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A Landmark 27-page Lowell Manuscript

Lowell, James Russell. Autograph manuscript “On a Certain Condescension in Foreigners.”

No Place, ca. 1869

27 pages (24 x 19 cm), with additional revisions on the versos. Contemporary ink marks, a closed marginal tear to first leaf. Morocco case.

A rare and important manuscript of one of Lowell’s most famous essays, “On a Certain Condescension in Foreigners.” “The foremost American man of letters of his time” (DAB), Lowell was uniquely positioned to comment on foreigners’ attitudes towards Americans. He spent many years living and travelling in Europe starting in 1850, ultimately serving as the Minister to the Court of St. James in 1880-1885.

American authors from Cooper and Irving to Poe and Melville commented on—and sometimes seemed even obsessed by—English attitudes towards America, and this essay received considerable attention in its time. It remains among Lowell’s most significant and most enduring essays. “It was for the cultivated men and women of these villages [of New England] that Lowell wrote. They of all persons delighted in his essay On a Certain Condescension in Foreigners, with its urbane reproof of criticism of our lack of urbanity; for the village cherished some dignity of manners and would accept a predestined hell easier than condescension from anybody” (Cambridge History of English Literature).

Rare. This is the finest Lowell manuscript to appear in over half a century. Only one Lowell manuscript of this length has appeared at auction since 1939. That piece, “A Moosehead Journal” (31 pp, sold at auction in 1968), is now in the Parkman Dexter Howe collection at the University of Florida, which includes 21 other Lowell manuscripts. None of those approaches this one in length and significance.