A LETTER written by the original 'man of letters' Dr Samuel Johnson has been discovered after being lost for nearly 250 years.

The find was a complete surprise to the owner and auctioneers brought in to value books and rugs at an ancestral home in Gloucestershire.

Literary giant Dr Johnson compiled the first English dictionary and wrote countless essays and letters in his lifetime.

He penned the three-page letter to the daughter of a renowned British author and friend in 1783.

It was known about and had been reproduced but the whereabouts of the original were unknown.

Now it could fetch up to £12,000 at auction.

Also hidden amongst the cache of newly unearthed relics were letters written by famous actors of the day and books signed by former Mayors of London.

A series of 30 letters between famed author and diarist Hester Lynch Thrale and her youngest daughter Sophia Thrale - the recipient of Dr Johnson's letter - will also feature at auction house Chorley's sale later this month and are expected to fetch up to £20,000.

Stroud News and Journal: The letters were found in a cupboard in the library an ancestral home in Gloucestershire The letters were found in a cupboard in the library an ancestral home in Gloucestershire (Image: Chorley’s auction house)

Samuel Johnson (1709-84), often referred to simply as Dr Johnson, was a renowned poet, playwright, essayist, moralist, literary critic, sermonist, biographer, editor, and lexicographer.

His 1755 book A Dictionary of the English Language is considered one of the single greatest achievements of scholarship.

Dr Johnson's letter to the young Sophia Thrale had been logged as 'present location unknown' for around two centuries, despite its contents being published in The Letters of Samuel Johnson in 1994.

But it was recently rediscovered by complete coincidence during a routine valuation by Chorley's auction specialists.

Dr Johnson was in regular correspondence with young Sophia's mother, British author and patron of the arts Hester Lynch Thrale, and their letters later provided important insights in 18th-century society.

The pair first became acquainted when Hester, who hailed from one of the most illustrious Welsh land-owning dynasties, the Salusbury family, married brewer Henry Thrale in 1763 and moved to London, where she met leading literary figures such as Dr Johnson, who became close friends with her and her children.

Stroud News and Journal: They will be sold at auction by Chorley’s in SeptemberThey will be sold at auction by Chorley’s in September (Image: Chorley's Auctioneers)

The 1783 letter is the only known correspondence between Dr Johnson and Hester's sixth daughter, Sophia, to have survived - though references to others are found elsewhere.

Detailing the circumstances in which the shock discovery was made, Werner Freundel, Director at Chorley’s auction house, explained: "Initially, I was asked to value a collection of books and rugs for a family who had recently taken over their ancestral family home.

"I spent a long afternoon between the library and drawing room, collating volumes of Tillotson, Defoe, Kipling and Scott that had been separated throughout the years, during their time in the various generations of the family.

"One of the cupboards in the library yielded several manuscript volumes detailing the household expenditure during the late 18th and 19th centuries.

"There were also fascinating diaries, accounts of society gossip, family feuds about inheritance, as well as advice on etiquette, marriage, and grumbles about failing health.

"I then came across a volume of over 100 letters that the family weren’t aware of and I asked if I could take them away to go through.

"Later, alongside a manuscript specialist, we examined everything in more depth and it wasn’t long before our curiosity was piqued by the mention of Sarah Siddons, Hester Thrale-Piozzi, several members of the Hoare banking family and Samuel Johnson.

"Finally, a letter from and signed by the famous Dr Johnson appeared towards the end of the volume.

"We were thrilled to discover that it was a missing letter written by Dr Johnson himself to Sophia Lynch Thrale, which is currently listed as ‘current location unknown.’

"We felt honoured to handle such a historic document by one of the greatest contributors to the history of English.

"Johnson developed what we know as the English dictionary, not as a student’s tool, but as a literary work.

"His creation of the English dictionary was the impetus for all subsequent dictionary genres.

"It is a complete mystery as to how the letters came into possession of the family, but they were found with another volume on the Laws of London, signed by Robert Hoare - Banker and once Mayor of London - so one can assume there is a link between the current family and the Hoare banking family.

"We look forward to offering this exceptional historical correspondence alongside an array of printed books and manuscripts in a sale titled The Library: Printed Books & Manuscripts at Chorley’s on Tuesday 19th September 2023."

Other letters discovered at the same Gloucestershire property include a series of 30 letters between Hester Lynch Thrale and her daughter Sophia, written between 1805-and 1821 when Sophia had married the banker Henry Merrick Hoare (1770-1826).

Within the same box was a selection of other letters mostly to Sophia from stage actress Sarah Siddons (1755- 1831). 

This selection also carries an estimate of between £15,000 and £20,000.