The National Library of Scotland has launched an appeal to repatriate some of Scotland's most important literary manuscripts, currently in private ownership.
The Honresfield Library is a tremendous collection almost entirely inaccessible since the 1930s. Its appearance on the open market has attracted the interest of a community of libraries, archives, and cultural heritage institutions across the UK. We launched a campaign to prevent this unparalleled collection of literary treasures being broken up, going overseas or going back into private hands.
Among the 500 manuscripts in this collection are items of great significance to Scotland. Robert Burns's handwritten letters to his family, lovers and patrons sit alongside discussions of his work penned by Byron, and novel fragments and travel journals written by Sir Walter Scott.
Two star items bring the importance of this collection to Scotland into sharp focus.
novel 'Rob Roy'. Image courtesy of Sotheby's.
The first, a 'Commonplace Book' compiled by Robert Burns between 1783-85 — when the Bard was yet to publish his work or achieve fame — contains his earliest surviving poems, notes and ideas.
The second is the working manuscript of the great novel 'Rob Roy'. Written in Sir Walter Scott's own hand, it is the only manuscript novel of his to remain in private hands.
These are lynchpins of Scottish literature, yet were at risk of being separated, dispersed and lost from public ownership.
An opportunity to safeguard the collection
Having been privately owned since the late 19th century, these manuscripts are now being sold at auction. As a member of a special consortium coordinated by the Friends of the National Libraries, we have succeeded in delaying the auction. £15 million is needed to save this material for the nation. The value of the 40 'Scottish items' in the collection is £2.75 million.
We cannot let items of such cultural and historical value go abroad or into private hands. They should, and must, be added to the national, public collection.
The National Library of Scotland has therefore been working together with the other Scottish members of the consortium — Abbotsford and the National Trust for Scotland — to raise the money needed to bring these giants of Scottish literature home.
If you would like to learn more about the appeal to save the Honresfield Library, contact the Development team.
We hope to have an update on this appeal to share soon.