A Historic Letter Written By Samuel Johnson Sells At Auction For £38,460

A wise man once said “when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life”. Well, that same wise man has caused quite a stir this week. A letter that Samuel Johnson wrote to a young girl in the 18th century has been discovered and sold. For quite a hefty sum, might I add.

Dr Samuel Johnson was a revered essayist, literary critic, poet, playwright, biographer and all-round over-achiever. Most famous for writing the Dictionary of the English Language back in 1755, Johnson has been referred to as “arguably the most distinguished man of letters in English history”.

Statue of Dr Samuel Johnson on the Strand
Credit: Electric Egg, Shutterstock

One of Johnson’s letters (that had been officially logged as lost for many years) has recently been found during a routine valuation in a Gloucestershire country house. Discovered by Chorley’s Auctioneers, the letter was stashed in a cupboard among a pile of other historic letters. The owner of the house was completely unaware of its value and historical importance. Scholars only knew of the letters existence due to its previous publication in ‘The Letters of Samuel Johnson‘.

The letter was written to a twelve-year-old Sophia Thrale (the sixth daughter of Hester Lynch Thrale) and is the only known letter between them to have survived. In the letter, Johnson praises Sophia’s arithmetical ability and tells her that she will always have his favour.

A plaque on Dr Johnsons House in the City of London
Credit: chrisdorney, Shutterstock

The uncovered letter has caused a great deal of excitement and sparked some pretty competitive bidding at the Chorley’s auction. Bids were received both online and over the phone from various UK and US museums. A UK institution won the auction and paid a whopping £38,460 for the privilege. Chorley’s had originally estimated it at just £8,000.

Commenting on the sale of the letter, Werner Freundel, Director at Chorley’s, said: “We are thrilled to have brought the Hester Thrale correspondence to light and are pleased that the historical importance of the letters has been recognised. Samuel Johnson’s charming letter to a young Sophia Thrale will remain in the UK and we hope it will be displayed to the UK public in time.”

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