In the late 1800s, British brothers William and Alfred Law began building a collection of literary artifacts in the library of their family home, Honresfield House. Because the Haworth parsonage where the Brontë family had lived was barely 20 miles away, the Laws took a special interest in acquiring manuscripts and rare volumes that once belonged to the family.
William and Alfred’s nephew inherited the entire collection, known as the Honresfield Library, in the early 20th century, and kept it until his death in 1939. Since then, the whereabouts of the bulk of the trove—save for the odd item resurfacing at an auction over the last several decades—have been a mystery.
But no longer. As The New York Times reports, Law family descendants (who chose to stay anonymous) recently came forward to offer up everything in the Honresfield Library to Sotheby’s for auction. The collection contains more than 500 letters, rare books, early manuscripts, and other items from literary legends like Robert Burns, Walter Scott, and Jane Austen.
For Brontë fans, however, no item can compete with a book of 31 poems handwritten by Emily Brontë between 1844 and 1846. Not only are Emily’s handwritten documents extremely rare, but this volume has ties to a particularly important bit of literary history. In 1845, Charlotte Brontë came across a book of poems that Emily had penned without planning to share them with anyone, and urged her to publish them. After some resistance, Emily relented, and the three sisters—Emily, Charlotte, and Anne—self-published a poetry collection in 1846. Though they sold a grand total of two copies, the experience gave them the momentum they needed to pursue writing novels.
It’s not clear whether this notebook was, in fact, the one that Charlotte had chanced upon, but one page does bear a note reading “Never was better stuff penned,” which is believed to have been scrawled by Charlotte herself. The book could fetch somewhere between $1.3 and $1.8 million.
Other Brontë family artifacts include handwritten birthday messages exchanged between Anne and Emily; letters that their brother, Branwell, wrote to Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s son, Hartley; and first editions of Emily’s Wuthering Heights, Anne’s Agnes Grey, and Charlotte’s Jane Eyre. There’s also a well-worn copy of Thomas Bewick’s two-volume work A History of British Birds, the book Jane Eyre is reading at the very beginning of her eponymous novel.
The Honresfield Library will be on display in New York City from June 4 through June 9, and in London from July 10 through July 12. Hopeful collectors can register with Sotheby’s and place their bids online any time between July 2 and July 13.
[h/t The New York Times]
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