Sir Thomas Wemyss Reid

(1842—1905) journalist and biographer

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Knighted 1894; chief reporter, Leeds Mercury from 1866, editor 1870–87; manager of Cassell's, publishers, thereafter; biographer of W. E. Forster 1888, Lord Houghton (Richard Monckton Milnes) 1890, and others. In his Charlotte Brontë (1876,1877) he used information provided by Lord Houghton and Ellen Nussey. Ellen met him early in 1876, and they planned that he should weave some of Charlotte's letters into a sketch of her life. On 10 May 1876 Ellen suggested he might enlarge it into a memoir, without the besmirching history of her brother. Reid's preliminary sketch, acknowledging Ellen's help, appeared in Macmillan's Magazine (Aug.–Oct. 1876). She had told him about her family's homes, the Bolton Priory excursion, and Revd A. B. Nicholls's friend, Sutcliffe Sowden, but in a biased and inaccurate way, for her letters to Reid showed a venomous hostility to Nicholls and Revd Patrick Brontë. Though Reid played down Branwell's impact on Charlotte's ‘pure’ life, he presented her experience in Brussels as the arena for a sharp contest with temptation. Nicholls objected to the obscurity of Reid's comments on Charlotte's single failure of duty, when she ‘allowed inclination to blind her’ to the right path. In his revised edition in book form (1877), Reid noted that Charlotte herself confessed this failure. But he retained references to Charlotte's analysis of her feelings for James Taylor (‘Mr X’) despite Nicholls's objections and bitter regret that he had not asked Ellen to destroy the relevant letters. Reid's biography is still of some value; he reminds one, for example, of occasions when Charlotte showed ‘the happy levity of youth’; but he repeated myths about Mr Brontë's neglect of his wife, and added comments derived from Ellen on his vanity and injustice; and too many of his extracts from Charlotte's letters are inaccurate or misleading in other ways.

From The Oxford Companion to the Brontes in Oxford Reference.

Subjects: Literary Studies (19th Century).

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