In Margot Livesey's novel "The Flight of Gemma Hardy", an update of Charlotte Brönte's (SIC) Jane Eyre, the heroine spends hours reading her uncle's copy of John James Audubon's "Birds of America", the famous double-elephant folio of bird prints. (...)As far as we know, Patrick Brontë didn't have a copy of Audubon's magnificent (and very expensive) Birds of America. Nevertheless Audobon's five volumes of his Ornithological Biography (published in the 1830s) were owned by the Brontës. In the first volume, Patrick Brontë inscribed the following (despite what the article says about resisting deciphering):
But while the suggestion that Jane could carry the book is unrealistic, Ms Livesey's reference to her access of the book makes sense. Brönte's (SIC) father, the Reverend Patrick Brönte (SIC) owned the "Birds of America" books at one time. In her Life of Charlotte Brönte (SIC), Elizabeth Gaskell reproduces a letter from her to Emily, which includes a list of book recommendations. "For Natural History, read Bewick, and Audubon, and Goldsmith," she wrote. Brönte's (SIC) set, enjoyed by Anne and Emily as well as Charlotte, does still exist, intact, and bound in brown leather. Where? In Cleveland, Ohio.
The complete set is on permanent display at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History, far from Bröntes' (SIC) Haworth. The books are on the museum's second-floor library, inside a specially built cabinet from 1947. There is no disputing the book's provenance: the Reverand Brönte (SIC) signed four volumes of the Biography. (The first volume contains some of his notes as well, but the museum has resisted efforts at deciphering them.)
How did this set of books, so key to both literary and bibliophilic history, get to Cleveland? Via another literary great, Amy Lowell. An American poet, Lowell bought the set from a London book dealer in 1901, and paid $1,575. After her death in 1925 the books were sold, and in 1926 were listed by a Boston book dealer for $4,750. In 1947 John Sherwin, a Cleveland banking giant, bought the set and donated it to the Cleveland museum. (A.T.)
"There are 5 volumes of this work - prince &1.4.0each - amounting together to &6.0.0. All these have I procured - P.B. 1852".