We must fight to keep the £15m jewels of our literary crown in Britain, writes HRH PRINCE OF WALES 

From Chaucer to Shakespeare, literature is in the DNA of our culture. 

From the Romantic poets who gave a new way of seeing the world, to novelists like J.R.R. Tolkien and J.K. Rowling, who gave us new worlds to explore, our writers are among our greatest cultural treasures and our most influential exports.

Our minds, and indeed our lives, are enriched immeasurably by the work of our writers across these islands, and across the ages: from the great 19th-century novelists such as Dickens, through to poets such as Ted Hughes and the work of current generations such as Zadie Smith and our present Poet Laureate Simon Armitage.

It is simply impossible to imagine what our cultural life would be like without them.

Prince Charles reads to pupils of Borrowdale Primary School in Borrowdale, Cumbria, to officially open its new nursery room and playground

This is why, as patron of the Friends of the National Libraries, I recognise the critical importance of their noble campaign to ensure that some of the most precious manuscripts associated with our greatest authors are kept in this country rather than being dispersed abroad.

Just as the drawings and sketches of great painters provide the code to understanding the creative process of an artist such as Titian or Leonardo da Vinci, the manuscripts of a writer are the key to the route by which the author found his or her way to the words which then form part of our collective memory.

In this particular regard, the Honresfield Library is one of the great hidden treasure troves of 19th-century literature, and now that its contents have become available for sale, the Friends of the National Libraries are determined that these manuscripts should remain in the country in which they were formed, and whose culture these works went on to form in their turn.

The jewels in this collection are the manuscripts of Sir Walter Scott with The Lay of the Last Minstrel, together with poems by Robert Burns in his own hand – containing some of his earliest recorded literary works known as the First Commonplace Book – and, of course, the notebooks of Charlotte Bronte.

For anyone who has ever been moved by the words of these incomparable artists, the idea of reading these manuscripts is thrilling beyond words. 

For the same reason, the idea of them being lost to this country is too awful to contemplate.

I became patron of the Friends of the National Libraries to support their valuable mission to conserve, preserve and present manuscripts and books from the Middle Ages to the early 21st century to scholars, schools, academics and the public across the country.

As well as a very important national endeavour, this for me is also a very personal one. 

Charlotte Bronte's small booklet worth approximately £600,000 with the Walter Scott manuscripts beneath, also worth around £1million

Charlotte Bronte’s small booklet worth approximately £600,000 with the Walter Scott manuscripts beneath, also worth around £1million

Thought to have been lost for a century, the Honresfield Library is a unique treasury of cornerstones of British culture

Thought to have been lost for a century, the Honresfield Library is a unique treasury of cornerstones of British culture

I can so well remember being read to as a child – particularly being captivated by my father reading Longfellow’s Hiawatha, with its haunting rhythm and evocative images – and was blessed to grow up surrounded by books in the Royal Library at Windsor which, as I grew older, became an endless source of fascination and inspiration.

C.S. Lewis reputedly said ‘we read to know we’re not alone’, and who could wish for better companions than the writers whose wisdom, insight and vision are always readily at hand.

The campaign to raise £15million to buy this collection is one which benefits the whole United Kingdom, as the Friends have brought together a consortium of libraries from Leeds, Edinburgh, Hampshire, London and beyond.

When it is purchased, the collection will be shared between all these libraries, large and small, north and south. 

I know that I share with so many people in this country a love of the literature that is so much a part of our personal and collective histories.

In giving us words to describe our human experience in all its complexity, literature has, truly, helped make us what we are.

In saving these priceless manuscripts for the public, we have the opportunity to ensure that these invaluable records of works of genius will remain in the land where they were created, and where they belong.

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