In the presence of so much handwritten material from Brontë, Austen, Scott and Burns, you find yourself imagining that the authors have just stepped out of the room. “The manuscripts,” says Professor Kathryn Sutherland, as she flips through a notebook filled with poems by Emily Brontë, “stick with the presence of their writers.”

It is in part the extraordinary state of the material that creates this impression of proximity. The Honresfield Library, now preserved for the nation, was amassed by Rochdale factory owner William Law in the late 19th century and the items have been kept intact (and almost inaccessible) by his family ever since.

The characters of the authors spring from ink, from paper. Here are two letters to her sister, Cassandra, by Jane Austen, written almost two decades apart. The first – in which she declares “tears flow as I write the melancholy idea” that she will never dance again with her beautiful Tom Lefroy – was written when she was only 20 years old.

In this one, her first surviving letter, the handwriting is neat, it fills the page to the end (no wasted paper) and each line is precisely spaced, as if for efficient comprehension. At 38, when she writes on the reception of “P&P” as she refers to her most famous novel, the hand is more compressed, tighter, less young. His signature was torn from this letter – lost to one of the first autograph hunters.

The manuscript of Sir Walter Scott’s novel Rob Roy explains and illustrates, at a glance, the author’s productivity. The words fly across the page, seemingly written in immense episodes of nonstop work, with a flowing legal hand – a style of cursive he had learned during his training as a young man in the legal profession. , designed to get you writing as fast as possible.

It was the first and only draft. There are hardly any corrections, just a few slightly edited words or phrases. Robert Burns’ mundane young book, on the other hand – filled with early poems, self-criticism, and philosophical observations when he was between 23 and 25 – is boldly written in flamboyant handwriting, the ancestors of his D s. wrapping around them in large curved flourishes. , “Full of flair and self-confidence,” says Sutherland.

The little storybooks created by Charlotte Brontë to recount the adventures of her toy soldier hero Lord Charles Wellesley are, needless to say, spellbinding. The miniature pages are folded by hand, and you can see how they were cut to size by scissors held in small hands. The covers were made from paper wrappers sourced from the local pharmacy, clearly marked: “Purified Epsom salts, sold by J West, chemist and pharmacist, Keighley” – with the town of Yorkshire about four miles from the village of Haworth, where the Brontes lived.

Among Brontë’s other items is a “paper journal” written by Emily on her 23rd birthday, July 30, 1841, “to be opened when Anne is 25 or my next birthday if all goes well.” He begins: “It’s Friday night – around 9 am – wild rainy weather. In the upper left corner of the paper, she is pictured sitting writing at her desk; in the upper right corner, she has drawn herself looking out the window at this wild weather.

With a few strokes of the pen, the character images bring us into the room with her. A notebook full of clean copies of 31 of his poems retains the habit of tiny writing, and there is a glossy page where, at the end of his poem that begins: happiness, “his sister Charlotte firmly added: “Never has been written better.” In the presence of this triumphant fraternal certainty, who would argue?