Brontë juvenilia: ‘The History of the Young Men’


‘The History of the Young Men’ is the fictional chronicle of twelve adventurers who set sail for West Africa, where they established the Glass Town Federation colony.

This manuscript was written by Branwell Brontë at the age of 13, in the persona of Glass Town historian Captain John Bud. The introduction and the summaries are in Branwell's normal handwriting, but the rest of the text is written to imitate a printed book.

Who are the Young Men?

In 1826, shortly before Branwell's ninth birthday his father gave him twelve little soldiers. The four Brontë children each chose one of the soldiers. Charlotte named hers the Duke of Wellington (the Prime Minister at the time!), Emily had Parry, Anne had Ross and Branwell had Sneaky. Each of these ruled over his own kingdom within the Glass Town Federation, with the siblings acting as gods – or Genii (as they called themselves). As Branwell Brontë explains in the introduction, this story was inspired by the toy soldiers, who became the 'Young Men'.

What is the geography of Glass Town?

Branwell drew a map of the Glass Town Federation complete with mountain ranges, rivers and trade routes. It shows the four kingdoms run by the siblings: Wellington’s Land, Parry’s Land, Ross’s Land and Sneaky’s Land. Being the baby of the family, Anne has the diminutive kingdom of Ross's Land. Outlined in orange, the name is so faintly written it's hard to see! Also shown on the map, outlined in red, is the cosmopolitan district. This contains the Great Glass Town capital, (later known as ‘Verreopolis’ or ‘Verdopolis’). This grew to be a thriving city of factories, prisons, palaces and dungeons. As explained in the history, it even has a labyrinthine network of caves beneath, harbouring criminals and low life.

What are the key events in ‘The History of the Young Men’?

It is impossible to ignore the imperialist ideology of the 19th century in this fictional history. This was an era when Britain was a global empire, one which was built on expansion and conquests, with little regard for native inhabitants. We see exactly this played out in the Brontës' imagined world. On reaching the shores of West Africa, the Twelves (as the company is known) set up a colonial outpost, and lay claim to land as their own. After building their first settlement – Twelves Town – they find themselves at war with the native Ashantee tribe. The Twelves win, which impresses the British Government. One of the Twelves, Arthur Wellesley, is chosen by the British to lead troops against the Emperor Napoleon. He defeats Napoleon and returns victorious to Glass Town where he becomes king.

Full title:
‘The History Of The Young Men From Their First Settlement To The Present Time’
15 December 1830-7 May 1831, Haworth, Yorkshire
Manuscript / Fair copy / Artwork / Image
Branwell Brontë
Usage terms

Public Domain in most countries other than the UK.

Held by
British Library
Ashley MS 2468

Full catalogue details

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