Two Autograph Letters Signed from J. P. S. Bicknell of Hoxton, as 'amanuensis' to the widow of the London bookseller Robert Greaves Ibbett, offering the Liberal MP Samuel Morley a manuscript and painting said to be of Dr Isaac Watts.

J. P. S. Bicknell of Hoxton [Samuel Morley (1809-1886), businessman and Liberal MP for Bristol, 1868-1885; Robert Greaves Ibbett, London bookseller and picture dealer; Dr Isaac Watts (1674-1748)]
Publication details: 
Both letters from 24 Northport-street, St. John's Road, Hoxton [Hackney, London]. 8 July and 4 September 1874.
SKU: 13228

Both items in good condition, on aged and lightly-creased paper. Both written in a close and somewhat shaky hand, and addressed to 'Respected Sir'. Letter One: 8 July 1874. 3pp., 12mo. Bifolium. Bicknell explains that the 'widow of a bookseller, (R. G. Ibbett, who, for many years, dealt in original and rare works, in the City of London,) has in her possession the Psalms and Hymns of Dr. Isaac Watts, in his own handwriting (bound). This MS. was shown (together with a well-executed oil-painting of the Doctor,) to the late Dr. Pye Smith [(1774-1851)], Tutor at Homerton College, Hackney, thinking he might be induced to purchase them - the price asked for the Book and Portrait was £20.' According to Bicknell, Smith satisfied himself that the manuscript was genuine, by comparing it with 'some manuscripts he possessed of this gifted divine [...] and said, he had never heard, or believed, that Dr. Watts had written a second book of his Psalms and Hymns, therefore, he gave it as his opinion that it was his exclusive penmanship; and said, further, that he would have purchased both the MS. and the Painting of the Dr. but for his limited means, yet advised the bookseller not to dispose of them under easier terms, which appeared to him not above their value.' Bicknell describes three points of 'peculiar originality about the manuscript', before turning to the painting, which is 'inclosed in a rich gilt carved frame, the Doctor being represented holding a book, on the back of which is a mottoe, [sic] selected from Ephesians iii.8.' Bicknell concludes by stating that Mrs Ibbett, who resides at 'No. 13, Llewellyn House, Bishop Road, Cassland Crescent, South Hackney', will part with the two items for the same sum at which they were offered to Smith. Letter Two: 4 September 1874. 2pp., 12mo. 'I am sorry to say, that I can furnish no other proof of the integrity of Dr. Watts' own hand-writing of his Psalms and Hymns than the MS. you have in your possession, relying, most unreservedly, on Dr. Pye Smith's judgment and veracity of statement; and, that when he compared it with the manuscripts he had at Homerton College, he was fully convinced that the M.S. book was written by himself, and no other person than Dr. Watts. [...] With respect to the genuineness of the Portrait persons might differ, without being able to assign good reason for their scepticism; but from numerous engravings, &c. I have seen of Dr. Watts. that the Oil Painting now submitted to you is his likeness, though it may be assumed taken in middle life'. He has been asked by Mrs Ibbett to state that 'it is only under needy circumstances that she is induced to dispose of the MS. and Portrait.' In a postscript Bicknell adds that 'Toplady's Hymns, in M.S., which, it is said, he used in his pulpit, (about 1740) in his own-handwriting, was disposed of for 18 guineas'. There is no indication that Morley purchased the two items. Athough previously respectable, the addresses given for Bicknell and Mrs Ibbett were by the time of writing both in notorious neighbourhoods, and although the two letters seem genuine, they may well represent an attempt at a confidence trick. It is not without interest that Bicknell is writing from Hackney on behalf of another Hackney resident, to a man born in Hackney. The National Portrait Gallery does not possess a painting of Watts corresponding to the one described in the first letter.