Last blog (but more to follow…)

Posted May 31, 2012 3:05 pm by Lauren Forbes | Permalink

It’s my last day with the John Murray Archive. I’m rushing around a bit and clearing desk and sorting out odds and ends. But I simply have to take time out to say what an absolute privilege it has been to work on this collection. It is simply awesome – so full of treasures, surprises, mysteries, clarifications, stories, hints, deep thoughts, trivial thoughts, humour, tragedy, I could go on and on: it is pure gold. I’ve already covered some of my favourites in other posts here:

James Hogg, the Ettrick Shepherd, with his forthright, friendly and hugely entertaining letters;

Eleanor Farjeon, wisely and humbly accepting a rejection letter, but one containing encouragement that made her keep trying;

Florence Hardy making reference to somewhat obscure poet Charlotte Mew, described by Thomas Hardy as “the one woman of genius writing today”;

two letters from eager schoolboy James Francis Hewitt, pointing out a mistake in a Latin grammar – further research showing that his life was abruptly cut short in the First World War, and all that potential lost;

Earlier this week I looked out some of these favourites for visiting friends, and for the first time caught sight of the two letters of Jane Austen to John Murray II, writing about “Emma” and asking could Murray get the printers to hurry up. I was truly awestruck… I feel the same way about the Darwin letters, and love that crucial one which begins:

Dear Sir, I have heard with pleasure from Sir C. Lyell that you are inclined to publish my work on Origin of Species…

(That is from memory, so please forgive any small mistakes – no time to check!)

There are letters from highly eminent and well known correspondents, and letters from people who are completely unknown, and hard to identify. But they all add up to this unique and vastly valuable collection and resource. You can find out more about the archive here: But why not come in and see some of these letters for yourself? I doubt very much that you would leave disappointed. Meanwhile thank you for keeping up with this blog. More to follow as the work continues…

A publisher, his wife, the Titanic (and a portrait)

Posted April 13, 2012 4:13 pm by Lauren Forbes | Permalink

Hidden away among 34 correspondents with the surname Brown, in MS.40157, is John Murray Brown. He was an American publisher, of the firm Little, Brown & Co., which his father, James Brown, co-founded. As I tried to track down details for John Murray Brown, I kept coming across online links to his wife, Caroline Lane Brown, with a story of very current interest. Mrs Brown came over to England in 1912 with two sisters, to attend a family funeral. They set off home for America on 10th April 1912 from Southampton – on board the Titanic. Happily all 3 sisters survived the disaster. More details can be found here:

 I was also interested in James and John Brown themselves. James Brown visited John Murray II in 1841, and wrote to him from Liverpool before heading home for Boston:

I cannot leave the country without thanking you again for your kind attentions which have contributed more than any other circumstance to the pleasure I have enjoyed whilst here.

He kept in touch with John Murray III following the death of his father, writing in February 1846:

I take the earliest opportunity to thank you for your kind attention to my request that you would send me a copy of your lamented Father’s portrait. The painting came safely by the Cambria wh. arrived on the 19th of this month…

The painting has been very much admired by all who have seen it. But I beg you to believe that I set a value on it altogether independent of its merits as a painting and its great historical interest.

Later, the son John Murray Brown corresponded with John Murray IV in March 1892, sending a photo of the library at his house in Belmont, which John Murray IV had visited. (The photo is now missing). John Murray Brown is keen to point out that he is not quite as bald as the picture would seem to suggest, then adds:

 The portrait of your grandfather still hangs in its old place above the fireplace, a companion to that of my father.

 A strong transatlantic friendship was obviously in place.

Dying for a travel guide!

Posted February 3, 2012 10:21 am by Lauren Forbes | Permalink

Just how popular were the famed Murray travel handbooks? John Lothrop Motley (see previous blog) lets us know, writing to John Murray III in May 1867:

 I am dying for the Hand Book for Southern Germany, Tyrol & Switzerland. You were kind enough to give me a copy in 1861.

 A year or two ago I gave it to a desperate traveller from California whose pocket had just been picked of it & who wd have given its weight in gold for another – I made him a present of it & sent him away with tears of gratitude on his nose – You see what straits people are reduced to in consequence of the non publication of the new edition.

Booksellers are howling for it & travellers are picking pockets & having them picked. It can’t be bought. If you can find an old copy for my wife she will be deeply endebted.

 I like the way it is suddenly for his wife…

 John Murray III started up the travel handbooks, having travelled on the continent himself and having noticed the lack of good tourist guides with all the information so useful to travellers. He compiled some himself from his own travel diaries, and the handbooks took off, with various writers taking on the task – most notably Richard Ford, art connoisseur and author, whose remarkable “Handbook to Spain” was published in 1845. As well as eventually covering nearly all the continent, the handbooks reached further afield, with guides appearing for India, Japan and New Zealand. According to the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography entry on the Murrays, “Karl Baedeker … acknowledged his debt to the Murray model”.

 If you’d like to hear more about issues surrounding the sale of these fascinating travel guides, there is a free talk here at the National Library of Scotland on 15th March at 18.00 – more details, including how to book a place, are available here:

Happy New Year

Posted January 4, 2012 10:31 am by Lauren Forbes | Permalink

Or, as John Lothrop Motley, American historian and diplomat, put it to John Murray III, in his letter dated January 16, 1865:

Let me thank you sincerely for your kind wishes for the season & pray accept in return our best remembrances. May there be a long succession of MC’s and HNY’s for you & yours. May all your inclinations in this new year be fulfilled – provided always, as the parson in the Antiquary used to say to Miss Oldbuck, provided always that they are virtuous -

Better than the average New Year wishes – and generally his letters in the archive are equally good, and interesting, including his strong views on the American civil war. They can be found in MS.40853.

We will remember them

Posted November 11, 2011 11:51 am by Lauren Forbes | Permalink

Some of the letters in the John Murray Archive cover the years 1914-1918, and, understandably, many make reference to the war which was having a huge impact on people’s lives. To look at just three of these, firstly there’s a letter from L.H. Bliss who was an employee of the Murray firm. He sends a pencil-written letter to John Murray IV dated Feb 19 1915, address ‘H.G. 2nd Army’, and with a stamp “Passed by No. 186 Censor”. He thanks Murray for sending chocolate and meat lozenges. He seems to have a driving job, and although he is interested to hear of what’s happening elsewhere in the war, he finds his own situation

more laborious than exciting… only when one gets near the front line does life become interesting & they seldom let me nearer than 2 kilometers.

 Meanwhile Oxford historian Charles Fletcher, who wrote many letters to John Murray IV, wrote only two during the war years, in August 1918. He wants to bring out a pamphlet in response to a book strongly criticising “many mistakes made by the clergy…. by some 17 chaplains with the armies at the front”. His 18th August letter includes a sad PS:

You probably heard that our own nephew Christopher Schuster, Claud Schuster’s only son, was killed in action on Aug 10 – a great grief to us both, his mother my wife’s only sister.

It is hardly surprising that there was little correspondence from Fletcher during these war years. As the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography notes:

 He died at his Oxford home, Norham End, on 30 April 1934, and was survived by his wife and his eldest son, the two younger having been killed during the First World War.

John Murray IV’s own son fought in the war, his regiment being the Scottish horse. As the ODNB says of John Murray V:

 He rose to the rank of lieutenant colonel, serving in Egypt, at Gallipoli, and in France. His regiment was subsumed into the Black Watch, but he later transferred to the Royal Scots, and commanded their 12th battalion. In 1918 he was made DSO for personal bravery and awarded a Croix de Guerre (Belgium).

John Murray IV was perhaps then particularly mindful of writing to friends whose sons did not survive.

 A very poignant letter comes from W. Maxwell of Dalbeattie in October 1916, in response to a letter of condolence from John Murray. The letter becomes increasingly difficult to read:

 Our youngest son fell in the first charge at Gallipoli… our second son died at Hong Kong under very sad circumstances…. this month our eldest son died of Blackwater fever at Abiad Darfur

 Details are given of problems and delays which greatly contributed to the eldest son’s death. His C.O. had written to the parents afterwards, commending his courage:

Undoubtedly yr son had been unwell for some considerable time… but having the heart of a lion he would not give in

 There are many more references to personal tragedy in the 1914-18 letters in the archive, and also to great courage and fortitude, whether that of the men wounded and killed, or of their families and friends.

The uphill work of a cartographer

Posted October 28, 2011 4:05 pm by Lauren Forbes | Permalink

John George Bartholomew (1860-1920), of the Edinburgh cartographic publishing firm, was a hard worker. He complains in a letter in October 1894, probably to Hallam Murray, John Murray IV’s brother, that ill health is forcing him to take a break:

I am very sorry to say that I have been ordered to give up work for 6 months and go abroad. I tried to get on without a holiday this summer but it has proved to be very bad economy… It is a great trial to me to have to run away and leave my work and I trust that it may not cause you any inconvenience.

According to the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography he had a tubercular condition which troubled him through-out his life. Meanwhile, in this letter he outlines work in progress for Murray and assures him he believes it will be completed without delay.

 Later, in February 1899, he writes to John Murray IV of another on-going difficulty and hindrance to his work:

The nature of my work is largely personal and my energies are limited. To help me in my work I train assistants, but in many cases no sooner are they beginning to be really useful to me than they are bribed away by other firms in this country and America – firms who are incapable of training assistants for themselves, but get other people’s ideas by engaging these assistants at exorbitant wages.

 There are many more letters of his, along with others in the family and the firm, in our Bartholomew Archive – - but it is good to have links across our different collections, and the dozen or so J.G. Bartholomew letters are very welcome in the John Murray Archive, along with some letters of the firm itself.

Archbishop up a tree?

Posted September 29, 2011 1:44 pm by Lauren Forbes | Permalink

Confusion reigns here. Frances Arnold, daughter of Thomas Arnold, headmaster of Rugby, writes to John Murray IV in February 1902. She wants to correct an urban (or rather rural) myth about her father’s friend, the Archbishop of Dublin, Richard Whately (1787-1863).

The myth has been repeated as fact in a new Teacher’s edition of her father’s “Life and correspondence”. It says there that when the letter offering Whately the Archbishopric arrived, he was perched in a tree, and Thomas Arnold passed the letter up to him in a cleft stick. The tree was in Arnold’s garden.

Frances Arnold sets the record straight, finding her information in “Life and correspondence of Richard Whately”, 1866. As she writes to Murray:

 The matter is in itself of no importance, yet it seems a pity that an entirely inaccurate legend should be perpetuated! It seems to have been the Archbishop’s dog, and not the Archbishop who climbed the tree!

I must admit I’m a little disappointed, as climbing dogs are more common than climbing Archbishops, I would have thought.

Frances Arnold includes the full excerpt about the incident with her letter. And the Dictionary of National Biography entry for Richard Whately confirms the “dog” side of things:

 He disregarded Oxford conventions: in the early morning he could be seen walking Christ Church meadows, not wearing a cap and gown as required, but a white hat and coat (he was known as the White Bear), accompanied by his white dog which he had trained to climb trees and from there jump into the water.

Bath cures and cathedral hazards

Posted September 26, 2011 3:46 pm by Lauren Forbes | Permalink

This sketch by architect Sir Thomas Jackson doesn’t show him having a snooze in bed. In a letter to John Murray IV in February 1906, he compares notes about cures taken in Bath. Murray must have mentioned “electric bathes”, and Jackson describes (and sketches) being in “a kind of jacketted cradle of aluminium with red hot electric wires between, which they put over you there”. He continues:

“I had them at 330 degrees & they, with the hot bathes at 103 on alternate days put me right in a fortnight”.

However, it’s obviously difficult for a committed architect to stay ‘cured’, as hazards of the job intervene:

“But a long day’s climbing ladders & scaffolding at Winchester Cathedral soon – too soon – after put me all wrong again, and now I have to be very careful, & lie on the sofa as much as I can.”

I think in this instance the publisher’s lot would be a happier one.


Riots in Italy

Posted August 16, 2011 3:44 pm by Lauren Forbes | Permalink

It’s understandable that certain words in letters catch your eye, depending on the news around you at the time. I’ve come to a single letter from E. Brufani, staying at the Hotel Perugia, in Perugia, May 1898. From the contents of the letter he must be a bookseller. After acknowledging the receipt of 12 volumes of books, he adds:

“I am sorry to say the riots in Italy have been the cause of sending out of the country many thousand visitors – Though Perugia has been wise enough to remain peaceful”.

A quick search via Google revealed that there were serious bread riots throughout Italy in that year.

What happened next? The retirement of John Galt

Posted July 28, 2011 3:44 pm by Lauren Forbes | Permalink

It’s always interesting to come across something in a letter that makes you wonder what happened next…

Among the letters of John Galt, novelist, in the archive, I came upon one written – or rather dictated – in January 1834. It was dictated because at this stage in life Galt had suffered a stroke – he died a few years later, in 1839. In this letter to John Murray II, Galt says:

“My continued suffering has at last forced me to determine on leaving London and as I had but to choose between Scotland and Canada I have resolved to retire to the latter country, where I have already two sons and have been of some use to the Province”.

He mentions plans to have 3 volumes published, as a “subscription work”, to enable him to achieve this goal.

However, to quote the Dictionary of National Biography entry on John Galt, “In 1834 he retired to Greenock”. There is no mention of his designs on Canada. The DNB notes that he was most at home in his native Scotland, and no doubt it is documented somewhere why the Canada plan fell through – perhaps because of insufficient funds. But letters that reveal a discrepancy between what a person wanted and what actually happened are always particularly intriguing.