How one filing cabinet held 500 years of history

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ONE OF the greatest collections of historical letters ever amassed has been found in a laundry room.

Susannah Morris was called in to examine the hoard after the death of the secretive collector and was astonished to be led not into a library or a safe room but to the basement.

In the laundry room, wedged between a washing machine and a tumble dryer, was a plain metal filing cabinet. Miss Morris, who works for the auction house Christie's, opened it and could not believe her eyes.

Inside was the most remarkable collection of letters she had seen outside a national institution: a love letter by Napoleon; a diplomatic note to the king of France in the hand of Elizabeth I; a letter of condolence by John Donne; a tragic account written in 1545 by John Calvin, the theologian of the Reformation, about the suicide of a friend; and a withering letter by Charlotte Brontë on male shortcomings.

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