April 27, 2022

Lost Charlotte Brontë manuscript sold for $1.25 million


Best known for her classic Jane Eyre, Charlotte Brontë’s juvenilia remains a neglected but significant part of her literary canon. From childhood she was writing stories and poems, alongside and often in collaboration with her siblings Branwell, Emily and Anne. Now, one of her early manuscripts, thought lost forever, has been found.

A Book of Ryhmes [sic] by Charlotte Bronte, Sold by Nobody, and Printed by Herself,” is a collection of ten poems written by 13-year-old Charlotte in 1829. It was last seen at auction in 1916 in New York, selling for $520 before disappearing. Only now has it suddenly once again remerged – the last of six miniatures to finally be rediscovered.

Smaller than a playing card, the 15-page manuscript measures 3.8in x 2.5in (9.7cm x 6.4cm). The poems have never been published or transcribed before, although experts have long known of the titles of the poems themselves, including Theres Beauty in Nature and On Seeing The Ruins of The Tower of Babylon.

The manuscript was bought by Friends of the National Libraries (FNL), a charity focusing on saving the UK’s written and printed heritage, giving grants and fundraising to support archives, libraries and collections. Chairman of the FNL, Geordie Greig, said, as reported by the Guardian:

“Friends of the National Libraries had the daunting task of raising $1.25m in just two weeks.

“It is due to wonderfully generous donors that FNL did raise this sum to buy this rarest of manuscripts and return it to its rightful home.

“Saving Charlotte Brontë’s little book is a giant gain for Britain… To return this literary treasure to the Brontë Parsonage where it was written is important for scholars and also students studying one of our greatest women writers.”

A large donation came from the Garfield Weston Foundation, a family-founded charitable grant-making organisation, making the purchase possible. Now the FNL have donated the manuscript to the Brontë Parsonage Museum in Haworth, Yorkshire, which has  the largest collection of Brontë manuscripts in the world and is the former Brontë family home. Ann Dinsdale, principal curator of the Museum, said, as reported by the BBC:

“We are absolutely thrilled to be the recipients of this extraordinary and unexpected donation and wish to thank the generosity of the FNL and all of the donors who have made it possible.

“It is always emotional when an item belonging to the Brontë family is returned home and this final little book, coming back to the place it was written when it had been thought lost, is very special for us.”

A Book of Rhymes is now believed to have fetched the highest price of any written work sold by a female author, the previous record held by a first edition of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein which sold for $1.17m last September.

Nikki Griffiths is the managing director of Melville House UK.