Edward Bulwer-Lytton

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Edward Bulwer-Lytton

Edward Bulwer-Lytton Autograph Letter Signed - 1862

Autograph Letter Signed dated May 4, 1862, addressed to Mrs. Patrick Colquhoun, wife of the British diplomat and Counsel to Queen Victoria. Paper and signature are in good condition, mounting removal traces on reverse, some toning.

Bulwer-Lytton had appointed the recipient’s husband, Sir Patrick Colquhoun, to the Supreme Council of Justice of the Ionian Islands (the “islands” of which he speaks in this letter) in 1858, where he became Chief Justice of the Court in 1861, and in 1868 was appointed as Counsel to Queen Victoria. He was also a member of the Order of the Temple and associated with fringe Freemasonry.

Reads in full:

May 4, 1862

Dear Mrs. Colquhoun,

I am very much obliged by your kind note. I have been out of town for a fortnight & count on staying here about a fortnight longer & being then in town till the middle of June. I am glad to hear Sir Patrick is well. The islands I am told make a good show in the exhibition.

Yrs truly,
EB Lytton

EDWARD GEORGE EARLE LYTTON BULWER-LYTTON, 1st Baron Lytton (1803-1873) was an English novelist, poet, playwright, and politician. Lord Lytton was a florid, popular writer of his day, who coined such phrases as “the great unwashed”, “pursuit of the almighty dollar”, “the pen is mightier than the sword”, and the infamous incipit “It was a dark and stormy night.” Despite his popularity in his heyday, today his name is known as a byword for bad writing. San Jose State University’s annual Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest for bad writing is named after him.

SIR PATRICK COLQUHOUN (1815-1891) was a British diplomat, legal writer and sculler who was considered the father of Cambridge rowing. He was also a noted linguist and well respected in the literary world and became a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature.

Although he was popular in his day, Lord Lytton’s prose strikes many contemporary readers as anachronistic and overly embellished, though at least one of his works (The Last Days of Pompeii) is still regularly read. His name lives on in the annual Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest, in which contestants have to supply terrible openings of imaginary novels, inspired by his novel Paul Clifford, which opens with the famous words:“It was a dark and stormy night”;or to give the sentence in its full glory:

“It was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell in torrents—except at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of wind which swept up the streets (for it is in London that our scene lies), rattling along the housetops, and fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the lamps that struggled against the darkness.”

Entrants in the contest seek to capture the rapid changes in point of view, the florid language, and the atmosphere of the full sentence.

Edward Bulwer-Lytton

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