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400-year-old works of poet found at Melford Hall set to be auctioned for up to £300,000

PUBLISHED: 13:59 05 December 2018 | UPDATED: 08:37 07 December 2018

The John Donne collection of poems discovered at Melford Hall. Picture: SOTHERBYS

The John Donne collection of poems discovered at Melford Hall. Picture: SOTHERBYS


A rare collection of works by the metaphysical poet John Donne, discovered by an expert from Sotherby's at an historic stately home, in Suffolk, could fetch up to £300,000.

The John Donne collection of poems discovered at Melford Hall. Picture: SOTHERBYSThe John Donne collection of poems discovered at Melford Hall. Picture: SOTHERBYS

The previously unknown 400-year-old manuscript of works by the English poet was uncovered in a box at Melford Hall, in Long Melford.

Sotheby’s expert Dr Gabriel Heaton stumbled across it during a visit this summer and it is now up for auction online until next Monday, December 10.

He said it was a “significant find” and - at 139 poems - is one of the largest surviving collections of the metaphysical poet’s work.

The gilt-panelled calf leather-bound volume contains 265 pages written “in a single attractive italic hand”, and dates from the 1620s or early 1630s, Sotheby’s catalogue states and adds that

Melford Hall. Picture: ARCHANT ARCHIVEMelford Hall. Picture: ARCHANT ARCHIVE

it is “the most significant Donne poetical manuscript remaining in private hands.”

It contains a “highly important” collection of the poet-priest’s works plus some by other writers.

It was found by manuscript specialist Dr Heaton during a “standard valuation visit” to the property.

He said: “We attended the hall to simply undertake a standard valuation - the sort of visit that we do for a large country house. I was looking at the archive which had boxes of material that had been gathered from inside the house and opened up one of the boxes and recognised the poems by John Donne and immediately realised that this was a major discovered which was very, very exciting.

“I opened the book - it was really beautiful - and started reading, and thought, ‘that’s a John Donne poem... and that’s another, and another’.

“It’s beautiful early 17th century hand written and you can see that the text was made with very great care. Nobody knew it was in the house and had been there for nearly 200 years and it was a tremendously exciting find for us,” added the manuscript specialist.

The book includes Donne’s Songs and Sonnets, erotic elegies and satires as well as religious verse.

Born eight years after William Shakespeare into a Catholic family in 1572, Donne was ordained into the Church of England priesthood in 1615 and became Dean of St Paul’s Cathedral in 1621.

He was one of the most renowned preachers in the kingdom and a particular favourite of King James I. Throughout his life Donne was writing poetry and he left behind an extraordinary body of lyrics that are characterised by sceptical intelligence, jarring rhythms, wit, deliberate complexity, extended metaphor, paradox, theatrical arrogance and frank eroticism.

He died in 1631 and was buried in the cathedral.

The bound collection is expected to sell for between £200,000 and £300,000.

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