Nineteenth-century literature was in the spotlight, dominated by a miniature manuscript by the great Charlotte Brontë.
Charlotte Bronte (1816-1855), signed autograph manuscript, Second Series of The Young Men’s Magazines, August 1830; small 20-page notebook (35 x 61 mm), brown paper cover, red leather sleeve and brown morocco case.
Part one focused on English-language literature, which achieved the highest prices and reached a grand total of €3,800,703. The highlight was a manuscript written by the 14-year-old Charlotte Brontë (1816-1855) in August 1830, which sold for €780,000. This tiny work (35 x 61 mm), which already shows the future writer’s talent, joins the collections of the Brontë Parsonage Museum. Curator Ann Dinsdale was overjoyed at seeing this unique document return to the place where it was written. "Charlotte Brontë wrote the manuscript for the little soldiers she, her sisters and her brother had made up,” she said. “We’re in the same room where they played [editor's note: the museum is in the Haworth Parsonage], so it seems especially fitting that the manuscript is back in this place.” Two Latin sheets from De Laude Virginitatis by Saint Aldhelm (ca. 639-709), the first bishop of Sherbourne, bear witness to a time when Britain’s inhabitants were not yet writing in Anglo-Saxon. Famed for his scholarship, Aldhelm was the first Englishman to dispense a classical education. His writings shed light on religious thought in England in the late seventh century. Fast-forwarding to the 18th century, a first edition copy of Scottish economist and philosopher Adam Smith’s (1723-1790) An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations (1776) fetched €139,007. The programme turned from literature to science with a first edition of Charles Darwin's (1809-1882) On the Origin of Species (€240,000) and one of the most famous illustrated books on American fauna and flora, The Natural History of Carolina, Florida and the Bahama Islands (1754) by Mark Catesby (1683-1749), the founder of American ornithology (€183,236). The last blow of the hammer came down for a sober letter by General Dwight David Eisenhower (1890-1969), signed by him and dated 7 May 1945, announcing the cessation of hostilities in Europe the day before Germany’s surrender. This historical document fetched €182,000.
The auction of French 19th and 20th-century literature featured 250 items by the likes of Honoré de Balzac (1799-1850), Gustave Flaubert (1821-1880), Victor Hugo (1802-1885) and Marcel Proust (1871-1922). The sale’s total amounted to €961,169. A 17-volume set of the first collected edition of Balzac’s The Human Comedy, including eight autographs he sent to his sister and mother, fetched €65,700. As expected, this is when French institutions stepped in. The BnF pre-empted the corrected proofs of Chansons des rues et des bois (1865) by the poet of La Légende des siècles for €11,400 and the manuscript of Littérature et Philosophie mêlées. Journal des idées, des opinions et des lectures d'un jeune jacobite de 1819, written with his wife Adèle, for €6,500.
Two sessions focused on members of the Académie française, founded in 1634. The collection amassed by six generations of the Marquis de Flers and acquired by Aristophil in 2009 totalled €826,387. France’s finest writers met, and sometimes argued, beneath its dome. The first sale focused on the years until its suppression in 1793 under the Reign of Terror, during which 277 sometimes now-forgotten members succeeded each other. Among them, Jean de La Bruyère (1645-1696) illustrated the brilliance of the century of Louis XIV with a letter of critical reflection addressed to the grammarian Gilles Ménage in response to his remarks on his translation from Greek of Theophrastus's Characters (€52,000). Ader closed the session by exploring the rebirth of the Academy, which experienced different fortunes until Louis XVIII re-instated it in 1816. The episode of Chateaubriand's banned speech was a highlight recalled by a period copy of this monument of rhetoric (€3,770). Lastly, it is interesting to look at those whose membership bids were rejected. That was the case, for example, of Émile Zola, a perpetual candidate who failed 24 times, and Charles Baudelaire, whose autograph letter to his mother about his preparations for the third edition of Les Fleurs du mal, and his thoughts on a possible candidacy, fetched €8,960. Zola decidedly had no luck with the institution: his written requests did not find a buyer, but a note sent to Paul Bourget on the day of his election (31 May 1894) sold for €650.