Thomas Bruce, Earl of Elgin (1599-1663) was keen to acquire a portrait that he had heard was a masterpiece, the sitter being someone he admired. He was anxious this new treasure would not be spoiled in transit.
He sent these instructions to his cousin Alexander Bruce at the Hague on 15 September 1659. Bruce had told him the picture was good, based on the testimony of his correspondent at Antwerp. Elgin had already instructed another agent to buy the picture, but had lost touch with him.
The letter is in a small collection of the correspondence of Alexander Bruce, 2nd Earl of Kincardine in the National Library of Scotland.
For my worthie cousin Mr Alexander Bruce at Mr Rosches house in the Hague
In this my great and long continued indisposition; I cannot dispence with my selfe in not returning your heartie thanks for your last most civill letter, Or in not taking notice of the Subject theis concerning the picture of a person who was so dear to mee, as it cannot bee thought too deere in value though a greater price should be demanded, that in this according to your letter, yow are pleased to say yow will be pleased with the greatest caution to procure it at as easie a rate as possibly yow can, by the meanes of your correspondent at Antwerpe, which I freely and fully looke to your management , expecting the fruit therof as soone as may be convenient, declineing the other way I had formerly sett on foote, having had no accompt of itt in point of tyme as desired, Whether by the miscarriage of letters, or otherwise, I know not.
And what money is to be disbursed therein, according to the best bargaine can bee made I upon notice from yow, at sight shal bee paid here at London, to whatsoever person or Merchand yow shall appoint, or in any other manner you shall direct without your trouble in disbusing the same.
I have knowne manie good pictures defaced & spoiled either through the Ignorance or negligence of such as were trusted to pake them up for carrage and therefore I desire such Care [margin] may bee taken & bred in this particularly as the least prejudice may not bee done to a picture I value so much in the conveyance thereof into England to my hands. Assureing my selfe upon the knowledge you have received from others that it is the Originall by Van Dycke withoute dispute or controversie, or else the rate which is sete to bee given were unprejudiciall [p. 2] if it should happen to bee only a Copy or anothers hand:
I may only adde for your satisfaction; that the party I had first employed, hath not foyled the business, being a sober discreet friend, so as upon that accompt yow need not feare that the demand may be heightened, in case his letter should not bee miscarried, which hee hath had no anshe [sic] of, though writtin home months agoe.
I have pressed too long upon your patience , wherein I desire your excuse, that subject leading mee unto itt, Beeing though nott in a state of health yet constantly in the state of
Rohampton Your affectionate Cousin & Servant,
September 15th 1659 Elgin
I [?] againe, that Care may bee takin in the transporting of the said picture, for the safety & preservation of itt that ther may bee no Cracks or wrinkles in the painting, having had some pictures of my owne spoiled in that kind.