The Powys Brothers

The Powys Brothers

The Powys Brothers

The Powys Brothers

Excerpt

LITERATURE, unlike music, does not often run in families. There are many Bachs, but only one Dante; a whole family of Strauss, but a single Shakespeare, a solitary Voltaire. Among the English exceptions to this general rule, the Brontë sisters and the Powys brothers are the most remarkable; and it is natural to enquire whether the two families have anything in common besides this.

The most obvious common factor leads to the chief difference. Charlotte, Emily and Anne Brontë were the daughters of the Rev. Patrick Brontë, a Church of England clergyman of Evangelical outlook who was the son of an Irish peasant farmer called Branty or Brunty; their mother came from a Cornish Methodist family, so they had Celtic ancestry on both sides. John Cowper, Theodore Francis and Llewelyn Powys were of similar clerical origin, being the sons of the Rev. Charles Francis Powys (1843-1923), a Church of England clergyman of Evangelical views who was descended from a branch of the ancient Welsh family of Powys, intermarried in recent centuries with English and Swiss stock; their mother, Mary Cowper Johnson (1849- 1914), was of part English, part Irish-German descent, on her father's side related to that famous Norfolk family which had given to literature the Jacobean poet John Donne, Dean of St. Paul's, and William Cowper, the greatest Evangelical poet of the eighteenth century. The Victorian novelist sisters and the twentieth-century novelist brothers have in common, therefore, a clerical, mainly Evangelical background and a large measure of Celtic blood.

Of the value of the Celtic inheritance, crossed as it was by English environment and upbringing--in Yorkshire in the case of the Brontës, principally in Somerset and Dorset . . .

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