The Prince of Wales has backed a “noble campaign” attempting to raise £15 million to keep a rare collection of British literature in the UK.
The Friends of the National Library (FNL) have raised £7.5 million towards a purchase of the Honresfield Library which was due to go up for auction.
Sotheby’s agreed to postpone sale of the collection, which includes a complete manuscript of Sir Walter Scott’s Rob Roy, a group of handwritten poems by Robert Burns, manuscripts by the Bronte siblings and first editions of books by Jane Austen.
Writing in the Daily Mail, Charles said there was “critical importance” in the FNL campaign to keep “some of the most precious manuscripts associated with our greatest authors” in this country.
The prince, a patron of FNL, said: “In this particular regard, the Honresfield Library is one of the great hidden treasure troves of 19th-century literature, and now that its contents have become available for sale, the Friends of the National Libraries are determined that these manuscripts should remain in the country in which they were formed, and whose culture these works went on to form in their turn.
“The jewels in this collection are the manuscripts of Sir Walter Scott with The Lay of the Last Minstrel, together with poems by Robert Burns in his own hand – containing some of his earliest recorded literary works known as the First Commonplace Book – and, of course, the notebooks of Charlotte Bronte.
“For anyone who has ever been moved by the words of these incomparable artists, the idea of reading these manuscripts is thrilling beyond words. For the same reason, the idea of them being lost to this country is too awful to contemplate.”
The auction was due to take place in July and FNL, along with a number of libraries and museums, joined together to preserve the collection “to be allocated to libraries around the UK for the benefit of the public”.
It was amassed by Alfred and William Law, mill-owning brothers who lived at Honresfield, near Haworth.
Charles wrote: “When it is purchased, the collection will be shared between all these libraries, large and small, north and south. I know that I share with so many people in this country a love of the literature that is so much a part of our personal and collective histories.
“In giving us words to describe our human experience in all its complexity, literature has, truly, helped make us what we are.
“In saving these priceless manuscripts for the public, we have the opportunity to ensure that these invaluable records of works of genius will remain in the land where they were created, and where they belong.”