Another (sort of) happy reunion…

A few months ago I wrote about the joys of bringing together parts of an archive or collection that had gone astray, and provided three recent examples (Manuscript reunions).  Well, it has happened again, but this time, the story is about a single piece of paper that was split into three parts.

The first part is an autograph letter from Sir Walter Raleigh to the London goldsmith Peter Vanlore, purchased by the Folger in 1995 (X.c.54). 

Folger MS X.c.54, Autograph letter from Walter Raleigh to Peter Vanlore

The letter is actually a draft text for a letter that Raleigh wants Vanlore to copy out in his own hand (and perhaps translate) and send to Vanlore’s brother-in-law, Adrian Thibaut, in Amsterdam. It is meant to reassure an unnamed Dutch merchant that his part of the share from Raleigh’s forthcoming (and ill-fated) venture to Guiana was secure. Note that the letter is missing the date and signature at the bottom of the leaf (instead, there is an added fragment explaining that the letter was used as evidence in a case between Raleigh’s widow and Vanlore).

We only know the date and context for this draft of a ghost-written letter because it had been published in William Oldys’s introduction to a 1736 edition of Raleigh’s History of the World:

Oldys's transcription of Raleigh's letter, with the lines missing from the manuscript highlighted

This edition of the letter reveals that there is a sentence, signature, and date missing from the bottom of X.c.54. The footnote to the letter also mentions that the (entire) letter was in the possession of the antiquarian Browne Willis at the time.

And then Browne Willis did what many autograph collectors in the 18th and 19th centuries did. He removed a portion of the manuscript (Raleigh’s signature), and gave it to his friend Mr. Pointer (probably the antiquarian John Pointer) in exchange for some handwriting of another famous person from the seventeenth century, Oliver Cromwell, as is noted on the manuscript fragment below.1

At some unknown point after that, the last three lines and date, minus the already-extracted signature, were removed from the letter (perhaps traded for the handwriting of yet another interesting person) and ended up bound in with a ca. 1630s scribal copy of Raleigh’s A Dialogue betweene a Councellor of State and a Justice of Peace (not yet fully cataloged) which the Folger purchased in November 2011.2

last three lines of Raleigh's letter

These three lines and date are accompanied by Walter Raleigh’s signature (WRalegh), but the signature is, of course, not original to the letter. If you look closely, you’ll see that it is written on parchment, and was harvested from an unknown legal document and attached to the fragment of the letter to “complete” it.

This fragment was then attached to the bottom of a 1735 engraved portrait of Raleigh by George Vertue, and bound with the scribal copy of Raleigh’s treatise and additional 19th-century newspaper and bookseller clippings relating to Raleigh—a celebration of all things Raleigh, enclosed in an 18th-century red morocco binding.

fragment, signature, engraving

18th- and 19th-century collectors of autographs, prints, and books have left us with many artifacts such as this volume, which they created in order to own personalized compilations of significant people, places, and things. For more elaborate examples, see the website for a recent exhibition at the Folger, Extending the Book. In the near future, we will create a digital image that unites the two parts of the letter, but they will most likely remain physically separate.

Unfortunately, they don’t fit together like long-lost soulmates. The recently-acquired fragment was trimmed on the left margin, so it is actually about 5 millimeters narrower than the rest of the letter, and the two pieces have aged quite differently, reflecting different levels of environmental exposure since they went there separate ways—which is why this is a “sort of” happy reunion.

 

  1. Incidently, we have 34 volumes of John Pointer’s father’s sermons and sermon notes, cataloged as V.a.26-59. []
  2. Raleigh’s work is better known from its printed title, The Prerogative of Parliaments [STC 20648]. It circulated widely in manuscript, with at least 33 copies surviving. []

Author: Heather Wolfe

HEATHER WOLFE is Curator of Manuscripts at the Folger Shakespeare Library, and teaches early modern English paleography for the Folger Institute and Rare Book School.

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