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: http://www.nls.uk/events#mar15