News | February 15, 2024

Unknown Lord Byron and Jean Jacques Rousseau Letters to Auction


Letter by Jean-Jacques Rousseau 

The only known letter between poet Lord Byron and the ‘Father of Reform’ politician Major John Cartwright found in a country house in England, and a letter brought in for a routine valuation from Jean Jacques Rousseau will go under the hammer at Chorley’s this spring.

The letter by 18th century Swiss philosopher, composer, author and political theorist Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778) 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.

It was in fact 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.” The letter carries an estimate of £3,000-£5,000.

The second discovery is the only letter written by 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 so has never been published or seen by the public before. 

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 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.” 

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 titled The Library:  Printed Books & Manuscripts on March 20.