Lord Byron letter in Chorley’s sale

Letters written by two prominent figures of the 18th/19th centuries will go under the hammer this spring at Chorley’s in Gloucestershire.

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 into 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 we anticipate 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.

George Gordon Noel, sixth Baron Byron, was educated at the prestigious Harrow School, then Trinity College, Cambridge. He was passionate about travel and in 1809 left for a two-year tour of a number of Mediterranean countries. He returned to England in 1811 and in 1812 the first two cantos of Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage were published, which turned Byron into an overnight success.

However alongside his fame, scandals circled and in 1814, Byron’s half-sister Augusta gave birth to a child that was believed to be his. With his marriage failing, scandalous affairs and debts mounting and his reputation suffering, Byron left England in April 1816 and never returned. His first summer away he stayed on Lake Geneva with the British writer Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822), his wife Mary and Mary’s half sister Claire Clairmont, with whom he fathered a child. Following this he settled in Italy for six years and on a stay in Venice in 1819, he courted Teresa Guiccioli, the wife of an Italian nobleman, which spurred a creative period in which Byron wrote many of his legendary works such as Don Juan.

In 1823, he decided to join the Greek insurgents fighting the war of independence against the Ottoman Empire, however in 1824 he was struck down with fever at Missolonghi and died. The sorrow of his death was felt throughout Britain and there was a sense of his ‘coming home’ among his devotees when his body was brought back to England to be buried at his ancestral home in Nottinghamshire. Despite his reputation he remains one of the greatest English poets, with works such as Don Juan, Child Harold’s Pilgrimage and Hebrew Melodies to name a few amongst his repertoire.

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. Nottingham-born Cartwright was the elder brother of Edmund Cartwright (1743-1823), the famous inventor of the power loom. As well as a decorated naval career (following his participation in several campaigns), he was appointed Major of the Nottinghamshire Militia in 1765. He later began petitioning for parliamentary reform and would do so for most of his life, which is how he attained the well-known title as the Father of Reform. His first published work in parliament was presented in 1776, with the majority of his campaigning aimed at man’s suffrage and later universal suffrage. He petitioned tirelessly for years on social reform and in 1818 formed the newspaper for the cause, titled the Manchester Observer.

His most famous work was titled The English Constitution which he sent to US President Thomas Jefferson and from whom he received a favourable reply, which ended “….I pray to you to accept assurances of my high veneration and esteem for your person and character.” As well as social reform Cartwright was involved in agricultural improvement in Britain and conducted crop trials on his own estate. He died in London in 1824 and a monument was erected to him in the churchyard in North Finchley, London.

Speaking about this find, Werner Freundel said: “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.” The letter carries an auction estimate of £1,500-£2,500.

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