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British Libraries Bid on Literary Treasures

By Brittany Hazelwood

Bodleian Library logo

In the UK this week, both Oxford University and the British Library had their eyes (and hands) set on expensive relics of the past. The Bodleian Library of Oxford University has successfully purchased “The Watsons,” Jane Austen’s last remaining handwritten manuscript. The Guardian reports that the heavily corrected manuscript, perhaps an honest reflection of Austen’s life and time, was sold for 993,250 GBP; the purchase was generously aided by a grant from the National Heritage Memorial Fund. The Bodeleian’s deputy librarian Richard Ovenden divulged his great pleasure in keeping “such a valuable part of our literary heritage.” Ovenden promises that the manuscript “will be made available to the general public.”

In the same week, the National Heritage Memorial Fund opened its pockets yet again in hopes to additionally secure the 7th-century Cuthbert Gospel for the British Library. With a secured loan of 4.5 million GBP, the British Library is racing to find additional financial backers. The Art Fund and the Garfield Weston Foundation have each promised 250,000 GBP according to The Guardian.

The Cuthbert Gospel, allegedly the oldest remaining intact book in Europe, has been on loan with the British Library since 1979. The 7th century book, still bound in its original leather cover, was found in the arms of its buried namesake St. Cuthbert in 698. Chief Executive of the British Library called its existence “an almost miraculous survival from the Anglo-Saxon period, a beautifully preserved window into a rich, sophisticated culture that flourished some four centuries before the Norman conquest.”

If the British Library succeeds in this acquisition it will be the largest single grant in its history and would make the National Heritage Memorial Fund’s purchases this week a hefty tab come payday.

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