1902 Encyclopedia > Autograph


AUTOGRAPH (_____ and _____), that which is written with a person's own hand, an original manuscript as opposed to an apograph or copy, is used to designate either a whole document (e.g., a letter) or a signature only. The latter is perhaps the more common use of the term. The interest attaching to the possession of autographs of distinguished men, which has created a new branch of industry, is partly historical, partly psychological. The signatures or original manuscripts are interesting and valuable elements in the representation of the life of any individual; and it has been thought that from the autograph, some conclusions might be drawn as to the mental characteristics of the writer. It is doubtless true that temperament will in some degree affect handwriting, but the conditions to be taken into account are so numerous and variable that the attempt to infer the one from the other seems practically hopeless. Poe, in his ingenious "Chapter on Autography" (Works, Ed. Ingram, voL iv.), apeaks very strongly on this subject. He thinks that none but the unreflecting can deny " that a strong analogy does generally and naturally exist between every man's chirography and character," and to support his statement compares the signatures and mental characteristics of a large number of contemporary American writers. In many cases, however, he is obliged to confess that no inference whatever can be drawn, in some others the analogy is extremely forced, and in others, again, the knowledge of the writer's character has evidently furnished the key for the interpretation of the handwriting. The value placed by an amateur on any autograph will, of course, vary with the celebrity of its author and the scarcity of genuine specimens. The taste for collecting autographs is not confined to modern times ; many large collections, e.g., those of Loménie de Brienne, of Lacroix du Maine, and others, were formed in the 16th century, and during the same period we know that albums used to be carried about for the purpose of obtaining the signatures of famous personages. One of these albums preserved in the British Museum is of date 1578. There are at present many valuable public and private collections, while state papers and archives, of course, contain a rich harvest of royal and noble signatures. Fac-siiniles of original manuscripts appear firat to have been printed in Forbes's Full View of the Publie Transactions in the Reign of Queen Elizabeth, 1740-41 ; and soon after, several were given in Fenn's Original Letters from the Archives of the Paston Family, 1787.

The following are, perhaps, the most useful works on the subject :—J. G. Nichol's Autographs of Royal, Noble, Learned, and Remarkable Personages conspicuous in English History, from the Reign of Richard II. to that of Charles II., Lond. 1829 ; Autographic Mirror, 1864, sqq.; Netherelift, Handbook of Autographs; Phillips and îfetherelift, Autographic Album; Simms, Autographic Souvenir; Netherclift and Simms, Autographic Miscellany; Isographie des Hommes Célèbres, 4 vols. 1829-43; Iconographie des Contemporains, 2 vols. 1823-32; Feuillet de Conches, Causeries d'un Cwrwux, 3 vols. 1862-64; Lescure, Les Autographes, 1865; Günther und Schulz, Handbuch für Autographensammler, 1856; Sammlung his-torisch berühmter Autographen, 1846 ; Autographen Album zur 200 jähr. Gedächtnissfeier des Westphälischen Friedens-schlusses, 1848.

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