Dear Fanny, love Keats

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The Independent Online
(First Edition)

A LETTER from Jane Austen to her sister discussing a forthcoming ball and complaining that she has a cold and a sore eye is among a cache of documents that will go on exhibition this week.

The show will also include a letter from Keats to his fiancee, Fanny Brawne, written when he was dying of tuberculosis, one from Byron settling a pounds 20 gambling debt, and another from Charlotte Bronte to her publisher about money owed.

Besides these and letters from other great writers, there is correspondence from Napoleon, Nelson and the composer Berlioz.

The letters, discovered six years ago after more than 50 years lying forgotten in a cupboard, will be on show from Thursday at Torquay Natural History Museum. They are part of a collection of more than 1,500 documents left to Torquay Natural History Society in 1934 by Hester Forbes-Julian. Their monetary value has been conservatively estimated at pounds 250,000.

The highlight - both in monetary value and popular appeal - is a three-page letter from Jane Austen to her sister Cassandra, dated 8 January 1799.

The letters came to light when a student on a community scheme was cleaning out the cupboards at the Natural History Society's building. A member of the society subsequently realised their importance.

Mrs Forbes-Julian was the daughter of a renowned Victorian geologist, William Pengelly. She became a member of the Natural History Society as a child, and after the death of her husband in the Titanic disaster devoted herself to her collection of letters and signatures.