Publisher and his Friends.
Samuel Smiles's A Publisher and
his Friends: Memoir and Correspondence of John Murray, with an Account of the
Origin and Progress of the House, 1768-1843 (1891) prints some 750 letters
and fragments of letters then held by the John Murray firm and now housed at the
National Library of Scotland. This is the collection Thomas Moore drew upon for his
life of Byron: Moore had printed Byron's letters to Murray, Smiles prints Murray's
letters to Byron. Other major correspondents are well represented: Walter Scott,
William Gifford, Robert Southey, Isaac D'Israeli and his son Benjamin. The
Memoir includes letters from many other literary figures such as Mary
Shelley, Caroline Lamb, and Caroline Norton.
Samuel Smiles (1812–1904) was a
physician in Scotland, a journalist in England, a popular lecturer, and a prolific
author. He is best known for Self-Help, with Illustrations of Character and
Conduct, published by Murray in 1859. Smiles was an advocate of public
education and a promoter of libraries as well as a biographer and writer on
commerce. He must have seemed a likely choice to write what came to be regarded as
a classic work in the history of publishing.
The Memoir is constructed
as a standard nineteenth-century life and letters, setting selected correspondence
within a narrative frame that supplies context and commentary. In this instance the
device works somewhat awkwardly. The Memoir opens with a life of John Murray
I, followed by a life of John Murray II up to the establishment of the Quarterly
Review, to which Smiles adds shorter biographies of George Ellis and
William Gifford. After the middle of the first volume the domestic affairs of John
Murray recede into the background, so much so that his final illness and death
receives little more than perfunctory mention.
Smiles faced a considerable task
in selecting materials, for even then the Murray Archive would have contained tens
of thousands of items. He has nothing to say about what he looked at or how he went
about his work, though he does say that John Murray III was responsible for
collecting and annotating the letters. Smiles was not writing for scholars but for
general readers interested in the characters of Murray's correspondents and curious
about the back-stories of familiar books—books and writers in many cases
better known in 1891 than they are today. Scott, Byron and the Disraelis are
treated in depth, but the book is mostly a year by year chronicle of the Murray
firm with outlying letters inserted where convenient.
Some letters are chosen for the
significance of their writers and others on the basis of intrinsic interest; some
are selected as illustrations of manners and social history, others for the light
they shed on practices in the publishing business. Smiles is more interested in the
complexity of Murray's financial arrangements with his authors and competitors than
he is in the flux of literary fashion. The story he has to tell centers on Murray's
remarkable social skills. The publisher was on intimate terms with many of the
leading writers and politicians of his era and leveraged those relationships for
financial advantage. There is much about contracts, lawyers, and lawsuits, for the
dinner-parties and social notes are but one side of what was at bottom a
remorselessly competitive business.
Smiles makes his share of errors;
those involving persons and books are corrected in the notes. In all but one or two
cases it has been possible to identify titles from the sometimes fanciful
renderings given in the text. Dates for letters have in some cases been supplied or
corrected from other editions, including Andrew Nicholson's The Letters of John
Murray to Lord Byron (2007). As is usually the case in nineteenth-century
collections of correspondence the text of the letters was cut and shaped to suit
the purposes at hand.
This has created a small dilemma
for TEI coding where the recommended practice is to treat only complete documents
as discrete entities. Smiles sometimes indicates elisions and sometimes doesn't; he
differentiates full letters from fragments by putting the latter in quotation
marks. But this practice is not handled consistently. Since in many cases it is
impossible to tell whether a letter is complete or not this edition follows the
typological conventions of the text, even knowing that they are unreliable.
This has consequences for
indexing. The "letters" index finds only items handled as discrete
documents, which is to say letters not given in quotation marks. To find both
fragments and complete letters it is necessary to use the "persons" index,
which contains a subindex that pulls information from Smiles's headers. This also
finds persons where they are recipients of letters. In the case of fragments not
given a header is necessary to use the general index for names in the text.