Lyon & Turnbull

Rare Autographed Letter from Charlotte Bronte sells for £30,000

A rare autographed letter signed, from Charlotte Brontë to a David Waldie, [L.R.C.S.] (1813-1889), thanking him for his appreciative comments regarding Jane Eyre and the gift of some "...little books ", addressed from Gloucester Terrace, London, dated January 19th, 1853 sold in our September 2013 Rare Books, Manuscripts & Maps auction for £30,000 (premium inclusive).
 
“We had huge interest in the letter, particularly from all the press coverage we have had and it seems to have caught the public’s imagination.” - Cathy Marsden, Rare Book & Manuscript Specialist
 
The letter was bought by an anonymous buyer and is addressed to a David Waldie Esq., a well-respected pharmacist who, it is commonly accepted, first suggested the use of chloroform in midwifery. Indeed, Professor James Y. Simpson of the Department of Midwifery at Edinburgh University, acknowledged Waldie's suggestion in a footnote in his account of discovery. Although the letter was addressed to Waldie in Liverpool, where he first encountered chloroform, he is still remembered in his home town of Linlithgow, where the Annet House Museum currently has an exhibition relating to his life and work.

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The letter tells us that Waldie was impressed by Jane Eyre, published in 1847 under the pseudonym 'Currer Bell', and was inspired to write to Brontë of his appreciation of the book. Brontë replies:
 
The sincere affection of a reader's gratification is - I scarcely need to say - one of the much acceptable favours in which an author can be repaid for his labours. I shall be glad if any future work of mine gives you equal pleasure to that you speak of having found in "Jane Eyre".
 
In 1848, following the publication of Jane Eyre, Charlotte and Ann Brontë had revealed their true identities to their publishers. In a bibliographical note of her sisters in an edition of Emily Brontë's Wuthering Heights, Charlotte explains the reasons for the rather masculine-sounding pseudonyms used by the three siblings:
 
Averse to personal publicity, we veiled our own names under those of Currer, Ellis, and Acton Bell; the ambiguous choice being dictated by a sort of conscientious scruple at assuming Christian names, positively masculine, while we did not like to declare ourselves women, because without at the time suspecting that our mode of writing and thinking was not what is called 'feminine,' we had a vague impression that authoresses are liable to be looked on with prejudice.
 
Charlotte's rejection of, "personal publicity" seems to have extended beyond the gradual outing of her sex.  Even in 1849, when Charlotte, "...paid her first visit to London in her own proper person as a woman of distinction and literary fame," (in the words of Auguste Birrell), she did not rush to be the centre of attention amongst her fellow writers. She declined to meet with Charles Dickens, for example, although she did visit William Makepeace Thackeray, of whom she was a great admirer.
 
However, it was between this point and Charlotte Brontë's untimely death in 1855, whilst pregnant with her first child, that the author writes this very appreciative and gracious note to Waldie. 

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Contact


Cathy Marsden
Specialist

0131 557 8844

Email

Published: 4 September 2013

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