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While I was on my recent Sabbatical a book with which we are slightly familiar came up for auction  again, and I thought you might like to hear about it. The Friendship Book of the Reverend James Stanier Clarke, seen below, who was the Librarian to The Prince Regent, later George IV, went on sale at auction two weeks ago at Christie’s auction house in London.

This book is an amazing document. Correctly titled the Liber Amicorum-  the Friendship Book-  it is a record of Stanier Clarke’s contacts amongst some of the most influential and famous people in Regency England. As a courtier he was continually meeting interesting people at Court, and he took the opportunity his portion afforded him to have them record some souvenirs within its pages. These friendship books were quite common in the 19th century, and I have one which contains drawings, autographs and poems collected by a great-great uncle of mine. Sadly, he didn’t meet as many famous people as did The Reverend Clarke …

The book is bound in gold toothed green morocco and contains more than 100 contemporary paintings, drawings, verses and autographs by notable artists, authors, poets, sculptors and naval characters of the late 18th/early 19th centuries, including George Romney, William Hodges, William Hayley, Anna Seward, Nicholas Pocock, Nelson’s Captain Thomas Masterman Hardy.

The book was found in the 1950s by Richard Wheeler in a secondhand bookshop in Canterbury in Kent. He made a detective study of the book and its contents, studying the watermarks of the paper to build up a comprehensive history of the book, its contents and its original owner. His son recently put the book up for sale after he had inherited it.

Here are an idea of some of the contents:

A verse written by Charlotte Smith, the novelist

“A telescopic appearance of the southern limb of the Moon on 7th August 1787 at 3 0’clock in the morning” by John Russell, the noted astronomer.

A drawing by John Flaxman, the sculptor.

James Stanier Clarke also included portraits he had executed of people in his circle in his Friendship Book.


Here, above, is one of Princess Caroline of Brunswick, dating from 1795.

And this next portrait, shown below,  is the one that has caused all the interest in this tiny book…for it purports to be of Jane Austen, taken when she met James Stanier Clarke on her visit to Carlton House, the London home of the Prince Regent. The negotiations regarding the dedication of Emma to the Prince regent had resulted in her being invited to view the Library there, and her visit took place on the 13th November, 1815.

James Stanier Clarke appears to have been quite smitten with Miss Austen and a correspondence between them lasted for a little while. Till frankly, Jane Austen could endure his suggestions for literary composition no longer. Her frustration with her correspondent took its revenge in her Plan of a Novel According to Hints from Various Quarters(1816).Their correspondence subsequently drew to a halt….

The portrait is not dated or named,but speculation has arisen that it might be Jane Austen, as she appeared on that visit.

Sadly, the National Portrait Gallery- which owns Cassandra Austen’s slight watercolour of Jane Austen, the only authenticated portrait showing her face- have steadfastly refused to authenticate the watercolour as being an image of Jane Austen. But others have been convinced by it. Go here to read a detailed discussion of the similarities between this portrait and the authenticated version. I would love to think that this stylishly dressed woman was Jane Austen, in her glad rags visiting the palace….

But , it seems that the current market is still not wholly convinced and the book failed to sell. It was given a pre-auction estimate of £20,000 -£50,000, and the highest bid received was for £28,000. Obviously, it failed to reach its fixed reserve. Frankly I would love to own this book for all its contents, not just the supposed picture of Jane Austen. And I am slighty puzzled as to why it hasn’t been bought by one of the great London museums bearing in mind it contains so many other interesting and less controversial items.

So, yet again we will have to wait and see what eventually happens to this intriguing book. I wonder if a facsimile edition has ever been considered. An annotated facsimile would be something to behold, don’t you think? I’d buy that in an instant!

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