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Historic letters go up for auction


Historic letters go up for auction

Chorley’s auctioneers have announced two very exciting discoveries for auction this spring…

The first is a letter by the renowned 18th-century Swiss philosopher, composer, author and political theorist Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778), which was discovered when it was brought to the auctioneers on a routine valuation day. The owner had no idea who it was written to, or by, as it was written in French! On further investigation, Chorley’s specialists were able to verify that the letter and signature were genuine. The letter was written by Rousseau, an ‘influencer’ of his time, contributing to political and social movements, as an author, writer and composer.

His political philosophy influenced the progress of the ‘Age of Enlightenment’, which is summarised as the age of reason, the understanding of the world and the universe, reason and religion, as well as ethics and social organization. It was written by Rousseau to a Monsieur Le Chambrier, a diplomat to the Kingdom of Prussia, who was stationed to protect the municipality of Neuchâtel in Switzerland.

A translation of the letter shows Rousseau asking for help with a woman’s plight following a fire. Le Chambrier must have been well-known to Rousseau as he is mentioned in his memoirs: ‘The Confessions of Jean-Jacques Rousseau’. Commenting on the find, Werner Freundel, Director at Chorley’s said: “Letters involving Rousseau are exceptionally rare, so for one to be found in the UK is highly unusual and for this reason, the auction house anticipates a lot of interest, not just from here, but from abroad.” The letter carries an estimate of £3,000-£5,000.

The second discovery is the only letter ever written by the revered English poet Lord Byron (1788-1824), to John Cartwright (1740-1824), the political reformer known as the ‘Father of Reform’, which was found in a country house in Gloucestershire, where it has remained for decades and therefore has never been published or seen by the public before.

Lord Byron was the most fashionable poet of the 1800s, as well as the most infamous. He spearheaded the Romantic Movement, a creative philosophy with a focus on individuality and emotion, as well as a passion for nature and a reminiscence of the past. The Romantic movement accentuated strong emotion as a genuine source of the aesthetic experience, which fitted well with Lord Byron’s reputation as a Romantic hero, displayed both in his works and in his own life.

John Cartwright, to whom the letter was addressed, was an English politician and political reformer. He served in the navy under Lord Byron’s father Admiral John Byron between 1765-1770, so both Lord Byron and he would have known each other very well since he was a child, which explains the meeting referred to in the letter. The letter carries an auction estimate of £1,500-£2,500.

Speaking about this find, Werner Freundel says:

“The discovery of a letter featuring two such important historical figures in Britain is thrilling, as both contributed so much to our society and the Britain we know today. This letter shows a human insight into Byron’s extraordinary character and knowing the background to his life at the time, makes it all the more interesting. We hope that it is purchased and retained in its present condition, hopefully in the public eye, for many years to come.”

Both letters will be offered in a sale at Chorley’s titled The Library:  Printed Books & Manuscripts on March 20, 2024.


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