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“What a glorious feeling comes over a city clerk when he takes his candle and proceeds to his bedroom the night before the commencement of his vacation!”

The words are taken from one of a remarkable collection of more than 100 travel journals and diaries, some of them running to several volumes.

Dating from the late 18th to the mid-20th centuries, the collection was one of the larger attractions of a Bonhams (25/10/12% buyer’s premium) sale of March 21.

Sold in one lot at £30,000, the manuscripts were amassed over many years by Charles Benson and mostly record travels in Europe, but others feature the British Isles, North America, the Far East and Australia.

Fortescue family lots

Some 45 lots in the sale came from the libraries of the Fortescue family estates in Cornwall and Buckingham, inherited by George Fortescue (1791-1877) from his aunt Anne. The daughter of Thomas Pitt, Anne married her cousin, William Wyndham Grenville, in 1792, thus uniting the Pitt and Grenville political dynasties.

Known as the ‘Dropmore’ pamphlets after the Buckingham house built for Lord Grenville in the 1790s, a 41-volume collection of 17th and 18th century English pamphlets, some 480 in all, sold for £42,000.

Medicine, trade, economics, politics and religion are among the subjects covered, though there are also those of literary content.

Printed on vellum and bound as four volumes in black morocco gilt by Derome le Jeune, a 1783 Paris edition of Tasso’s La Gerusalemme Liberata bearing an AG inscription of 1797 sold at £9500.

In a handsome period binding of red morocco gilt, a 1796-99 first Russian edition of Cook’s account of his second world voyage was a gift to Lord Grenville at a time when he was England’s foreign secretary – his term as PM coming in 1806-07.

Retaining only 15 of the 40 engraved plates and maps, it was estimated at just £2000-4000 but instead sold for £21,000.

Grenville’s armorially bound copy of John Murray’s 1813, first English edition of Admiral Krusenstern’s account of the first Russian circumnavigation of the globe made £7500.

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One of 29 hand-coloured, double-page engraved celestial charts from a 1661 first (second issue) of Andreas Cellarius’ Harmonia Macrcosmica. In modern vellum, it lacked the frontispiece and showed some creasing, soiling and dampstaining, etc, but sold for £45,000.

Gardening interest

Another notable property was that of Kenneth J Hewett (1919-94), a distinguished London dealer in ethnographica and antiquities, but one who as a young man had trained as a gardener and never lost his interest in the subject.

A 51pp manuscript of the 1630s, titled ‘An orchard or A Booke of planting’ was one that I found of particular appeal because of its proximity to my own Kent home.

Formerly in the vast Phillipps collections, it contains Sir Edward Dering’s instructions for the growing of apple and other fruit trees on his Surrenden estate, near Pluckley in Kent. Detailed notes cover nearly 150 varieties of fruit tree, some with his tasting notes added – such as “a fayre sweete apple ripe att bartholemew’s 1637. good then to bake”. Also featured was an illustrated guide to “stickes and markes whereby to knowe my fruite trees”. It sold for £17,000.

Bid to £11,000 was a 1683-84 manuscript of some 70pp divided pretty much equally between garden notes and a catalogue of the library at Burton Park in Cork, Ireland, while a lot offering 18 nursery catalogues dating from the late 18th century (and possibly later) sold at £9000. Both did much better than expected.

The copy of Hooke’s Micrographia noted among the accompanying caption stories was also part of this property, as was an unusual John Donne lot.

“What a heap of modern trash did Jack Donn…read” is just one of the extensive, sometimes highly critical, occasionally vitriolic marginal notes found in a 1644 first issue in period binding of Donne’s Biathanatos. A Declaration of that Paradodoxe, or Thesis, that Selfe-homicide is not so Naturally Sinne packed… which sold for £7500.

Another of the remarks made by whichever of two early owners, both Oxford dons, annotated this copy also queries why Donne’s son, who brought the book to press, did not suppress it as his father had wished – blaming it on “venality”.

Elsewhere, he remarks on the Japanese practice of harakiri, on Homer (“a foolishly false Tale of the good Old Blind Poet”), gladiators, and “Mad Rules made by Hypocritical Monks”.

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An engraved notice of 1717, relating to election of the council and officers of the Royal Society and signed as its president by Isaac Newton. Sold for £12,000.

Exsiccata ecstasy

From yet another single source came a 32-lot collection of works of Exsiccata – ferns, seaweed, mosses etc. This produced a bid of £5500 on a bound collection of ‘Polar Plants’, comprising some 36 dried botanical specimens collected by Lieutenant Francis Crozier while serving with William Parry on an 1820s Arctic expedition. Crozier was later among those lost on the Franklin expedition.

Astronomical and Australian successes are noted among the accompanying illustrated lots, along with a Newton signature.

Historical documents of greater age in the sale included, at £16,000, a group of 11 parchment Receiver’s Rolls of 1492-93 for Cornwall and Devon. The latter present an account of a year’s receipts from the region’s manors, burghs and stannaries drawn up for Richard III after his usurpation and murder of Edward IV in the Tower.

Bid to £11,000 was a signed autograph copy of Wordsworth’s poem ‘Scorn not the Sonnet’, transcribed by the poet in Rydal, 1843, at the behest of a Mrs Brenchly.