Wednesday, 14 February 2018

The Brontë Brussels Calendar: February 1842

8 February, Tuesday, the Brontës leave Haworth, for Brussels. With Joe and Mary Taylor they traveled by train from Leeds to London where they arrived in the evening.
On this day a devastating earthquake took place at the Caribbean island of Guadeloupe. On 13 March the people in Brussels could read about it in the papers, and many more reports, also about charity activities for the victims, would follow, well into the next year. It is therefore possible that this news inspired Charlotte to send M. Paul to this island at the end of Villette.
On this day too M. and Mme. Heger might well have gone to the second opening day of the new building of the Salle de la Société de la Grande Harmonie, at the Rue de la Madeleine (in time for carnival, it was noted). It is possible he was a member, as later he would take Charlotte to a concert there. On 11 February the Société Philharmonique opened its new building. At the same time though the concert hall at the Rue Ducale (at the other side of the Park) closed its doors.

12 February, Saturday, The Brontës sail from London to Ostend. There can be no doubt that on this journey they sailed on the Earl of Liverpool, a steamship of the General Steam Navigation Company (built in 1822). That was the ship that sailed to Ostend on Saturdays. According to Juliet Barker (The Brontës) the voyage took “nearly fourteen hours.” It seems likely the ship left at 9 am, as did those going to Antwerp.
Interestingly, the total figures for the month (given in the newspapers of 7 March) show that the average amount of passengers on a voyage from London to Ostend was only 10. On 24 voyages 240 passengers were brought to Belgium. The Brontë company will therefore only have had a handful of co-passengers. Later that year an Antwerp company began to provide competition. It got considerably cheaper to do the trip, and passenger numbers soon more than doubled. (On 24 voyages in February from Ostend to London there were 369 passengers. The ships from London to Antwerp had an average of 11 passengers.)

Advertisement of the General Steam Navigation
Company in l’Indépendant of 13 February 1842

13 February, Sunday, in Ostend (In Brussels the temperature on this day rose to 12 C)

14 February, Monday, from Ostend to Brussels
The Professor: “This is Belgium, reader. Look! don’t call the picture a flat or a dull one—it was neither flat nor dull to me when I first beheld it. When I left Ostend on a mild February morning, and found myself on the road to Brussels, nothing could look vapid to me. ... Liberty I clasped in my arms for the first time, and the influence of her smile and embrace revived my life like the sun and the west wind. Yes, at that epoch I felt like a morning traveller ...
I gazed often, and always with delight, from the window of the diligence (these, be it remembered, were not the days of trains and railroads). Well! and what did I see? I will tell you faithfully. Green, reedy swamps; fields fertile but flat, cultivated in patches that made them look like magnified kitchen-gardens; belts of cut trees, formal as pollard willows, skirting the horizon; narrow canals, gliding slow by the road-side; painted Flemish farmhouses; some very dirty hovels; a gray, dead sky; wet road, wet fields, wet house-tops: not a beautiful, scarcely a picturesque object met my eye along the whole route; yet to me, all was beautiful, all was more than picturesque. It continued fair so long as daylight lasted, though the moisture of many preceding damp days had sodden the whole country; as it grew dark, however, the rain recommenced, and it was through streaming and starless darkness my eye caught the first gleam of the lights of Brussels. I saw little of the city but its lights that night. Having alighted from the diligence, a fiacre conveyed me to the Hotel de ——, where I had been advised by a fellow-traveller to put up; having eaten a traveller’s supper, I retired to bed, and slept a traveller’s sleep.”

With the aid of experts on horses and stagecoaches it is possible to build a good scenario of the journey. The distance between Ostend and Brussels is in a straight line already 110 km. It is safe to assume that the actual distance was at least 120 km, so the average speed is important. It is well possible that they got to an average of 11 kilometers per hour, which means the horses, four of them, would be running at a trot. For this three stops, with refreshment of horses, would do. They can do 30 to 40 km, at that rate.
The first stop would have been at Aalter, halfway between Ostend and Gent. There were of course special places, also used for human refreshment. It only took a few minutes to install the new horses. Gent lies halfway between the two cities, and the Brontës must have enjoyed seeing a bit of this beautiful old, medieval city. They will have had a dinner or a good lunch there, and after an hour they will have resumed the journey. The next, short, stop was at Aalst, halfway between Gent and Brussels.

After Aalst it began to rain, according to Charlotte. It is remarkable that this day was not properly recorded in the Royal Observatory’s published weather data. It only gives some drizzle rain in the early hours of the day, in one table, and on the other hand an amount of 4,5 mm of rain on this day in Brussels. That amount of rain does correspond well with what Charlotte described, above. Surely she was right, and that one table, about the state of the sky (‘l’État du ciel’) wrong. It was raining when they came to Brussels. Charlotte’s morning weather report corresponds with the data. It was very sunny and there was a western wind. In Brussels the temperature rose to 7 C at 2 pm, and gradually dropped down to 2 C at 10 pm.
It is doubtful if the country was really sodden. Little rain or snow had fallen since the beginning of the year.

An average speed of 11 km/h with an extra hour in Gent makes a journey of eleven hours. And while this would be likely, it is important to note that a 10 km/h speed already adds one extra journey hour. And thus it also depends on the departure time, at Ostend, to be able to determine the arrival time, in Brussels. It seems well possible that the company arrived at about 7 pm, a fair time. Depending on the average speed the departure time would have been 7 or 8 am. A lower average speed easily adds an hour or two to the duration, and probably an earlier departure time. However, the scenario of a departure time of 8 am and an arrival time of 7 pm appears pretty likely.

It is interesting to note that the diligence, shortly before coming to Brussels, drove through Koekelberg. The pensionnat where Mary and Martha Taylor stayed would easily have been visible, hadn’t it been dark. Mary did not get off the coach here, she went back to Koekelberg the next morning. About half an hour later they would have come to the end of the journey, possibly at the beginning of the Rue de la Madeleine, or a bit earlier, at the Marché-aux-Poulets.  This very last bit of the long coach journey is indicated in yellow on top of the plan.

Map 1. From arrival to the Pensionnat,
via the Hôtel de la Hollande

They then walked off to their hotel, in the Rue de la Putterie, indicated by the red line on the plan, for hopefully a good night’s sleep, before their even bigger adventure at the Pensionnat Heger-Parent would begin.
The Hôtel de la Hollande was situated at Rue de la Putterie 61. Close by, in 1843 at least, was Barnard’s English Hotel, at nr 70, and near nr 43 was Hôtel Groenendael, where Abraham Dixon appears to have resided often. Later that year his daughters became friends with the Brontës.

15 February, Tuesday; the Brontës arrive at the Pensionnat – Weather: 2 (minimum) to 6 (maximum) C, dry, wholly clouded
The sun would have risen at about 8.30 am (as Brussels standard time falls between nowadays British and western Continental time). As it was clouded it can be surmised that only after 8 am they began to see daylight glimpses of the city they now found themselves in.
They would first have gone to the police station to register themselves, as étrangers were supposed to do. So, between 8 or 9 am they would have walked off in the direction of the Grande Place, the first time they would see this place. Behind the Hôtel de Ville the police station was situated, known under the name of l’Amigo. (See map 2. Nowadays there is a hotel with that name here.)
Map 2. Encircled are: Nr. 1, the city’s prison named
Petits-Carmes; Nr. 2 – see 16 February;
Nr. 3, Cour d’Assises/Assize Court – see 28 February;
Nr. 4, the Palais de Justice; Nr. 59, l’Amigo –
see 15 February. (The Pensionnat is indicated in red.)

They would then have gone back to the Hôtel de la Hollande where they were joined by Mr. and Mrs. Jenkins, who had been instrumental in getting them to Brussels, and who were to accompany them on their walk to the Pensionnat.
There are three options for the walk from the hotel to the Pensionnat (indicated in yellow on the plan). When pursuing the Rue de la Putterie there came first the choice of going more or less straightforward, or going right. But this doesn’t seem to be the most efficient route. Walking straight on they would get to the Rue des Douze-Apotres, where they could have gone left and right. The main route leads to the Rue d’Isabelle via the Rue Terarcken, part of which is the sole remnant of the Isabella quarter.
The sisters would have arrived at some time in the morning at the Pensionnat, after 9 am, when the school lessons began. Madame Heger would certainly have preferred to meet a bit later, when all was quiet. Surely though, even if they were at the police station at 8 it’s difficult to see them getting to the Pensionnat at 9 am. A time of around 10 am seems likely.

16 February, Wednesday – W: 1 to 5 C, dry, wholly clouded
On this day, next day’s Journal de Bruxelles reported that in ‘the Senne river, near the paper mill, Rue des Six-Jettons, [the body of] a young woman who was dressed and masqued in the costume of the Suisesse was found. She was transported to the morgue, and appeared to have been no older than 20. Some hours later she was recognized as being the daughter of a tailor in the city. We don’t yet know the “motif” of this unfortunate death, which has saddened her parents very much.’
This map shows the place where the woman was probably found (nr. 2 on the map.  At the other end the street also crosses with the Petite-Senne. She may also have been found there.)
Nothing at all was reported afterwards about this seemingly suspicious death. It will still have been a somewhat scary report for the sisters. One would think it’s related to the “carnaval” time of the year. La Suisesse appears to have been a sort of disguise. Carnaval goes back to to medieval times, but at this time it was still an unofficial event.

17 February, Thursday – W: 3 to 7 C, dry, no clouds (a rare day on which the actual lowest temperature, 2 C, was recorded at 10 pm)
The Thursday was “a half-holiday in the Rue Fossette,” “which permitted the privilege of walking out, shopping, or paying visits in the afternoon” (Villette).

On this day Charlotte would first have seen the following ad, which had already been published several times, and would recur a dozen of times afterwards in the next few months.

M. Teichmann had apparently fallen victim of a smear campaign, or so he believed at least. ‘La Grande Banque’ is of course (a seemingly cynical reference to) the Société Générale, an investment society which had already become a sort of bank too, and a dangerous force. It was this Société which later destroyed the Pensionnat.
The newspapers had reports about unrest in Derby. Some 8000 to 10000 protestors, some of whom burned an effigy of Robert Peel, demanded a change of the Corn Law. It is an introduction to a tumultuous year in Britain and Ireland, and in Yorkshire too.

18 February, Friday – W: -2 to 4 C, dry, almost no clouds
The Belgian parliament decides to buy the British Queen, a steamer from England, to regularly sail between Belgium and the United States. There had been a very lengthy debate in parliament and in the newspapers on whether it was to do that: firstly to begin, as a state, a commercial enterprise, and secondly, whether it would be a profitable project. The British Queen was the big news of the Brontës’ first days.

19 February, Saturday – W: 0 to 2 C, dry, almost no clouds

20 February, Sunday – W: 0 to 6 C, dry, some clouds
It seems very likely they met Mary and Martha, and had their first good walk in the city. The Taylor sisters would have shown them around, which would be very useful in getting acquainted to the city, and not get lost somewhere.

21 February, Monday – W: -1 to 7 C, rain from 8.45 pm to midnight, more clouds

22 February, Tuesday – W: 3 to 11 C, rain between 0 and 2 am, from wholly clouded in the morning to a blue sky in the afternoon

23 February, Wednesday – W: 5 to 9 C, a bit of rain between 6 and 8 am, heavy rain after 11.15 pm, wholly clouded with some brightening in the afternoon
Despite the not very pleasant weather in the city the Journal de Bruxelles (on the 25th) claims to have seen, on this day, flowering apricot trees, and that they have been spotted elsewhere too, in the area around Brussels. Apricot trees do flower early, but this is really early.

24 February, Thursday – W: 7 to 11 C, a bit of light rain at 6.45 pm, clouded

25 February, Friday – W: 4 to 8 C, heavy rain between 4 and 5 pm and hail at 9.45 pm, clouded
On this day a house in the Rue d’Isabelle was sold by auction.

26 February, Saturday – W: 1 to 7 C, practically dry, sunny morning and a clouded early afternoon
On this day the first concert was given at the new Salle de la Société de la Grande Harmonie, attended by the Belgian King and Queen (← 8 Feb).
L’Indépendant reports that a theatre performance had to be cancelled because “the epidemic is progressing” and all the players were “ill and confined to bed.” It is the only sign of a flu epidemic that hit Paris and Brussels, apart from a note in the German Meteorologische und naturhistorische Chronik des Jahres 1842. It stated that in this month the flu expanded itself among all layers of the population in an extraordinary way, in these two cities.

27 February, Sunday – W: 1 to 7 C, (Annales:) “when morning came the ground was covered with snow that had fallen during the night” (6.3 mm), rather clouded
Again, it appears to be likely Charlotte and Emily had arranged to meet Mary and Martha, on this Sunday, this time possibly in Koekelberg.

28 February, Monday – W: 4 to 9 C, rain between 2 and 4 am and between 8 and 10 pm, some brightness between clouds
On this day a conspiracy case against the Belgian state went to court. It would fill much of the newspapers in March. The (Orangist) conspiracy was led by two ex-generals, who had been arrested in October 1841, when to be sure there was no hope of a successful uprising. The group was probably also heavily infiltrated by double agents.
The court case was held at the Cour d’Assises, at the end of the Rue des Sols, which was pretty close to the Pensionnat (see Map 2). The papers wrote that large crowds, up to 10,000 people, gathered together there to hear about the interrogations. There can be little doubt the sisters will have witnessed this.
One of the accused was a man named Pierre-Jean-Joseph Parent (37 years old, 1.74 m. tall). Although he was not related to Zoë Parent (Madame Heger), it will have added a poignancy to the story. He was almost certainly a double agent. There was also a main role for the woman who stood accused, Mrs. Vandersmissen. She was the wife of one of the two generals, was countess of Devon, and played a rather theatrical play in court. → March
On the 28th too a flower show was opened, in the “salle de la rotonde” of the big art museum, quite close to the Pensionnat (nr. 46 on map 2). These were obviously all exotic plants, orchids mainly, the prize winners at least. M. Heger, a keen gardener, would certainly have liked to visit it, one would think.

Eric Ruijssenaars

With thanks to
Lutgarde Steenhouwer, Royal Observatory, for the weather
Erik Eshuis and Herman Haasnoot, Dutch experts on stagecoaches
Ursula Hager, additional calendar info