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The Sign-Manual Of The Great
( Originally Published 1913 )
Out of a bookseller's threepenny box I fished a firstedition copy of Carlyle's " Past and Present." And going through it to " collate " it, as booksellers say-to see that no letterpress pages or the title-page or flyleaves were missing-I came upon what seemed to be a signed autograph letter by Thomas Carlyle himself. It was a brief and characteristic missive to his bootmaker.
Closer examination showed that this was a facsimile only; I suppose the bootmaker had thought it worth while to advertise in that way that he was cordwainer to the Sage of Chelsea. I hardly see why, for one may be sure that old Thomas the cynic wore very ugly boots. I more than suspect that it was he who advertised in the Times some fifty years ago : " Lost in the train, a carpet bag full of old boots. Ten Pounds Reward."
I could never get up the enthusiasm for his preachings which youngsters of my day showed, but not for nothing was he dubbed " the Sage."
"A.L..S.," etc.-When you see the initials "A.L.S." in a catalogue of autographs, you know that they mean "autograph letters, signed"; that is, the letters as well as the signatures are in the notoriety's hand. But there are autograph letters unsigned-" A.L. " ; and there are " L.S."-letters written by an amanuensis and only signed by the notoriety or great person in question. But whether the manuscript be theirs in whole or part, what the collector of autographs searches for is pieces of paper or parchment which bear the hand and sign-manual of the notorious, the famous, the great.
This particular chapter is being written at a window which closely looks out upon Falmouth Bay, and I see the multitudinous script of the waves, each writing its momentary message, obliterating another thereby, and then being instantly itself over-scrawled. The scratch of pen on paper by a famous or notorious person lasts longer than that. It may last a few years, it may last a few hundred. If it lasts a few hundred, it does so, generally, thanks to collectors. That room at the British Museum which contains cases of notable autographs is at once a justification and a monument of what the ignoramus, narrow in his interests, calls the " mania " of collecting.Classification of Autographs.-There are dealers and booksellers who make a, speciality of " A.L.S." and " L.S." In a printed catalogue now before me, the " autograph letters, signed documents, and manuscripts " are somewhat roughly classified as follows:
1. Rulers, princes, nobles, and Court favourites.
2. Naval and military.
3. Famous statesmen, authors, divines, etc.
4. Arts and sciences.5. Actors, musicians, etc.
With great respect for the erudition of the elderly poor scholars who, as a rule, indite booksellers' catalogues for them so learnedly, one can hardly consider that classification as ideal, do you think ?
Treasures.-For treasures these bits of paper are full of human, biographical, and historical interest. And, from a pecuniary point of view, worth more than their weight in gold. Sometimes they turn up in afteryears to confound the reputation of their writer;
-Whatever record leaps to light
He never can be shamed"
is not always true. In the Musee Carnavalet, at Paris, I came upon a signature by Robespierre, to what at Westminster we should call an " order for the Strangers' Gallery." Written in the early days of the Revolution, it was a bon for a public seat in the auditorium of the National Convention. Well, the significant thing is that it is signed " de Robespierre." The snob that the " sea-green Incorruptible," as Carlyle called him, must have been ! He lived to hound to death anybody whose name contained the particle " de." He had no right to that aristocratic prefix ; he did not belong to the noblesse, whom he fawned upon as a youth and brought to the guillotine as a man. Had that bit of paper turned up against him two instead of twenty years after it was endorsed, it might have brought himself to the guillotine betimes. Such interesting sidelights can autographs cast.
Some Samples, with Prices." The Duchess continues perfectly well, as does our little Victoria, who has this day been vaccinated, and under such excellent auspices, that I trust there cannot be a doubt of her doing well." That is from an A.L.S., by the Duke of Kent, father of Queen Victoria, who then (August 2nd, 1819) was about two months old. The letter, 31 octavo pages long, is priced at £2 2s. For & 18s. one can buy an A.L.S. by the great Duke of Wellington under date December 12th, 1842, in which he says: " I had not an idea that I was indebted to Sir Francis Chantrey. He never mentioned the matter to me. I do not possess a bust of myself by Sir Francis Chantrey, and I conclude that I must have given it to King George IV."On August 14th, 1845, in his house at Devonshire 27 Terrace, Charles Dickens sat writing: " Kate, George, and I come down to-morrow by the Ramsgate boat, from London Bridge, at half-past nine ; trusting to our good fortune for a boat coming off from Broadstairs." To read that is to see " Boz " dropping down into a rowboat out of the Ramsgate packet, and being landed near Bleak House on the Point. The price of this letter is £2 18s.