A Book of Rhymes

The title page of A Book of Rhymes by Charlotte Brontë. Images credit: James Cummins Bookseller.

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The recently rediscovered miniature book by Charlotte Brontë (1816-55) has been donated to the Brontë Society’s museum, where it was originally written, after the Friends of the National Libraries raised $1.25m (£1m) to buy it at a New York book fair.

The miniature manuscript, titled A Book of Rhymes by Charlotte Brontë, Sold by Nobody, and Printed by Herself, was offered by James Cummins Bookseller in conjunction with London dealer Maggs Brothers on behalf of a private owner at the New York International Antiquarian Book Fair (NYIABF) earlier this month.

Cummins had alerted the Friends of the National Libraries ahead of time and within two weeks the FNL raised the funds. The bulk of the funding came from lead donor, the Garfield Weston Foundation, alongside a long list of donations including from trusts and wealthy private families.

A Book of Rhymes

The title page of A Book of Rhymes by Charlotte Brontë. Images credit: James Cummins Bookseller.

Following the FNL’s purchase, the manuscript has been donated to the Brontë Society, whose Brontë Parsonage Museum in Haworth, Yorkshire is the former Brontë family home.

The FNL said its campaign to raise £15m to save The Honresfield Library of British Literature, last year encouraged Cummins to alert them to the miniature book this year. It had paid £15.3m, with the help of lead donor billionaire businessman Sir Leonard Blavatnik, for the library which contains more than 500 manuscripts, first editions and letters including works by the Brontë family, Robert Burns and Walter Scott. The library is now called Blavatnik Honresfield Library (ATG No 2524).

A Book of Ryhmes, a 15-page manuscript smaller than a playing card, is a collection of 10 poems written by Brontë at the age of 13, stitched in its original brown paper covers and dated December 1829.

The manuscript is well known in the world of Brontë scholarship: a mention appears in Mrs Gaskell’s Life of Charlotte Brontë (1857), from the transcription of Charlotte’s own handwritten catalogue of the books she wrote in 1829 and 1830. The titles of the 10 poems have been known, but the poems themselves have never been published, photographed, transcribed or even summarised.

Ann Dinsdale, principal curator of the Brontë Parsonage Museum, said: “It is always emotional when an item belonging to the 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.”

The museum has an extensive collection of Brontë works and in 2019 it bought an 1830 autograph miniature manuscript by a 14-year-old Charlotte when it was auctioned at Aguttes in Paris.

Written in minute characters in imitation of print, the tiny hand-sewn book is one of a series of ‘magazines’ created by siblings Charlotte and Branwell Brontë from January 1829 to August 1830.