The Brontë Society has acquired a book for its museum worth £200,000 containing unpublished Brontë manuscripts.
The book, which will be displayed at the Brontë Parsonage Museum in Haworth, is a copy of Robert Southey’s The Remains of Henry Kirke White that belonged to Mrs Maria Brontë and includes annotations by the Brontë children, including unpublished material by Charlotte Brontë.
The volume was bought from Randall House, a rare book dealer in California, at total cost of £200,000. It spent most of the last century in the US, after originally being sold at the Parsonage in 1861 following the death of Patrick Brontë, Maria Brontë's husband.
The acquisition was made possible thanks to a £170,000 donation from the National Heritage Memorial Fund (NHMF), in addition to funding from the V&A Purchase Grant Fund and the Friends of the National Libraries.
The book is one of the rare surviving possessions of Maria Brontë, whose property was shipwrecked off the Devonshire coast shortly before her marriage to Patrick Brontë in 1812. It contains Latin inscriptions in Patrick Brontë’s handwriting stating that this was "….the book of my dearest wife and it was saved from the waves. So then it will always be preserved".
In addition to annotations, markings and sketches by various members of the family, it also includes a poem and a fragment of prose by Charlotte Brontë and a letter by her husband Arthur Bell Nicholls written shortly after her death in 1855.
Members of the Brontë Society were allowed to view the book at their annual summer festival held last month in June. It is currently available to view as part of the "Treasures Tours" organised by the museum and is due to go on public display at the Parsonage in 2017.
Ann Dinsdale, collections manager at the Brontë Parsonage Museum in Haworth, said: "Mrs Brontë’s book is one of the most significant Brontë items to come to light in many years. It was clearly well-used and of great sentimental value to the Brontë children, who lost their mother while they were very young. In addition, the unpublished writings by Charlotte offer new opportunities for research, which is really exciting. This acquisition has been a wonderful addition to our celebrations marking Charlotte Brontë’s bicentenary.”
Juliet Barker, historian and author of biography The Brontës (Abacus), said: "The book alone is a valuable acquisition because of its rare associations with Mrs Brontë before her marriage to Patrick, but its importance is immeasurably increased by the unpublished manuscripts tipped into it. There could be no better place for it to be preserved for the future than the Brontë Parsonage Museum.”
The Brontë Society was recently the subject of press coverage for reported "infighting" at its a.g.m. in June over how best to preserve the Brontë's legacy. However, John Thirlwell, chair of the Brontë Society, said at the time this was a “small part of an otherwise informative and constructive meeting” and that it was an "exciting time" for the society, with visitor numbers and membership "on the increase”.