Dubbed “England’s earliest female bibliophile” in Seymour de Ricci’s history of collectors, Frances Mary Richardson Currer’s library in her family home of Eshton Hall, Yorkshire, ran to 15,000 to 20,000 volumes. Among them lay Bewick’s classic of British ornithology - the work Jane Eyre is reading as Charlotte Brontë’s novel opens, and whose “enchanted page[s]” the author also celebrated in poetry.
Currer herself would have been known to the Brontës, said the antiquarian bookseller Bernard Quaritch in its catalogue for the edition: she was the patron of the Cowan Bridge School, attended by Maria, Elizabeth, Charlotte and Emily, and was known locally as a generous patron.
“It is thought that she was the ‘benevolent individual, a wealthy lady, in the West Riding of Yorkshire’ who gave £50 in 1821 to a fund to aid the impoverished and recently widowed curate of Howarth – Patrick Brontë,” said the bookseller.
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