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Antiques PR Publicity Announcements News and Information

Sotheby’s to Offer Books and Manuscripts From a Former British Prime Minister

Sotheby’s London will offer for sale on Thursday, October 29, 2009 Books and Manuscripts from the prestigious English library of Archibald, 5th Earl of Rosebery, from the family seat in Scotland. The selection of 132 lots, estimated to raise in excess of £600,000, comprises an exceptional bibliophic collection – including exceptionally bound travel literature, applied arts, history and color plate books – in addition to outstanding highlights such as the most important collection of Byron letters to come to the market in over 30 years (est. £150,000-180,000). Including many unpublished letters that have not been explored in over 100 years, the significant collection of pages of autograph Byron contains material detailing infamous relationships as well as his thoughts and pursuits immediately prior to his rise to fame upon the publication of Childe Harold.

Lord ByronDavid Goldthorpe, Sotheby’s Senior Specialist, Books and Manuscripts Department, comments: “Beyond the thrill of being able to offer for sale a selection of fine books and manuscripts with such a richly varied range of subjects, authors and also craftsmanship in their illustration and binding, the prestigious provenance of the 5th Earl of Rosebery’s selection is not only notable for its importance but also presents a very rare opportunity to those who appreciate the very best of rare publications.”

Important Collection of Lord Byron’s Letters
Originally purchased from the descendents of the recipient at Sotheby’s by the Earl of Rosebery in 1885, this collection of Byron’s letters to his close friend and ‘brother minstrel’ Francis Hodgson represents the most important Byron material to be offered at auction since the sale of the manuscript of Beppo in 1976 for £50,000, and comprises a total of 71 pages in Byron’s hand. There are fifteen complete letters together with other substantial fragments, which have been largely unknown to scholarship ever since their composition. The collection offers fascinating snapshots of Byron’s private life from 1808, well before his fame as a poet was established, to 1821, during his self-imposed exile from England and just three years before his death aged thirty-six. The letters – unguarded, colorful, and frequently controversial – are wide ranging in topic, including poetry (“. . . who is the hero of Paradise Lost? Why Satan . . .”), love (“. . . “I almost rejoice when one I love dies young, for I could never bear to see them old or altered. . . .”) religion (“. . . we are miserable enough in this life, without the absurdity of speculating on another. . .”), and revolution (“. . . the Neapolitan treachery & desertion have spoilt all our hopes here. . .”). Byron’s friendship with Hodgson stemmed from their shared literary interests from their time together at Cambridge in 1807 (Hodgson was a fellow at King’s while Bryon was up at Trinity). While many of Hodgson’s letters from Byron were published during the 19th century, the letters in this collection have not been consulted since the 1880s and a significant percentage of the content – including many of the more controversial passages – remains unpublished.

By the time of Hodgson and Byron’s earliest correspondence (1808) their relationship was firmly established, with his letters covering a range of topics from literary subjects and mutual friends to the death of his favorite dog (“. . . Boatswain is to be buried in a vault waiting for myself, I have also written an epitaph . . .”). The series continues through Byron’s grand tour (1809-1810), where he writes happily from Portugal that “. . . the inhabitants have few vices except Lice and sodomy,” and that he has been conversing with monks in bad Latin and refining his knowledge of Portuguese obscenities. From Constantinople he describes Ali Pasha, who fired his imagination and impressed him with his “two hundred women and as many boys, many of the last I saw and very pretty creatures they were”.

Interestingly, a number of the letters relate to Hodgson’s recent determination to take Holy Orders and his concern for Byron’s soul. His earnest campaign to convert Byron to religious orthodoxy ensues, eliciting detailed replies from Byron which introduced a new seriousness to his letters, with trenchant criticism of Christianity: “. . . the Basis of your religion is injustice, the Son of God the pure, the immaculate, the innocent is sacrificed for the Guilty, this proves his heroism, but no more does away Man’s guilt, than a schoolboy’s volunteering to be flogged for another would exculpate the dunce from negligence, or preserve him from the Rod. . .”

Revealing the more callous side of Byron’s nature are a series of letters from Byron’s time at Newstead Abbey in the autumn of 1811 that refer to his time gathering his “little sensual comforts” which included taking Susan Vaughan as his lover – an affair which did not last long and following which the girl was summarily dismissed. While she may have lost her livelihood and reputation, Byron cast himself as the victim of the affair, sighing to Hodgson that “I can’t blame the girl, but my own vanity in believing that ‘such a thing as I am’ could be loved.” 1811-1812 was a highly productive time for Byron’s poetry, and his letters from this time include requests for help with Greek, and then, on 16th February 1812, Byron sent his friend a proof copy of Childe Harold. The final letters in the series date from several years after Byron quit England, painting a lively picture of life in Ravenna and the lives of mutual friends. Knowing that his correspondence will be opened by the Austrian authorities, he is somewhat evasive about his involvement in revolutionary politics and signs with a deliberately illegible squiggle.

Rare Literature and Travel Accounts
The selection of particularly finely-bound books from the Rosebery library include many with provenances that range across the best book sales from the nineteenth and early twentieth century. These naturally include the famous auctions of the libraries of Beckford, Hamilton Palace and Gosford Park.

A highlight of the selection is a first edition presentation copy of Lieutenant William Bligh’s account of his voyage to the South Sea in His Majesty’s ship, which includes his account of the famed mutiny on the Bounty. Dating to 1792 and estimated at £10,000–15,000, the edition is inscribed by Bligh to George Keate, a noted writer and painter of the time, and details Bligh’s mission to the West Indies to convey the bread-fruit tree from England. The mutiny on the Bounty, which occurred on 28th April 1789 and has been commemorated by several books, films, and popular songs, was led by Fletcher Christian against Commanding Officer William Bligh. The reasons for Fletcher Christian’s mutiny is still debated – while Christian is said to have acted because Bligh was a tyrant who abused his crew, contemporary accounts and Bligh’s own diaries portray Bligh as a Commanding Officer who was reluctant to wield a whip (which was accepted practice at that time) and took a particular interest in altering the crew’s watch patterns in order to allow them more sleep. The mutiny took place when Fletcher Christian and several of his followers entered Bligh’s cabin, which he always left unlocked, awakened him, and pushed him on deck wearing only his nightshirt, where he was guarded by Christian holding a bayonet. When Bligh entreated with Christian to be reasonable, Christian would only reply, “I am in hell, I am in hell!” Despite strong words and threats heard on both sides, the ship was taken bloodlessly and apparently without struggle by any of the loyalists except Bligh himself. Of the 42 men on board aside from Bligh and Christian, 18 joined Christian in mutiny, two were passive, and 22 remained loyal to Bligh. The mutineers ordered Bligh, the ship’s master, two midshipmen, the surgeon’s mate (Ledward), and the ship’s clerk into Bounty’s launch. Several more men voluntarily joined Bligh rather than remaining aboard, as they knew that those who remained on board would be considered de facto mutineers under the Articles of War.

Estimated at £10,000-12,000, a presentation copy of Coleridge’s Aids to Reflection in the Formation of a Manly Character on the Several Grounds of Prudence, Morality and Religion (1825), in which he sets out his vision of Christianity as a “personal revelation” and to develop further his famous distinction between Reason and Understanding, is inscribed by the author to Gioacchino de Prati (1790–1863) and includes autograph annotations (largely relating to the aforementioned distinction), corrections and revisions in ink to at least 44 pages of the text. The recipient was an Italian revolutionary and patriot, exiled for his views in 1816, when he fled to Switzerland. He later found political refuge in England and became acquainted with Coleridge in April 1825.

Coleridge’s extensively annotated first edition copy of Philippe Pinel’s A Treatise on Insanity, In Which Are Contained the Principles of a New and More Practical Nosology of Maniacal Disorders . . . (1806) will also be offered (est. £2,000-3,000). The initial note by Coleridge records his immediate recognition of the “humanity” of this work (it subsequently had an enormous influence on French and Anglo-American psychiatrists during the course of the century), and “the wise and humane measures recommended” for the treatment of insanity, though he also records strong reservations about its lack of originality. The annotations often mesh Coleridge’s own philosophy of mind with Pinel’s arguments. Philippe Pinel has been described as “the father of modern psychiatry” and was instrumental in the development of a more humane psychological approach to the custody and care of psychiatric patients and also made notable contributions to the classification of mental disorders.

Exceptional Atlases
Also to be offered is one of the earliest national surveys of any kind and the first uniformly conceived cartographic survey of England and Wales (it was begun in about 1574 and completed by 1579) by Christopher Saxton, who is regarded as having been the greatest name in British atlases (est. £40,000–60,000). Saxton began work on his county maps in about 1574. The maps were available singly or, after the last one was complete in 1578, bound up as here. Accordingly, the maps and other leaves are found in various states, depending on when they were printed. In this copy, ten maps bear Seckford’s pre-1576 motto (Pestis patriae pigricies), and twenty-five his later motto (Industria naturam ornat).

John Speed’s rare atlas The Theatre of the Empire of Great Britain . . .Together with a Prospect of the Most Famous Parts of the World, dating to 1676 and estimated at £50,000-60,000 will also be offered. The 1676 edition of the Prospect includes eight new maps (on seven mapsheets) appearing for the first time: Virginia and Maryland, New England, Carolina, Jamaica and Barbados, East India, Russia and Canaan.

The 5th Earl of Roseberry
British Liberal statesman and Prime Minister, Archibald Philip Primrose (1847-1829) served from 1894 to 1895 after two spells as Foreign Secretary in Gladstone’s government. Churchill wrote of Lord Rosebery in Great Contemporaries, “The Past stood ever at his elbow and was the counselor upon whom he most relied. . . He seemed to be attended by Learning and History, and to carry into current events an air of ancient majesty.” Statesman, sportsman, biographer and noted bibliophile, Lord Rosebery inherited Dalmeny House on the Firth of Forth outside Edinburgh, where he kept his extensive English library. In his later years Rosebery turned to writing, including biographies of Lord Chatham, Pitt the Younger, Napoleon, and Lord Randolph Churchill. Another one of his passionate interests was the collecting of books, though he had shown himself to have a precocious love of reading from a very early age, and his “natural eagerness of the budding bibliomaniac” was remarked upon by his friend and fellow Kingsman Henry Bradshaw in 1868.

Image: A Highly Important Series of Autograph Letters to Lord Byron’s Close Friend, Francis Hodgson, est. £150,000-180,000. Photo: Sotheby’s.