Long-lost Jacobean play to sell for £90k

An extremely rare Jacobean manuscript, a until-now unknown play by Lord Edward Herbert, a close friend of John Donne, has been found in a folder marked "Old Poems" and buried in a trunk that had been stored in an attic in Powis Castle.

The manuscript will be sold at Bonhams Sale of Books and Manuscripts on November 10 in New Bond Street, London.

It was uncovered during a valuation at the castle, when Lord Powis, the owner of the castle, showed Felix Pryor, of Bonhams Book Department, into a room where he had two trunks of manuscripts.

"They contained the usual mixture. There were typed letters from the estate's archive and the like mixed in with 17th century property deeds, themselves not without interest. It turned out later that everything in the trunks had been meticulously listed, item by item.

"But with one exception. This was a folder, marked, 'Old Poems'. Some of these were just 17th century copies - others were clearly in the hand of Lord Powis's forebear, Lord Herbert of Cherbury.

"Lord Herbert was the elder brother of the poet George Herbert and a close family friend of John Donne, writing poems in his 'metaphysical' style. He was also a friend of Ben Jonson.

Lord Cherbury by Isaac Oliver
Lord Cherbury's literary ambitious come across in this Isaac Oliver painting, say Bonhams

"But Lord Cherbury is best known for his works on philosophy and an extremely lively autobiography which Horace Walpole published in the 18th century.

"This tells us a great deal about his military prowess and how attractive women found him, but next to nothing about his literary ambitions (something of this comes across in the glorious miniature of him as a young-man-about-court by Isaac Oliver, with seemingly spiked and gelled hair). And in this folder, there it was.

"A play. And clearly the draft of a play. It had lots of crossings out. It even had a heading: 'The Amazon'."

That evening, Pryor immediately looked it up and found that there had been a masque of that name due to be performed before James I and his court on New Year's Day, in 1618. But for some reason it had been cancelled.

The manuscript is written in a pre-bound booklet of foolscap size, and set out in the manner typical of professional dramatists of the period. Could it have been that Herbert of Cherbury was trying his hand in writing for the commercial theatre?


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