Meeting Death on His Feet — Just to Prove a Point

Branwell Bronte Died Standing Up
Branwell Brontë (1817-1848), left.

Branwell Brontë was the brother of Wuthering Heights author Emily Brontë. He is historically noteworthy in his own right as a painter and writer. He would perhaps be better remembered had he not hastened his death through abuse of alcohol and opium.

The approach of his own death really illustrated his tenacity. Although suffering from depression and the final stages of terminal alcoholism, Brontë was determined to prove that he could meet death on his feet. According to William Somerset Maugham, in his book Great Novelists and Their Novels, when Brontë knew the end was near, wanting to die standing, he insisted upon getting up. He had only been in bed a day. Family members looked on while he rose to his feet, and after a struggle that lasted twenty minutes died, as he wished, standing.

Maugham hastened to add a disclaimer:

“I should warn the reader that this account of Branwell’s love and death is such as was gathered from persons who may be supposed to have known the facts; but the author of the article on the Brontes in the English Dictionary of National Biography, writing many years after the event, claims that there is no truth in it.  Perhaps with a little more imagination and less bile against Branwell he might not have been so positive.”

It is such a good story, however, that even if it wasn’t true, it should have been. It certainly was an inspiration to Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy author Douglas Adams, who confessed,

“My favourite piece of information is that Branwell Brontë, brother of Emily and Charlotte, died standing up leaning against a mantle piece, in order to prove it could be done.

This is not quite true, in fact. My absolute favourite piece of information is the fact that young sloths are so inept that they frequently grab their own arms and legs instead of tree limbs, and fall out of trees.” — from The Salmon of Doubt


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