Dear Mr Murray
Letters to a Gentleman Publisher
By David McClay
To celebrate the 250th anniversary of John Murray, a sparkling anthology of letters from John Murray authors to their publisher
The publishing house of John Murray was founded in Fleet Street in 1768 and remained a family firm over seven generations. Published to coincide with this 'remarkable achievement' and in the anniversary year, Dear Mr Murray is a collection of some of the best letters from the hundreds of thousands held in the John Murray Archive. They reveal not only the story of some of the most interesting and influential books in history but also the remarkable friendships - as well as occasional animosities - between author and publisher, as well as readers, editors, printers and illustrators.
Despite the incredible number of letters that were retained by the Murray family, some failed to arrive, others were delayed and some barely survived, but longevity added to the reputation and fame of John Murray and a correspondent in Canada who addressed his letter merely to 'John Murray, The World-wide famous Book & Publishing House, London, England' as early as 1932 could be confident that his letter would arrive.
Intended to entertain and inspire, and spanning more than two hundred years, Dear Mr Murray is full of literary history and curiosities: from Charles Darwin's response to the negative reviews of On the Origin of Species to Adrian Conan Doyle challenging Harold Nicolson to a duel for insulting his father in the press; from David Livingstone's displeasure at the proposed drawing of a lion to represent his near-death encounter in Missionary Travels to William Makepeace Thackeray apologising for his drunken behaviour; from Byron berating John Murray for being fooled by his girlfriend's forgery of his signature to the poet James Hogg so desperate for money that he claims he won't be able to afford a Christmas goose; and from Jane Austen expressing concern about printing delays to Patrick Leigh Fermor beseeching Jock Murray not to visit him until he'd completed A Time of Gifts. Complemented by illustrations and reproductions of letters and envelopes, this is the perfect gift for book lovers everywhere.
David McClay is former senior curator of the John Murray Archive at the National Library of Scotland (2006-16) and now works at the University of Edinburgh. He is a trustee of Abbotsford, the home of Sir Walter Scott, and has been involved in numerous national and international exhibitions on Byron and other Romantic-era themes, on which subjects he also speaks and lecturers. A great letter enthusiast, David himself doesn't write as many letters as he should.
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- Publication date:
18 Oct 2018
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Attractively arranged, given ample context, and a diverting read — Sunday Telegraph
Few if any names in publishing are as revered as John Murray . . . This book, compiled to celebrate the company's 250th anniversary is just a small sampling of that treasure trove . . .Whether angry, apologetic, wheedling or rude, the fondness and regard in which the Murrays were held by their correspondents shines through — Herald
Writers writing about books has always made for compelling reading. Writers writing about their own books in private correspondence to their publisher tends to produce a particular kind of letter. There is passion, conviction, fluency, doubt, deference, sometimes frustration and anger, maybe even gratitude. The letters in Dear Mr Murray . . . show these qualities and more . . . this collection brings [Murray's] salad days inexorably to life — Scottish Review of Books
As well as allowing us glimpses behind the public faces of some exalted authors, McClay has paid tribute here to a remarkable line whose shared name became synonymous with a sense of responsibility to their company, their authors and literature itself — Nation