The Newly Discovered Manuscript by Poet John Donne Fetches £475,000

A newly discovered manuscript of works by English poet John Donne fetches £475,000 at Sotheby’s online sale, exceeding the presale estimate of £200,000-300,000. The collection is described by the auction house as one of the largest surviving collections of the metaphysical poet’s work and there is no comparable manuscript in private hands.

The collection includes some 139 poems by Donne, including “Songs and Sonnets” erotic elegies and satires, epigrams and religious verse including “La Corona” and “Holy Sonnets”, together with some works by other writers. Dated from the 1620s or early 1630s, the gilt-panelled calf volume contains 265 pages written in a single attractive italic hand.

Melford Hall in Suffolk

The previously unknown manuscript was discovered by accident when Sotheby’s specialist Dr Gabriel Heaton paid a visit to Melford Hall in Suffolk. It was kept for at least the last two centuries at the property until Heaton came across the bound collection lying in a box with other papers. He noticed there were Donne’s poems and verses in the manuscript and realised it was a significant discovery.

John Donne (1572-1631) was born into a Catholic family in 1572, eight years after William Shakespeare (1564-1616). Donne was ordained into the priesthood in 1615 and became Dean of St Paul’s in 1621. In his final decade, Donne was one of the most renowned preachers in the kingdom and a particular favourite of King James I.

Donne is also considered as one of the greatest metaphysical poets. His poetry was highly prized in literary circles during his lifetime. However, he only published a few of his written works in his lifetime as he preferred to circulate his texts in scribal form to a select group of friends and patrons. About thirty consciously assembled collections of poems by Donne survive and all other than the present one is now in institutional libraries.

Lot information

John Donne. The Melford Hall Manuscript of Donne’s Poetry. 1620s or early 1630s

Lot no.: 110
Sir William Parker of Melford Hall, 7th Bt. (1769-1830), (armorial bookplate dating from before his accession to the baronetcy in 1812); thence by family descent
Estimate: £200,000-300,000
Price realised: £475,000

Auction details

Auction house: Sotheby’s Online
Sale: English Literature, History, Science, Children’s Books and Illustrations Online