GOLDSMITH (OLIVER) Autograph receipt signed ("Oliver Goldsmith"), EXTREMELY RARE MANUSCRIPT, 1773
Lot 75
Sold for £3,750 (US$ 4,944) inc. premium

Lot Details
Autograph receipt signed ("Oliver Goldsmith"), for £250 on completion of his Grecian History: "Received two hundred and fifty pounds for writing and compiling the history of Greece from Mr William Griffin for which I promise a further assignment on demand", one page, mounted, preserved in a modern brown morocco flap-case by Riviere, oblong 8vo (72 x 170mm.), 22 June 1773


  • AN EXTREMELY RARE MANUSCRIPT BY OLIVER GOLDSMITH: autograph material by Goldsmith – described by Klinkenborg as 'one of the delicate, disordered spirits of the eighteenth century' – is of very great rarity, and forgeries correspondingly common, even among the finest collections. Less than fifty autograph letters by him are known to survive, with only six significant poetical manuscripts, and only one important prose work. The present receipt is listed by Katharine C. Balderston, A Census of the Manuscripts of Oliver Goldsmith, 1926 (see also Verlyn Klinkenborg, British Literary Manuscripts, Pierpont Morgan Library, Series I, 1981, 109; and Margaret M. Smith, Index of English Literary Manuscripts, iii, part 2, pp. 63-66).

    It was signed less than a year before Goldsmith's death, three months after the triumphant staging of She Stoops to Conquer, which had brought him £500: 'Despite the great acclaim of She Stoops to Conquer, ever since leaving the protection of Newbery's benevolent management Goldsmith had relapsed into his prodigal habits and was increasingly in debt, and under ever greater pressure to write for bread. Hence in 1773, during his summer retirement to his farmer's cottage near Hyde, he was under contract to produce The Grecian History, from the Earliest State to the Death of Alexander the Great and An History of the Earth, and Animated Nature, both of which were published in the next, and final, year of his life' (John A. Dussinger, ODNB). When he died, he was found to be £2000 in debt. Although no longer widely read, his histories did find at least one advocate among his contemporaries: 'Johnson. "...Whether, indeed, we take him as a poet, – as a comick writer, – or as an historian, he stands in the first class." Boswell. "An historian! My dear Sir, you surely will not rank his compilation of the Roman History with the works of other historian of this age?" Johnson. "Why, who are before him?" Boswell. "Hume, – Robertson, – Lord Lyttelton." Johnson. (His antipathy to the Scotch beginning to rise.) "I have not read Hume; but, doubtless, Goldsmith's History is better than the verbiage of Robertson, or the foppery of Dalrymple"' (Boswell, Life of Johnson, Everyman edition, p.468).

    William Griffin, whose payment of £250 Goldsmith here acknowledges, had his shop in the Strand. Irish himself, he patronised Irish writers in London, especially Goldsmith. He was joint publisher of a volume of Goldsmith's essays in 1765, including 'A reverie at the Boar's-Head-Tavern in Eastcheap', of The Good Natur'd Man in 1768, and The Deserted Village in 1770; as well as a verse anthology, and an eight-volume natural history commissioned for 100 guineas in 1769. He issued the present work as The Grecian History, from the Earliest State to the Death of Alexander the Great in two volumes in 1774. Similar literary receipts by Goldsmith are in the British Library, Add MS 19022, including one for an unfulfilled agreement to write for Dodsley a 'Chronological History' at three guineas a sheet (31 March 1763) and one for the conclusion of his English history for two guineas (7 July 1762).

    This manuscript has a distinguished provenance. It was first published when in the pioneering autograph collection of William Upcott by Goldsmith's assiduous early nineteenth-century biographer, James Prior; who writes of it: 'Encouraged by the success attending the Roman and English histories, he had in the preceding year commenced that of Greece on the same abbreviated plan. When one subject wearied him another was always at hand to be taken up, and the readiness with which he turned his mind to each, gives us an idea of his facility. One volume of the work was now completed, but on the plea of that urgent necessity so often pleaded, and from whatever causes so often felt, Griffin as the agent of other booksellers paid him the copy money in June for both volumes' (The Life of Oliver Goldsmith, MB, from a variety of original sources, 1837, pp. 463-4; for William Upcott, Dawson Turner and the early years of autograph collecting, see A.N.L. Munby, The Cult of the Autograph Letter in England, 1962). It subsequently entered the collections of Rowland Eyles Egerton-Warburton of Arley Hall and was most recently in that of Halsted B. Vander Poel (Christie's, 3 March 2004, lot 53).
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  1. Luke Batterham
    Specialist - Books, Maps, Manuscripts and Historical Photographs
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