious matters:
Think not our Passions from Corruption sprung
[. . .]
I feel a Grandeur in the Passions too,
Which speaks their high Descent, and glorious End;
Which speaks them Rays of an Eternal Fire.
For Brontë and Young alike, then, the fervor of Methodism signalled a strong form of subjective individualism that so appealed that they were ultimately willing to accept the name enthusiast in their work. Young's Night VI, for example, conveys a fascination with enthusiasm as a vehicle through which to address the theme of immortality and those who doubt its reality due to the failure of religion. Void of enthusiasm, religion cannot encourage the development of the creative imagination needed to solidify the certainties of religious faith. Where Young's preface sets up these questions, his poem puts to them to the test in a rapturous language deliberately evocative of devotional emotion:
Enthusiastic, This? Then all are Weak,
But rank Enthusiasts: To this Godlike height
Some souls have soar'd; or Martyrs ne'er had bled.
And all may do, what has by man been done.
Who, beaten by these sublunary storms,
Boundless, interminable, joys can weigh,
Unraptur'd, unexalted, uninflam'd?
What Slave, unblest, who from to-morrow's dawn
Expects an Empire? He forgets his Chain,
And thron'd in Thought, his absent scepter waves.
Questioning the enthusiastic heights his own voice reaches here, Young elevates the enthusiasm of those who really do "soar" towards God by declaiming the boundless joys to which they have access. Rapture, exaltation and inflamed feeling reward Young's enthusiast who is rendered truly inspired, rather than falsely led, as writers like Shaftesbury and Southey feared. Imprisoned by the restraints of mortality the enthusiast may be enslaved as the above passage intimates, but, driven by the "strange [. . .] Bliss" of heaven, can endure, forgetting his chains and embraced by thoughts of God (619). As Young instructs the reader later in his epic:
The warm Imagination: Why condemn?
Why not indulge Such Thoughts, as swell our Hearts
With fuller Admiration of That Power,
Who gives our Hearts with such high Thoughts to swell?
Many of Brontë's fervent poetical characters are similarly isolated and visionary, summoning imaginative states of enthusiastic feeling induced by, and bringing the narrator closer to, God. The narrator of Brontë's poem, "The Prisoner," for example, renders God a towering and fervent being, able to sweep her up into an enthusiastic passion wherein she cries:
Oh, dreadful is the check—intense the agony—
When the ear begins to hear, and the eye begins to see;
When the pulse begins to throb, the brain to think again,
The soul to feel the flesh, and the flesh to feel the chain.
The chain felt by the prisoner underlines her entrapment within enthusiastic feeling, frozen within a scene of extreme sentimentality like Addison's man in a dungeon. Yet her enthusiasm numbs her to the point where any degree of torture, pain or anguish can be sustained in order to reach the final divine blessing from God (56). In her madness, the prisoner welcomes torment, the more intense her prostration before God the sooner she is granted benediction. Ebullient and crazed, she declares: "The more that anguish racks, the earlier it will bless," heralding in a vision of death itself: whether "'robed in fires of hell, or bright with heavenly shine,'" death is cherished here as a gift from God (59). Brontë's prisoner, then, seeks an enthusiastic end like the narrator of Night Thoughts; and yet, her demise is colored by Methodist enthusiasm as well as that inherited from Dennis and Young, for the prisoner's frenzied exit is driven by her overwhelming sense of closeness with God, a "peculiar favourite of heaven," as Wesley declared in his sermon on the subject.
The emphatic excitement that frames this depiction of enthusiasm becomes more complex in Brontë's later poetry, however, as if the poet begins to struggle to balance the power to be gained from enthusiastic language against the dogmatic implications which underlie its fierce Christian expression. "Why ask to know the date—the clime?" completed in 1848, a year after Wuthering Heights and contemporary with the European Revolutions, addresses the deplorable nature of war using religious language. Religion, like war, is rendered impassioned and frenzied. From stanza one, the narrator conflates religion with war, remarking on those soldiers' prayers which plead for the power to kill and abuse: "Men knelt to God and worshipped crime,/And crushed the helpless" (3-4). It is not too much later in the narrative until he is painting a personal vision of himself as one touched by the power of God:
Enthusiast—in a name delighting;
My alien sword I drew to free
One race, beneath two standards fighting,
For loyalty, and liberty—
Struggling to fight for liberty, the narrator champions enthusiasm as a driving force but it is a double-edged phenomenon, provoking him to join a cruel war in the name of a tyrannical God. Moved by "faces" staring from mass graves, he feels flashes "of human love" but continues the impassioned aggression with his fellow soldiers, all learning "to wear/An iron front to terror's prayer" (47-48, 39-40). The soldier comes to resemble Brontë and Young's enthusiastic believer, inflamed by the promised rewards of heaven, but granted only bewilderment. Brontë's attraction to enthusiasm as a device through which to express passion may have sustained itself up until the composition of her famous novel, but the dizzy heights she wished to reach were already wuthering and her attitude towards Christianity increasingly ambivalent.
Aligning Brontë's poetics with an eighteenth-century tradition of enthusiasm, then, allows us to review her troubled relationship to religion as well as the relationship between religious and poetic enthusiasm. As I have attempted to intimate briefly here, poetical enthusiasm lies close to Methodist enthusiasm for Brontë, and by recognizing both within her verse we are able to see one possible source for the extreme passion that marks all of her work. Moreover, by understanding this source as religious and poetical, the reader is liberated to view Brontë as a kind of self-fashioned enthusiastic poet who was also interested in Methodism. On a wider scale, this point helps us to nuance our understanding of Methodist and poetical enthusiasm. Rather than dividing them as if they are two separate phenomena, we can instead see the two as dependent on one another. If the Romantics as a group inherited and revised eighteenth-century poetical traditions, then poetical and Methodist enthusiasm might usefully be recognized in their work, salvaging them from a sometimes reductive secular critical frame. Blake, Wordsworth, and even Shelley use an enthusiastic language that gains power from its Methodist and poetical heritage, marked as much by the Wesleyan sermon as enlightenment sensibility. While Methodism did become a more obviously conservative force in the nineteenth century, the charismatic Wesley replaced by the dictatorial Jabez Bunting, its legacy for nineteenth-century poetry was one of vibrancy and passion and Brontë's powerful work remains a strong example of such a claim.
Poetry was the most popular literary genre of Protestant revivalism, best suited to convey God's message as a style expressive of "perspicuity and purity, propriety, strength," Wesley remarked (qtd. in Bebbington 67). Evangelical hymnody itself emerged from Augustan poetics, designed to communicate Christian doctrine in a clear and precise manner, offering a place for the worshipper to begin his or her meditations on the Bible. While often devoid of literary merit, the hymn versified tenets of scriptural law in an accessible and memorable manner enabled by its tune and meter, and in certain cases, notably the work of Charles Wesley and Cowper, the genre was capable of elevating the believer into a sublime feeling of faith. Wesley claimed that the hymn was designed to persuade "the critic to turn Christian rather than the Christian to turn critic" (qtd. in Balleine 29).
See Harrison, Methodist Good Companions; Haworth Parsonage; and The Clue to the Brontës.
Thormählen suggests that the Brontës knew the spiritual guide Christian Instructions by William Morgan and argues that "Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine and Fraser's Magazine were obvious transmitters of contemporary views on theological matters" (48-49).
Grimshaw's biographer, Frank Baker, suggests that the preacher's "ecstatic devotions, his robust preaching, and his swashbuckling spiritual discipline formed an important component in the background of the Brontë children. Particularly was this true of Emily" (267).
In her new edition of Wuthering Heights, Diane Long Hoeveler notes the short story, "The Bridegroom of Barna," as a further source for the story of Heathcliff's death.
See ll.55-58, for example: "I flung myself upon the stone/I howled and tore my tangled hair/And then when the first gush had flown/Lay in unspeakable despair."
"Sidonia" may also refer to Alfred, the surname to which the S. in his title corresponds, furthering the enthusiastic character of the ghost who feels that his godly A. G. A., "Sidonia's deity," belongs to him. Yet the name also refers to Meinhold's powerful heroine, Sidonia the Sorceress, feminizing Alfred to imply A. G. A.'s masculine power over him.
See also William Hazlitt's declaration that wherever "any object takes such a hold of the mind as to make us dwell upon it, and brood over it, melting the heart in tenderness, or kindling it to a sentiment of enthusiasm [. . .] this is poetry." See Tucker 92.
The narrative continues in "From our evening fireside now" (1839) wherein Gleneden is portrayed as "absent" and lost to a "darkly dawned [. . .] day" (17, 27); Roper and Chitham link the two poems, stating that Brontë marked the manuscript of "Tell me, whacher, is it winter?" with a bold "1" in ink above the title, and writing "2" above "From our evening fireside now" which is copied immediately before it (231).
Her clergyman father even excused Brontë from her duties as a teacher in his Sunday School, believing her moor wandering to be itself a form of religious worship and feeling (Gérin 148-49).
- Adams, Amber M. "Patronage and Poverty in County Down: The Case of Patrick Brontë." Ulster Folklife 33 (1987): 26-31.
- Addison, Joseph. "Devotion—Enthusiasm." The Spectator 201 (1711-12). The Works of the Right Honourable Joseph Addison with Notes by Richard Hurd. Ed. Henry G. Bohn. Vol. 3. London: George Bell and Sons, 1882. 70-73.
- Addison, Joseph. "Essays on the Pleasures of the Imagination." The Spectator 411 (1711-12). The Works of the Right Honourable Joseph Addison with Notes by Richard Hurd. Ed. Henry G. Bohn. Vol. 3. London: George Bell and Sons, 1882. 393-96.
- Baker, Frank. William Grimshaw: 1708-1763. London: Epworth, 1963.
- Balleine, G. R. A History of the Evangelical Party in the Church of England. London: Church Book Room Press, 1908.
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