Wednesday, May 26, 2021

Wednesday, May 26, 2021 12:00 am by M. in , ,    8 comments
The best possible news at the worst possible time. Or so this feels like: 
Sale of the Honresfeld Library by Sotheby’s
Statement from the Brontë Society                                                                                                                        
The Brontë Society exists to collect and preserve Brontë manuscripts and artefacts for the public benefit.   The manuscripts in the Honresfeld Library were written in Haworth and, as a collection, they bear witness to the intense collaboration and creativity that bound Emily, Charlotte, and Anne Brontë together and to their home at Haworth Parsonage. 

The Society believes that the rightful home for these unique and extraordinary manuscripts, unseen for a hundred years, is at the Brontë Parsonage Museum, where they can be enjoyed by visitors, explored by scholars and shared with Brontë enthusiasts around the world for generations to come. 

Regrettably, we are faced with the very real possibility that this immensely significant collection will be dispersed and disappear into private collections across the globe.  We are determined to save as much as we can, but due to the dramatic financial impact of the pandemic, the timing is unfortunate.  While Covid has reinforced the comfort and hope that we find in literature and culture, museum revenue has fallen away to almost nothing and competition for public funds has become fiercer than ever.  

We all have a stake in these remarkable treasures.  We need to look beyond the narrow commercialisation and privatisation of heritage and work together to protect and share what we all value.  As our campaign takes shape, we urge all with an interest in saving this remarkable collection intact to contact us.
It's truly a historical moment. The Honresfeld Brontë collection hadn't been seen since 1934 when the notorious J. A. Symington borrowed it from the Law Collection belonging to Alfred Law and kept in his library at Honresfeld House. Alfred Law died in 1939 and Symington seems to have taken advantage of the occasion not to return it. So in almost 90 years scholars and enthusiasts have had to make do with the facsimiles which were fortunately made of the papers in the collection prior to their disappearance. It's such a relief to know it still exists and that it has avoided the ending Justine Picardie imagined for it in her book Daphne.

But if it happened once it can happen again. When it goes under the hammer, we all know that no bidder will ensure not only its safekeeping but also its universal availability to scholars and enthusiasts alike like the Brontë Society. Those papers were carefully written under the roof of the Brontë Parsonage Museum and that's where they undoubtedly belong. They can't vanish again. As mentioned in the press release the Brontë Society is working on a campaign. We are sure that, as always, us Brontëites will rise to the occasion but we have a feeling that institutions, charities, etc. should also help towards this. It's the chance of a lifetime--the happy ending to these sad months with the door of the Brontë Parsonage Museum closed. That door is now open again, let's hope that these treasures are welcome inside soon too.

We are awed by everything we have read about this today, but if we have to choose me single thing is what was possibly written by Charlotte Brontë in pencil under her sister Emily's poems: "Never was better stuff penned."
Bidding Open 2–13 July 2021

New York Travelling Exhibition
4 - 9 June 2021

London Exhibition
10 - 12 July 2021
10am - 5pm Weekdays
12pm - 5pm Weekends
Of course the news is all over the place.

The Honresfield Library, a private collection assembled by two Victorian industrialists that vanished from public view in the 1930s, contains more than 500 manuscripts, letters, rare first editions and other artifacts from a number of canonical authors, including the manuscripts of Walter Scott’s “Rob Roy” and Robert Burns’s “First Commonplace Book.”
But it is the Brontë material — based on hoopla surrounding past Brontë auctions, and the estimates for this one — that is likely to cause the biggest stir. Highlights, which will be exhibited at Sotheby’s in New York from June 5 to 9, include a handwritten manuscript of Emily Brontë’s poems, with pencil edits by Charlotte. It carries an estimate of $1.3 million to $1.8 million.
The trove also includes family letters, inscribed first editions and other relics that offer a glimpse into life in the Brontë household, like the family’s heavily annotated copy of Bewick’s “History of British Birds” (which features in the opening scenes of “Jane Eyre”).
Gabriel Heaton, Sotheby’s specialist in English literature and historical manuscripts, called the Honresfield Library the finest he had seen in 20 years, and the Brontë cache the most important to come to light in a generation.
“The lives of these sisters is just extraordinary,” he said during a video interview, before offering a first peek at the materials. Looking at the manuscripts “takes you right back to the incredible moment where you had these siblings scribbling away in the parsonage.”
Claire Harman, the author of “Charlotte Brontë: A Fiery Heart,” said she had been “hyperventilating” since she got wind of the auction, which will be held online in July, after additional previews in London and Edinburgh.
“It’s just absolutely gobsmacking,” she said. “Scholars and readers have known these things exist, but you forget when they are in private hands. It’s like Sleeping Beauty — there but not there.” (Jennifer Schuessler)
 An “incredibly rare” handwritten manuscript of Emily Brontë’s poems, with pencil corrections by her sister Charlotte, is going up for auction as part of a “lost library” that has been out of public view for nearly a century.
The collection was put together by Arthur Bell Nicholls, the widower of Charlotte, who of the six Brontë children lived the longest, dying in 1855 at the age of 38. Nicholls sold the majority of the surviving Brontë manuscripts in 1895 to the notorious bibliophile and literary forger Thomas James Wise. The collectors and brothers Alfred and William Law, who grew up 20 miles from the Brontë family home in Haworth, then acquired some of the family’s heirlooms from Wise, including the manuscript of Emily’s poems, and the family’s much-annotated copy of A History of British Birds, a book immortalised in Jane Eyre.
The Law brothers’ library at Honresfield House disappeared from public view when their nephew and heir Alfred Law died in 1939, and was inaccessible even to academics.
“In the last 90 years, only one or two (very discreet) scholars have had access to slivers of the material, so essentially, only two people alive have seen any of it,” said a spokesperson for Sotheby’s, which is handling the auction of more than 500 manuscripts, first editions and letters from the Honresfield library in July.
Sotheby’s described the manuscript of 29 poems by Emily as “incredibly rare”, valuing it at between £800,000 and £1.2m. “It is the most important manuscript by Emily to come to market in a lifetime, and by far the most significant such manuscript to remain in private hands,” said the auction house. “Almost nothing of Emily’s survived – she essentially wrote Wuthering Heights and then parted the world without a trace. There aren’t even really any letters out there by her, as she had no one to correspond with.”
It is the only surviving handwritten manuscript to feature some of Emily’s most famous poems, including No Coward Soul Is Mine, The Bluebell, and The Old Stoic, and was mentioned by Charlotte in her 1850 preface to Wuthering Heights, when she noted how she “accidentally lighted on a MS volume of verse in my sister Emily’s handwriting. (Alison Flood)
The 26-bedroom mock-Gothic pile known as Honresfeld House was once home to the Law brothers, self-made cotton magnates who never married and instead devoted their lives to the honourable Victorian pursuits of industry and the arts. Their collection of original works by the Brontë sisters and Scotland’s national poet, Robert Burns, has achieved almost mythical status amongst the literati – not least because nothing has been seen of it for nearly a century.
But that changed today when the auctioneer Sotheby’s announced that some 500 of the texts they amassed would go under the hammer in the course of the next year.
They include a rare, handwritten manuscript of Emily Brontë’s poems, estimated to be worth between £800,000 and £1.2m, and described by the auctioneer as “the most important Brontë material to come to light in a generation, unrivalled in importance by any private library in the world”. (David Behrens)

 And the BBC, Daily Mail, The Telegraph, Fine Books Magazine and a supposedly funny (???) take on it all on Jezebel.


  1. This massively exciting news. I read the articles. They say Wise got the items from Arthur Bell Nicholls. But my understanding is Arthur gave\ sold them to Clement Shorter, who gave the ABN items to Wise. Like Ellen, Arthur thought the items were going to a museum. Has Shorter been expunged from the story? Cannot imagine how high those poems will go! 😍 Wow!

  2. It may have been both but with some items Shorter did indeed trick them both into believng they would be going to the 'South Kensington museum' (later the Victoria and Albert Museum).

    1. Indeed. I don't think Arthur would deal with Wise directly. The selling of the items would be too upfront in that case. In both Arthur's and Ellen's case the fiction that the items would go to a museum needed a Shorter in between they and Wise. J. Horsfall Turner published accounts of his encounters with both Ellen and Arthur, told Clement Shorter exactly how to deal with each of them; who to kiss and who to slap, to get the results he wanted. He is a vital part of how the items went from Arthur to Wise, imo. If some auction items are from the Brown family, that's another matter. Also we now know not all of Emily's papers were destroyed. Interesting!

  3. Anyone have a link for the video interview with Sotheby's Gabriel Heaton?

  4. So my husband and I went to Sotheby’s in NYC, yesterday where some of the Brontë items up for this auction are on display, including the EJB poem manuscript. The stars aligned, as our timing happened to coincide with a visit from a potential bidder, who was receiving a walk through from a curator. We were welcomed to the conversation. The potential bidder was mostly interested in the family's Burke book, the one featured in Jane Eyre. (Which is amazing to see, as is all actual Brontë items.) The curator took that out of the case and he was allowed to handle it. The curator also took out the poems manuscript and handed it to him to inspect. I asked if I may hold it for a moment too. I was given that pleasure. Pinch me.

    1. Lucky you! What a treat.

      Thanks so much for telling us.

    2. "....interested in the family's Burke book, the one featured in Jane Eyre."

      I wrote " Bewick", but auto incorrect changed it. Yes, I'm still smiling😄.

    3. We understood. Cherish the memories :)