Bronte auction halted as group tries to keep library intact

Sotheby’s has agreed to delay the much-publicized auction of a “lost” library containing rare manuscripts by Robert Burns, Walter Scott and the Bronts, as a consortium of British libraries and museums seeks to raise $21 million to preserve it. started. Nation.

That private library, the Honorsfield Library, was assembled in the 19th century and had become virtually invisible by the 1930s. news last month That the library was reopened and would be sold in a series of auctions beginning in July received enthusiastic responses from scholars and admirers, as well as alarm that cultural treasures may be dispersed into inaccessible private collections. .

Announcing the acquisition effort in a statement on Thursday, the group, Friends of National Libraries, said it hopes to purchase the collection in full and then allocate it to institutions around the UK “for the benefit of the public”. Go.

“A private library of English literature of such importance has not been placed on the open market for many decades,” nor “is likely to ever appear again”, the statement said. “Saving this astonishingly important collection requires a large and coordinated effort.”

The effort includes eight institutions together: the British Library, the National Library of Scotland, the Bodleian Library at Oxford, the Brotherton Library at the University of Leeds and the House Museum dedicated to Jane Austen, Walter Scott, Robert Burns and the Bronts.

The Honorsfield Library was assembled in the 1890s by Alfred and William Law, two self-made mill owners who grew up less than 20 miles from the Bronte home in Haworth (which is now the Bronte Parsonage Museum). After his death, the collection passed to a nephew, who granted access to select scholars, and there were reproductions made from some of the objects.

But after the death of the nephew in 1939, the original fell out of public view. By the 1940s, the collection was “well inaccessible”, as one scholar put it at the time.

In a statement, Sotheby’s specialist in English literature and historical manuscripts Gabriel Heaton called the proposed acquisition “a fitting tribute to the voracious literary interests of the Law brothers and their family’s excellent care of this material over more than a century”. Sotheby’s would not disclose the deadline for the delay in the auction, which it said was agreed upon by both parties.

At the heart of the library is what the consortium described by the Bronts as “an astonishing set of manuscripts”, much of it “unseen for 80 years and never properly examined.” These include an 1844 handwritten manuscript of Emily Brontों’s poems with pencil editing by Charlotte, which fetched an auction estimate of $1.1 million to $1.7 million – a close record for a modern English literary manuscript, had it been achieved.

There are also seven short books of Charlotte, some 25 letters from Charlotte and a diary-style birthday note written by Emily to her sister Anne, with a small drawing of Emily on her writing desk.

Other highlights of the collection, which were On view recently at Sotheby’s in New York, includes the complete working manuscript of Scott’s 1817 novel “Rob Roy” (estimated $560,000 to $840,000) and the manuscript collection known as Burns “First Book”from 1783–1785 (estimated at $420,000 to $700,000), including some of his early literary writings.

The consortium’s announcement highlights “two extremely important letters” by Jane Austen to her sister Cassandra, written on the eve of a ball where she foresaw the end of a love affair. Only three early Austen letters are preserved in any British national collection, the group noted, with the bulk remaining at the Morgan Library in New York City.

In recent years, the auction of British literary artworks has become the focus of high-profile fund-raising campaigns aimed at keeping them at home. 2013, Jane Austen House Museum turquoise ring achieved Worn by the author, after raising $236,000 to match the price paid at auction by American singer Kelly Clarkson. And in 2019, the Bronte Society raised nearly $800,000. mobilize To Buy One of Charlotte’s Short Books that he had previously fled to France.

Richard Ovenden, head of the Bodleian libraries, said a similar national resolution is urgently needed.

“Literature and the creative use of the English language and its dialects have been one of the great contributions made by the people of these islands,” he said in the declaration of the union. “Now is the time to act together, to preserve and share some of the greatest examples of this legacy.”

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