William Carus Wilson

(1791—1859) Church of England clergyman and founder of charity schools

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Model for Revd Robert Brocklehurst, in Jane Eyre, graduated BA 1815, MA 1818 from Trinity College, Cambridge. In October 1815 Revd Charles Simeon warned him of his excessive Calvinism, for which he was refused orders in 1815. But after ordination in 1816 he became rector of Tunstall (1816–28) near Cowan Bridge, where in 1824 he founded the Clergy Daughters' School attended by Maria, Elizabeth, Charlotte, and Emily Brontë 1824–5. Wilson was rector of Whittington, Lancs., 1825–57, and from 1825 to 1857 non-resident perpetual curate of Casterton, to which the school moved in 1833. He succeeded to the Casterton estates in 1851. Proud of his careful supervision of the school, which he regarded as a ‘nursery for heaven’, he was not intentionally cruel, and endeavoured to remedy its early deficiencies. But many pupils fell ill before the move to Casterton, their stamina undermined by a spartan régime of early rising, long prayers, poor food, and outdoor exercise in all weathers in inadequate clothing. Wilson's publications for children, including The Child's First Tales (Kirkby Lonsdale, 1836) and the monthly magazine the Children's Friend, inculcate good behaviour by dire warnings of eternal damnation for children struck down by God, without time for repentance, as punishment for their sins. He regarded a good child's death, however painful, as something to thank God for, and a means of encouraging other children to ‘seek the Lord’, and find salvation, as he was confident the 10-year-old Sarah Bicker had done when she died in pain at the school in September 1825 (Children's Friend, Dec. 1826). Elizabeth Gaskell later revised the controversial statements she made about Wilson in Life (see Angus Easson's World's Classics edn. (1996), 474–9). Emma Jane Worboise, a pupil at Casterton, later praised Wilson and the school in Thornycroft Hall (1864).

From The Oxford Companion to the Brontes in Oxford Reference.

Subjects: Literary Studies (19th Century).

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