The National Library of Scotland has agreed a £33m cut-price deal for a unique set of 19th century literature.
The National Library of Scotland has agreed a £33m deal for the archive
The John Murray Archive contains some 150,000 letters and manuscripts by the likes of Darwin, Byron and Sir Walter Scott and is said to be worth £45m.
But owner John Murray, a descendant of the publishing family which built up the collection, is happy to sell it to the library so it can remain in the UK.
Proceeds from the sale will go towards preserving and expanding the archive.
Some £3m from the sale will go straight back to the National Library in Edinburgh to fund the costs of managing the archive.
The library itself has applied for £22m in National Lottery funding to help purchase the archive and will find out whether it has been successful this summer.
If awarded, it will represent the largest-ever grant awarded by the lottery organisation.
However, the Scottish Executive announced on Tuesday that it would contribute £6.5m towards the overall cost.
The library is due to make up any shortfall and has launched its own fundraising campaign to do so.
The archive was started by the first John Murray, who was a Scot and founded his publishing house in London in 1768.
Seven successive Murray generations built up the archive with the close relationships each enjoyed with the writers of their time helping to make it a who's who of 19th century society.
The collection includes letters from Shelley, Dickens, Disraeli and Jane Austen among many others and has been valued at £45m by experts.
But now that the seventh John Murray is bowing out of publishing, he wants the archive of more than 150,000 items to enter the public domain and to remain in the UK.
He admitted he would be "very sad" to part with the family archive but said the sale would benefit the public and preserve a key record of British history.
"My feeling is it's going home," he said. "We've always had a very strong feeling of our Scottish links.
"The National Library would be a marvellous home for it and they have the facilities for making it available on a much wider basis.
"All my life I've had expressions of interest. We've had people offering blank cheques.
"But keeping it all together is the important thing and not letting it out of the country."
Once the funding is in place, the library plans to exhibit some of the works and to build a new reading room where the collection will always be on view.
There are also proposals to put part of it on the internet.
Martyn Wade, Librarian of the National Library, said: "When we were first approached by John Murray about acquiring the archive we were just bowled over by the letters and everything that was in there.
"The sheer breadth of material there means every household name of the 19th century is represented.
"It's the greatest archive to become publicly available in the last century. It's quite simply unique."