British Library Digitizes Manuscripts from Blavatnik Honresfield Library


Characters of the Celebrated Men of the Present Time by Captain Tree by Charlotte Brontë

A miniature Charlotte Brontë volume, leaves from Sir Walter Scott’s Kenilworth, and Emily Brontë’s notebook of her poems are among items now available to view online.

The Blavatnik Honresfield Library is a unique collection of literary manuscripts and books put together in the late 19th century. It was bought last year with funds from the Friends of the National Libraries, as reported in detail in our summer 2022 issue, and its contents divided to appropriate homes in museums and libraries around the UK.
The British Library received 102 printed books, four manuscript items, and the William Maskell chapbook collection. The manuscripts have now been fully digitized and images can be found at the BL’s Archives and Manuscripts catalogue:

  • Characters of the Celebrated Men of the Present Time by Captain Tree, a miniature volume (the size of a small matchbox) by Charlotte Brontë written when she was 13. Narrated by Captain Tree, one of Charlotte’s earliest pen names, chapters focus on real figures such as the Duke of Wellington, as well as fictional ones from the Glass Town fantasy land created by the Brontë siblings. Digitization allows users to zoom in on Charlotte’s tiny script.
  • Two leaves from Sir Walter Scott’s novel Kenilworth, handwritten pages from the manuscript which Scott sent to the printer John Ballantyne for publication in January 1821.
  • A letter from Charlotte Brontë to her publisher William Smith Williams using her pen name ‘C. Bell’ complaining about delays in the publication of novels by her sisters Emily (‘Ellis’) and Anne (‘Acton’) by Thomas Newby.
  • Emily Brontë’s notebook of her poems between 1844 and 1846, one of the few of her literary manuscripts to survive. She transcribed 31 of her own poems into this notebook, including the date of original composition. Some have additions and revisions by Charlotte.

A selection of books and manuscripts from the Blavatnik Honresfield Library is on display in the Treasures Gallery at the British Library in London until February 19, 2023. It includes a leaf from the Kenilworth manuscript, the letter from Charlotte Brontë, Emily Brontë’s poetry notebook together with her own copy of Poems (1846), and two of the chapbooks from the William Maskell collection of 800 late 18th and early 19th century chapbooks collected by the liturgical scholar.