Rare Book Monthly

Book Catalogue Reviews - April - 2009 Issue

Autographs and Signed Documents from David Schulson

Schulson139

A new collection of signatures from David Schulson Autographs.


By Michael Stillman

David Schulson Autographs has issued a new collection of autographs and autographed manuscripts, Catalog 139. As always, Schulson provides a wide selection of personalities, from politics, music, science, medicine, writing, art, stage and screen, and other notable professions. There is a healthy mix of American and European names to be found, with dates ranging from the 18th through the 20th century. Here are a few samples of what we found.

Item 68 is a wartime letter from Napoleon concerning food for his soldiers in Poland as they prepared for an attack on Russia. Writes the French Emperor on June 4, 1812, "My son, having learned that many of your camps are lacking in meat stores, I have just ordered 300 steer and 30,000 bales of oats be sent to you... On that note, my son, I pray that God has you in his keep." Since Napoleon's only son was one-year-old at the time, we are guessing that this letter either went to his stepson, or someone with which he was very familiar. Whoever he was, he was obviously special as he rated the lengthened signature "Napol." rather than the standard "Nap."

Here is an item that will make the flesh crawl on those who love America's second generation of great leaders and orators. Henry Clay was one of the giants of the senate in the first half of the 19th century. Along with his soaring rhetoric, he was famous as the "Great Compromiser." He tried to bring the sides together during the rancorous debate over slavery, helping to engineer the Compromise of 1850, thought at the time to resolve the issue, but in reality only making it worse, and the Civil War inevitable. Nevertheless, he tried. Along the way, he made several runs for the presidency, coming closest in 1844 as the candidate of the Whig Party (which won the elections both before and after 1844). However, Clay sounds too much like someone who compromised some of the basic principles of humanity in this 1827 letter. In it, he seeks to recoup $117 he spent on buying a slave. Saying he was led to believe the slave woman, though older, was healthy, he writes, "[I] have discovered that the said slave is entirely unsound and diseased, so much so as to be worthless..." Not much respect for human dignity in that comment. Item 22. $3,500.

Jeremy Bentham was one of the foremost proponents of utilitarianism, the philosophy that holds that the worth of something is determined by how much good it produces. It can be distinguished from beliefs that there is some inherent moral worth in actions regardless of whether they benefit anyone. Item 8 is a letter concerning practical matters by this practical philosopher. Bentham writes in 1824 that he has been "...flattering myself with the hope of having the two vacuums in my upper jaw filled up by section action..." In other words, Bentham had some serious dental problems, and he is concerned that if work is not begun soon, the "fragments" of his teeth on which he hopes repairs can be made will "share the fate of their predecessors." The letter is to James Cartwright, whom Bentham hopes has some students who can help him. $1,750.

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