Letter to William Wotton signed by Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, £14,000 at Lyon & Turnbull.

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A letter exchanged between two of the brightest minds of the 17th century led the Lyon & Turnbull (26% buyer’s premium) Rare Books & Manuscripts sale in Edinburgh on September 21.

The missive between German mathematician Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz (1646-1716) and English scholar William Wotton (1666-1727) took £14,000.

On a single sheet dated April 25, 1702, Leibniz offers his thanks to Wotton for sending his History of Rome from the Death of Antoninus Pius, to the Death of Severus Alexander published the previous year.

He praises it as a fine example of the ‘mirrors-for-princes’ genre, declaring ‘no other work had set forth with such colour the virtues and vices of the Caesars’.

In an aside, Leibniz reveals that he had hastened to show the book to Georg Ludwig, Elector of Hanover, only to find that the future George I was already reading a copy. He signed in Latin Godefridus Gulielmus Leibnitius.

Wotton was a child prodigy who was proficient in Latin, Greek and Hebrew by the age of five, admitted to St Catherine’s College, Cambridge at nine, and a graduate by 13.

However, his clerical career was marked by scandal and financial embarrassment, which in the eyes of his biographer ‘may explain why his considerable achievements in a range of disciplines are not better known’.

Cromwell fatherly advice

A strong selection of manuscript material included, at £5000, a remarkable letter of fatherly advice from Oliver Cromwell as Lord Protector to his second son Henry (1628-74) as commander-in-chief in Ireland.

In reply to Henry’s vexing, in around 400 words his father counsels moderation in his dealings with the Anabaptists in the army (‘Take heede of being overzealous, lest your apprehensions of others, cause you to offend’), warns him against the excessive accumulation of personal property (‘take heede of studyinge to lay for your selfe ye foundation of a great estate’) and generally urges his son to turn the other cheek in matters of politics (‘Take [care] of makinge it a businesse to bee hard for the men whoe contest with you’). Addressed to ‘Harrye’ and dated ‘April 21, 1656’ the letter is signed ‘Oliver P’ with postscript adding ‘My love to my dear Daughter …’.

Henry’s rule in Ireland was not without its successes. At the Restoration he was included in the general pardon and retained a considerable portion of his Irish and English estates, dying on ancestral home ground in Cambridgeshire.

Calculated to gain support

Guided at £1000-1500 but sold at £4400 was an autograph letter from Charles Babbage (1791-1871) in which he makes a last-ditch attempt to drum up aristocratic support for the doomed Difference Engine No 1.

Writing on May 30, 1834 (just months away from its final collapse of the project), Babbage invites Dunbar James Douglas, 6th Earl of Selkirk (1809-1885) to a lecture ‘Having learned from the Duke of Somerset that you have a great desire to see the Calculating engine’.

At the time Babbage had produced a fully functioning demonstration piece representing about one-seventh of the whole machine, which is the first known automatic calculator.