Even by the early seventeenth century representations of authors, whether as paintings or as busts, were a prominent feature of library furnishings in England. In the eighteenth century they became more so, both in private dwellings and in institutions. The Chesterfield portraits are a group of portraits of British poets brought together by the Whig politician and diplomatist Philip Dormer Stanhope, fourth Earl of Chesterfield (1694-1773), best known today for his Letters to his Son (1774), and kept in his library in Chesterfield House, the home he built in Mayfair from 1747 onwards, on what is now the corner of South Audley Street and Curzon Street. George Vertue (1684-1756), an engraver and antiquary whose notes for a planned history of painting and sculpture in England form a cornerstone of British art history, recorded in 1748:
Poets pictures, Lord Chesterfield haveing a fine room in his new builded house he intends to call <it> the Poets room therein he designs to have the portraits of many most memorable Poets heads of this nation Chaucer Shakespear Johnson Milton Cowley. Dryden &c <Spencer Waller Rochester Rowe.> amongst he has some originals from the life he bought at several times from ld Oxford, Lord Hallifaxs collection. &c. one particularly of Otway. painted by Ryley --- from the life[.] many others are Coppyd to the size he wants.
Chesterfield bought paintings regularly. He had purchased some of the Chesterfield portraits before he built Chesterfield House, from the sale in March 1739/40 of portraits acquired by the politician and literary patron Charles Montague, first Earl of Halifax (1661-1715). Others, also purchased (via a Captain Boden) before the building of Chesterfield House, came from the sale of portraits previously acquired by the book collector and patron of the arts Edward Harley (1689-1741), the second Earl of Oxford, who had bought portraits to accompany his books at Wimpole Hall in Cambridgeshire. Chesterfield furthermore commissioned copies of portraits.
The library was one of the first two rooms in the new house to be completed. As Chesterfield recorded in a letter to his son of 31 March 1749 that the library was finished, he had presumably installed the portraits there by then. The library contained a bookcase for each letter of the alphabet, beneath a lacy ceiling and a motto from Horace’s sixth satire (Nunc veterum libris nunc somno et intertibus horis / Ducere sollicitae jucunda oblivia vitae: “when shall I be permitted to quaff a sweet oblivion of anxious life, now from the books of the ancients, now from sleep and idle hours”), which ran in capital letters a foot high around the walls. The Chesterfield portraits were in ornate frames for twenty-four pictures set in above the bookcases, each frame bearing tragic and comic masks at the bottom, and clustered musical instruments on top.
Chesterfield called this library "the finest room in London". A century later, an anonymous reviewer of Chesterfield’s Letters agreed:
In the magnificent mansion which the earl erected in Audley Street you may still see his favourite apartments, furnished and decorated as he left them – among the rest, what he boasted of as “the finest room in London”, and perhaps even now it remains unsurpassed, his spacious and beautiful library looking on the finest private garden in London. The walls are covered half-way up with rich and classical stores of literature; above the cases are in close series the portraits of eminent authors, French and English, with most of whom he had conversed; over these, and immediately under the massive cornice, extend all round, in foot long capitals, the Horatian lines: [cited]. On the mantelpieces and cabinets stand busts of old orators, interspersed with voluptuous vases and bronzes, antique or Italian, and airy statuettes, in marble or alabaster, of nude or semi-nude opera nymphs (Quarterly Review, 76 (1845), 484).
The portraits remained in place for two centuries. In 1869, the Chesterfields sold the house to the city merchant and politicians Charles Magniac (1827-1891), whereupon the portraits moved to the library of the Chesterfield country house at Bretby. The contents of that house were sold on the premises by Leedam and Harrison, 15-25 July 1918. Henry Lascelles, later husband of HRH Princess Mary and 6th Earl of Harewood, bought seventeen of the portraits (he missed five others, which were sold in separate lots). In 1922 the Lascelles family bought Chesterfield House, which became Princess Mary’s town residence. The portraits returned to the library.
Having been sold to a property developer, Chesterfield House was demolished in 1934 and replaced by flats. The portraits (by now in plain frames) moved to Lascelles houses in Yorkshire, firstly to Goldsborough Hall near Knaresborough, and then to Harewood House, near Leeds. Following the demise of Henry Lascelles in 1947, leaving massive death duties, Goldsborough Hall was sold in 1951. The Chesterfield portraits, too, were sold, at Christies on 29 June 1951. The purchaser was the EMI director and book collector Sir Louis Sterling (1879-1958), who gave his books to the University of London in 1956 and paid for the space behind the Paleography Room to be built to house them. The portraits returned to London, where Sterling sent them immediately to Senate House Library, on the conditions that they must be hung in the Sterling Library and kept in perpetuity. Six were hung in the Sterling Library and the remaining eleven in the adjoining Paleography Room.
- Geoffrey Chaucer (c.1343-1400)
- Edmund Spenser (c.1552-1599)
- Ben Jonson (1572/3-1637)
- Edmund Waller (1606-1687)
- William Cartwright (1611-1643)
- Samuel Butler (1613-1680)
- Sir John Denham (1615-1669)
- Abraham Cowley (1618-1667)
- John Dryden (1631-1700)
- William Wycherley (1641-1715)
- Thomas Otway (1652-1685)
- Matthew Prior (1664-1721)
- Jonathan Swift (1667-1745)
- Joseph Addison (1672-1719)
- Alexander Pope (1688-1744)
- William Congreve (1670-1729)
- Nicholas Rowe (1674-1718)
Information about the portraits is taken chiefly from: David Piper, ‘The Chesterfield Library Portraits’, in: Evidence in Literary Scholarship: Essays in Memory of James Marshall Osborn, ed. by René Wellek and Alvaro Ribeiro (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1979), pp. 179-95
For notes from George Vertue, see: George Vertue, Note books, v. 4-5, The volume of the Walpole Society ; 24, 26 (Oxford: Oxford University Press for the Walpole Society, 1936-1938)
In 1748 the engraver and antiquary George Vertue noted Lord Chesterfield’s desire to have a portrait of Chaucer in his new library. Previously he had recorded ‘Chaucer a painted head on cloth modern’ in a sale in 1739/40 of portraits owned by Charles Montague, 1st Earl of Halifax, where it was sold to Lord Chesterfield for £6.6s. Probably a copy made for Halifax, it derives from a posthumous image recorded by Chaucer’s contemporary Thomas Occleve (or Hoccleve) in his De Regimine Principum, and was intended as a likeness.
Chesterfield mentions Chaucer in a letter to his son of 27 September 1748, in the context of how pedants might write Latin:
By this rule, I might now write to you in the language of Chaucer or Spenser, and assert that I wrote English, because it was English in their days; but I should be a most affected puppy if I did so, and you would not understand three words of my letter.
Once in Sir Louis Sterling’s possession, the portrait presided over several noteworthy editions of Chaucer in a library which Sterling specifically described in the introduction to its printed catalogue (p. vii) as ‘a fairly representative collection of English literature from Chaucer to the present day’. Among these was the third printed edition of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, printed by Richard Pynson around 1492 using woodcuts from Caxton’s second edition, in a copy containing a contemporary scribal gloss (named in the booklet celebrating the opening of the Sterling Library on 30 October 1956). Also noted in print, in an article about Sterling’s library in the Times Literary Supplement of 4 February 1939, was the first edition of Chaucer’s complete works (1532). There were editions from several private presses, most notably the Kelmscott Chaucer (1896) from William Morris’s Kelmscott Press and The Canterbury Tales illustrated by Eric Gill and printed by the Golden Cockerel Press (1929-1931): two books regarded as the pinnacle of achievement by their respective presses. Striking, too, is Thomas Carlyle’s copy of John Saunders’s Canterbury Tales, from Chaucer (1845-1847), annotated by Carlyle. Today the portrait also looks over facsimiles of Chaucerian manuscripts in Senate House Library’s renowned palaeography collection.
This painting is apparently a copy, tentatively attributed to the late seventeenth century, of a late sixteenth-century portrait. It is the best-known painted version of the most widely broadcast image of Spenser (an image painted on board by John Guise which is known from having been engraved by George Vertue). It furthermore has the oldest tradition of identification with Spenser. ‘There is no authentic portrait of him [Spenser], though the 17th-century Chesterfield portrait has been copied so often it has become a kind of consensus’, wrote Charles Nicholl in The Guardian (20 July 2012), reviewing Andrew Hadfield’s Edmund Spenser: A Life. Lord Chesterfield bought the picture via his agent Boden for £2.6s.0d from the sale in 1741/2 of portraits previously owned by Edward Harley, 2nd Earl of Oxford (1st day, lot 34).
Chesterfield mentions Spenser in a letter to his son of 27 September 1748, in the context of how pedants might write Latin:
By this rule, I might now write to you in the language of Chaucer or Spenser, and assert that I wrote English, because it was English in their days; but I should be a most affected puppy if I did so, and you would not understand three words of my letter.
Of all the Chesterfield portraits in Sir Louis Sterling’s library, Spenser is the one who is best represented by editions of his works. Some of these are early: first editions of Complaints (1591), Colin Clouts Come Home Againe (1595), and Prothalamion (1596), the fourth edition of The Sheapheards Calendar (1591), and two issues from 1611 of Spenser’s Works. Balancing these are impressive private press editions of Spenser’s work, led by The Shepheardes Calender in an issue of just 22 copies issued by the Kelmscott Press in 1896. Both the Essex House Press’s Epthalamion (1901), with illuminated initials, and the Golden Cockerel Press’s Wedding Songs (1923; the first of the Press’s books to be illustrated with wood engravings), are printed on vellum, the latter one of 25 issued thus. Books from the Ashendene Press and the Boar’s Head Press complete the roll call.
Lord Chesterfield may well have commissioned this copy of a popular type of portrait of the dramatist and poet Ben Jonson. It is atypical in that the painter of the original, Abraham van Blijenberch (1575/6 - 1624), was not from the British Isles, but a Flemish artist who merely worked in London from about 1617 until about 1621 or 1622. The picture is also atypical in its placing in Lord Chesterfield’s mansion. George Vertue specifically mentions ‘Johnson’ [sic; Ben Jonson is meant] as being among the poets whom Chesterfield intended to have represented in the library of Chesterfield House. However, the library portrait is a larger, three-quarter-length one that has now been separated from the bulk of the Chesterfield portraits, and the portrait featured here one was hung elsewhere in the house.
Jonson was friendly with William Cartwright, whose picture is also in the collection. Chesterfield’s acquaintance with Jonson’s work appears to be unrecorded. In Sir Louis Sterling’s library the portrait presided over the first folio of Jonson’s works, in a copy with three early inscriptions, the first edition of The nevv inne (1631), also with an early ownership inscription, and an edition of selected lyrics, A Croppe of Kisses, published by the Golden Cockerel Press in 1937 to celebrate Jonson’s tercentary. Sir Edwin Durning-Lawrence owned some other early-seventeenth-century editions of Jonson’s plays, with editions from later in the century among the general special collections.
This painting of Edmund Waller as a young man is a copy, possibly commissioned by Lord Chesterfield. Its original was by Cornelius Johnson (1593-1661), who specialised in portraiture. The ascription beneath the portrait is, wrongly, to John Milton.
The portrait of Waller complements those of John Dryden and Sir John Denham in Chesterfield’s collection, Dryden having praised Waller and linked him with Denham as the poets bringing in the Augustan age. Chesterfield and Waller were acquainted, collaborating to write some pamphlets such as The case of the Hanover forces in the pay of Great-Britain, impartially and freely examined (1743), about mercenaries in the British army. Vertue included Waller in the list of writers whom Chesterfield lined up to adorn the library at Chesterfield House.
Waller was less prolific than most of the people portrayed in Chesterfield’s collection, such that Sir Louis Sterling did not possess any of his work. Later, an edition of his works published by the Foulis brothers in Glasgow in 1752 was acquired with money left by Sterling to plug gaps in his collection, and further seventeenth- and eighteenth-century editions of Waller can be found in various parts of Senate House Library’s special collections. The greatest trophy is not a book he wrote, but one he owned and inscribed, a copy of Giovanni Alfonso Borelli’s Euclides restitutus (Paris, 1658) subsequently acquired by the mathematician and mathematical historian Augustus De Morgan.
David Piper describes this painting as follows:
Bought by Lord Chesterfield at the Halifax sale (1739/40, 2nd day, lot 39) as Milton, and noted by Vertue (Notebooks IV, 165) as Milton leaning on his hand–fictitious’. It was still inscribed with Milton’s name in 1869 … and a similar painting (oval) at Ickworth is also known as Milton. The image, however, corresponds to, and probably derives directly from, P. Lombart’s portrait engraving of Cartwright for the latter’s Poems and Plays of 1651. The source of Lombart’s engraving, in which the features are shown very summarily, is problematic: it is posthumous, and may represent more generically a poet in his melancholy than Cartwright specifically. The pose follows of course the traditional one of melancholy as in Ripa and elsewhere. No other type of portrait of Cartwright is known for comparison. (‘The Chesterfield Library Portraits’, p. 188)
William Cartwright was a scholar and preacher as well as a poet and dramatist. Sterling owned the above-mentioned Poems and Plays, in a copy which was clearly read at the time: an early owner has listed the poems in manuscript on the front flyleaf. The book also shows something of seventeenth-century library history: ‘Plays’ is written of the fore-edge, from a time when books were shelved with the spine inwards, opposite to today.
The antiquary and engraver George Vertue noted ‘Butler a coppy’ as one of the items sold to Lord Chesterfield in a sale in 1739/40 (2nd day, lot 32) of portraits owned by Charles Montague, 1st Earl of Halifax. Gerard Soest (d.1681), painter of the original, was a moderately successful painter who specialised in head-and-shoulders and three-quarter-length portraits.
Butler is famous for his satiric poem Hudibras (1663), which mocks Puritans and which instantly became the most popular poem of its time. Lord Chesterfield quoted Hudibras several times, most famously saying in the House of Lords:
If I were to sport a Hudibrastic, I would say:
He that fights, and runs away,
May live to fight another day;
But he that’s in the battle slain,
May never rise to fight again.
Elsewhere he wrote: ‘as Hudibras says, every thing is to be valued’, and, in a letter to his son: ‘Hudibras alludes, in this verse, ‘Like words congealed in northern air’, to a vulgar notion, that, in Greenland, words were frozen in their utterance’ (29 January 1748).
In Sir Louis Sterling’s library, the portrait complemented an edition of Hudibras from 1819, embellished with colour illustrations by the Scottish aquatint engraver and painter John Heaviside Clark. Various seventeenth- and eighteenth-century editions of Butler’s work can be found throughout Senate House Library’s special collections.
Lord Chesterfield possibly acquired this portrait for £4.10s from the sale in 1741/2 of portraits which Edward Harley, 2nd earl of Oxford, had acquired to adorn his estate at Wimpole (4th day, lot 4). It appears to be original. Joseph Collyer the younger engraved the earliest engraving of this type, as Denham, for Samuel Johnson’s The Lives of the English Poets (1779; copy held in the Sterling Library), Le Goux made the first engraving specifically from the Chesterfield portrait in 1793.
The poet and Royalist courtier John Denham, whose poetry plays an important role in the transition from the Metaphysicals to the Augustan Age, sits well among the other portraits in Chesterfield’s library. Samuel Butler attacked him in his mock ‘Panegyric upon Sir John Denham’s Recovery from his Madness’; Edmund Waller was his friend, and influenced Denham’s main work, Cooper’s Hill (historical and moral reflections on kingship); and John Dryden praised his work as ‘majestic’ and ‘correct’, describing Cooper’s Hill as ‘the exact standard of good writing’.
The 2nd Earl of Chesterfield quoted Denham in a letter to Mr Bates of 5 November 1673: ‘I doubt that I shall think it time to fly my country, without the help of other inducements to carry mee to town; to which place (as Denham says) ‘Most men doe run, some to undoe, and some to be undone’. What his grandson, the 4th Earl of Chesterfield, thought of Denham, we do not know. Some early editions of Denham’s work are to found in the general special collections of Senate House Library, and the trust fund to add to Sterling’s collection of early editions of English literature enabled the purchase for the Sterling Library of Coopers-Hill (1709) and Poems and Translations (1771).
The engraver and antiquary George Vertue in his notebooks enumerates Cowley among the poets whom Chesterfield intended to have represented in the library of Chesterfield House. Chesterfield presumably bought it from the sale of Edward Harley, 2nd Earl of Oxford, in 1741/2 (3rd day, lot 31), Vertue recording: ‘Mr Cowley, bought by Boden, £3.15s.0d’. Whether the subject of the painting really is Cowley has since been doubted (see Piper, ‘The Chesterfield House Library Portraits’, p. 189).
Cowley jostled shoulders in Chesterfield’s collection with the portraits of poets who knew his work: John Dryden admired him, as in a qualified way did Alexander Pope. Lord Chesterfield showed his acquaintance with Cowley’s writings by quoting him in his Character of the Duke of Newcastle: ‘We may apply to him with propriety what Mr. Cowley says of Pindar: “Pindar is imitable by none; /The Phoenix Pindar is a vast species alone”’. Sir Louis Sterling showed his respect for Cowley through ownership of the first collected edition of Cowley’s works (1668). Cowley’s Poems (1656) and Ode upon the Blessed Restoration and Returne of His sacred Majestie, Charls [sic] the Second (1660) were subsequently acquired for Sterling’s library. Other early copies of Cowley’s works are held throughout the special collections, including Senate House Library's three clerical special collections: the library of Beilby Porteus, Bishop of London (1731-1809); the library of Graveley Parish, in Cambridgeshire; and books acquired from Chichester Cathedral Library.
John Dryden is one of the poets whom Lord Chesterfield intended to have represented in the library of Chesterfield House before that library existed, as listed in the notebooks of the engraver and antiquary George Vertue. Chesterfield bought the picture at the sale from Lord Halifax’s art collection in 1739/40 (2nd day, lot 38), where Vertue described it as: ‘Dryden a Coppy. A wig on—after Riley’.
Chesterfield’s opinion of Dryden was high. In a letter of 1749 he wrote: ‘You have with you three or four of the best English authors, Dryden, Atterbury, and Swift: read them with the utmost care, and with a particular view to their language, and they may possible correct that curious infelicity of diction which you acquired at Westminster’. On 21 May 1751, sending Anne-Marie Du Boccage some busts, he wrote: ‘They are Shakespear, Milton, Dryden, and Pope, the ornaments of our nation … I beg you will shew some kindness to Dryden, who is jealous of the preference you have given to Milton and Pope’.
Dryden found equal favour with Sir Louis Sterling, who owned a number of his poems and plays in first editions, as well as the Essex House Press edition of Alexander’s Feast (1904), printed on vellum, and, for the sake of its illustrations, The Fables of John Dryden (1797), illustrated by the noblewoman and artist Lady Diana Beauclerc (1734-1808). Further early or otherwise remarkable editions of Dryden are scattered throughout Senate House Library’s special collections.
The portrait of William Wycherley stands out among the Chesterfield portraits for being an original. The artist, Thomas Murray (1663-1735) was a portrait painter of Scottish origin and was one of the pupils of the respected English portrait painter John Riley (1646-1691), whose portrait of Thomas Otway was in Chesterfield’s collection. Murray’s portrayal of Wycherley in Senate House Library complements other examples of his work close by in central London, in the National Portrait Gallery, the Royal Society, the Royal College of Physicians, and a picture of Queen Anne at the Middle Temple. Horace Walpole in his brief description of Murray in Anecdotes of Painting in England (1761) highlights this particular portrait: ‘At the Royal Society is a picture of Dr. Halley by him, and the Earl of Halifax had one of Wycherley’. George Vertue recorded it as one of the pictures bought by Chesterfield at the sale of pictures from Lord Halifax’s collection in 1739/40 (4th day, lot 18) as follows: ‘Wycherley a head large wigg. Painted from the life by Murray’.
Wycherley was a Restoration dramatist whose plays are highly regarded for their acute social criticism, particularly of sexual morality and marriage conventions. A friendship with Alexander Pope, who edited many of his writings, ensures that he sits well in the coterie of Chesterfield’s pictures of writers. Chesterfield admired his writings. On 4 June 1737, opposing as ‘injurious to poet, player and public’ a bill to regulate theatrical entertainments, Chesterfield protested: ‘… if this bill should pass into a law, a Wycherley or a Congreve will never rise again on the English stage’.
In Sterling’s library, Wycherley is represented by a presentation copy of his Miscellany Poems of 1704, and by his Dramatic Works (1768)
Lord Chesterfield bought this picture from the sale of Lord Halifax’s collection in 1739/40 (4th day, lot 18), where the antiquary and engraver George Vertue recorded it as: ‘Mr Otway—a well painted picture, by Riley, the original’. In 1748, describing Lord Chesterfield’s desire for portraits in his library, Vertue singled out this picture: ‘amongst he has some originals from the life he bought at several times from Ld Oxford, Lord Hallifaxs collection, &c. one particularly of Otway. Painted by Ryley—from the life’. Artistically, this portrait is the most important in Chesterfield’s collection. It is one of just three originals. The artist, the celebrated portrait painter John Riley (1646-1691), painted pictures of Charles II and James II, served as court painter to William III and Mary II, and was for the final decade of his life rivalled as England’s leading portraitist only by Sir Godfrey Kneller. Horace Walpole in his Anecdotes of Painting in England (1761) called Riley ‘one of the best native painters that has flourished in England’ and wrote of the comparison with Kneller: ‘With a quarter of Sir Godfrey’s vanity, he might have persuaded the world that he was as great a master’. Most importantly, this is the only known portrait of Otway to exist.
Chesterfield’s opinion of the playwright and poet Thomas Otway does not appear to be recorded in his published writings, and Sir Louis Sterling acquired none of his work. The fund given by Sterling to plug gaps in his collection enabled Senate House Library subsequently to acquire the first edition of his Friendship in Fashion (1678), seventeenth-century editions of The Atheist (1684) and of his most famous play, Venice Preserv’d, (1696), and his Works (1757).
According to David Piper, this is probably one of the portraits of poets commissioned by Lord Chesterfield. But the third Earl of Chesterfield as Prior’s patron had sent Prior money in return for some verses and a portrait, so perhaps the fourth earl inherited the portrait commissioned by his father. The painter of the original portrait was Jonathan Richardson (1667-1775), commissioned to do so by Edward Harley, later 2nd Earl of Oxford, in 1718. The original was copied many times. Richardson, who painted the picture of Nicholas Rowe among the Chesterfield portraits, could himself be responsible for the Chesterfield copy.
The poet and diplomat Matthew Prior was arguably England’s leading poet for the decade between John Dryden’s death in 1700 and the emergence of Alexander Pope. He is closely linked with several other subjects of the Chesterfield portraits. He wrote a satire on Dryden’s The Hind and Panther; wrote an ode ‘On Exodus III,14’ in the style of Abraham Cowley which itself was echoed in parts of Pope’s Essay on Man; was a member of the Kit-Kat Club, whose members included Joseph Addison and William Congreve; and was friendly with Jonathan Swift. It was Pope who advised on bringing out a folio edition of Prior’s works, published by subscription.
A connection between the fourth earl and Prior or his works is not evident. Sir Louis Sterling possessed, alongside the portrait, the first, unauthorised, editions both of Prior’s Poems on Several Occasions (1707) and his A Second Collection of Poems on Several Occasions (1716). Within Senate House Library more widely, other editions of Prior are to be found in the general special collections and as additions to Sterling’s library. Those that stand out are a small three-volume edition (1777) among Cecil Crofton’s collection of little books, and two issues (normal and large-paper) of the Selected Poems of Matthew Prior (1889) edited by Austin Dobson, from a near-complete collection of Dobson’s output.
Charles Jervas (1675-1739) was a member of the literary circle of Addison, Pope, and Swift, and from 1723 until the end of his life served as the king’s painter. One of his major works was a half-length picture of ‘Dean Swift by Mr Jarvis’, which was among the portraits owned by Edward Harley, 2nd Earl of Oxford, sold in 1741/2, and which was purchased by the National Portrait Gallery in 1869. The Chesterfield portrait is presumably a copy of this portrait, made to Chesterfield’s desired size.
Chesterfield rated Swift extremely highly. He showed acquaintance with his work by discoursing upon the flappers in Gulliver’s Travels in a letter to his son of 22 September 1749. He urged the Secretary of State later that year to read Swift: ‘You have with you three ‘or four of the best English authors, Dryden, Atterbury, and Swift: read them with the utmost care …’. Telling his son: ‘A gentleman should know those which I call classical works, in every language’, he names Swift, alongside Dryden and Pope, as examples of those in English (letter of 2 March, 1752), and in a letter the Dublin bookseller Alderman Faulkner of 25 March 1769 he describes Swift as having ‘benefited and improved mankind’.
Like Chesterfield, Sir Louis Sterling thought well of Swift. He owned, alongside a first edition of Travels into Several Remote Nations of the World – i.e. Gulliver’s Travels -- (1726), first editions of A Tale of a Tub (1704), the periodical The Examiner (1710-1711), A Complete Collection of Genteel and Ingenious Conversation (1738), the posthumous The History of the Four Last Years of the Queen (1758), and a couple of pamphlets. Best of all was a presentation copy to Swift of Letters of Mr. Alexander Pope, and Several of his Friends (1737), in which the inscription documents the relationship between the two men: ‘To my Dear Friend Dr Swift. A Pope, 1737’.
This portrait was presumably copied for Lord Chesterfield from the picture painted by Sir Godfrey Kneller on commission from the bookseller Jacob Tonson for the Kit-Cat Club, of which Addison was a leading member. The original is now in the National Portrait Gallery.
As a friend of Alexander Pope and Jonathan Swift, Joseph Addison is part of the côterie represented by a subset of the Chesterfield portraits. Lord Chesterfield met Addison at Hampton Court in September 1717. He thought very highly of him intellectually, writing to his son on 9 October 1747: ‘I used to think myself in company as much above me, when I was with Mr. Addison and Mr. Pope, as if I had been with all the Princes in Europe’.
Addison’s representation in Sterling’s library is tangential, as one of the subjects of Samuel Johnson’s Lives of the Most Eminent English Poets (1781). The trust fund left by Sterling to add to his collection allowed the Library subsequent to purchase Remarks on Several Parts of Italy, &c (1705) and A Discourse on Antient and Modern Learning (1734).
Lord Chesterfield was friendly with and thought highly of Alexander Pope. Pope is the only literary personage to feature in Chesterfield’s Characters, where he received the highest of praise: ‘I will say nothing of his works; they speak sufficiently for themselves; they will live as long as letters and taste shall remain in this country, and be more and more admired, as envy and resentment shall subside’. Chesterfield wrote to his son: ‘I used to think myself in company as much above me, when I was with Mr. Addison and Mr. Pope, as if I had been with all the Princes in Europe’ (9 October 1747), and told the boy that a gentleman should know them, as English classics: ‘These sort of books adorn the mind, improve the fancy, are frequently alluded to by, and are often the subjects of conversations of, the best companies’ (2 March 1752). In a letter to Anne-Marie Du Boccage of 20 May 1751 he termed Pope one of ‘the ornaments of our nation’. Pope, for his part, praised Chesterfield’s ‘Attic wit’ in his Epilogue to the Satires: Dialogue II. Chesterfield probably commissioned this portrait of Pope, as a copy of a portrait executed in several versions by Sir Godfrey Kneller.
In Sir Louis Sterling’s library Pope’s portrait complemented the first editions of single poems (Windsor-Forest; Ode for Musick; The Rape of the Lock; The Dunciad) and Pope’s translation of Homer published in 1931 by the Nonesuch Press, a private press in London. Particularly noteworthy is a copy of the Letter of Mr. Alexander Pope and Several of his Friends (1737) from a made-up set of Pope’s works. Pope inscribed this volume: ‘To my Dear Friend Dr. Swift … 1737’; Swift’s portrait is also in the Chesterfield Collection. Other early editions of Pope’s work are present throughout Senate House Library’s named and general special collections, especially translations of Homer within Cecil Crofton’s collection of little books.
For a full discussion of portraits of Pope, see W.K. Wimsatt, The Portraits of Alexander Pope (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1965).
George Vertue in his notebooks recorded the sale to Lord Chesterfield of ‘Congreve by Sr. G. Kneller the same as is printed’ from the sale in 1739/40 of Lord Halifax’s pictures (first day, lot 14). It is a copy or studio repetition of Kneller’s Kitcat Club portrait (1709), now in the National Portrait Gallery.
Chesterfield evidently read the output of the playwright William Congreve, writing in one letter to his son: ‘Congreve points out a sort of critics to whom he says that we are doubly obliged:
Rules for good writing they with pains indite,
Then show us what is bad, by what they write
(23 June 1752), and stating in another that University men undertaking trips to the Continent ‘refined and polished (as it is said in one of Congreve’s plays) like Dutch skippers from a whale-fishing’ (27 May, 1753). Earlier, objecting in 1737 to a bill to regulate theatrical entertainments, he had complained that such a law would prevent a Wycherley or Congreve from ever rising again on the English stage.
Like Chesterfield, Sir Louis Sterling, too, appreciated Congreve. Sterling’s ownership of the portrait complements his ownership of first editions of The Double Dealer (1694) and The Way of the World (1700), the sixth edition of his Works (1753), and a further edition of The Way of the World printed on Japanese vellum (1928), the earliest publication of the private Haymarket Press.
Jonathan Richardson (1667-1775), who copied this painting of Sir Godfrey Kneller’s (recorded in the St Quentin family collection at Scampston Hall), is famed for his authorship of the first significant work of artistic theory in English, The Theory of Painting (1715): it is this work which inspired Joshua Reynolds to become an artist. The prolific Richardson was also one of the most successful English-born portraitists of the early eighteenth century. Horace Walpole, who admired Richardson’s writings to the extent that he republished them at his Strawberry Hill Press, viewed Richardson as ‘undoubtedly one of the best English painters of a head, that had appeared in this country’, whilst believing that: ‘he drew nothing well below the head, and was devoid of imagination’ (Anecdotes of Painting, p. 413). Chesterfield probably bought the portrait at the sale of portraits owned by Edward Harley, 2nd Earl of Oxford: George Vertue noted that Boden, Chesterfield’s agent, bought ‘Mr Rowe 3 qrs by Mr Richardson’ there for £1.12s.6d.
The portrait sat well in Chesterton’s collection, Rowe having known Pope and Addison. Chesterfield read his plays, writing to the Scottish author David Mallet on 27 November 1745: ‘I consider a Highlander … as Rowe does a Lord’, with reference to Jane Shore. He mentioned Jane Shore more explicitly in a letter of 25 September 1750 introducing the Earl of Huntingdon: ‘He is … of the illustrious family of Hastings, that acts so considerable a part in the tragedy of Jane Shore, which I am sure you must have read, written by Rowe, the author of the Fair Penitent’.
Rowe is not represented in Sir Louis Sterling’s library, perhaps because his status is less canonical than that of several other subjects of the Chesterfield portraits. Senate House Library acquired its early-eighteenth-century editions of dramas by Rowe and his landmark multi-volume, illustrated, octavo edition of the plays of Shakespeare from the library of the Baconian Sir Edwin Durning-Lawrence. The second issue of Rowe’s edition of Shakespeare was one of the earliest purchases made to enrich the Sterling Library after Sterling’s death.