Race to save 40 Scottish literary works for nation as contents of 'secret library' goes up for sale

Time is running out to secure 40 Scottish literary works for the nation – including early pieces from Burns and Walter Scott – as the contents of a secret library not seen by the public for more than 100 years faces being broken up and sold off.

The First Commonplace Book, handwritten by Robert Burns, is one of the bard's earliest works and was written when he was just 24. It is among the collection of 40 Scottish works now going up for auction, with £2.75m needed to secure the items for the nation. PIC: NTS.

Around £2.75m is needed by the end of the month to secure the Scottish items from the Honresfield Library in Rochdale, which was put together by wealthy industrialist at the end of the 1800s and, for more than a century, has been accessed only by a handful of trusted academics.

The library is home to one-off manuscripts, rare first editions and irreplaceable letters with its total value estimated at £15m.

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A consortium has been brought together to buy the works of significance to Scotland, which include a volume of poems by Robert Burns in his own hand. The First Commonplace Book, which was written he was 24, is known as one of his earliest literary works.

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Some of the bard’s earliest correspondence is also in the collection, including the only extant letter to his beloved father.

Amina Shah, National Librarian and Chief Executive of the National Library of Scotland said: “It’s difficult to put a value on these priceless works, written by the hand of both Burns and Scott. But a value has been placed, and time is running out.

“To help us secure these treasures for the national collections, please consider donating to our appeal. It’s time to bring the bards home.”

The collection included an “exceptional” group of Sir Walter Scott first editions in their original condition, and many of his manuscripts, including the complete working manuscript of his novel Rob Roy.

Abbotsford, the former home of Scott in The Borders, is among the Scottish consortium alongwith National Library of Scotland and National Trust for Scotland. If the items are secured, the group will jointly conserve the 40 Scottish works, put them on public display and make them available for research.

Phil Long, chief executive of National Trust for Scotland said: “This is a collection that transcends the ordinary and the everyday – these items are of both international literary significance and a vital part of Scotland’s cultural DNA.

“Remarkable insight brought this exceptional group of literary treasures together in the 19th century into one collection. Now, there is one chance to bring the collection into public ownership, ensuring it will be preserved for all for the future."

Earlier this year, it was announced that a several original manuscripts held in the library was due to be sold off.

The Friends of the National Libraries started to build a consortium to buy the collection with the library agreeing to delay an auction until October 30. So far, £7.5 million has been secured.

Giles Ingram, Chief Executive of Abbotsford said: “Should we fail to achieve this goal with only weeks to go, it is highly likely they will disappear into private locked vaults for another generation at least. Please support our campaign to save this remarkable collection for the nation.”

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