18th-Century Library of the Famous Sitwell Family Heads to Auction
Newbury, Berkshire, England — An outstanding library from one of the most famous literary families in England is set to go up for auction. Dreweatts is delighted to have been appointed to sell the contents of Weston Hall in Northamptonshire, a seat of the illustrious Sitwell family since the early 20th century and their ancestors since the 18th century. This spectacular sale charts the history of an eminent family of esteemed writers, eccentrics, pioneers and creatives through the centuries. The sale, titled Weston Hall and the Sitwells: A Family Legacy, offers a once in a lifetime’s chance to obtain a piece of literary history, the like of which has not been seen on the market for some time. It will take place at Dreweatts on Tuesday, November 16, 2021.
“Amongst the maze of rooms and nine attics at Weston Hall lay untold stories and exciting finds and the house’s 18th century library was one of the most fascinating and exciting rooms to explore”, says William Sitwell, from the current generation of the Sitwell family. With an extensive array of the family’s collection of books amassed by various generations over the last 300 years, the library comprises primary editions by great writers such as Milton, alongside works by members of this renowned literary family, including those by Dame Edith Sitwell, poet and writer and her siblings, the writers Osbert and Sacheverell Sitwell.
Joe Robinson, Head of House Sales and Private Collections at Dreweatts says “This is a library like no other and a rarity to come to the market. Collected and inherited over the last 300 years by multiple generations it is also fused with with flare and intrigue of the Bright Young Things of the 1920s and 30s. It was been thrilling to delve and discover these works which span multiple countries, genres, authors, philosophical thought and with the marbling to match!”
One of the main literary finds was an exceptionally rare Ottoman atlas by Mahmoud Raif Efendi, Titled Cedid Atlas Tercumesi (A translation of a New Atlas) found tucked away in one of the attics! This is the first large folio atlas printed in the Islamic world and is one of only 50 ever produced, making it extremely rare. The maps are based on William Faden’s General Atlas and are accompanied by Raif's geographical treatise. When it was produced, several copies were reserved for high-ranking officials and important institutions and this copy is thought therefore to have been brought back to Britain by a Sitwell family member (General Lord Hely-Hutchinson, during his military campaigns in the Middle East). The remaining copies were partially destroyed in a warehouse fire during the Janissary revolt of 1807/8, during which Raif himself was killed.
It is thought that a maximum of only 20 complete copies survive in institutional or private libraries. This complete copy is a single volume and features a hand-coloured, engraved pictorial title with the tughra (monogram) of Sultan Selim III. The text is in Ottoman Turkish with 24 hand-coloured terrestrial maps, including two twin-hemispheres and one world, all double-page, with a plain celestial chart. It is stamped and dated 1804. This gem of a find is estimated to fetch £20,000-£30,000 at auction.
Anther exciting work to be unearthed in the attic was a rare album of photographic experimentation by the French designer and painter Jacques Majorelle (1886-1962). It is number 339 of 520 copies made in 1930. The plates that make up this album, titled Les Kasbahs de l'Atlas reproduce the paintings and drawings that Majorelle made between 1920 and 1929 and demonstrate the earliest use of powdered gold and silver in his work. Comprising 30 coloured plates printed on thick card, with a photograph of the author and aluminium endpapers with maps, the album is bound in original loose woven decorative cloth and is estimated to fetch £5,000-£7,000.
A first edition of John Milton’s Paradise Lost is a top highlight of the library. Considered one of history’s most influential works, the book bears the signature of Harriet Wrightson of the Sitwell family, who moved into Weston Hall with her second husband, Colonel Hely-Hutchinson, kinsman of the famous General Lord Hutchinson, renowned for the saving of the famous Rosetta Stone and other artifacts. This leather-bound classic dates from 1777 and is estimated to fetch £5000-7000
A first edition of Capt. James Cook’s A Voyage Towards the South Pole comprises two volumes with 64 maps and plates. The work is considered of huge importance, as the knowledge gained from his voyage contributed to western knowledge of navigation, geography and natural science. The leather book with gilt spine dates from 1777 and is estimated to fetch £3000-5000.
Also in the sale is a first edition of the Koran translated into English by British Orientalist scholar and lawyer, George Sale. Published in 1734 his work became widely known and respected and even inspired Voltaire to write his own essay titled: De l'Alcoran et de Mahomet (On the Quran and on Mohammed). The single volume is bound in leather and comprises a folding engraved map, one folding plate (of Mecca) and three genealogical tables. It is estimated to fetch £700-1,000.
A first edition of Edward Daniel Clarke’s Travels in Various Countries of Europe, Asia, and Africa shows the fascination that the family had for travel and culture. The work by English traveller, naturalist, mineralogist and clergyman comprises six volumes, is bound in leather and is estimated to fetch £700-900
A first edition of Official Letters to the Honorable American Congress, written during the war between the United Colonies and Great Britain, by His Excellency George Washington is a fascinating addition to the sale. Assigned as Major General by the Continental Congress in 1775, George Washington, the then future President of the United States of America, was an important and influential witness to the American Revolutionary War (1775-1783). In this two-volume collection of letters published in England in 1795, he writes to Congress, offering unique insights into the military strategies utilized and the values that reinforced them. The manner in which he writes demonstrates the foresight and diplomacy that was to characterize his ensuing presidency. The work is estimated to fetch £200-300.
As well as an extensive library of works by leading authors, other literary discoveries of a more personal nature also feature in the sale, offering an insight into and an invaluable resource for studying the life and creative minds of the Sitwells and their circle. These include the manuscript notebook diary of Sacheverall Sitwell (1897-1988) written between the years of 1920-1929. The diary throws a spotlight onto Sacheverell Sitwell's social life, friends, travels and the early literary achievements of the Sitwell siblings. 'Sachie', as he was known, was the youngest of the Sitwell trio and records many overseas trips, sometimes accompanied by his older brother Osbert and later with his new wife Georgia Sitwell.
His travels involved visits to his parents at Montegufoni Castle in Italy and sightseeing in Florence, Venice, Rome, Naples, Paris, Berlin and Dresden. He records the numerous cathedrals, concerts, museums, exhibitions, and galleries visited, with details of the architecture he greatly admired. The entries to every page mentions ‘The Bright Young Things' of the roaring twenties. Of which the Sitwell siblings were a key part. Sacheverell's friends included Zita Jungman, Olivia Wyndham, Jean Cocteau, Cecil Beaton, Harold Acton, David Tennant, Somerset Maugham, Evelyn Waugh, Gertrude Stein, Rex Whistler, Nancy Mitford, W.B. Yeats, Aldous and Julian Huxley amongst others - many of which are refenced in his notebook.
Life was a whirl for the young up and coming writer, enjoying daily lunches, teas and suppers at Claridges, the Ritz, the Savoy, Cafe Royal and the Blue Cockatoo. Sacheverell met Sergei Diaghilev for regular lunches at Kettners and rarely missed any of his ballet performances. He attended poetry recitals with his sister Edith Sitwell and Helen Rootham, sat through long rehearsals of Façade (written by Edith) and hosted guests for weekends at the Sitwell family home. Sacheverell records family birthdays such as 'Edith's 40th birthday (1887-1927)' and references early literary achievements, 'November 4th, 1926, Edith's book Elegy on Dead Fashion published'. A note written above the entry for February 21st, 1921, says: 'My illness was then (26 xii 1959)'. Sachie's quieter days were spent at Renishaw Hall, one of several of the Sitwell family seats, enjoying local walks, going off on shopping trips to Banbury, or relaxing with Edith and Osbert, until the next party. The diary carries an estimate of £200-300.
The unique character of Dame Edith Sitwell can be seen in her writing and the many photographs taken of her by her great friend Cecil Beaton, or art works by artist friends that encapsulate her in various guises. However, her address book, which was found amongst other family ephemera offers first-hand evidence of her character. Known as a slightly contentious figure, she liked to step away from normal convention. This is underlined by her first public performance in 1923 of her work Façade, which combined her poetry with music and art. As well as breaking boundaries in both her writing and her fashion sense, she was very opinionated and did not suffer fools gladly. Her address book reads like a 'Who’s Who' in the world of music, theatre, publishing, film, ballet and politics. Entries detailing aristocracy, celebrities, family members, International publishers and press contacts. Her many personal and amusing comments are written in larger text within the addresses and include people she has been impressed by, for example; 'Ian, charming American undergraduate to whom I must write and Well-meaning American pest, BBC, young man (intelligent, wants to interview me), little boy who wrote to me, I must send him Facade', plus many underlined entries with exclamation marks noting people who had annoyed her; 'Psychopath who insulted me after television, That Blasted Priest!, The American who wants to bring his wife to tea, Insolent woman with the shrieking children!, Impertinent Catholic ass, Cat Torturers names withheld by the horrible woman magistrate, American woman who has copied my ring.' A tangible slice of social history and a ‘key-hole’ view into the world of the much-revered poet and writer, it carries an estimate of £200-300.
A letter between the Sitwell siblings, gives us an endearing slant of the support of each other’s creative endeavours. The letter from Edith Sitwell to her youngest brother Sacheverell, written in Edith's hand from Renishaw Hall, (Derbyshire) congratulates Sacheverell on the recent publication of his book The Hunters and the Hunted. She encloses one of her unpublished poems, telling Sacheverell it mustn't be shown to anyone until it has been published. Edith writes of her intention to also send a copy of the unpublished poem to Henry Markham in gratitude for his letter, commenting: 'it is one of the nicest letters I have ever had.' Markham had written to Edith inviting her to give a lecture, but due to work commitments, she was unable to accept.
Edith enthusiastically updates Sacheverell with news of his recent publication: 'I went to Boots Book department store at Sheffield on Saturday and the old boy who is head of it told me he had heard from Macmillan that The Hunters & the Hunted is sold out, if so, it is wonderful that a book of that price should go so quickly. What did I say to you? The book is such a miracle of beauty, pace, excitement and learning, a giant pride. As I said to Georgia even the old Times Literary Supplement, which never gets excited about anything except Doctrines in religion, has got excited about this. I hope and believe it will go to edition after edition,' closing the letter, Edith apologises to Sacheverell: 'this is a most awfully stupid letter…. I had a wisdom tooth out a few days ago after an abscess on an exposed nerve and I am still feeling a bit rotten.'
Sacheverell Sitwell's book 'the Hunters and the Hunted' was published in London & New York by Macmillan in 1947 and was focused primarily on European art. Edith Sitwell detected a poetic nature in her youngest brother's works and continuously encouraged him. The letter carries an estimate of £150-200.