Men & Women of Letters

18 Jul, 2017

Our 9th September Fine Art & Antiques auction includes a fascinating collection of letters, Royal Warrants, notes and autographs from prominent figures of British Regency & Victorian society to include; Royalty, peers, prime ministers, soldiers, diplomats, writers and painters. As well as an autograph album featuring over two hundred signatures & notes including; George IV, Queen Victoria, the Duke of Wellington, Sir Walter Scott, Jane Austen, Gladstone, Disraeli, Joseph Banks and John Everett Millais. 

The collection ranges from frivolous insights of Regency high-life to WWI letters between a father and son at the front line, alongside an invitation for the Duke of Wellington's funeral and political missives signed by Queen Victoria. 

George to Brummell

Amongst the collection is a letter from George, Prince Regent, to his friend (the ultimate Regency dandy) Beau Brummel cancelling a dinner date. The Prince expresses his extreme regret as "you know how happy I am at all times to dine with you" and he hopes soon "to make up for this punishing disappointment".  Elsewhere a letter from Charles Dickens describes the disastrous over-long visit of Hans Christian Andersen in 1857, and laments his dreadful accent. Dickens comments that "He was here for some six weeks, and I turned his face to Folkestone a week ago. His existence was of the most bewildered kind. He spoke French like Peter the Wild Boy and English like the Deaf and Dumb School. He could not pronounce the name of his own book, The Improvisatore, in Italian; and his translatress appears to make out that he can't speak Danish."

Also included are notes from prominent artists Edwin Landseer and William Holman Hunt with sketches. Typically, in Landseer's case there are dogs, but Holman Hunt's offering is a cheeky origami sketch of a young boy poking his tongue out - showing a much lighter personality than his paintings often suggest!

A detailed letter from Harriet Agnes Russell (nee Elliot), Lady de Clifford, to Nina (Countess of Minto) describes a riotous weekend at Holkham Hall in the 1870s. She states that during a game of Blind-mans Buff with the Prince of Wales and Duke of Edinburgh amongst others, the Prince of Wales delighted in singing bawdy songs"... the more verses there were with allusions to kitchenmaids flirtations with policemen or nurserymaids in the park with lifeguardsmen, the more he screamed them out". Meanwhile the Duke of Edinburgh rolled about on the floor…

On a more serious note, Arthur Elliot (Liberal Unionist MP) writes a detailed account of a séance he attended along with his friend George Darwin (son of Charles) in 1874.  Also present was a certain Mrs Lewes - better known to us as the author George Eliot. The medium Charles Williams brought forward a spirit named John King and mysteriously moved chairs and candlesticks around the room. However, Arthur was left with "A strong impression that it all looked like humbug", and Williams was later debunked by a Spiritualist Circle in Amsterdam.

  The letters' original owner and collector was Lady Charlotte Portal (d.1899), fourth daughter of Gilbert, the 2nd Earl of Minto (1782-1859).  Her father was a politician and diplomat; First Lord of the Admiralty under Lord Melbourne and Lord Privy Seal under Lord John Russell (who one of his daughters married). Lady Charlotte married Melville Portal (1819-1904) who was also a politician.  The family were clearly very well connected and an active part of high Regency and Victorian society.  From Lady Charlotte, the collection passed down through the family, before part of it went through a Sotheby's auction in 1938.  The collection comes to us from a well-connected Scottish family now residing in East Anglia.

Also consigned into this auction is a stunning jewellery & watches section, fine ceramics, silver by Nathaniel Mills and other prominent makers, objet d'art, Asian works of art, paintings and fine furniture.  Entries are invited for the 9th September Fine Art & Antiques auction until 11th August.  Full catalogue coming soon.

Holman Hunt



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