[lit-ideas] Letters from Donne, Churchill, Napoleon, Hemingway....

  • From: "Julie Krueger" <juliereneb@xxxxxxxxx>
  • To: lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
  • Date: Tue, 5 Jun 2007 03:14:09 -0500



Julie Krueger

'Laundry letters' worth millionsStory Highlights• Rare letters belonging to
a wealthy Austrian banker found in a Swiss laundry
• Collection includes letters from Napoleon, Gandhi, Churchill, Queen
Elizabeth I
• The letters range across 500 years and are estimated to be worth $4.6
• The letters will be auctioned at Christie's in London on July 3

*LONDON, England* (Reuters) -- One of the word's greatest collections of
historical letters, including a note written by Napoleon to his lover
Josephine, has been found in a filing cabinet tucked away in a Swiss laundry

The treasure trove of almost 1,000 documents, collected over 30 years by a
wealthy Austrian banker, includes letters written by Winston Churchill,
Peter the Great, Mahatma Gandhi, Alexander Pushkin, John Donne and Queen
Elizabeth I.

One of the rarest and most touching of the collection is a passionate letter
written by an apologetic Napoleon to his wife to be, Josephine, the morning
after a furious argument.

"I send you three kisses -- one on your heart, one on your mouth and one on
your eyes," wrote the chastened lover in a spidery scrawl full of
corrections and crossings out.

The letters, which cover more than 500 years and range across art, science,
literature and philosophy, are to be auctioned by Christie's in London on
July 3 and are expected to raise up to 2.3 million pounds ($4.6 million).

"It really is an incredibly dense, very carefully researched collection,"
Thomas Venning, director in Christie's books department and a specialist in
signed letters, told Reuters.

"To get a collection of letters like this nowadays is really a one-off, it's
almost unheard of."

The owner, Albin Schram, began amassing the archive in the early 1970s,
steadily building up one of the largest and most comprehensive collections
outside a major museum.

Though an inveterate collector, Schram wasn't interested in conservation or
display -- the letters were kept in an old metal cabinet in the laundry room
of his villa in Lausanne, Switzerland, ordered by size rather than author or

When he died in 2005, his family barely knew they were there.

Schram's interests spanned Russian poets, Argentine authors, French
philosophers, English politicians and Italian sculptors.

One of the most prized lots, with an auction estimate of up to 120,000
pounds, is a note written by metaphysical poet John Donne to Lady Kingsmill
a day after the death of her husband in October 1624.

Urging her not to presume to contest God's actions, Donne, who was dean of
St Paul's Cathedral at the time, adds: "although we could direct him to do
them better."

"It's an incredibly moving letter to read," said Venning.

"This is one of Britain's greatest poets, a contemporary of Shakespeare,
writing at a very emotional time... Not only that, but it's exceptionally
rare -- there is perhaps only one other John Donne letter in private hands."

Another lot of interest is a letter written by Ernest Hemingway to the
American poet and critic Ezra Pound in 1925, explaining why bulls are better
than literary critics.

"Bulls don't run reviews. Bulls of 25 don't marry old women of 55 and expect
to be invited to dinner. Bulls do not get you cited as co-respondent in
Society divorce trials. Bulls don't borrow money. Bulls are edible after
they have been killed."

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