A consortium of libraries and museums in the United Kingdom are fighting to save a rare collection of manuscripts held by the Honresfield Library, including two first edition Jane Austen novels and two letters written to her sister Cassandra. It was announced the collection would be put up for sale sometime this summer at Sotherby's Auction House, although the auction has now been delayed due to the interest shown by several libraries and museums.
In order to save the collection from being sold piece by piece, the interested libraries and museums must raise funds somewhere in the region of £15m. It is their hope to send each piece to the relevant home, with the material relating to Jane Austen hopefully being sent to the Jane Austen House in Chawton. One of the letters included in the collection is of particular interest because Jane humorously anticipates the end of her flirtation with Tom Lefroy, an Irish politician and judge. As well as containing rare material relating to Jane Austen, the collection includes a birthday letter from Emily Bronte to her sister Anne, a manuscript collection of her poems edited in pencil by her other sister Charlotte, an early volume of poems by Robert Burns, and the complete working manuscript of Rob Roy by Sir Walter Scott.
Originally established by two industrialists at the turn of the 20th century, the Honresfield Library has gone largely unseen since around 1939. Only a few scholars have been able to access the collection. According to experts, this is the first time a collection like the Honresfield Library has been open for sale in quite some years. The consortium of libraries and museums hoping to save the collection want the priceless pieces to be publicly displayed so that more people may enjoy their significance. Trustee and treasurer of the Friends of the National Libraries Charles Sebag-Montefiore described the plans to save the collection as “a crucial national endeavour...to keep this unique treasure trove in Britain”.
If you would like to keep up to date with their plans or donate to the project, you can take a look at FNL crowdfunding page here. We really do hope these historical manuscripts make their way to heritage institutions across the country for all of us to enjoy.
Words by Hannah England.