Tiny manuscript by 13-year-old Charlotte Bronte returns to Yorkshire home

One of the famous ‘little books’ was bought by a charity in April for 1.25 million dollars after surfacing for the first time in more than a century.

04 August 2022

A miniature manuscript by the 13-year-old Charlotte Bronte has returned to her home in West Yorkshire, 200 years after it was written.

The last of more than two dozen of the famous “little books” known to be in private hands was bought by a charity in April for 1.25 million dollars (£973,000) after surfacing for the first time in more than a century.

Its buyers, British literary charity Friends of National Libraries (FNL), donated the book to the Bronte Parsonage Museum in Haworth, where it is now on display after returning this week.

The 15-page manuscript, smaller than a playing card, is dated December 1829, and is stitched in its original brown paper covers.

The last Charlotte Bronte miniature manuscript book known to be in private hands, as the book goes on display following its return to the Bronte Parsonage Museum in Haworth, Keighley, West Yorkshire, once the home of the Bronte family
The miniature manuscript has gone on display at the Bronte Parsonage Museum in Haworth, Keighley, West Yorkshire, once the home of the Bronte family (Danny Lawson/PA)

It measures 3.8in x 2.5in and contains 10 poems.

Its buyers have said it is “inch for inch, possibly the most valuable literary manuscript ever to be sold”.

It was last seen at auction in 1916 in New York, where it sold for 520 dollars.

Its whereabouts – and even its survival – were unknown until it was unveiled in New York earlier this year.

At the time Ann Dinsdale, principal curator of the Bronte Parsonage Museum, said she was “absolutely thrilled” by the news that the book would be returning to the place where it was written.

She said: “It is always emotional when an item belonging to the Bronte 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.”

Curator Sarah Laycock with the last Charlotte Bronte miniature manuscript book known to be in private hands, as the book goes on display following its return to the Bronte Parsonage Museum in Haworth, Keighley, West Yorkshire, once the home of the Bronte family
Curator Sarah Laycock with the Charlotte Bronte miniature manuscript (Danny Lawson/PA)

The miniature books created by Charlotte Bronte and her siblings as children have long been objects of fascination for Bronte scholars and fans.

Thrown upon their own resources in Haworth, where their father was curate, the four Bronte children, Charlotte, Anne, Emily and Branwell, evolved a sophisticated imaginary world.

They wrote adventure stories, dramas and verse in hand-made manuscript books filled with tiny handwriting intended to resemble print.

This close, enchanted world of their childish imaginations fed into the creation of some of the most famous and popular novels ever written, including Charlotte’s Jane Eyre; Emily’s Wuthering Heights; and Anne’s Agnes Grey and The Tenant Of Wildfell Hall.

The miniature manuscript, entitled A Book Of Ryhmes By Charlotte Bronte, Sold By Nobody, And Printed By Herself, is a collection of 10 poems written by 13-year-old Charlotte Bronte.

It is well known in the world of Bronte scholarship, and is mentioned in Elizabeth Gaskell’s The Life Of Charlotte Bronte (1857).

The titles of the 10 poems – including The Beauty Of Nature and On Seeing The Ruins Of The Tower Of Babel – have long been known, but the poems themselves have never been published, photographed, transcribed or even summarised.

Curator Sarah Laycock uses a magnifying glass to inspect the last Charlotte Bronte miniature manuscript book known to be in private hands, as the book goes on display following its return to the Bronte Parsonage Museum in Haworth, Keighley, West Yorkshire, once the home of the Bronte family
Curator Sarah Laycock uses a magnifying glass to inspect the manuscript (Danny Lawson/PA)

James Cummins Bookseller of New York City and Maggs Bros of London, who were selling on behalf of the owner, offered the book first to FNL and gave them several weeks to raise the 1.25 million dollars required.

Funds were raised from more than nine donors, including the Garfield Weston Foundation and the TS Eliot Estate.

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