BROWN (CHRISTY) The personal and family archive of the Irish author and painter Christy Brown, comprising papers, paintings, books and personal effects
Lot 184
The personal and family archive of the Irish author and painter Christy Brown, comprising papers, paintings, books and personal effects
Sold for £37,500 (US$ 62,184) inc. premium
Lot Details
Property of the Family of Christy Brown
The personal and family archive of the Irish author and painter Christy Brown, comprising papers, paintings, books and personal effects, including: (i) Pediscripts, Manuscripts and Typescripts

Early copybook containing "Poems of a Primitive", unpublished poems dictated to his brothers, which pre-date My Left Foot; a group of nearly thirty poems in manuscript and typescript; two unpublished typescript short stories; the publication typescript of his last novel, A Promising Career, with covering letters by his publishers, etc.; typescript of an unpublished play, Mrs Brennan; some 100 pages of partial drafts and segments of mostly unidentified prose works, typescripts with revisions and deletions, including a draft of the second part of A Shadow On Summer (14 pages), and about 80 pages of mainly discarded or rewritten pages from prose works, some with notes by Christy Brown or his editor David Farrer, with deletions etc.; typescript drafts of sections of several of his later novels; 27 typescript poems sent to Katriona Maguire (and dated by her); other poems sent to his brother Sean; cyclostyled text of the BBC adaption of My Left Foot, broadcast in 1954 (but not longer extant, with neither recording nor text held by the BBC today); and other material

(ii) Letters to and from Katriona Maguire

Over 40 letters by Christy Brown to Katriona Delahunt (later Maguire), the social worker who was the first outside the family to foster Christy Brown's talents as an artist and writer by regular visits and bringing him painting and writing materials, five written with his left foot, with 33 typed with his left foot c. 1946-76, plus a watercolour inscribed to her in 1945, ("...I am writing this letter with a mixed feeling of regret and determination: regret as this is the last letter I shall write for the next five years; determined to write the next letter with my hands. Am I mad, you wonder? The answer is no. I flew to London with my mother yesterday...") [he had been advised to stop using his left foot, with a view to developing his control over his other limbs] ("...Dear Katriona, I have finally concluded that, after all these years of friendship and affinity, I'm entitled to call you that! I mean, it is rather absurd for me to address you as 'Mrs. Maguire' for the rest of my life, isn't it? You'd feel strange calling me 'Mr. Brown', wouldn't you? So, may I be allowed to call my greatest friend by her Christian name?.../ ... Of course I will try to have a story for you by Wednesday, & here's hoping it will do. I will be only too glad to help you at Marrowbone Lane whenever I can at any time.../ ...But the story [discussing his friendship with Beth Moore] needs some telling, dear friend, and this is neither the time nor the mood nor the moment in which to embark upon the telling. Besides I am really not sure of you: I mean of your capacity to understand all that has been going on in my inner, emotional and intensely private life..."); with a group of Katriona Maguire's letters to Christy Brown [see also below]; also included is a letter by Christy Brown's father to her, dated 24 April 1945 ("...Christy is Praying very hard for you... he is Painting a Picture for you Miss Delahunt wee are very lonely here as Mrs Brown is Back in Hospital...") ending with a postscript by Christy; with it is a covering note of 2013 by Katriona to his sister Anne ("...I am enclosing a letter of your father to me perhaps you would put it into Christy's Archive...")

(iii) Letters by Christy Brown

Collection of letters to his brother Sean, his mother and other family members, two foot-written, the rest typed ("...Suddenly life is rather beautiful, rather exciting, rather crammed with bright expectations... David Farrer [of Secker & Warburg] is absolutely convinced this book [Down All the Days] is really going to be something of a literary earthquake... he really thinks it is going to hit the world straight between the eyes. I go one better than that: I think it will hit the world slap-bang between the bollicks..."); including the cyclostyled letter to Willie, Jeanie and Erin, dated 26 August 1981, an extraordinary utterance de profundis, written eleven days before his death: "the simple truth of the matter is that I just don't want to quit, I don't want to be 'cured' or rehabilitated, I am in love with the whole process of inebriation and shun all semblance of 'normal' life like the plague. For me a higher plane of consciousness via the bottle is not very far removed from Nirvana or complete oblivion, for then at least I can lose the tangled and precarious state of 'sanity' I find myself enmeshed in at so-called waking moments and which I'm beginning more and more to dread and detest. From being merely maudlin once upon a time in my cups I'm becoming increasingly aggressive, destructive and positively violent, making entirely unprovoked assaults on Mary and furniture in my booze-laden rages. It's a deplorable situation and one that cannot go on indefinitely; I'm sickenly aware of what the consequences are bound to be, but amazingly I don't seem to care or at any rate will let myself care. I'm just not the man I used to be, whoever that was I've only dim recollections of that individual now, like an old friend I used to know and like with whom I've lost all contact, a memory lost to quote John Clare, another bedevilled soul who knew the insides of hell quite intimately"

(iv) Letters to Christy Brown by Beth Moore

Series of some 120 dictated and typed letters written over a period of some twenty years (1950s to 1970s) from Christy Brown's American friend and lover Beth Moore, with whom he lived in Connecticut and who helped him through imposition of a strict regimen to finish his magnum opus, Down All the Days, which bore the dedication: 'For Beth, who with such gentle ferocity, finally whipped me into finishing this book...' (she writes on 17 September 1969 on hearing that it has been accepted for publication: "You did it, kid, just as I always knew you would, and said you would, if you can remember. I feel a little like a cussed midwife, called in at the last minute, who finds herself assisting at the birth of quintuplets, or in this case triplets. What are you going to name this brain child? Did Farrer think of anything, or have you come up with one of your so-right expletives? I can't tell you how proud I am, to know you, and to have been even a little part in this. You've got to finish part II. I insist because I'm dying to see what you will make of me in it..."; after further congratulation, her letter, typically, turns to matters of the heart and Christy Brown's emotional state, providing something close to a biographical vignette: "I want to say something quite seriously to comment on your statement that you haven't had one meaningful relationship in your whole life. You must not forget that no one, not anyone, ever knows anyone else completely, or is known by them. No matter how close you may be to someone, he can never understand you completely, nor you, him. Man is essentially a lonely creature, and the more perceptive he is, the more alone he feels. Language, even for those who speak it glibly, is only an approximation. Even if we try to explain ourselves to one another, we fail, because we do not understand ourselves. There were things about you that Ma would never understand, differing generations and religious beliefs being the greatest barriers. Your relationship with Bob Collis is almost that of Father and Son, marred by the difference in your education and background. Maura, although she will never understand your intellectual interests, has an easy companionship not often achieved. And I, although I have told you things about me I never revealed to another soul, although I feel closer to you and better understood by you than by any other creature on this earth, still the differing backgrounds get in the way..."); their love affair later forming the subject of A Shadow on Summer; this series has been described by Brown's biographer Georgina Hambleton as 'real love-letters, written with passion and animation, and even without Christy's side of the correspondence (reputedly lost or destroyed), they offer considerable insight into both their lives'

(v) Other letters to Christy Brown

Group of letters to Christy Brown by his friend and mentor Dr Robert Collis, the doctor who first arranged to treat his cerebral palsy and advised him during writing of My Left Foot ("...Short sentences. New paragraphs. Avoid negatives crossing etc..."), and congratulating him on prospects, in 1965, for a successor ("...What great news – contract for a new book (I'm longing to see it) and a proper position cum the Artists. All this will give you security, make you independent and enable you to travel. It's grand. You have come a long way from the days when I found you lying on the floor!...") and its publication ("...I am absolutely thrilled Cristy and I only wish I was there in Europe and able to be present on the great day. Did you see the thing in the Sunday Times. People have sent me copies from all over the world. What I would love to do would be to write a play now with you when I come home – a Christy Brown-Robert Collis production might be quite the thing!..."); with a later letter to Christy's wife Mary ("...Do write and tell me about Chris. How is he? Have you managed to treat his alcoholism since he came to you? With this great success making him 'a personage in literature' & quite rich, can you control his drinking... his family is very worried about him... You know I am completely devoted to him and I would be very unhappy if he went the way of Brendan Behan and so many other Irish writers..."); nineteen letters by David Farrer and others at his publisher's Secker & Warburg, 1965-70, mostly about publication of Down All the Days, concerning editorial changes, contractual and financial matters, proofs, covers, photographs, publicity, serialisation, American rights etc ("...Many thanks for your, as usual, rivetingly fascinating letter. I was pretty certain you didn't object to my surgical attentions to the novel... The Preface. I agree with you and so does my fellow director who cried when he read the book... So overwhelming has been the interest created by the Sunday Times... that we are rushing publication to catch all these fair winds.../ ...As far as anything is certain in this uncertain world, we shall be publishing Down All the Days on Monday, May 11th... On that Monday we propose to give a party in Dublin to launch the book... This hotel has a private room for parties on the first floor and the man who organises them, John Ryan, is a friend of Lord Killanin and has no objection to fairly rowdy parties.../ ...By the time this reaches you you will have been interviewed by the Weekend Telegraph... We originally printed 6000 copies of Down All the Days but so big has been the advance demand that we yesterday ordered a reprint of a further 9000 copies.../ ...Simon & Schuster have some reason for feeling aggrieved that they did not publish Down All the Days, since you had given them an option under the contract for My Left Foot. In the circumstances, I do frankly feel it would be a gesture on your part if you said yes to the present proposition, which incidentally would earn you quite a lots of dollars..."); together with a letter in support of his US visa application ("...whose famous book Down All The Days is published by my firm... I would add that Mr. Brown has already earned £52,000 from his book, and will, in my opinion, earn in the next two years another £50,000. He is, in fact, a man of financial substance..."), with letters by his American agent; letters to Christy on literary matters from John Banville ("...I must admit that I opened it nervously, expecting the worst... However, now that I have read Down All the Days I find that it is in my opinion an extraordinary and beautiful book... Certainly chapter sixteen is the loveliest piece of prose I've seen for a long time. I hope my enthusiasm is not making all this seem insincere... Anyway, let me just say that I think Down All the Days is a brilliant book, one that perhaps will help Irish writing get away from the dire cabbage it seems to produce over and over again these days..."), Hunter Davies (describing the book as "smashing" but advising him to drop the introduction which he thinks "completely the wrong tone – it's self-indulgent, conscious, phoney, pompous, priggish which the book never is" – it was, indeed, published without), Alan Simpson of the Abbey Theatre, poetry magazine editors, and others; a letter by Daniel Day-Lewis to Christy's brother Francis stating that he is "truly proud of what you are doing"; plus a file of letters from a number of women, mostly residing in the United States who were, or wished to be friends of Christy's, including Victoria Rose, Ann, Lioba, Leonora, Janet, Penelope, and Sheila ("...My dearest Christy, Just got your letter which completely horrified me. I absolutely and completely forbid you to drink like that, it is degrading and destructive and childish...")

(vi) Books belonging to Christy Brown

Books belonging to Christy Brown, many signed by him, including his much-used dictionary, Blackie's Largestyle Concise English Dictionary, inscribed by his mother "Christy Brown January 1952" with their address at 54 Stanaway Road Kimmage Dublin 12 Ireland, also signed by Christy Brown ("Chris Brown"); God's Second Door, extensively annotated by Christy Brown and other books presented to him by friends or otherwise acquired by him: including the copy of Hamlet given to him by Shelia Kerwin (see note below), The Upper Pleasure, inscribed by the author "To Christy, Best wishes to a thick, over-paid Mick, from a Paisley buddy, yours, Gordon Williams"; Robert Collis's Marrow Bone Lane and his Silver Fleece (as read by Brendan Behan and mentioned in Borstal Boy, John B. Keane The Field, signed and inscribed by Keane "To Brown, the Bastard from JB Keane", George Orwell's Animal Farm, and titles by F Scott Fitzgerald, Shakespeare, Sartre, Synge, Raymond Roseliep etc.; 16 copies of various editions and translations of his own books; the screenplay of My Left Foot by Shane Connaughton and Jim Sheridan (1989) inscribed to Christy's brother Sean Brown; typescript of Robert Collis' unpublished play The Barrel Organ, as performed at the Gate Theatre with Maciammor and Cuscak, etc.; plus a cyclostyled typescript of Seamus Heaney's early poems 'Digging', 'Gravities', 'Twice Shy', 'The Given Note', 'Victorian Guitar', 'The Wife's Tale', 'Buglers'

(vii) Paintings and Drawings

Christy Brown's paintings, drawings and illustrations, including one abstract painting in oil; a painted pub sign showing the artist in his cart outside Behan and Brown's local public house the 'Stone Boat' (the Kimmage public house which Christy frequented with Brendan Behan and others); a large watercolour showing a church interior, signed & dated 1959; a pencil portrait drawing (possibly a self portrait); an ink portrait sketch, head and shoulder, of a man apparently playing a violin; folder with a small collection of unframed pencil sketches including a portrait of 'Elizabeth', two religious compositions dated 1955 and 1958, and about 15 female nudes after Egon Schiele

(viii) Photographs

Diverse and large collection, those of Christy Brown dating from the time of his First Communion at the age of five until his death in 1981, with further photographs of his family and friends, comprising two framed items, the well-known photograph of Christy aged 12, painting with his left foot (taken by the Irish Independent) and a colour photograph of CB and his wife with Katriona Maguire and Mr Justice Conor Maguire; a folder of photographs of the Brown family and friends including; Christy in a wheelchair after a visit to the Zoo, with his sister Mona and Katriona Maguire (circa 1945); his father, 1954; Mary (Christy's wife) on their wedding day; his brother Peter, Christy and their mother 1954; colour snapshots of Christy's funeral including Christy's body in coffin, 1981, others, 1960s-1970s

(ix) Ephemera, Press and Publicity

Large collection of press cuttings covering Christy's entire life and career; publicity material relating to the film of My Left Foot; running orders for Christy's famous appearance on the David Frost Show, 1970; two vinyl longplaying records featuring readings by Christy's speech therapist Dr Patricia Sheehan of poems by CB, recorded at Peter Hunt Studios (Dublin), possibly unique

(x) Family Effects

Christy Brown's birth certificate and passport (issued for his visit to Lourdes with Katriona Maguire); a First Communion souvenir certificate, November 1940; Mrs Bridget Brown's (Christy's mother) pocket diaries, social welfare card, wallet and purse containing some receipts; and a large collection of mass cards for the repose of her soul, manuscript death notice of Patrick Brown, May 1955 (in Mrs. Brown's hand); a large envelope with manuscript notes listing projected house improvements (partly in Christy's foot-writing or pediscript); an invitation for Christy and Mary Carr's wedding, 5 Oct. 1972; solicitors letter to Sean Brown about Christy's will, 1982; a Censorship Board notice, 1959, recording confiscation of a copy of Conjugal Love; and others (c.20 items); funeral and graveyard accounts for Bridget Brown, August 1968; and 8 other related certificates, documents or cards


  • 'THE GREATEST ART IS THE ART OF LIVING – THE GREATEST ARTIST THE LIVER OF LIFE': THE ARCHIVE OF CHRISTY BROWN, AUTHOR OF DOWN ALL THE DAYS AND MY LEFT FOOT. This archive encompasses both the life and the art of Christy Brown (1932-1981), and is an important addition to those of his papers which are housed in the National Library of Ireland. Like his life, this archive of his remaining papers is the product of co-operation, having been assembled by members of his family and supervised by his biographer Georgina Hambledon. It comprises Christy Brown's own papers remaining in the family's possession but also with contributions from those who were close to him and did so much to bring out his writing and painting and social abilities, notably Katriona Maguire, who has contributed the remarkable series of letters written to her by Christy Brown.

    To take just one letter as an example – it is to her that in 1952 he announces that he wishes to be a published author. And it was, by becoming a published author, that he was to break through and indeed turn to his own advantage the handicap that his cerebral palsy had imposed on him since birth. This letter of 1952 is coloured with the 'literary' quasi-Dickensian style of the early abandoned drafts of My Left Foot but nevertheless represents something of an artistic testament. It also perhaps can stand as representative of this archive as a whole, in that it is about communicating outside of the self. This of course is a preoccupation for many artists, indeed (as Beth Moore tells Christy in the letter of 1969 that we quote above) of humanity in general. But it is easy to imagine that without his cerebral palsy, Christy Brown would not have been faced with this dilemma so starkly (for, when an interviewer once asked him what heights he might have achieved without his disability, the reply came back that he'd have been a first class brick-layer like his father before him). In our transcription we leave the punctuation as we have found it, as it no doubt reflects the pattern of Christy's haltering speech: "For sometime past I have been thinking much of my self: That is. About my worldly position. And as usual the unrelieved inactivity. In a occupational sense. Of it. Only this time it has conveyed itself more indelibly on my mind. I suppose I am at the age when the mind becomes restless and strives to ascend to higher planes of endeavour: All I know is that I have always been very imaginative and aspiring even at a time when such mundane notions were considered abnormally advanced. Especially in such a diminutive little creature as myself: I am still ambitious. Indeed that trait of nature. Far from declining. Has increased to greater proportions as the charm of childish dreams was diminished by the practical outlook of manhood – if I may lay claim to such an estate. But whereas before I merely dreamed of such fantasies – as they then were – I now realise the truth that it is the most futile of all human futilities to live entirely in dreams: Ridiculous to spend one's lifetime wistfully philosophizing about life and its numerous peculiarities. Indulging in mental generalisations about the things that go to make up life. The first great thirst of the mind is satisfaction: A sensitive mind will always strive to expand and enlarge the scope of its activity. Will always find the want of finer cultivation and the need for liberation from the inferior mentalities that surround it. It longs with a consummate passion to assent its right to a moral dignified. More worthwhile destiny. It yearns for a more reasonable opportunity to ensure the full maturity of its eventual evolution./ As you can see a secretarial transition has been made: It is now Francis who is taking down my dictation. Be lenient with his writing!/ What is the gist of all this maze of words? It is, in short, That I want you to give me the names and addresses of some magazines or periodicals that might consider accepting some of my poems for publication: Or possibly an essay or narrative that I would write if my poetical attempts should prove not quite up to the high standards necessary for acceptance by the publishers. Don't dismiss this as just a frivolous caprice of the mind. Because believe me I was never of a more serious frame of mind than I am at present...".

    Among the books that belonged to him perhaps the most striking is God's Second Door, a handbook of the work of disabled artists including Christy Brown himself, which he has inscribed at the end of each chapter with a series of pensées or condensed Haiku-style poems which we illustrate. To those who have seen the film adaptation of My Left Foot, featuring Daniel Day-Lewis as Christy, the battered copy of Hamlet to be found among Christy Brown's books will have particular resonance. In the film just such a copy – albeit a rather more dignified looking volume in a hard cover – is given to him by the composite figure of Dr Eileen Cole (played by Fiona Shaw). In the film, she snaps him out of his self-pity and manages to get him to read Hamlet's 'To be or not to be' soliloquy, to the mixed reaction of his parents downstairs, and thus at last start communicating through speech to the outside world. Ours, seemingly the 'real life' copy, is a red limp-covered 'War Standard Edition'. It originally belonged to Sheila Kirwan, who has written her name in it several times when in Form 5 at the Dominican College, Galway, in 1945-46, and at University College, Galway. She was on the staff of Robert Collis's Cerebral Palsy Clinic in Merrion Street, Dublin, and was an important figure in Christy's early years; in My Left Foot, where she is referred to simply as 'Sheila', he describes as 'the first milestone of my adult life' through whom he broke down 'the great speech barrier' (Chapter XII 'What Might Have Been'); in the book the breakthrough comes about through his dictation of letters to her, in the film through reading from a copy of Hamlet. Our copy has been inscribed for him by one of his brothers "Christopher Brown (From Sheila) August 1951", and Hamlet's soliloquy bears her neat student's annotation "N.B".

    We might best leave the last word with the archive's curator Georgina Hambleton, and – through her mediation – with the archive itself: 'I remember one night looking at some papers his brother had lent me for research purposes. As I opened the letters, not knowing what to expect, I noticed that the envelope I was holding in my hand bent slightly to one side, to the right. I realised this was because the last person to put the letter back in its envelope had been Christy, using his left foot – and that the envelope had probably not been opened for over thirty years. What was even more shocking was seeing the hundreds of letters he had typed with his toes. Each was dated, with the type angled slightly to the right; the letters contained pieces of prose which often made me weep or laugh out loud. There is only one letter by Christy Brown which contains any spelling errors. Reading those letters, I felt Christy was whispering to me over my shoulder and I listened intently, trying to discover who he was' (Christy Brown, 2007, pp. 15-16).

    A full list of the contents of the archive is available on request.
Auction information

This auction is now finished. If you are interested in consigning in future auctions, please contact the specialist department. If you have queries about lots purchased in this auction, please contact customer services.

Buyers' Obligations


If you have any complaints or questions about the Conditions of Sale, please contact your nearest customer services team.

Buyers' Premium and Charges

For all Sales categories excluding Wine, Coins & Medals and Motor Cars and Motorcycles:

Buyer's Premium Rates
25% on the first £50,000 of the Hammer Price
20% from £50,001 to £1,000,000 the Hammer Price
12% from £1,000,001 of the Hammer Price

VAT at the current rate of 20% will be added to the Buyer's Premium and charges excluding Artists Resale Right.

Payment Notices

Payment in advance: by cash, check with banker's card, credit card, bank draft or traveler's cheque.

Payment at collection: by credit or debit card.

Credit card charges: a surcharge of 2% is applicable when using Mastercard, Visa and overseas debit cards.

Shipping Notices

For information and estimates on domestic and international shipping as well as export licenses please contact Bonhams Shipping Department.

  1. Simon Roberts
    Specialist - Books, Maps, Manuscripts and Historical Photographs
    Montpelier Street
    London, United Kingdom SW7 1HH
    Work +44 20 7393 3828
    FaxFax: +44 20 7393 3879