The letter that instigated the nation-wide competition that inspired Adam Oehlenschläger to write the unofficial Danish national anthem

Image of a manuscript letter that instigated the nation-wide competition that inspired Adam Oehlenschläger to write the unofficial Danish national anthem

Contributor: Hannah Persson

Location: The Royal Danish Library, Copenhagen, Denmark

Description: Stowed away at the Royal Danish Library, this 200-year-old letter seems a forgotten rather than hidden national treasure. Yet it may have been the inspiration for the Danish national poet Adam Oehlenschläger’s unofficial national anthem “Der er et yndigt land” [There is a lovely country]. Dated “Lewarde, den 18. Sept. 1818”, signed “Frederik Pz. Hessen”, and addressed to “Selskabet til de skiønne og nyttige Videnskabers Forfremmelse” [the Society for the Promotion of the Beautiful and Useful Sciences], this letter promises a prize of 400 thaler for a competition to compose a new Danish national anthem.

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William Cowper’s garden netting: weaving nets for bird-alluring fruit

Cowper's Garden Netting

Contributor: Stephen Bending

Location: unknown

Description: As a souvenir, this small square of garden netting signals the peculiarly domestic nature of William Cowper (1731-1800) as a poet. Made by Cowper and his household, the tied strands of thread seem trivial perhaps—a quirky, amusingly antiquarian delight. But that triviality is also an announcement of authenticity. In it we are given a little piece of Cowper—the net is not simply an object, but an act, a winter evening’s task, part of the fabric of Cowper’s life. The net is ephemeral (but it has lasted), domestic (but it is treasured), it is the product of careful labour, and in its small way it recognises Cowper’s garden—or any garden—as a place of tenuous and temporary delight.

Samuel Johnson’s pleasing definition of a network as ‘the intersection of interstices’ offers us an insight into the peculiar nature of nets – at once the twine and the holes between the twine, where each is as important as the other but where the net is neither one nor the other. Nets, that is, are nothing if not liminal, and they help us to understand both Cowper’s retirement and his fascination with the world from which he retired, both his sense of being a part of nature and his recognition that—like all men—he was separated from it.

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Manuscript of 40 verses of Mickiewicz’s “Pan Tadeusz”

Image of two manuscript pages side by side

Contributor: Teresa Rączka-Jeziorska

Location: Central State Historical Archives of Ukraine in Lviv, 3a Soborna sq., Lviv

Description: This piece of paper was found in 2015 in Lviv in the collection of the Central State Historical Archive of Ukraine. Written on it are the first forty verses of “Pan Tadeusz czyli ostatni zajazd na Litwie. Historia szlachecka z r. 1811 i 1812 we dwunastu księgach wierszem” [“Pan Tadeusz. A Story of the Gentry from 1811 and 1812. Comprising Twelve Books in Verse”], an epic poem that the Polish Romantic poet Adam Mickiewicz (1798-1855), inspired by love and longing for his homeland, created while in Paris (1832-1834). The handwriting is that of Mickiewicz; it has in addition a title and a legible signature in the same hand. The manuscript contains a previously unknown version of the ‘Invocation’ of the Polish national epic. It is possible to date this autograph to Mickiewicz’s residence in Paris through the paper. The manufacturer’s watermark (located in the right bottom corner, front — seashell and “WEYNEN” caption in an irregular octagon), identifies it as Timothée Weynen paper that was very popular in France in the 1830s. Mickiewicz used it mostly in the period from 1832 to 1836, writing most of “Pan Tadeusz” on it, including the so called Dzików manuscript of “Pan Tadeusz”, as well as his translation of Byron’s The Giaour (1833). It became part of a Romantic era collection of “Autographs of Illustrious Men” which documented authors both old and contemporary made by bookseller and antiquarian Ambroży Grabowski (1782-1868). Its story exemplifies how and why European Romantic culture was invested in holograph manuscript associated with poets.

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Transcript of Poems, by John Keats

Image of the handwritten title page of a book, reading "Poems by John Keats"

Contributor: Deidre Lynch

Location: Cambridge, Massachusetts, U.S.A.

Description: Though its title page, imaged here, identifies this as the book Romanticists know as Keats’s debut volume, and though the pages following this one contain, in the identical order and layout, each line of verse that Poems, by John Keats contained in 1817, this is not that book, not exactly. This handwritten transcription of Poems was created in 1828, seven years after Keats’s death. It was commissioned by the poet’s friend Charles Cowden Clarke, who presented it to his sister, the juvenile fiction author Isabella Jane Towers, as a birthday gift. (A notice on the page facing the book’s half-title commemorates Clarke’s gift.) As a consequence of this arrangement this book has, as this title page informs us, both an author –John Keats– and a writer, J. C. Stephens (likely a professional scrivener), whose name is referenced at the foot of the page, along with Towers’s.

The value of Clarke’s gift appears to have derived as much from the labours of that writer’s pen as from the literary content the pen conveyed. For Towers did not require this transcription as a reading copy: a (printed) copy of Poems with her ownership signature can be found at Keats House in Hampstead. Why then was this book created? It is hard to say. What we can say is that its existence challenges some of our usual assumptions about Romantic-period books and European book-culture.

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A Fragment of a Letter in Jane Austen’s Hand

Image of a two-page manuscript letter

Contributor: Kathryn Sutherland

Location: Jane Austen’s House, Chawton, Hampshire, England

Description: This fragment is a single leaf, pages 1 and 2 (20 + 20 lines; 281 words) of a letter bifolium, of which the second leaf is missing. The paper is weak at the original folds, with a short tear at the head. There is no signature, no date, and no address. An origin-address and date [‘From Hans Place | Nov. 29 1814’] have been added in pencil in another hand at the upper edge of page 1. The ink (iron gall) is bright, showing little evidence of light exposure. Written in Jane Austen’s clear, round hand, the leaf corresponds to the first section of Letter 112 in the authoritative Oxford edition. Austen writes from her brother Henry’s London home to her niece Anna Lefroy. The fragment opens ‘I am very much obliged to you, my dear Anna’; it ends at the foot of page 2 with the words: ‘& hugs Mr Younge delightfully’. In between, Austen discusses her social life during a London stay that includes a disappointing trip to the theatre (‘I fancy I want something more than can be. Acting seldom satisfies me. I took two Pocket handkercheifs, but had very little occasion for either’). These two pages are a resilient survival of an act of loving destruction, representing the largest part of a four-page letter, dismembered for keepsakes, into at least five portions, one of which is now lost; two are in the British Library’s Charnwood Autograph Collection; and a further portion was sold at Sotheby’s into private hands on 11 July 2017, at which time the present portion failed to sell. We might see the dismemberment, private, and public fortunes of this letter as an expression in miniature of the fate and import of Austen’s letters, and indeed celebrity author’s letters, more generally.

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