Destroyed manuscripts— horror stories to chill the blood




Found at Jot  HQ,  the pamphlet published by Winfred A. Meyers ,a well known dealer in autograph letters and manuscripts, containing  the talk she gave at the ABA Book Fair  at Albemarle Street, London, in 1961 on  ‘ How to Collect Autograph Letters and Manuscripts ‘.


Meyers sets off by making a good case for collecting autograph letters from a historical point of view. She argues that a letter or set of letters may help a ‘professional’ scholar piece together episodes in the life of a particular person, possibly solving a puzzle that has perplexed other scholars for years; letters can also immediately connect an amateur with the author of a work in that person’s library. So far,  so good. These are obvious benefits of collecting autograph letters. Meyers then comes to the horror stories of letters and historical documents lost, irretrievably damaged through neglect, or deliberately destroyed. What she tells us is indeed a litany of terrible losses:

‘…it is amazing after what has befallen letters and documents in the not so distant past, how much has survived. The rats that gnawed the letters from Elizabeth’s favourite courtier, at Belvoir Castle; the parish registers that turned into solid glue in the wet cellars of another stately home; Somerset House in 1840 sending the Exchequer Accounts of Henry VIII and the Secret Service Accounts of Queen Elizabeth to the waste paper merchant: the old India Office turning out the records of the Indian navy to the paper mills; the French Revolutionaries destroying and dispersing the papers of the Monarchy, and the restored Monarchy destroying the papers of the French Revolutionaries; the British army destroying the White House papers in 1812; the Southern States destroying their records before the advancing Union Army in the Civil War; the Sinn Feiners’ destruction of Dublin Castle records; the salvage drives and bombing of two wars; the mouldering records in a pigsty at Arundel Castle; the toy-drum and lampshade-makers’ part; Cassandra Austen tearing up the letters of her sister Jane, and George Washington’s widow tearing up all George’s letters to her and a terrible story I just heard of a collection of Emily and Charlotte Bronte letters that were torn up only last week…’ 

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More gleanings from Ian Fleming’s 1946 book catalogue

The catalogue issued in 1946 (previous Jot) by the directors of Elkin Mathews Ltd of Takeley, Elkin Matthews book catalogue 1946 001near Bishops Stortford, probably contained descriptions of books and manuscripts by one of the directors, Ian Fleming, an avid book collector. It’s tempting to imagine the future creator of James Bond trawling through some of the items in the catalogue in search of likely material.

We don’t know what language skills his fellow directors, B. K. Muir and C. H. Muir had, but we know that before the Second World War Fleming attended universities in Munich and Geneva to work on his language skills and visited Moscow in 1933 while   working for Reuters. It is likely that he was responsible for translating some, if not  all, of the foreign language manuscripts being sold by Elkin Mathews.

First, he may have examined a letter from the disciple of Karl Marx and founder of the Social Democratic Party, A. Bebel (1840 – 1913), which was written in German in 1893.In it Bebel complains that ‘since the abolition of the ban very few intellectuals and university folk have joined the party, or if they have done so, have abandoned it later on, out of fear or for reasons of social ambition’. He attacks the evolutionary socialist Rodbertus, who was opposed to Marxism and the University- Socialists.

This  letter of ‘great importance ‘ was priced at 9 guineas.

There is also a holograph MS of Maxim Gorki’s “From my Diary” consisting of 12 folio pages in Russian and priced at a bargain £40—more than a  month’s salary for a British University lecturer in Russian in 1946.

You could also buy a letter from the Swedish Nobel prize winner Selma Lagerlof ( who she ?,Ed ) for £2 10s,a ‘ very fine letter ‘ from the Nazarene painter J.F.Overbeck dated 1852 for 10/- less and ( a real bargain, this) ten letters from the German impressionist painter Liebermann, a victim of Nazi prejudice, for £2 15s. A single letter from the gifted German draughtsman A. von Menzel, to which were attached ‘ ‘three fine pen-and-ink drawings’, could be yours for £20. Continue reading

Letter to Geoffrey Grigson from E.J.Scovell

The combative poet and critic Geoffrey Grigson was not known to be a great fan of female poets. He rarely reviewed their work and when he did he was invariably scathing. This refusal to be a hypocrite when confronted by poetry for which he had no enthusiasm got him into hot water with the more politically correct band of literary critics, one of whom was the Mexican poet Michael Schmidt, editor of Poetry Nation.Luckily, Schmidt’s views are not shared by most genuine lovers of poetry.
scovell letter grigson 001

But Grigson did admire two female poets of the twentieth century—Fleur Adcock (b 1934) and E. J. Scovell (1907 – 99). Both wrote the sort of poetry that Grigson admired—visual, precise and closely observed. Scovell‘s work was particularly to Grigson’s taste and the admiration was mutual. So here is a letter dated 23 April 1945 which we at Jot HQ found interleaved in a copy of Scovell’s third collection, The River Steamer(1956), along with  a carbon of ‘A Baby’s Head’. In the letter Scovell responds to Grigson’s invitation to submit a poem for   publication in his new literary miscellany The Mint(1946 by sending nine poems, including presumably ‘A Baby’s Head ‘. She also apologised for the fact that ‘so few of them escape being about children’. Book, poem and letter were bought from Grigson ( see previous Jot) by the bookseller and publisher Joan Stevens, at whose death it was retrieved from her archive by us at Jot HQ. At the time Miss Scovell, who was married to Charles Elton, the animal behaviourist, was working at the Bureau of Animal Population in Oxford (this fact alone would have prompted Grigson’s interest). It seems that Grigson was impressed by the submissions , for he duly published two of the nine poems in The Mint(1946).

Reading ‘ A Baby’s Head’, which was eventually published in The River Steamer, one can easily imagine Grigson being delighted by its opening line:

‘The lamp shines on his innocent wild head again ‘.

And it gets even better:

‘Now even the captive light in a close-sheltered room,

Claiming you as its kind, pours round you head in bloom,

So melting where it flows, that the strong armour-browed

Skull seems as pervious as a cloud…’  Continue reading

H.D. letter about Ezra Pound’s look

Found – an unpublished  typed letter from the Imagist poet H.D. (Hilda Doolittle) to a Mr Russell, almost certainly the poet Peter Russell who was also something of a champion of Ezra Pound. She gives her address as Hotel de la Paix, Lausanne, Switzerland where she is known to have resided from 1946 to 1952. It is a good letter full of commentary on the modernists and with much on Ezra Pound – his style and manner, his appearance and his hair.


She starts by writing about the literary magazine The Egoist, which started in 1914.

‘Yes, I should say it was Ezra who pushed the Portrait (Joyce) in or into The Egoist. I arrived on the scene about 1911; I think during War 1, I was supposed to hold down the Egoist job  for Richard Aldington. I met him before The Egoist, it all came together in 1912, along with Ezra first condescending (and very kindly) to present a few of my poems, as for Poetry Chicago. I believe something of the same thing happened to T.S. Eliot, at one time. I think Eliot noted it somewhere. Ezra just took his pencil and crossed off lines and line-ends and the whole emerged like a stalactite, very beautiful after he chizzled (sic) it. I think it was Hermes of the Ways and it appeared in  the first imagist anthology… I should say unofficially E.  has everything to do with the more dynamic content of The Egoist as with Poetry Chicago, at that time. [At this point she says she could write an article about this but needs no money as she has an allowance and her health is good after an illness. She goes on to reminisce about Pound in early life] …it was a Halloween dance, if I remember,  that day after  Ezra’s birthday. Or it might have been Twelfth Night; I remember our discussing it as Ezra gave our hostess a copy of the same Temple edition which we were all collecting. Ezra wore a green brocade coat. It was, I believe brought back from a trip he had taken with his parents and an aunt  to Tangiers… anyway, he had a photograph with the group, Ezra with a fez over his exact Gozzoli curls. It sounds odd, but Ezra once said to me  at that time, that for one friend he made himself, he made 10 for his hair. It was quite exact, curls like the Hermes of Praxitiles.

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A Charles Morgan collection


Charles_Langbridge_MorganDiscovered in a catalogue of the late 1990s from the estimable dealer in autographs, David J Holmes, is a long description of a collection of holograph letters, typed letters, and post-cards from Charles Morgan (1894 – 1958 ), the English novelist and playwright who became a household name in the 30s and 40s. The price asked was $8,500.

Twenty years ago Morgan was out of fashion and unread, hence the relatively low price, which works out at about £18 a letter. In the same catalogue a letter of two pages from A. A. Milne would cost you $1,000, while one of similar length from Virginia Woolf is priced at $2,000. Today, while there will always be fans of Milne and Woolf, Morgan’s popularity has hardly improved, though apparently there are signs of a ‘revival ‘. However, in the world of literary biography quantity is everything. A single, if fascinating, letter from the creator of Pooh Bear would mean very little to a Milne biographer, and the same could be said for the Woolf letter. Continue reading

Thomas Bewick tracks a package…

bew2Found -in a reprint copy of Bewick’s A History of British Birds (Newcastle, 1809) a  handwritten note pasted at the front endpapers from George Gulliver (anatomist 1804- 1882) stating that the book contains ‘.. 9 proofs of wood cuts of birds, an illustrated receipt, and an autograph letter of Thomas Bewick, dated April 14, 1823 (Newcastle) to Mr L .Edmonston: all inserted at the end of this volume.’ He continues- ‘They were given to me by Mrs Edmonston. Her husband, Dr Laurence Edmondston, has now (1862) been a medical practitioner upwards of 40 years at Bolton Sound, Shetland, which place he is a native. He knew and corresponded with Bewick about birds and the cuts were sent at different times by Bewick to Dr Evanston with the writing on them. George Gulliver. Bewick’s letter is present and reads:

‘Newcastle 14 April 1823.  Dear Sir, I received your kind letter of the 10th and have ever since been in anxious expectation of receiving the Ivory Gull, as it’s not yet come to hand. I fear the box may have been detained or else forwarded to Newcastle under Line by mistake as Wednesday is the date which you have limited me for its return. I thought it necessary to apprize you of its non arrival, that an enquiry if necessary might be set on foot without further delay– I have only to thank you for your very great kindness and attention endeavouring to procure from me so many specimens of rare birds which will always be most acceptable to me.I am dear sir your obliged and obedient Thomas Bewick.’  Continue reading

Two John Fothergill letters

IMG_1595Found – two signed handwritten letters from John Fothergill author of An Innkeeper’s Diary.  He was the proprietor of The Spreadeagle in Thame, the ‘inn’ he managed to make a cult destination during the 1920s and 30s. To quote travel blogger Ian Weightman:

‘In its heyday, The Spreadeagle near Oxford became a mecca for holiday makers, and the great and the good of the country. Many people booked to stay or dine there, purely because of Fothergill’s notoriety. But many others – including a “glitterati” of writers, actors, artists and heads of state – arrived as a result of the hotel’s widespread reputation as one of the best in the land… Fothergill was not only an illustrious innkeeper, but also an outstanding chef, connoisseur of wine, and an early campaigner for “Real Food”’.

The letters are to the writer Guy Chapman (author of the WW1 account A Passionate Prodigality and husband of Margaret Storm Jameson, English journalist and author.) They were associated with the writer’s organisation PEN – hence Fothergill asking for advice about republishing a gardening book he had written in 1927 (The Gardener’s Colour Book -now quite collectable.) The first letter is from the Spreadeagle and the second from his inn in Market Harborough which he ran from 1934 to 1952. Anybody writing a biography of Fothergill in the future would appreciate these letters, but when they are sold they tend to disappear – so following the original Jot mission we are recording them here. Continue reading

I once met A.E. Coppard

icoppar001p1Found – a  handwritten  letter signed by E.V. Knox (‘Evoe’) to someone called Magniont asking for recollections of A.E. Coppard. This was almost certainly Dr Jean-Louis Magniont who translated Coppard into French. The letter is undated but mention of a recent BBC adaptation of Coppard’s stories dates it as 1969. ‘Evoe’ writes:

I will tell you all I can recollect about A.E. Coppard. But I fear that it is very little and perhaps not very helpful to you.

As you mentioned, I wrote a small episode, and he considerably longer one, for the Kidlington Pageant of 1931. Those were the days when pageants kept popping up everywhere. This one was arranged by Frank Evay, who lived at Shepton Manor where the pageant was held. He was a friend of mine and an eccentric. For instance, he collected tramps, gave them a meal and a the nights lodging in a barn and sent them on their way. He introduced me to A.E. Coppard whom he had first met, as he told me, when Coppard was collecting tickets at Oxford railway station.

I remember him as small, prosaic, and self-contained and perhaps determined not to be eccentric. Possibly that is an illusion of my own. I became at once a “fan.” Coppard, I think, was very little known at that time, for at a dinner of a literary club I told Desmond McCarthy, then perhaps our leading critic, that I thought that Coppard was our best English short story writer, and Desmond had not heard of him. He said however- ”Well we must try to read this Coppard of yours.”  Clearly he did. Continue reading

An album of Oscar Wilde letters

oscar_wildeFrom a 1946 catalogue of ‘scarce and interesting original autograph letters manuscripts historical documents’ from London dealer Winifred Myers.  She was a major player in the field of autographs into the 1960s. These were listed at £80. After 70 years it would be a safe bet to say they have gone up by over 2000 times …Fortunately they were bought by a collector who let them be published in Rupert Hart- Davis’s collection of Oscar’s letters that appeared in 1962. Are they still in the ‘choicely bound’ Riviere album?

WILDE (Oscar). 1856-1900. Author. 9 Autograph letters signed, with original envelopes, 38 pp., 4to. and 8vo., and one autograph post card signed O.W. (some letters are signed in full, some “Oscar” and some with initials), Paris, Dieppe, Naples, etc., 1897-99, to his publisher Leonard Smithers, chiefly regarding his “Ballad of Reading Gaol.” A very fine collection of letters of the utmost importance. The first letter written from Berneval only three months after his release from prison, expresses the hope that he will finish the Ballad within a few days, begs Smithers to get an answer from Beardsley about doing the frontispiece; a long letter from Naples deals fully with the title-page and his pseudonym C.3.3.; speaks affectionately of Robt. Ross; were all his friends like Ross he would not be “the pariah dog of the nineteenth century.” Refers to Lord Alfred Douglas who is staying with him, “He has also ruined my life, so I can’t help loving him,” his wife’s letter of reconciliation. “In questions of the emotions and their romantic quality, unpunctuality is fatal.” “I am going to try and find a place near Genoa!… The chastity of Switzerland has got on my nerves,” asking for money, “I have no money at all. I am in a dreadful state… I am nearly in the gutter,” mentioning “The Importance of Being Earnest,” etc. Probably the most important and moving collection of Wilde letters ever offered for sale, mounted with typescripts in an album, choicely bound, green morocco gilt, g.e. lettered in gold on spine, by Riviere.

Benjamin Jowett—‘I am Master ‘

"Here come I, my name is Jowett
  All there is to know, I know it
  I am Master of this College
  And what I don’t know isn’t knowledge."

This squib gently mocks the pretensions of arguably Balliol College’s most famous Master. Jowett was a Greek scholar, and like many classicists through the ages, felt that a grounding in Latin and Greek was sufficient qualification to tackle most areas of knowledge. But he was also a dedicated theologian and an educational reformer. This letter, which another hand (possibly the same one that snipped out Jowett’s signature, thus losing text) has dated in pencil 5th November 1874, four years after Jowett was appointed Master, is addressed to a Mr Buckland (possibly a member of the celebrated clan of eccentric scientists). In it Jowett, who was always interested in Indian affairs and was a member of the 1854 committee drawn up to debate the future administration of the colony, shows his keenness to promote the benefits of an education at Oxford University to young men who might wish to join the Indian Civil Service. Previous to 1858, when it closed, such candidates would have been trained at Haileybury College, near Hertford, but Jowett argues that an Oxford education might prove more attractive to these young men than a stint at Haileybury, should that institution be ‘revived’.

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Fanny Kemble and Charles— autograph supplier and autograph hunter

Eaton Place, off Belgrave Square, has always been one of the most exclusive addresses in London. In the 1840s, no 99 was the home of the opera singer Mrs Adelaide Sartoris, younger sister of famous actress, novelist and memorialist Fanny Kemble. It was here too, on 23 June 1848, that Chopin gave his first public concert in London before a select audience of 150 that included Swedish diva Jenny Lind.

We don’t know if Fanny was present on this occasion, but thanks to the letter, which was discovered among a pile of other miscellaneous correspondence, we can guess that she occasionally stayed with her sister at no 99 following the breakdown of her own marriage to an American slave-owner. This undated letter, to ‘Charles’, possibly Charles Legh Arkwright (born 1845), a scion of the wealthy Arkwright family of Cromford, Derbyshire, into which the Kembles married, was sent in response to his  letter thanking her for sending him some signatures of her aunt, the celebrated Mrs Siddons. We don’t know whether by ‘signatures’ Fanny meant signed letters, or whether Charles had originally asked for many more autographs of famous actors and actresses, but Fanny could only find a few examples. Here anyway is her reply:

Dear Charles,
You owe me no thanks for the autographs I sent you & I am very glad that they were acceptable. I have only signatures of Mrs Siddons’, so could give you nothing else---I am very glad to hear of the favourable results of the examination---your father & grandmother are well, likewise poor Beppo, whose London existence seems to be like my own, lamentable.
Believe me, my dear Charles,
Yours very truly,
Fanny Kemble.

Who this Beppo was is not certain. We know that Fanny became 'infatuated' with Byron’s poetry, which included Beppo (1817),so perhaps Beppo was a pet name for a close friend or relative. [RR]

Gladstone at Dollis Hill

One of the most crass and insensitive planning decisions made in 2012 was the demolition of Dollis Hill House in NW London. The fact that this semi-ruinous building, which began as a farmhouse in 1825, was once the country retreat of four-times Prime Minister William Gladstone and the home for a while of American novelist Mark Twain, couldn’t  save it from the philistines on Brent Council or, for that matter English Heritage. It has been argued that too much money was required for its restoration and back in the middle of the post 2009 recession, no entrepreneur was willing to come forward with a viable plan. A museum with a café or restaurant attached would have been a perfect use for this building. As it is, Dollis Hill Park now has a razed platform where the historic house once stood, and although there are plans for some sort of reproduction of Gladstone’s bolt hole, it is  not, dare I say, quite the same…

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Partying with Royals in London (1930)

Lord Glenavy with his
 children Patrick and Biddy

This is a continuation of a jot from March 2014 featuring  a good letter, over 20 closely written pages found among some papers bought in Ireland.  Indiscreet, gossipy ('The Prince  of Wales was blotto..') from the inner circles of power and privilege in 1930 and like something out of Waugh's Vile Bodies. The recipient was Beatrice Elvery, Lady Glenavy (1881 - 1970). Irish artist and literary host, friend of Katherine Mansfield and friend of Shaw, Lawrence and Yeats. She modelled for Orpen and painted 'Éire' (1907) a landmark painting promoting the idea of an independent Irish state. The letter is from her husband Charles Henry Gordon Campbell, 2nd Baron Glenavy (1885–1963) politician and banker in England and Ireland. This is from the last two pages, the letter ends on a scrap of 'Irish Free State Delegation' paper.

I had to go to a party at  Buckingham Palace, they were much the same people as at Londonderry (an earlier party)   but Kipling and Barrie instead of Elinor Glyn and Mrs Stevens. Lady Jowitt was all over us to go to another cocktail party but I rather shrank from meeting Mary Hutchinson. I met Plucky's mother in law, Lady Melchett. The Prince of Wales is a wretched looking old-young man who would be quite insignificant if he hadn't large eyes of a brilliant blue. The Queen's bosom reaches form her chin to her pelvis and anyone talking to her has to stand about five feet away. The Duchess of York is quite simple and pleasant looking;  Winston Churchill remembered me and got into a conversation about the Xmas day I spent in his room at the Ministry of Munitions which attracted quite a crowd.

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Matthew Arnold letter – a football injury

Found tipped into the front of Poems of Matthew Arnold (London, 1853) an unpublished  handwritten signed letter from the poet to his French friend the writer and anglophile Edmond Schérer.


My dear Mr. Scherer

My boy slipped down and was trodden upon at football last March, and was very ill afterwards from some injury to the back. He got well, however, but when I wrote to you we had been disturbed by a sudden return of his pain.  We have taken him to Prescott Hewitt** a great surgeon, who says that he must lie in bed till the pain has entirely gone,  this upsets the arrangements of a small cottage, as we have to give our invalid the one spare room we have, that he may have more air  and  space than in his own little room.  So we are unable to receive any guests in the house while he is ill, and therefore I was obliged, to my very great regret, to put you off.  I fear it will be still a week before we cease to be a  hospital but – do let me know what you are doing and how long you stay in England.  I cannot easily give up the hope of seeing you here. At any rate I shall meet you at the Athenaeum, I trust;  for next week I begin inspecting*** again and shall be in London every day. I have so much to say to you and to hear from you. Most sincerely yours Matthew Arnold.

* Printed at head of notepaper. This was in the beautiful private landscaped park Painshill Park and Arnold rented the cottage from 1873 to 1888.

** In Dickens's Dictionary of London, by Charles Dickens , Jr., (1879) under 'Doctors' Prescott G. Hewitt is noted as Consulting Surgeon at the  Evelina Hospital for Sick Children (Southwark Bridge Road.)

***Matthew Arnold  was appointed, in April 1851, one of Her Majesty's Inspector of Schools, a job which he worked at until 1886. He once described it as 'drudgery.'

A lost Rossetti letter

Found in the front of an 1866 first edition of Swinburne's  Poems and Ballads (Moxon) this cutting from a catalogue from about 1920. The dealer is unnamed, possibly Maggs or Quaritch, and the catalogue seems to be entirely made up of autograph letters. This is an important letter but does not appear to be recorded anywhere or published. It was possibly bought by a wealthy collector and sits in a drawer in a mansion now owned by his indifferent philistine heirs...the catalogue gives a good taste of it however and it is good on Swinburne and Milnes...Swinburne's book was disowned by the publisher Moxon and scandalised Victorian England by its sensual and decadent themes and lack of respect fro Christianity...

Swinburne by Dante Gabriel Rossetti

Rossetti (Dante Gabriel, 1828-1882). English Painter and Poet. A.L.S. to Frederick Sandys, the painter and book illustrator. 9pp, 8vo. N.D. circa 1857 £15 15s.

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The model for the Phantom of the Opera’s girl

It is now generally accepted that the Swedish diva Christine Nillson, afterwards Duchess de la Miranda ( 1843 – 1921), was the model for the Phantom’s lover, Christine Daee in Gaston Laroux’s novel The Phantom of the Opera (1910). Both figures have biographical facts in common—both were Swedish blondes with blue eyes, both sang at country fairs in Sweden to provide money for their parents and both trained in Paris.

During her brilliant career touring Europe as one of the greatest sopranos of her age—a direct rival of the Italian Adeleina Patti — Nillson must have sung before Laroux in Paris at least once, and the novelist, like so many other men of the time, was doubtless in thrall to her wonderful bel canto voice and Nordic physical beauty.

In 1887 Nillson married her second husband (Count Casa Miranda) and soon afterwards retired, to become one of the best known celebs in Europe. The undated, rather effusive letter to ‘Mrs Kennard’-- probably the now forgotten ‘horsey’ novelist ( a sort of late Victorian Jilly Cooper )--Mrs Edward Kennard ( 1850 - 1936 ) post-dates 1895, when the Hotel Metropole in Brussels opened its doors. As the singer mentions having recently stayed at this ultra exclusive resort of the rich and famous (both then and now), and as she was writing  to Kennard from the swanky Grand Hotel in Menton on the French Riveira, it seems likely that  post- retirement, she was still a very wealthy woman. [RH]