Wednesday, 12 April 2017

A fragment of Voltaire's dressing gown

Huber, Voltaire en déshabille  
A fragment of Voltaire's dressing gown?  Now there's some real trivia......

In December last year the Wren Library at Trinity College Cambridge announced that it had received a bequest of  over 7,500 books from Mary, Duchess of Roxburghe, who had died in 2014 at the age of 99. The collection, which included several important first editions and literary manuscripts, had been amassed by her father, Robert Crewe-Milnes, and her grandfather, the poet and politician Richard Monckton Milnes.  Milnes had been fascinated by the French Revolution and over half the works are in French. Some of the rarest items had been stored in an old blue suitcase referred to by the duchess as the "holy of holies":

"Opening the suitcase was an exciting moment," said Dr Bell [the Wren Librarian]. "It contained some exceptionally rare first editions of Shelley's poems, books inscribed by William Beckford and Oscar Wilde, a pristine first edition of Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass, and some bizarre curiosities such as a fragment of Voltaire's dressing gown." 

I've struggled to find out any more about the piece of dressing gown.  The 1955 biography of Monckton Milnes by James Pope-Hennessy tells us only that  he owned "a piece of Voltaire's dressing-gown folded into a fine edition of La Pucelle" (as well as such items as Richard Burton's passport to Mecca and the visitors' book from Burns' cottage at Alloway).

The fragment has now been carefully mounted.  My friend who saw it and took this photograph for me, commented only that she "thought it would be more woolly"; me too - this evidently isn' t the hefty affair depicted in Huber's pictures.


The  Crewe collection, Wren Library Trinity College (links to YouTube video, catalogue and digitised works)

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