A Lost Brontë Library Surfaces

London – The Honresfield Library, which had been missing for over a century, was lovingly compiled by Victorian self-made industrialists Alfred and William Law around the turn of the twentieth century and has been lovingly cared for ever since by successive generations of the Law family.

A Lost Brontë Library Surfaces

A Lost Brontë Library Surfaces

This rare treasure, which had been hidden away for nearly a century, is now being offered for sale in what promises to be one of the great library sales of recent years.

The library houses the most significant piece of Bront material to surface in a generation, and its significance is unparalleled by any other private collection. These unique artefacts provide a glimpse into the brief but extraordinary lives of Charlotte, Emily, Anne, and even Branwell Bront.

Bewick’s History of British Birds

The family’s copy of Bewick’s History of British Birds, the book made famous in the opening pages of Jane Eyre (estimate: £30,000-50,000), filled to the brim with entertaining annotations from their father Patrick, is another prized possession. This extremely rare handwritten copy of Emily’s poems was revised by Charlotte.

There are numerous unseen letters to and from notable people like fellow novelist Elizabeth Gaskell, Hartley Coleridge (son of poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge), George Smith (publisher and crucial defender of ‘The Bells’, The Bronts’ secret pseudonym), and many more.

Included in the collection is the most significant Robert Burns manuscript in private hands, making Scottish literature a central focus as well.

First Commonplace Book is a collection of poems, notes, and thoughts that Burns compiled at the young age of twenty-four. This item fetched £10 at Sotheby’s at its final auction in 1879. The collection also features authentic letters to friends, relatives, patrons, and lovers, as well as other handwritten versions of Burns’ poems.

The complete manuscript for Rob Roy is one of the last remaining examples of a great novel from the nineteenth century that is not now housed in an institution, and it was written by the Romantic author Sir Walter Scott, who is the second most quoted author in the Oxford English Dictionary after Shakespeare.

Famous Publisher of Shakespeare’s Plays

A copy of Don Quixote produced in 1620 for Edward Blounte, the famous publisher of Shakespeare’s plays, and an annotated copy of Alfred Lord Tennyson’s poetry with pages indicating author’s modifications from test printing in his hand are also interesting lots.

Homer, Ovid, the Grimm Brothers, Montaigne, Ann Radcliffe, Horace Walpole, Charles Dickens, and Mary Wollstonecraft all make appearances, and there is rarely any territory they haven’t visited.

Sotheby’s will hold three auctions beginning in the summer, featuring more than 500 rare items, including historic manuscripts, outstanding first editions, private correspondence, and exquisite bindings (first auction open for bidding from 2 – 13 July 2021).

The library will be open to the public, with showcases of selected works planned for London, Edinburgh, and New York.

Final Words

The Honresfield library is a fitting monument to Sotheby’s 275-year-old legacy of matching readers with collectors.

As a whole, the collection provides a fascinating glimpse into the interests of one of the most prolific and obscure collecting families from the golden age of books by showcasing the varied reading tastes of brothers Alfred and William Law.

Playing a part in putting the library back into the public eye after it disappeared in the 1930s is a major professional accomplishment. Expert on English Literature and Historical Manuscripts at Sotheby’s, Dr. Gabriel Heaton