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Last Updated: Friday, 6 February, 2004, 04:47 GMT
Poet's plea to save manuscripts
Andrew Motion
Andrew Motion wants to keep important manuscripts in the UK
Poet laureate Andrew Motion is calling on ministers to do more to stop important literature being sold abroad.

In the Royal Society of Literature's magazine, Motion said manuscripts were an important part of the UK's heritage.

He wants the government to increase the overall budget for buying manuscripts, and to offer tax breaks for writers who sell their papers within Britain.

He also wants a "manuscripts tsar" to be appointed, to find ways to keep precious works in the country.

Sir Tom Stoppard and Sir David Hare are among those who have sold their literary archives abroad.

British universities and libraries often do not have the money to match the large sums offered by, for example, American institutions such as the University of Texas in Austin.

Portrait of Richard Arkwright Junior by Joseph Wright

But Motion says the government should do more to stop important literary papers, often belonging to the country's most distinguished writers, going abroad.

There are precedents for attempting to stop British and other works of art being sold to collectors abroad.

The National Art Collections Fund has saved many works of art for the nation - including The Kiss by Rodin and Anthony Gormley's Field for the British Isles.

Ways to save

Recently, the National Heritage Memorial Fund - which calls itself a "fund of last resort" - stepped in to try to save the original manuscript of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein.

It granted 3m to Oxford University's Bodleian library, towards the purchase of the Abinger Papers, an archive which also includes letters and papers from Mary Shelley's parents, the feminist writer Mary Wollstonecraft and intellectual William Godwin.

The papers are due to be offered for auction, and the Bodleian now has until March 2004 to reach the reserve price.

The government can also use export licences and tax breaks to try to keep valuable works of art in the country.

Motion became poet laureate in 1999. The poet laureate's job is to write verse on major royal and national events.

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