HUNT (LEIGH) Autograph manuscript of his poem 'Abou Ben Adhem', 1855

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Lot 89
HUNT (LEIGH)

Sold for £ 1,250 (US$ 1,659) inc. premium
HUNT (LEIGH)
Autograph manuscript of his poem 'Abou Ben Adhem', signed ("Leigh Hunt"), comprising eighteen lines beginning "Abou Ben Adhem (may his tribe increase!)...", one page, on blue paper laid on card, trimmed at the edges but nevertheless in attractive condition, folio, paper watermarked 1855

Footnotes

  • 'WRITE ME AS ONE, THAT LOVES HIS FELLOW MEN': a fine autograph presentation manuscript, signed by Leigh Hunt, of one of the best known and most anthologised poems in the language:

    "Abou Ben Adhem (may his tribe increase!)
    Awoke one night from a deep dream of peace,
    And saw, within the moonlight in his room,
    Making it rich, and like a lily in bloom,
    An Angel writing in a book of gold. –
    Exceeding peace had made Ben Adhem bold,
    And to the Presence in the room he said,
    'What writest thou?' – The Vision rais'd its head,
    And, with a look made of all sweet accord,
    Answer'd, 'The names of those who love the Lord.'
    'And is mine one?' said Abou. 'Nay, not so,'
    Replied the Angel. Abou spoke more low,
    But cheerly still, and said, 'I pray thee then,
    Write me as one, that loves his fellow men.'
    The Angel wrote, and vanished. – The next night
    It came again with a great wakening light,
    And show'd the names whom love of God had bless'd,
    And lo! Ben Adhem's name led all the rest."

    The first known appearance of this poem is in an album kept by the writer Mrs S.C. Hall, whose husband published it in 1834, in his gift book The Amulet. The poem is based on the Islamic belief that on the night of Nous Shaaban Allah takes the golden book of mankind and crosses off the names of those whom he loves and are being called to him in the coming year. Leigh Hunt's source for this was Barthélemy d'Herbelot, Bibliothèque orientale, first published in 1697. However, while d'Herbelot has Abou-Ishak-Ben-Adhem ask God to write him down as one who loves the Lord ('écrivez-moi, je vous prie, pour l'amour d'eux, en qualité d'ami de ceux qui aiment Dieu'), the poem has him say "Write me as one, that loves his fellow men". These were to be the words engraved on Leigh Hunt's monument.

    The present manuscript, on paper watermarked 1855 and therefore written not long before Leigh Hunt's death in 1859, was in the Halsted B. Vander Poel Collection, purchased from James F. Drake in 1938 (Christie's, 3 March 2004, lot 101): for a fuller analysis and history of the poem, to which we are indebted, see the essay by Roy Davids, 'Leigh Hunt "Abou Ben Adhem"' at roydavids.com.
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