Thursday 10 May 2018

The Brontë Brussels Calendar: May 1842

1 May, Sunday – Weather: 11 to 22 C, largely unclouded
At the beginning of chapter 23 of Villette Lucy Snowe says that “on the first of May, we had all – i.e. the twenty boarders and the four teachers … notice to rise at five o’clock of the morning [for a] breakfast in the country.” It could well have happened this day. A Sunday would have been a good day for it. The weather certainly turned out to be very good for such an excursion.
The Journal de Bruxelles wrote about a City Council question, about whether it was true that pupils of the renowned Athenée Royale, where M. Heger was a teacher, had been insulting people after leaving their classes ( 28 April, 2 May).

2 May, Monday – W: 6 to 20 C, another sunny day
The City Council’s rulers acted quickly to dispel the rumours about the Athenée pupils ( 1 May). It may well be that these were not boys from the Athenée, as there were other schools nearby, they said. And apart from that, nobody has complained to the préfet des études of the Athenée. They added that “many men who nowadays make the glory of our country, had their education at the Athenée of Brussels.” It was thus important to keep its reputation clean.
The Journal de Bruxelles reported that negotiations had started between Belgium and the United Kingdom about a postal convention, meant surely to send mail between the two countries easier.

3 May, Tuesday – W: 7 to 16 C, a sunny day
The first indication of a drought comes from Valenciennes, in France, just over the border with Belgium. L’Indépendant quotes from the Echo de la Frontière: “The continuation of the drought, in a season when rain is so necessary, is beginning to occasion serious questions for the farmers here.” M. Heger would by now indeed have been quite busy with watering his garden plants.
L’Indépendant also wrote that “despite the beautiful weather which prompted many people to go out walking, and despite the many concerts that have been given this year, the musical ‘soiree’ given by M. Baldeneeker [a young pianist] attracted a large crowd.”

4 May, Wednesday – W: 7 to 16 C, clouded, with a little bit of rain at the end of the morning
On this day M. Heger gave back to Charlotte her devoir Le Nid ( 30 April), with his comments, the British Queen left Antwerp for its first voyage to New York ( 20 March), and the Belgian king and queen came back from Paris, from one of their many travels abroad.
Belgium saw a few cases where the extent of the matter of freedom of speech was tested. The Journal de Bruxelles on this day wrote that two book printers had been arrested, after the newspaper had filed a complaint against them for suggesting the Journal endorsed a certain novel. In fact, it was Auguste Luchet’s Nom de famille, a novel that went against all the religious and moral principles of the newspaper. In France Luchet was convicted to two years in prison for this book. The Journal regularly raged against it. Eventually though the printers were not brought to face trial.

5 May, Thursday – W: 6 to 17 C, fairly clouded
On this day the first of a series of concerts was given at the Jardin Botanique, performed by the orchestra of the Société Philharmonique, on all Thursdays until well into the autumn. The concerts began at 18.30 hrs.
A devastating city-wide fire began in Hamburg. It would rage for three days, aided by strong winds, and the drought. It would take until 11 May before the first reports were published in the Brussels newspapers.

There were more reports in 1842 of fires wiping away whole towns in Europe. Another notable example was Kazan, Russia, with another four-day burning disaster, in early September.
And there were numerous reports about fire destroying one or more houses in Brussels and in Belgium as a whole. The pictures show what at best could have done against a fire – not that much. The equipment that can be seen in the first picture (below right) resembles that of one on a firemen photograph of some time later, the second picture.
The danger of it alone would be good reason for Madame Heger to inspect the building at the end of the day, to check if all the stoves and candles and fireplaces were put out.
L’Indépendant reported that “a family which already had enough to cry about irreparairable losses,” had now, three weeks after the death of Mme la Comtesse de Bassompiere, lost one of her brothers. She was perhaps the grandmother of Louise de Bassompiere, Charlotte and Emily’s schoolfellow. Louise was a friend of Emily, and at some, unknown, time this year Emily gave her a drawing she made of a fir tree. Charlotte used the surname for one of the Villette characters.

6 May, Friday – W: 11 to 16 C, clouded, quite some rain in the morning
No newspapers today, as it was Ascension Day. So, it was also a holiday.

7 May, Saturday – W: 8 to 14 C, clouded, with quite a lot of rain in the afternoon, combined with a very strong wind coming from the southeast
The newspapers wrote about a large Chartist demonstration in London on 2 May.

8 May, Sunday – W: 8 to 14 C, a bright day, but the stormy wind continues
Another disaster took place in Versailles on this day. The train to Paris caught fire and about 50 people died. This news took three days to get to Brussels.
Martha Taylor left Brussels for a  temporary journey back to England, as shown by a letter from Tom Dixon, in Brussels, to his sister Mary, in Leeds, quoted by Joan Stevens in Letters from New Zealand, dated by her as “late April or early May.” Tom says Mary and Martha “did not come to Church last Sunday so I can say nothing about them except that on Wednesday last they were all quite well. One of the young ladies will go over on the 8th of May so you may expect a posse of letters … .” It very much suggests that the letter was written before Sunday the 1st, some days after the previous Sunday (24 April) and that that Wednesday referred to was 20 April.
A letter from Charlotte to Ellen Nussey from this month has survived. The specific date is not known, but it is quite possible that it is one of the letters Martha took with her to Yorkshire.

9 May, Monday – W: 8 to 13 C, pretty clouded, with some afternoon rain

10 May, Tuesday – W: 5 to 15 C, quite clouded, a little bit of rain around 2.45 pm

11 May, Wednesday – W: 6 to 17 C, fairly bright
The newspapers have the first reports about the disasters in Hamburg and Versaiiles. The news from Hamburg went back to 7 May (1300 houses destroyed already), when the fire was still raging. Both these disasters would continue to dominate the news for some days (as major incidents do now).
L’Indépendant had two advertisements about learning English – a book and a married couple of teachers.

12 May, Thursday – W: 6 to 21 C, quite clouded

13 May, Friday – W: 7 to 19 C, a bit clouded

14 May, Saturday – W: 8 to 19 C, bright, but also ‘milky’ (“laiteux”)
On this day the first edition of the Illustrated London News was published, the world's first illustrated weekly newspaper. The first edition had pictures from burning Hamburg, and it will only have taken two days before it could be seen and bought in Brussels.
L’Indépendant reported that the General Steam Navigation Company was going to more than half the prices for their ships sailing between Ostend and London. Clearly all this time passengers had paid far too much for their journey. Ten days later The Times wrote that “The steamers which ply between Ostend and London are preparing to enter into vigorous competition.” It was in anticipation of the launching of an Antwerp company, which was also going to sail between Belgium and England. ( 12 June)

15 May, (Whit) Sunday – W: 7 to 17 C, clouded
Emily Brontë finishes writing her first known devoir, Le chat, a remarkable observation of cats, and one of the best pieces in world cat literature.

16 May, Monday – W: 9 to 20 C, a sunny day
No newspapers appeared on this day, as it was Pentecost.

17 May, Tuesday – W: 8 to 19 C, clouded morning, bright afternoon
Emily clearly used the long holiday weekend to write her poem ‘In the same place …’ While it is dated 17 May it must be that she did most of the work on the previous days.
The newspapers reported two deaths in the city. An unhappily married man had jumped from a house, in suicide, it was said because of “des chagrins domestiques.” A woman was reported to have died because a stone fell from the St Michael tower of the Hotel de Ville (on Saturday), right on top of her. Another woman, “une demoiselle” of about 20 years, hurled herself in a canal on this day, in front of the school at the Marché-aux-Porcs. She may have been rescued in time, as she was alive when she was brought to the Hôpital St Jean. One had to be careful though, it seems. More people seem to have fallen in the river and the canals by accident. And most people, including Emily and Charlotte, had never learned how to swim. Not much later this year plans began to be developed to build a swimming pool where people could be taught how to swim.

18 May, Wednesday – W: 8 to 19 C, quite clouded, a little bit of rain
Brussels now also began to raise money for the victims of the Hamburg fire. The full extent of the disaster became known by now. Up to 100 people might have died, 2,000 buildings were completely destroyed, 2,000 partly, and more than 20,000 people had become homeless.

19 May, Thursday – W: 9 to 23 C, pretty clouded
On this day L’Indépendant began publishing lists of persons who had died in Brussels, shortly afterwards followed by the city’s marriages. The names, addresses and professions given are an interesting source of information for any Brussels street, almost. Somehow even here almost nothing happened in the Isabella quarter. The lists are useful though to come closer to the Rue Notre-Dame-aux-Neiges inhabitants, for instance. For an unknown reason Charlotte used this street in The Professor.
As a sad reminder of these old days in which many children died at a young age, only the number of them having died aged below 7 were given.

20 May, Friday – W: 10 to 18 C, quite clouded

21 May, Saturday – W: 9 to 23 C, pretty bright

22 May, Sunday – W: 9 to 19 C, fairly clouded
A “tres-beau” meteorite was spotted at 4 am, but apart from the nightwatchman at the Observatoire very few people will have seen it.

23 May, Monday – W: 12 to 22 C, somewhat clouded
On this and the following day several thunderstorms were reported, in the country, but Brussels remained dry. It was also said that the agricultural fields around the city looked in good shape.

24 May, Tuesday – W: 11 to 24 C, quite clouded
A concert for the benefit of the victims of the Hamburg fire was held at the Temple des Augustins on this day.  
It was also the day of the provincial elections. All 6 elected candidates in Brussels were liberals, but only 985 men out of 2146 had bothered to vote. Not all men had the right to vote, but there can be no doubt that M. Heger could.
This month, and this day again, saw a fierce debate on a new communal law, in the newspapers and in parliament. The main debating point of the proposed law was about who had the right to appoint mayors. For Charlotte though, and for a modern reader, this is just dull news, which she would have skipped.

25 May, Wednesday – W: 10 to 20 C, somewhat clouded

26 May, Thursday – W: 9 to 23 C, bright morning, a bit of a clouded afternoon

27 May, Friday – W: 12 to 23 C, somewhat clouded

28 May, Saturday – W: 13 to 18, clouded, rain in the afternoon

29 May, Sunday – W: 12 to 20 C, fairly clouded, a bit of rain in the early evening
On this day the sisters could have gone to two concerts for the benefit of the victims of the Hamburg fire. One was given in the morning at the Jardin Botanique by the orchestra of the Société Philharmonique. The Société de la Grande Harmonie performed in the Park in the afternoon, in the presence of the King and Queen. Together they raised 5000 francs for Hamburg.

30 May, Monday – W: 11 to 24 C, somewhat clouded
It was another Catholic holiday, the forgotten Fête-Dieu (or Fête du Saint-Sacrement). No newspapers.
In England a John Francis attempts to assassinate Queen Victoria. It took until 3 June before the sisters could read about it in the Belgian newspapers.

31 May. Tuesday – W: 11 to 20 C, pretty clouded

Charlotte’s devoir L’Immensité de Dieu was probably composed and written in this month.

Eric Ruijssenaars

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