Monday, June 04, 2007

Monday, June 04, 2007 6:11 pm by Cristina in , ,    2 comments
This is the kind of news BrontëBlog enjoys immensely. From The Telegraph:
One of the greatest collections of historical letters ever amassed has been found in a laundry room.
Susannah Morris was called in to examine the hoard after the death of the secretive collector and was astonished to be led not into a library or a safe room but to the basement.
In the laundry room, wedged between a washing machine and a tumble dryer, was a plain metal filing cabinet. Miss Morris, who works for the auction house Christie's, opened it and could not believe her eyes.
Inside was the most remarkable collection of letters she had seen outside a national institution: a love letter by Napoleon; a diplomatic note to the king of France in the hand of Elizabeth I; a letter of condolence by John Donne; a tragic account written in 1545 by John Calvin, the theologian of the Reformation, about the suicide of a friend; and a withering letter by Charlotte Brontë on male shortcomings. (Nigel Reynolds)
And a few more besides! We suggest you read the complete article for an amazing story.

After reading it ourselves, we have got in touch with Christie's and they have kindly provided us with futher information. Here are the details concerning Charlotte's letter:
BRONTË, Charlotte (1816-1855). Autograph letter signed ('C. Bronte') to W[illiam] S[mith] Williams, [Haworth], 9 November 1849, on mourning paper, 3 pages, 8vo, integral blank (the letter tipped onto folio album leaf, the envelope pasted on below with back folded out, lacks postage stamp). Provenance: Pencarrow Collection of Autograph Manuscripts, Sotheby's London, 8 December 1999, lot 4.

A CRITIQUE OF A WOMAN WRITER AND REACTION TO HER OWN CRITICS. Charlotte Brontë acknowledges receipt of a parcel of newspapers and books, going on to criticise in particular Lady Morgan's Woman and Her Master: while she has 'as yet perused but little of it', she tells Williams 'how I am impressed. Candidly -- not favourably. Not content with elevating "women", she seeks to disgrace "Man" -- this is not fair. Moreover her style is very pompous ... one feels that she often writes rather from a pedantic wish to show her learning than from an earnest desire to impress others with truths of which she is herself sincerely convinced.' As for the newspapers, while allowing that the critics writing for the Spectator and Athenaeum (about the recently published Shirley) are 'acute men in their way', she feels that 'when called on to criticise works of imagination -- they stand in the position of deaf men required to listen to music -- or blind men to judge of painting. The Practical their minds can grasp -- of the Ideal they know nothing.' The letter ends with a confession of her inability to 'emulate your Cornhill neatness' in wrapping books: 'the brown paper and the hard cord will not be tractable -- and I fear the unseemly bundles I produce must shock you much.'

Charlotte had first met William Smith Williams when the Brontë sisters made their unannounced visit to Smith, Elder in July, 1848. As reader and literary adviser to the firm, he alone had spotted promise in the manuscript of The Professor, and despite her fierce independence she continued to value his opinion highly. The deaths of Branwell and Emily before the end of 1848, and of Anne the following May, had left her 'stripped and bereaved'. Yet she had persevered as Currer Bell and followed Jane Eyre with Shirley, published by Smith, Elder on 26 October 1849. Her previous letter to Williams (5 November) had been to thank him for the parcel of copies he had sent her. The present letter of 9 November was written after the disappointment of reading the first reviews in the Spectator and Athenaeum, copies of which were in the second parcel. Criticism of Lady Morgan's Woman and Her Master (2 vols., 1840) for the pedantry calculated to please male readers gave her the opportunity to reaffirm her own belief in the pursuit of truth and minimise the hurt of being attacked for it in the reviews of 3 November. While finding more of actual life in Shirley than Jane Eyre, the Spectator declared that it contained 'a strong dash of the repelling.' H.F. Chorley's seven-column rant in the Athenaeum announced that it could only have been written by a woman, and detected a harmful tone of 'discontent, disorder and rebellion' in its debate about 'Woman's destiny'. Lady Morgan, née Sydney Owenson (?1793-1859), had made her name as a novelist with The Wild Irish Girl (1806).

Recorded in The Letters of Charlotte Brontë, edited by Margaret Smith (3 vols., 1995-2003), II, p. 281, the text only partly quoted in Appendix IV, p. 756.
The letter is to be auctioned on 3 July 2007 and will fetch an estimate 20,000 - 25,000 British pounds. However, if you can't afford it, The Albin Schram Collection of Autograph Letters will be on view at Christie’s, 8 King Street, St. James’s, London from 29 June to 2 July 2007.

The story, the discovery and the importance of such a collection are all stunning.

A big thank you goes to Christie's for their help.

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  1. Wow - what an amazing find! Wonderful news, thanks Bronteblog!

  2. I'm really glad you like it. It's a great news story, isn't it?