The Life of Charlotte Bronte
During this summer of 1846, while her literary hopes were waning, an anxiety of another
kind was increasing. Her father's eyesight had become seriously impaired by the progress
of the cataract which was forming. He was nearly blind. He could grope his way about,
and recognise the figures of those he knew well, when they were placed against a strong
light; but he could no longer see to read; and thus his eager appetite for knowledge and
information of all kinds was severely balked. He continued to preach. I have heard that he
was led up into the pulpit, and that his sermons were never so effective as when he stood
there, a grey sightless old man, his blind eyes looking out straight before him, while the
words that came from his lips had all the vigour and force of his best days. Another fact
has been mentioned to me, curious as showing the accurateness of his sensation of time.
His sermons had always lasted exactly half an hour. With the clock right before him, and
with his ready flow of words, this had been no difficult matter as long as he could see.
But it was the same when he was blind; as the minute-hand came to the point, marking
the expiration of the thirty minutes, he concluded his sermon.
Under his great sorrow he was always patient. As in times of far greater affliction, he
enforced a quiet endurance of his woe upon himself. But so many interests were
quenched by this blindness that he was driven inwards, and must have dwelt much on
what was painful and distressing in regard to his only son. No wonder that his spirits gave
way, and were depressed. For some time before this autumn, his daughters had been
collecting all the information they could respecting the probable success of operations for
cataract performed on a person of their father's age. About the end of July, Emily and
Charlotte had made a journey to Manchester for the purpose of searching out an operator;
and there they heard of the fame of the late Mr. Wilson as an oculist. They went to him at
once, but he could not tell, from description, whether the eyes were ready for being
operated upon or not. It therefore became necessary for Mr. Bronte to visit him; and
towards the end of August, Charlotte brought her father to him. He determined at once to
undertake the operation, and recommended them to comfortable lodgings, kept by an old
servant of his. These were in one of numerous similar streets of small monotonous-
looking houses, in a suburb of the town. From thence the following letter is dated, on
August 21st, 1846:--
"I just scribble a line to you to let you know where I am, in order that you may write to
me here, for it seems to me that a letter from you would relieve me from the feeling of
strangeness I have in this big town. Papa and I came here on Wednesday; we saw Mr.
Wilson, the oculist, the same day; he pronounced papa's eyes quite ready for an
operation, and has fixed next Monday for the performance of it. Think of us on that day!
We got into our lodgings yesterday. I think we shall be comfortable; at least our rooms