Monday, 26 August 2013


Inpress wanted some signed copies of War Reporter, so Dan O’Brien is sending over some signed labels (not quite book plates, a bit fancier than address labels, I imagine) from the US. I have never really understood why people want signed copies of books – if the author is a friend, perhaps, but if the reader has never met the author what does a scribbled signature add? Some remote form of authenticity?

But oh, look. ‘Confab. between the Poet and Harriet, the House-maid, who had brought up a Message that “A Lady, below, Sir! would be much obliged to You for a Nautigraft.”’ And the start of a brief poem: ‘A naughty Graff? Graff? – That’s what Germans call / A Count and one whose morals go a wry gate! / What can a Lady want one for I wonder?’ By and in the handwriting of Coleridge, 19 April 1832:

And here’s an autograph manuscript of a poem by John Clare, 23 July 1827 (‘My autograph were nought to prize / In less conspicuous places …’):

And Muriel Spark, a draft of her poem ‘Going up to Sotheby’s’: ‘This was the wine. It stained the top quarter of the page / when she knocked over the glass accidentally. They were / sorry to lose that drop of wine for the wine was a treat … And now the grandchildren have decided / to sell the manuscript. / Bound and proud, documented / by scholars of the land, bound / up and glossed these papers / are going up to Sotheby’s):

These are all in the catalogues (two volumes, each of around 280 pages) of the sale of ‘Poetical Manuscripts & Portraits of Poets’ from the Roy Davids Collection at Bonhams earlier this year. I found them in an Oxfam shop this afternoon. There is a thrill is seeing a Keats poem in his own handwriting (and Hopkins and Lawrence and Pound, etc), and Sylvia Plath’s working drafts with all their crossings-out and second and third and fourteenth thoughts, and a photo of Larkin grinning from ear to ear, and … And everything, the whole lot, is available online: and

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