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Memoir of John Murray
Chapter VIII.

Vol. 1 Contents
Chapter I.
Chapter II.
Chapter III.
Chapter IV.
Chapter V.
Chapter VI.
Chapter VII.
‣ Chapter VIII.
Chapter IX.
Chapter X.
Chapter XI.
Chapter XII.
Chapter XIII.
Chapter XIV.
Chapter XV.
Chapter XVI.
Chapter XVII.
Chapter XVIII.
Chapter XIX.
Vol. 2 Contents
Chap. XX.
Chap. XXI.
Chap. XXII.
Chap. XXIII.
Chap. XXIV.
Chap. XXV.
Chap. XXVI.
Chap. XXVII.
Chap. XXIX.
Chap. XXX.
Chap. XXXI.
Chap. XXXII.
Chap. XXXIV.
Chap. XXXV.
Chap. XXXVI.
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During the year in which the Quarterly was first given to the world, the alliance between Murray and the Ballantynes was close and intimate: their correspondence was not confined to business matters but bears witness to warm personal friendship.

Murray was able to place much printing work in their hands, and amongst other books, ‘Mrs. Rundell’s Cookery,’ which was then beginning to attain to a very large circulation, was printed at the Canongate Press.

They exerted themselves to promote the sale of one another’s publications and engaged in various joint works, such, for example, as Grahame’sBritish Georgics’ and Scott’sEnglish Minstrelsy.’

In the midst of all these transactions, however, there were not wanting symptoms of financial difficulties, which, as in a previous instance, were destined in time to cause a severance between Murray and his Edinburgh agents. It was the old story—drawing bills for value not received. Murray had seriously warned the Ballantynes of the risks they were running in trading beyond their capital. James Ballantyne replied on March 30, 1809:—

Mr. James Ballantyne to John Murray.

“Suffer me to notice one part of your letter respecting which you will be happy to be put right. We are by no
means trading beyond our capital. It requires no professional knowledge to enable us to avoid so fatal an error as that. For the few speculations we have entered into our means have been carefully calculated and are perfectly adequate.”

Yet at the close of the same letter, referring to the ‘British Novelists’—a vast scheme, to which Mr. Murray had by no means pledged himself—Ballantyne continues:

“For this work permit me to state I have ordered a font of types, cut expressly on purpose, at an expense of near £1000, and have engaged a very large number of compositors for no other object.”

On the 14th of June, James Ballantyne wrote to Murray:

“I can get no books out yet, without interfering in the printing office with business previously engaged for, and that puts me a little about for cash. Independent of this circumstance, upon which we reckoned, a sum of £1500 payable to us at 25th May, yet waiting some cursed legal arrangements, but which we trust to have very shortly (sic). This is all preliminary to the enclosures which I hope will not be disagreeable to you, and if not, I will trust to their receipt accepted, by return of post.”

Mr. Murray replied on the 20th of June:—

“I regret that I should be under the necessity of returning you the two bills which you enclosed, unaccepted; but having settled lately a very large amount with Mr. Constable, I had occasion to grant more bills than I think it proper to allow to be about at the same time.”

This was not the last application for acceptances, and it will be found that in the end it led to an entire separation between the firms.

The Ballantynes, however, buoyed up by rash hopes, and teeming with enterprise, were more sanguine than prudent. In spite of Mr. Murray’s warning that they were
proceeding too rapidly with the publication of new works, they informed him that they had a “gigantic scheme” in hand—the ‘Tales of the East,’ translated by
Henry Weber, Walter Scott’s private secretary—besides the ‘Edinburgh Encyclopædia,’ and the ‘Secret Memoirs of the House of Stewart.’ They said that Scott was interested in the ‘Tales of the East,’ and in one of their hopeful letters they requested Mr. Murray to join in their speculations. His answer was as follows:—

John Murray to Messrs. Ballantyne & Co.
Oct. 31st, 1809.

“I regret that I cannot accept a share in the ‘Edinburgh Encyclopaedia.’ I am obliged to decline by motives of prudence. I do not know anything of the agreement made by the proprietors, except in the palpable mismanagement of a very exclusive and promising concern. I am therefore fearful to risk my property in an affair so extremely unsuitable.

“You distress me sadly by the announcement of having put the ‘Secret Memoirs’ to press, and that the paper for it was actually purchased six months ago! How can you, my good sirs, act in this way? How can you imagine that a bookseller can afford to pay eternal advances upon almost every work in which he takes a share with you? And how can you continue to destroy every speculation by entering upon new ones before the previous ones are properly completed? . . . Why, with your influence, will you not urge the completion of the ‘Minstrelsy’? Why not go on with and complete the series of De Foe? . . . For myself, I really do not know what to do, for when I see that you will complete nothing of your own, I am unwillingly apprehensive of having any work of mine in your power. What I thus write is in serious friendship for you. I entreat you to let us complete what we have already in hand, before we begin upon any other speculation. You will have enough to do to sell those in which we are already engaged. As to your mode of exchange and so disposing of your shares, besides the universal obloquy which attends the practice in the mind of every respectable bookseller, and the certain damnation which it invariably causes both
to the book and the author, as in the case of
Grahame, if persisted in, it must end in serious loss to the bookseller . . . If you cannot give me your solemn promise not to exchange a copy of Tasso, I trust you will allow me to withdraw the small share which I propose to take, for the least breath of this kind would blast the work and the author too—a most worthy man, upon whose account alone I engaged in the speculation.”

Mr. James Ballantyne to John Murray.

“We are sorry that the ‘Secret Memoirs’ going to press has occasioned you any uneasiness, but it is lucky it can be easily obviated. We shall, with your permission, keep all the book. I think I need scarcely add that I, who am so much more deeply interested than anybody else, have taken especial care that it neither interferes with De Foe, the ‘Tales,’ or any other work we have going on. . . . I do not wonder that you are apprehensive of trusting us with works to print, but I think the apprehension groundless; for, in order to keep the engagements in form, as well as our other accounts, you observe that we have even given up the ‘Encyclopædia.’ We certainly shall, in compliance with your desire, complete the engagements already entered into with you before we propose any new ones; and we must take our chance of selling our share in the books, in which perhaps you may be correct in supposing we have enough to do. . . . We beg, with yourself, to disclaim being actuated by any ill-temper in this letter. For your good wishes we thank you. For our success in life we must continue to pursue those means which, with rather a favourable result, we have done hitherto.”

The “alliance offensive and defensive” between Murray and the Ballantynes, in opposition to Constable & Co., which Scott had mentioned to Southey and Ellis, promised to be short-lived. Murray and Constable drew a little closer together. In fact Murray, who was doing a considerable business in London for the Edinburgh firm, wrote in November 1809 to Constable:—

“I find I have paid you nearly £7000 during the last twelve months, which, I think, is pretty well. You can
draw upon me for the remainder at four months. £921 2s. 8d. is due on the 30th of this month.”

Constable looked with jealousy at the operations of the house of Ballantyne. Their firm had indeed been started in opposition to himself; and it was not without a sort of gratification that he heard of their pecuniary difficulties. Scott’sLady of the Lake’ had been announced for publication. Constablerefers to this circumstance, at the close of his letter to Murray:—

Mr. A. Constable to John Murray.
Jan. 20th, 1810.

“I have no particular anxiety about promulgating the folly (to say the least of it) of certain correspondents of yours in this quarter; but if you will ask our friend Mr. Miller if he had a letter from a shop nearly opposite the Royal Exchange the other day, he will, I dare say, tell you of the contents. I am mistaken if their game is not well up! Indeed I doubt much if they will survive the ‘Lady of the Lake.’ She will probably help to drown them!”

An arrangement had been made with the Ballantynes that, in consideration of their being the sole agents for Mr. Murray in Scotland, they should give him the opportunity of taking shares in any of their publications. Instead, however, of offering a share of the ‘Lady of the Lake’ to Mr. Murray, according to the understanding between the firms, the Ballantynes had already parted with one fourth share of the work to Mr. Miller, of Albemarle Street, London, whose business was afterwards purchased by Mr. Murray. Mr. Murray’s letter to Ballantyne & Co. thus describes the arrangement:—

John Murray to Messrs. Ballantyne & Co.
March 26th, 1810.

“Respecting my Review, you appear to forget that your engagement was that I should be your sole agent here, and
that you were to publish nothing but what I was to have the offer of a share in. Your deviation from this must have led me to conclude that you did not desire or expect to continue my agent any longer. You cannot suppose that my estimation of
Mr. Scott’s genius can have rendered me indifferent to my exclusion from a share in the ‘Lady of the Lake.’ I mention this as well to testify that I am not indifferent to this conduct in you as to point it out to you, that if you mean to withhold from me that portion which you command of the advantages of our connexion, you must surely mean to resign any that might arise from me. The sole agency for my publications in Edinburgh is worth to any man who understands his business £300 a year; but this requires zealous activity and deference on one side, and great confidence on both, otherwise the connexion cannot be advantageous or satisfactory to either party. For this number of the Review I have continued your name solely in it, and propose to make you as before sole publisher in Scotland; but as you have yourself adopted the plan of drawing upon me for the amount of each transaction, you will do me the favour to consider what quantity you will need, and upon your remitting to me a note at six months for the amount, I shall immediately ship the quantity for you.”

Mr. James Ballantyne to John Murray.

“Your agency hitherto has been productive of little or no advantage to us, and the fault has not lain with us. We have persisted in offering you shares of everything begun by us, till we found the hopelessness of waiting any return; and in dividing Mr. Scott’s poem, we found it our duty to give what share we had to part with to those by whom we were chiefly benefited both as booksellers and printers.”

This letter was accompanied with a heavy bill for printing the works of De Foe for Mr. Murray. A breach thus took place with the Ballantynes; the publisher of the Quarterly was compelled to look out for a new agent for Scotland, and met with a thoroughly competent one in Mr. William Blackwood, the founder of the well-known publishing house in Edinburgh.


To return to the progress of the Quarterly. The fifth number, which was due in February 1810, but did not appear until the end of March, contained many excellent articles, though, as Mr. Ellis said, some of them were contributed by “good and steady but marvellously heavy friends.” Yet he found it better than the Edinburgh, which on that occasion was “reasonably dull.”

Mr. Scott to John Murray.
February 10th, 1810.

“The Edinburgh has at length come forth and with a good deal of spirit; but we will be better prepared for them the next time, and at least divide the public with them. I hope soon to hear all my contributions have come to hand. Not a line yet from Sharpe* or Douglas. This is the true curse of gentlemen writers. Before I come to London I hope to have at least three veterans in constant pay. I mean men that will keep their engagements for an article each.”

That Mr. Murray kept a close eye upon the contents is clear from his numerous letters to Mr. Gifford. He suggested that a note reflecting on Playfair should be left out of the article by Dr. Young on Archimedes, and also that the article on Sydney Smith was not quite proper, and might be objected to. Gifford replies:—

Mr. Gifford to John Murray.

“I had softened the note, but I can have no objection to do anything further with it. When the proof comes back we will look at it together, though I think there is truth in your observation. Pray be careful to remember that the anonymous writer of ‘Ricardo’† is a different person from the anonymous writer of ‘Parr’ (Edinburgh Review),

* Kirkpatrick Sharpe, whom Scott had been endeavouring to press into the service.

† The authorship of this article cannot now be ascertained, but it was probably written by Mr. Ellis.

who, I was told this morning, was the
Bishop of Bristol! Let us keep our own secrets, and we shall do well. I wish, for my part, that every writer in the Quarterly Review was unknown to me, and that not an article was heard of until it came out. Nothing is so hostile to our success as having too many confidants; but we shall grow wiser in time, I hope. Let us keep up our spirits, talk of the goodness of our ware, as the Edinburgh Reviewers and their friends do, and the world will do the rest.”

But the most important article in No. 5 was the last, by Robert Southey. It was the ‘Life of Nelson,’ founded upon the Lives written by various authors which had recently been published. While the review of Nelson was in progress, Southey wrote to his friend Mr. Rickman:—

“The Quarterly pays me well—ten guineas per sheet; at the same measure, the Annual was only four. I have the bulky ‘Life of Nelson’ on hand, and am to be paid double. This must be for the sake of saying they give twenty guineas per sheet, as I should have been well satisfied with ten, and have taken exactly the same pains.”

Southey did not recognise the generosity of the publisher. Perhaps he did not know that the Review was not then paying its expenses.

Gifford said of the article when he received it:—

“I have begun on ‘Nelson,’ and, though I have many erasures to make, I confess I think what remains very good.”

George Ellis said of it:—

“I am glad that Southey’s article is to be animated and inserted. My opinion is that his articles are always attractive; not indeed by their spirit, but by their candour, and by a luminous method and arrangement of his materials. Besides, he always conveys information, which is a great merit; and it will be, hereafter, on the value of your Review as a repertory of useful knowledge, much more than on the ingenuity of the reasonings and dis-
quisitions it may contain, that its importance as a collection, and its consequent admission into libraries, will depend.”

In the course of the following year Mr. Murray induced Mr. Southey to expand his article in order that he might publish it as a separate volume: he wrote—

John Murray to Mr. Southey.
Oct. 28th, 1811.

“You have so much upon your mind at this time that appears to be urgent, that I would be ashamed to mention the ‘Life of Nelson’ were it to press you for it, but the fact is that I think it so noble a subject for you in every respect, that I wish it to receive all your care and a good portion of what Turner calls the ‘prime’ of your mind. Besides inserting every fact respecting the Hero, it will admit of your patriotic display of our power as a nation, which we have ourselves underrated, and still do underrate. There is scarcely a Gazette published which does not detail acts of individual heroism that in any other nation would have immortalized the actors. I wish it to be made such a book as shall become the heroic text of every midshipman in the Navy, and the association of Nelson and Southey will not, I think, be ungrateful to you. If it be worth your attention in this way I am disposed to think that it will enable me to treble the sum I first offered as a slight remuneration.”

Although the ‘Life of Nelson’ is one of the most beautiful and attractive of Southey’s works, he himself said of it: “This is a subject which I should not have dreamt of touching if it had not been thrust upon me.” He received 100 guineas for the article, £100 for the enlargement of the Life, and £100 when it was afterwards published in the ‘Family Library.’

The fifth number of the Quarterly was received with general satisfaction, and met with considerable praise even at the hands of such a severe critic as George Ellis. Still the lack of punctuality, a fault which increased rather than
diminished with each succeeding number, formed a most serious drawback to the success of the new periodical.
Mr. Murray himself was greatly harassed by this perpetual irregularity. It was telling upon his health, and his friends feared that his constitution was breaking down. He was in this state when his old friend D’Israeli addressed him:—

Mr. Isaac D’Israeli to John Murray.
Montpelier Row, Blackheath, Aug. 2nd, 1810.

“I hope, my dear Murray, your stomach disorders do not proceed from harassing business, or any other cause of vexations from that source. Should they do so, in that case look well into the causes, and try whether they are not, by calmness and management, to be subdued and conducted by tolerable means. We may lose our balance in a moment, but sometimes a slight effort replaces us; yet if this slight effort be not made, our motion is all against us. I am only writing suggestions in the air, and request you will attribute them to the true motive. I flatter myself that, on the contrary, your success and industry in trade will serve to animate you with prospects of realized hopes. Forgive then my anxiety; but, as I know, when things do not go on smoothly, as they never can at all times, you are apt to be feelingly alive to them; and I attribute your complaints, in many respects, to the worry and cares of business. Now I conclude with a wise ancient saw of Lord Burleigh’s steward (I think) to his young master: ‘Be a good while in getting a little money, and you will then get a great deal afterwards in a short time. Lay the foundation safe and broad, and don’t hurry up the superstructure.’

“I know, dear Murray, I am writing in the dead stillness of a parlour, and in an easy chair—and the truest wisdom consists in action! However, lame persons have written some good dissertations on dancing. I thought it was now rather a dead season with you; and should have been glad to have had you and Mrs. M. for a little change down with us.

“I took the Q. R. with me. I like it well; and I do think it is far better than what you imagined it to be.
The article on the ‘
Fatal Revenge’ is exquisite in humour, and very ingenious in criticism. I long to get to the Chinese article—‘Ramayuna.’ I now conceive, when you have once established a regular period of publication, that you have good writers enough to secure a regular sale and an increasing one, besides the chance occasionally of getting at some great and commanding article. I know it has cost you too much anxiety; but I hope you can contrive to go on with less of that, and in time with a profit that will be worth your attention . . . . I hope you escape losses in the bankruptcies, among which are several bankers.”

It was certainly not “a dead season” with Mr. Murray. At the time that D’Israeli’s letter was written the August number was nearly due, though it was not yet half printed. Some of the articles were not even written, and Gifford suggested that the following notice should be placed on the cover of the forthcoming Review: “Unforeseen accidents have delayed the appearance of the present number; but arrangements have been made to ensure a more regular publication in future.”

Mr. Murray, writing to Mr. Scott (August 28th, 1810) as to the appearance of the new number, said:—

“I believe we shall have a super-excellent number this time. As far as we are already printed and promised, we are very good indeed.” After giving an account of the articles printed, he comes to the fourth article. “This,” he said, “is a review of the ‘Daughters of Isenberg, a Bavarian Romance,’ by Mr. Gifford, to whom the authoress (Alicia T. Palmer) had the temerity to send three £1 notes!”

With respect to this article, written by Gifford himself, for which the lady at Bath sent him a bribe of £3, instead of sending back the money with indignation, as he at first proposed, he reviewed the romance, and assumed that the authoress had sent him the money for charitable purposes.

Mr. Gifford to Miss A. T. Palmer.

“Our avocations leave us but little leisure for extra-official employment; and in the present case she has inadvertently added to our difficulties by forbearing to specify the precise objects of her bounty. We hesitated for some time between the Foundling and Lying-in Hospitals: in finally determining for the latter, we humbly trust that we have not disappointed her expectations, nor misapplied her charity. Our publisher will transmit the proper receipt to her address.”

A difference occurred between Mr. Murray and the editor with respect to the insertion of an article by the Rev. J. Davidson on “Oxford and Mr. Coplestone,” in answer to the calumnies of the Edinburgh Review.

“I thank you,” said Gifford to Murray, from Ryde, “for Coplestone, which I read with great pleasure; it is his chef-d’œuvre—very dexterous, very cutting, and very gentlemanlike.”

Mr. Murray replied:—

John Murray to Mr. Gifford.

I do entreat you to feel for me before you finally determine upon the insertion of the Oxford article. I cannot yet manage to make the Review pay its expenses, and it is only in the hope of having continually such a number as we expected to put forth this time, that I can in prudence proceed. The Oxford article can do Mr. Coplestone no service, because it is resting his argument upon a defence far inferior to his own in every respect. It will be of great evil to us; for everyone interested in the dispute will be disappointed if not disgusted with our having put forth, upon a subject so very difficult as regards ourselves, a weaker defence than they have previously read. It were hard to insert what I know would be so very prejudicial to me. I know indeed that you would not press it but for the dilemma in which its rejection would place you; but I think that a letter from you to Mr. C. would show it to be his own interest to retain it for the present; and the writer
might be informed that Mr. C. wishes, before any more is published on the subject, to see if his adversaries answer his last reply.

Pitt arrived so late that it is impossible to get the number out this week. We may yet, therefore, hope for Crabbe, and this with Southey’s article on the Faroe Islands* will make a number good enough to apologise for a delay which otherwise carries ruin with it. For all this, I do most sincerely and devotedly rely upon your judgment and energy, in consideration of the great capital (nearly £5000) that I have embarked in this concern. I mention this for the purpose of showing that no ordinary man of business would have done this. But I will venture twice that sum upon what I know to be able. I have not yet, upon my honour, paid my expenses in any one single number of the Review. You will not be displeased, therefore, if I am over anxious to improve in every number, and desirous of printing the very best material that we can procure. I will only add that whatever I may say respecting the articles is entirely from the suggestion of my own point of view—I mean that I neither show them to, nor consult with, any friend of mine. Having mentioned this, I leave the whole entirely to you. I am only anxious for our mutual satisfaction.

Yours most truly,
J. Murray.

Mr. Gifford was annoyed by this letter. He said it had an air of intimidation.

Mr. Gifford to John Murray.

“There is no necessity for you to pursue a losing speculation, which I should be the last person on earth to encourage; and there is yet time, I presume, to recover a considerable part of that £5000 which you have so unwisely put in hazard. . . . But I wish not to prolong this strain. A little more will make me quite weary of a post which is far enough from a pleasant one. To come to the chief purport of your letter, I will send it to Mr. C. if you

* These two articles were not published until the following number appeared.

agree to abide by his answer; on no other condition will I consent to violate my feeling by affronting a gentleman of character and reputation—for such
Mr. Davidson is. He purposely came to town to see his article. He has seen it, he has revised it, and returned it in the full expectation of its appearance. After all, I do not quite enter into your opinion of it. It is clear, sensible, and intelligent. I wish, indeed, it had more spirit and interest—so I do of many other articles which pass muster very well.”

Mr. Ellis also interfered. Although, he said, the article was at once “tedious and feeble,” yet there were two considerations on which he would plead for its admission: “First, the positive request of Coplestone himself; second, the utter impossibility of filling our number without it.” The article was accordingly inserted. On the 1st of October, Mr. Ellis wrote to the publisher:—

“Pray let me know when our Quarterly will decidedly appear; for I am pestered to death with questions about it.”

The number did not appear until a month and a half after it was due. This was enough to have killed any publication which was not redeemed by the excellence of its contents.

One of the principal objections of Mr. Murray to the manner in which Mr. Gifford edited the Quarterly was the war which he waged with the Edinburgh. This, he held, was not the way in which a respectable periodical should be conducted. It had a line of its own to pursue, without attacking its neighbours. “Publish,” he said, “the best information, the best science, the best literature; and leave the public to decide for themselves.” Relying on this opinion he warned Gifford and his friends against attacking Sydney Smith, and Leslie, and Jeffrey, because of their contributions to the Edinburgh. He
thought that such attacks had only the effect of advertising the rival journal, and rendering it of greater importance. With reference to the article on Sydney Smith’s ‘
Visitation Sermon’ in No. 5, Mr. George Ellis privately wrote to Mr. Murray:—

Gifford, though the best-tempered man alive, is terribly severe with his pen; but S. S. would suffer ten times more by being turned into ridicule (and never did man expose himself so much as he did in that sermon) than from being slashed and cauterized in that manner.”

Mr. Murray even expostulated with Mr. Ellis himself, because of his reference to the Edinburgh Review in his article on ‘Clarke’s Travels’ in the seventh number.

Mr. Ellis to John Murray.
Sept. 15th, 1810.

“I have now erased, in conformity with your wishes, some of the allusions to the E. R., and have left, indeed, only one prominent quotation from them (that relating to Astrachan); to evince the extreme bad taste of which I have, instead of making any comment of my own, subjoined a note at the bottom of the page from Bell’s very valuable ‘Travels.’ You will readily believe that I am never very anxious to enter the lists with our adversaries, and I generally wish to avoid it, because it is certain that, if in such a conflict we should ever be guilty of the sort of grossness which they employ, we should injure ourselves with rational readers. But I cannot agree with you in thinking that when they have formally thrown down the gauntlet (as they have done on the subject of Dr. Clarke), we are bound altogether to abstain from noticing their defiance, because, as they unquestionably possess, and, to a certain degree, deserve, a high reputation, we cannot, without a degree of affectation even more ridiculous than that of Sydney Smith, pretend a total ignorance of their opinions.”

After further explanations about the Oxford article in No. 7, Mr. Murray and Mr. Gifford went on again harmoniously.

John Murray to Mr. Gifford.
Sept. 25th, 1810.

“I entreat you to be assured that the term ‘intimidation’ can never be applied to any part of my conduct towards you, for whom I entertain the highest esteem and regard, both as a writer and as a friend. If I am over-anxious, it is because I have let my hopes of fame as a bookseller rest upon the establishment and celebrity of this journal. My character, as well with my professional brethren as with the public, is at stake upon it; for I would not be thought silly by the one, or a mere speculator by the other. I have a very large business, as you may conclude by the capital I have been able to throw into this one publication, and yet my mind is so entirely engrossed, my honour is so completely involved in this one thing, that I neither eat, drink, nor sleep upon anything else. I would rather it excelled all other journals and I gained nothing by it, than gain £300 a year by it without trouble if it were thought inferior to any other. This, sir, is true.”

Meanwhile, Mr. Murray was becoming hard pressed for money. To conduct his increasing business required a large floating capital, for long credits were the custom, and besides his own requirements, he had to bear the constant importunities of the Ballantynes to renew their bills. On the 25th of July, 1810, he wrote to them: “This will be the last renewal of the bill (£300); when it becomes due, you will have the goodness to provide for it.” It was, however, becoming impossible to continue dealing with them, and he gradually transferred his printing business to other firms. We find him about this time ordering Messrs. George Ramsay & Co., Edinburgh, to print 8000 of the ‘Domestic Cookery,’ which was still having a large sale.

The Constables were also pressing him for renewals of bills.

John Murray to Messrs. Constable & Co.
Oct. 27th, 1810.

I received to-day your £1000; the £500 at three days my bankers did for me as a favour, and thus I am, thank God, enabled to pay your bill to-day, and the two on Monday, amounting to £975. I trust that you do really feel sensible of the great uneasiness I must have undergone lately, and particularly in not hearing from you on Thursday and Friday, with these bills hanging over you, which I could not have stopped. I, for the last time, entreat you to remit me at least two whole days before your bills become due, and as much earlier as possible. It is actually your own interest, for many reasons, to do this. I have suffered excessively, and have borrowed, borrowed, borrowed, until I am ashamed. You must believe that my only motive for giving Mr. Elliot bills of my own for discount was urgent necessity. I had collected no others of discountable date, and in that case your bills upon me choked up my credit, and I could not avail myself of this means to my own service. I confide in your kindness to send me off to-morrow all that your letter of to-day promised. I send you some more bills, of which I would be thankful if you would send me £350, so that I may receive it on Tuesday the 12th.

Yours, etc.,
J. M.

The case became more urgent from day to day. Constable did not meet his bills, and took no notice of Murray’s repeated letters, six of which remained unanswered. At length Constable answered his communications, and Murray replied as follows:—

John Murray to Messrs. Constable.
Nov. 24th, 1810.

“You will not have been long in alarm about my waiting the return of a letter from you, before I would accept your draft upon me for £500; but you have occasioned me so much distress lately by not attending either to my complaints or to your own promises of remitting to me in time
for retiring your own bills, that you certainly deserved what the Bank Directors call a ‘rap over the knuckles.’ I would not endure a recurrence of the same for a premium of £300 per annum. In future advise with your drafts, and send me others payable one day before, in London.”

At a later date, when the Messrs. Constable offered him a share in certain new books about to appear, in conjunction with Cadell and Miller, Mr. Murray replied:—

John Murray to Messrs. Constable.
March 21st, 1811.

“With regard to myself, I will engage in no new work of any kind. You know perfectly well how much I am hampered by the quantity I have already printed, and I will enter upon no new speculation until I have cleared myself. The shares which I took in your books whilst in London were taken from no other motive than that of personal regard to you, with the promise of twelve months’ credit, and extension if I required it; but I cannot go any further. You know, too, that my speculation in Campbell’s new work is enough for two years’ engagement. But I will do all I can to serve you, and this I would do for no other person, and it is privately and in strict confidence that I communicate it.”

Another letter of a similar character followed:—

John Murray to Mr. A. Constable.
April 4th, 1811.
Dear Constable,

I have so invariably testified my desire to serve you, that I could have wished that you had not pressed the share in ‘Seward’ again, after what I stated to you upon that subject in my last. You know how much I have distressed myself by entering heedlessly upon too many engagements, and you must be sensible that I could not, under so much consequent vexation, have taken shares in many of your speculations, unless it had been from the sole motive of showing my continued regard to you by relieving your pressing anxiety. If you need any further
proof of this, I can only say that I will resign the whole to your disposal, but you must not urge me to involve myself in renewed difficulties.

To return to the Quarterly No. 8. One can easily imagine the anxiety and distress of the publisher when, owing to the repeated delay in publication, the circulation fell off from 5000 to 4000. Gifford himself often thought of giving up the editorship; he felt that his physical strength was insufficient for the proper care and management of the still struggling periodical.

Mr. George Ellis, the faithful friend of the publisher, clearly saw the injury done to the progress of the Quarterly. He wrote to Mr. Murray:—

Mr. George Ellis to John Murray.

“To our extensive success there is at present, very obviously, only one intelligible obstacle, which is a degree of irregularity which must of necessity induce in the public mind a doubt of our ultimate perseverance. Those who perceive that we are from quarter to quarter less and less punctual, must infer from it that we feel progressively more and more the difficulty of fulfilling our engagements, and are likely in a short time to abandon the enterprise in despair. No opinion of the merit of our Review will or can support us against this supposition . . . Hence I infer that punctuality is, in our present situation, our great and only desideratum. This we must attain. Whether we precede or follow our rivals is immaterial; but the days of publication once fixed, we must adhere to them.”

Accordingly, increased efforts were made to have the Quarterly published with greater punctuality, though it was a considerable time before success in this respect was finally reached. Gifford pruned and pared down to the last moment, and often held back the publication until an erasure or a correction could be finally inserted.


No. 9 due in February 1811, was not published until March. From this time Southey became an almost constant contributor to the Review. He wrote with ease, grace, and rapidity, and there was scarcely a number without one, and sometimes two and even three articles from his pen. His prose style was charming—clear, masculine, and to the point, but he prided himself more upon his poetry than upon his prose. The public did not see his merits in the same light, for while they eagerly read his prose, his poetry remained unnoticed on the shelves. In December 1807, Southey said he had gained only £25 by ‘Madoc,’ and in the following year, his ‘Thalaba’ fell still-born from the press. “My whole profits upon it,” he said, “have amounted to five-and-twenty pounds. But I cast my bread upon the waters, and if I myself should’ not live to find it after many days, my children will.”

The ‘Curse of Kehama’ came out in 1810, and notwithstanding Walter Scott’s kindly review of it, the work did not sell. Southey said of the poem:—

“With regard to ‘Kehama,’ I was perfectly aware that I was planting acorns while my contemporaries were setting Turkey beans. The oak will grow, and though I may never sit under its shade, my children will. Of the ‘Lady of the Lake,’ 25,000 copies have been printed; of ‘Kehama,’ 500; and if they sell in seven years, I shall be surprised.”

Scott did not act as some literary people do—cut up his friend in a review. He pointed out the beauties of the poem, in order to invite purchasers and readers. Yet his private opinion to his friend George Ellis was this:—

Mr. Scott to Mr. G. Ellis.

“I have run up an attempt on the ‘Curse of Kehama’ for the Quarterly: a strange thing it is—the ‘Curse’ I mean
—and the critique is not, as the blackguards say, worth a damn; but what I could I did, which was to throw as much weight as possible upon the beautiful passages, of which there are many, and to slur over its absurdities, of which there are not a few. It is infinite pity for
Southey, with genius almost to exuberance, so much learning and real good feeling of poetry, that, with the true obstinacy of a foolish papa, he will be most attached to the defects of his poetical offspring. This said ‘Kehama’ affords cruel openings to the quizzers, and I suppose will get it roundly in the Edinburgh Review. I could have made a very different hand of it indeed, had the order of the day been pour déchirer.”

Mr. Scott to John Murray.
Edinburgh, Dec. 3rd, 1810.
My dear Sir,

I have received your packet with Cromek’s additional sweepings. In his Nithesdale, &c., Sketches he has, I think, had the assistance of a Mr. Mounsey Cunningham who used to correspond with Mr. Constable’sScottish Magazine’ under the signature J. M. C. I wish you would learn how this stands, for he is a man of some genius, and I would like to treat him civilly, whereas Cromek is a perfect brain-sucker, living upon the labours of others. I have just got ‘Kehama,’ and I hope to have it ready for the Review, so I wish you would keep a corner. I shall be puzzled to do justice to the Review in noticing its great blemishes, and to the author in pointing out its numerous brilliancies, but I must do the best I can. I had Weber’s Romances in hand, but I have laid them aside for this more pressing and more interesting matter.

I beg you will keep my remittances till the end of the year, and shall write so to Mr. Gifford. It is sometimes convenient to have credit for a few guineas in London. Believe me that as I have not had any cause whatever, so I have not had the least intention to slacken our correspondence, but the dulness of the literary world, at least in those articles of lighter calibre in which I deal, gave me but little to say.

I remain, dear Sir,
Yours very truly,
Walter Scott.

It was a good thing for Southey that he could always depend upon his contributions to the Quarterly for his daily maintenance, for he could not at all rely upon the income from his poetry.

The failure of the Edinburgh Annual Register, published by Ballantyne, led to a diminution of Southey’s income amounting to about £400 a year. He was thus led to write more and more for the Quarterly. His reputation, as well as his income, rose higher from his writings there than from any of his other works. In April 1812 he wrote to his friend Mr. Wynn:—

Mr. Southey to Mr. Wynn.

“By God’s blessing I may yet live to make all necessary provision myself. My means are now improving every year. I am up the hill of difficulty, and shall very soon get rid of the burthen which has impeded me in the ascent. I have some arrangements with Murray, which are likely to prove more profitable than any former speculations . . . Hitherto I have been highly favoured. A healthy body, an active mind, and a cheerful heart, are the three best boons Nature can bestow, and, God be praised, no man ever enjoyed these more perfectly.”