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Museum gifted rare copy Thomas Paine’s Right of Man

PUBLISHED: 17:19 27 February 2017 | UPDATED: 13:48 28 February 2017

A rare French edition of Thomas Paine's book, Rights of Man, has been presented to the Ancient House Museum of Thetford Life. Picture: Ian Burt

A rare French edition of Thomas Paine's book, Rights of Man, has been presented to the Ancient House Museum of Thetford Life. Picture: Ian Burt

Archant 2017

A rare French edition of work by one of Thetford’s most famous sons has been gifted back to his home town.

Curator Oliver Bone with a rare French edition of Thomas Paine's book, Rights of Man, which has been presented to the Ancient House Museum of Thetford Life. Picture: Ian Burt Curator Oliver Bone with a rare French edition of Thomas Paine's book, Rights of Man, which has been presented to the Ancient House Museum of Thetford Life. Picture: Ian Burt

Written in support of the ideas of the French Revolution, Thomas Paine’s Rights of Man was widely read throughout the world.

A copy which was published in 1791 and translated in French as Droits de l’Homme was presented to the town’s Ancient House Museum to add to its Paine collection.

Oliver Bone, curator of the museum, said to have a direct link to France’s revolutionary times will be a great asset to the museum.

He said: “It is very powerful to think that someone had the book in their home through the turbulent times of the period. It is very evocative.

A rare French edition of Thomas Paine's book, Rights of Man, has been presented to the Ancient House Museum of Thetford Life. Picture: Ian Burt A rare French edition of Thomas Paine's book, Rights of Man, has been presented to the Ancient House Museum of Thetford Life. Picture: Ian Burt

“He [Paine] lived up the road and walked past this building, when it was a house, every day on his way to school.”

He added he hoped the book would help to “spark the interest” in people about Thomas Paine.

Born in Thetford in 1737, the political activist became a major figure in both the American and French Revolutions.

The rare edition of the book was discovered at an auction by Portuguese literature and English teacher José António Soares da Silva, who had visited Thetford’s Trade fair in 2014.

Curator Oliver Bone with a rare French edition of Thomas Paine's book, Rights of Man, which has been presented to the Ancient House Museum of Thetford Life. Picture: Ian Burt Curator Oliver Bone with a rare French edition of Thomas Paine's book, Rights of Man, which has been presented to the Ancient House Museum of Thetford Life. Picture: Ian Burt

Having met with then town mayor Sylvia Armes and her husband Colin, and the then chairman of Breckland Council Robert Kybird, he had learned the history of Paine and contacted Mr Kybird about selling the book, so it could be given to Thetford.

He said he thought the museum was “the right place” for the book to go to.

It was purchased for the museum by the Thomas Paine Society UK, the Friends of Thetford Museum and the Tom Paine Legacy Group.

Dave Ward, secretary of the Thomas Paine Society UK, said: “I think a French copy, when Paine wrote it in agreement with the French Revolution, is more important than an English copy. And to think that the book was handled during the revolution - it fascinates me.”

A rare French edition of Thomas Paine's book, Rights of Man, has been presented to the Ancient House Museum of Thetford Life. Picture: Ian Burt A rare French edition of Thomas Paine's book, Rights of Man, has been presented to the Ancient House Museum of Thetford Life. Picture: Ian Burt

Stuart Wright, chairman of the Tom Paine Legacy Group, added: “From our perspective it is great to have the book.

“He is Thetford’s most famous son whether you love or loathe him.”

Have you got a story? Email rebecca.murphy@archant.co.uk

Who was Thomas Paine?

• Thomas Paine was born in Thetford in 1737

• He attended Thetford Grammar School between 1744-49.

• Between 1750-1757 he was an apprentice to his father as a stay maker

• In 1774 he met Benjamin Franklin who inspired him to go to America.

• He became a journalist with the Pennsylvania Magazine in the US in 1775.

• In 1776 he published Common Sense and the first part of American Crisis.

• He helped to start the French Revolution in 1789 with his pamphlet writing.

• In 1782 he became a French citizen and was elected to the National Convention,

• 1791 Rights of Man was published, It was the bestselling pamphlet ever.

• Age of Reason was published in Boston in 1795. It is about Paine reading the Bible and not agreeing with it.

• Paine ended up isolated and destitute, with only seven mourners attending his funeral in 1809.

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