Prince Charles warns of race to save treasured literary collection

Prince Charles’ library SOS: Royal warns of race against time to save our treasured literary collection for the nation

  • Prince of Wales says it was ‘too awful to contemplate’ loss of famous texts by Britain’s best-known writers including Sir Walter Scott and Charlotte Bronte
  • He warns that UK is in a race to save literary treasures from being taken abroad
  • The appeal comes amid pressure to save the Honresfield Library Collection
  • Friends of the National Libraries trying to raise the £15million to keep them in UK

Priceless manuscripts from some of Britain’s greatest poets and authors could be lost to the nation without urgent action, Prince Charles warns today.

Writing in the Daily Mail, the heir to the throne said it was ‘too awful to contemplate’ the loss of handwritten texts by some of the country’s best-known writers – including Sir Walter Scott, Robert Burns and Charlotte Bronte.

And he warned that the UK is facing a race against time to save a collection of literary treasures from being auctioned off and potentially taken abroad.

His heartfelt appeal came amid growing pressure to save the Honresfield Library Collection, which includes notebooks from the Bronte sisters, letters from Jane Austen and Sir Walter Scott’s original manuscript for his novel Rob Roy.

Prince Charles reads to pupils of Borrowdale Primary School in Borrowdale, Cumbria, to officially open its new nursery room and playground

The entire collection had been due to go to auction in July. 

However, Sotheby’s agreed to halt the sale so that charity Friends of the National Libraries (FNL) can try to raise the £15million needed to keep the texts in Britain.

FNL, of which Charles is patron, has so far raised £7.5million towards the ambitious target. 

However, time is running out to meet the deadline.

The prince has already made a donation to the fund, which has also received more than £116,000 in public donations.

Describing the collection as a treasure trove of ‘jewels’, Charles likened the manuscripts to the sketches of great artists such as Leonardo da Vinci.

He added: ‘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.’

Praising the appeal as ‘a very important national endeavour’, Charles said that literature was ‘in the DNA’ of British culture. 

He paid tribute to classic works such as the novels of Charles Dickens and modern writers including Zadie Smith and JK Rowling, describing them as ‘our most influential exports’.

Thought to have been lost for a century, the Honresfield Library is a unique treasury of cornerstones of British culture

Charlotte Bronte’s small booklet worth approximately £600,000 with the Walter Scott manuscripts beneath, also worth around £1million

And he added that the nation would benefit if the Honresfield collection was kept in Britain as the manuscripts would be shared between libraries around the country, ‘north and south’.

Writing in today’s Mail, he also revealed that the appeal was a ‘very personal one’. He recalled how his father, the Duke of Edinburgh, used to read to him as a child and growing up he was ‘surrounded by books’ in the Royal Library at Windsor Castle.

The FNL appeal to save the texts has won other high-profile supporters including Stephen Fry and the estate of the poet TS Eliot.

Actor Ralph Fiennes is also playing his part with a solo performance of Eliot’s Four Quartets in London from next month, which will reportedly benefit the cause through royalties paid to the Eliot charity, Old Possum’s Practical Trust.

The campaign is being supported by a consortium of institutions across the country including the National Library of Scotland in Edinburgh, the Bodleian Libraries in Oxford and the Bronte Parsonage Museum in Haworth, West Yorkshire.

Describing it as a ‘noble campaign’, Charles said the appeal would protect part of Britain’s cultural heritage and keep it in this country, rather than allowing it to fall into the hands of private collectors.

He wrote: ‘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 collection was put together in the 19th century by two Yorkshire industrialists. It has been largely inaccessible for the last 80 years and access to it has only been granted to academic researchers.

For more information about the Friends of the National Libraries, including how to donate to the Honresfield Appeal, please visit 

Why we must fight to keep the £15m jewels of our literary crown in Britain, writes HRH PRINCE OF WALES

From Chaucer to Shakespeare, literature is in the DNA of our culture. 

From the Romantic poets who gave a new way of seeing the world, to novelists like J.R.R. Tolkien and J.K. Rowling, who gave us new worlds to explore, our writers are among our greatest cultural treasures and our most influential exports.

Our minds, and indeed our lives, are enriched immeasurably by the work of our writers across these islands, and across the ages: from the great 19th-century novelists such as Dickens, through to poets such as Ted Hughes and the work of current generations such as Zadie Smith and our present Poet Laureate Simon Armitage.

It is simply impossible to imagine what our cultural life would be like without them.

Prince Charles unveiling a plaque during a visit to the Gloucester and District Branch of Samaritans on October 26

This is why, as patron of the Friends of the National Libraries, I recognise the critical importance of their noble campaign to ensure that some of the most precious manuscripts associated with our greatest authors are kept in this country rather than being dispersed abroad.

Just as the drawings and sketches of great painters provide the code to understanding the creative process of an artist such as Titian or Leonardo da Vinci, the manuscripts of a writer are the key to the route by which the author found his or her way to the words which then form part of our collective memory.

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.

Birthday notes by Emily and Anne Bronte (1841) with sketches by Emily Thought lost for a century

I became patron of the Friends of the National Libraries to support their valuable mission to conserve, preserve and present manuscripts and books from the Middle Ages to the early 21st century to scholars, schools, academics and the public across the country.

As well as a very important national endeavour, this for me is also a very personal one. 

I can so well remember being read to as a child – particularly being captivated by my father reading Longfellow’s Hiawatha, with its haunting rhythm and evocative images – and was blessed to grow up surrounded by books in the Royal Library at Windsor which, as I grew older, became an endless source of fascination and inspiration.

C.S. Lewis reputedly said ‘we read to know we’re not alone’, and who could wish for better companions than the writers whose wisdom, insight and vision are always readily at hand.

The campaign to raise £15million to buy this collection is one which benefits the whole United Kingdom, as the Friends have brought together a consortium of libraries from Leeds, Edinburgh, Hampshire, London and beyond.

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.

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