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Memoir of John Murray
Chapter IV.

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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Mr. Murray was twenty-nine years old at the time of his marriage. He was in the prime of life and full of hope for the future. Good fortune had heretofore accompanied him, and benefiting by his past experience, he was ready to undertake any enterprise justified by prudence and forethought. Constable wrote to Hunter: “I had the pleasure of a few lines from Murray two days ago; he is a most fortunate fellow, and very deserving of it all.”

That Mr. Murray was full of contentment as well as hope at this time may be inferred from his letter to Constable three weeks after his marriage:—

John Murray to Mr. Constable.
March 27th, 1807.

“I declare to you that I am every day more content with my lot. Neither my wife nor I have any disposition for company or going out; and you may rest assured that I shall devote all my attention to business, and that your concerns will not be less the object of my regard merely because you have raised mine so high. Every moment, my dear Constable, I feel more grateful to you, and I trust that you will ever find me your faithful friend,—J. M.”

Some of the most important events in Murray’s career
occurred during the first year of his married life. Chief among them may perhaps be mentioned the publication of ‘
Marmion’ (in Feb. 1808)—which brought him into intimate connection with Walter Scott—and his appointment for a time as publisher in London of the Edinburgh Review; for he was thus brought into direct personal contact with those forces which ultimately led to the chief literary enterprise of his life—the publication of the Quarterly Review.

Scott’sLay of the Last Minstrel’ had been so successful that Constable offered him one thousand pounds for the poem of ‘Marmion’ very shortly after it was begun, and before he had seen a line of the manuscript. This bold and generous offer startled the literary world. “It was a price,” Scott afterwards said, “that made men’s hair stand on end.” Constable offered one-fourth of the copyright to Mr. Miller of Albemarle Street, and one-fourth to Mr. Murray of Fleet Street. Both publishers eagerly accepted the proposal. Murray wrote to Constable:

“I am truly sensible of the kind remembrance of me in your liberal purchase. You have rendered Mr. Miller no less happy by your admission of him; and we both view it as honourable, profitable, and glorious, to be concerned in the publication of a new poem by Walter Scott.”

Mr. Scott called upon Mr. Murray in London shortly after the return of the latter from his marriage in Edinburgh.

John Murray to Mr. Constable.
March 27th, 1807.

Mr. Scott called upon me on Tuesday, and we conversed for an hour. . . . He appears very anxious that ‘Marmion’ should be published by the King’s birthday. . . . He said he wished it to be ready by that time for very particular
reasons; and yet he allows that the poem is not completed, and that he is yet undetermined if he shall make his hero happy or otherwise.”

The poem was not, however, published until the beginning of the following year, when it appeared in a splendid quarto edition at a guinea and a-half. Before the arrival of the volumes from Edinburgh, Murray had sold 1500 copies at his trade sale. The first edition was out of print in less than a month, and a second edition of 3000 was ordered to be printed, of which Murray at once subscribed for 1500 copies. The book went on from edition to edition, and proved to be one of the greatest publishing successes of the day.

Mr. Scott edited and published, through Mr. Murray, Strutt’s unfinished romance of ‘Queenhoo Hall’ and the ‘Sadler Papers.’

The other important event, to which allusion has been made, was the transfer to Mr. Murray of part of the London agency for the Edinburgh Review. At the beginning of 1806 Murray sold 1000 copies of the Review on the day of its publication, and the circulation was steadily increasing. Constable proposed to transfer the entire London publication to Murray, but the Longmans protested, under the terms of their existing agreement. In April 1807 they employed as their attorney Mr. Sharon Turner, a cousin of Mr. D’Israeli, and one of Murray’s staunchest allies. Turner informed him, through a common friend, of his having been retained by the Longmans; but Murray said he could not in any way “feel hurt at so proper and indispensable a pursuit of his profession.” The opinion of counsel was in favour of the Messrs. Longman’s contention, and of their “indisputable rights to one-half of the Edin-
burgh Review so long as it continues to be published under that title.’

Longman & Co. accordingly obtained an injunction to prevent the publication of the Edinburgh Review by any other publisher in London without their express consent. Jeffrey, the editor, took part in the controversy. He suggested that he should send in his resignation, and that Constable & Co. should start a New Edinburgh Review. These arrangements, if carried into effect, might have caused many difficulties, and perhaps led to the ruin of both the publications. Murray wrote to Constable:

John Murray to Messrs. Constable & Co.
May 30th, 1807.

“The official serving of the injunction upon me will probably occur to-day. It will extend in some measure to every vendor of the Review—that is to say, any one selling it is liable to action should the adverse party think proper to go that length; but as it is not their interest to go that length, it is to be presumed that they may not, yet it must be guarded against. Your answer to the injunction, which will bring the matter to issue, is the only certain remedy. We have hitherto been successful in obviating any ill effects of the measures against us, and the grand sale of the Review has been suffered to take place without interruption.”

“It must certainly,” says Murray in a subsequent letter, “have been a very pleasing thing to you to have found such a sympathetic satisfaction in Longman, to offer pipes of wine to the editor and projector of the Edinburgh Review, but nothing that I could find has been said or thought of the original and spirited publishers of the same periodical. I am therefore most happy, if I be the first, to show my humble opinion of the merit due to them in offering from myself a pipe of the best port wine that I could procure. I beg you to accept it as a mere memorandum of the real services which I shall at all times be happy to render you for your great friendship to me, as well as of
the very high esteem which I entertain for the characters of Messrs.
Constable and Hunter.”

The difference between the contending publishers was brought to a crisis by Mr. Jeffrey in the following letter to Messrs. Constable and Co.

Mr. Francis Jeffrey to Messrs. Constable & Co.
June 1st, 1807.

I believe you understand already that neither I nor any of the original and regular writers in the Review will ever contribute a syllable to a work belonging to booksellers. It is proper, however, to announce this to you distinctly, that you may have no fear of hardship or disappointment in the event of Mr. Longman succeeding in his claim to the property of this work. If that claim be not speedily rejected or abandoned, it is our fixed resolution to withdraw entirely from the Edinburgh Review; to publish to all the world that the conductor and writers of the former numbers have no sort of connection with those that may afterwards appear; and probably to give notice of our intention to establish a new work of a similar nature under a different title.

I have the honour to be, gentlemen,
Your very obedient servant,
F. Jeffrey.

A copy of this letter was at once forwarded to Messrs. Longman. Constable, in his communication accompanying it, assured the publishers that, in the event of the editor and contributors to the Edinburgh Review withdrawing from the publication, and establishing a new periodical, the existing Review would soon be of no value either to proprietors or publishers, and requested to be informed whether they would not be disposed to transfer their interest in the property, and, if so, on what considerations. Constable added: “We are apprehensive that the editors will not postpone for many days longer that public notification
of their secession, which we cannot help anticipating as the death-blow of the publication.”

Jeffrey’s decision seems to have settled the matter. Messrs. Longman agreed to accept £1000 for their claim of property in the title and future publication of the Edinburgh Review. The injunction was removed, and the London publication of the Review was forthwith transferred to John Murray, 32 Fleet Street, under whose auspices No. 22 accordingly appeared.

The circulation continued to increase. The number sold in London went from 1000 in 1806 to 3500 at the beginning of 1807; and after the transfer of the publication to Mr. Murray, it still further increased. Of the 7000 copies printed in Edinburgh, about 5000 were sent to the London publisher.

In connection with Constable, Murray also published a considerable number of other new works and reprints, amongst them the ‘Mountain Bard’ and the ‘Shepherd’s Guide’ of Hogg, the Ettrick Shepherd; while he also took part in the publication of the re-edited dramas of Ford, Ben Jonson, and Beaumont and Fletcher. He was invited to purchase the ‘Philosophical Magazine.’ Constablerecommended for its editor Professor Wallace of Edinburgh. He wrote to Murray, “you will find him a block of gold, with rather a whinstone appearance.”

Thus far all had gone on smoothly. But a little cloud, at first no bigger than a man’s hand, made its appearance, and it grew and grew until it threw a dark shadow over the friendship of Constable and Murray, and eventually led to their complete separation. This was the system of persistent drawing of accommodation bills, renewals of bills, and promissory notes. Constablebegan to draw heavily upon Murray in April 1807, and the promissory notes went on
accumulating until they constituted a mighty mass of paper money. Bills were renewed, again and again, and the bankers were put off as long as possible. Murray’s banker cautioned him against the practice, which was desperately costly, and certain in the long run to prove ruinous. “An ounce of comfort,” he said, “is worth a pound of care.” But repeated expostulation was of no use against the impetuous needs of Constable & Co. Only two months after the transfer of the publication of the
Review to Mr. Murray, we find him writing to “Dear Constable” as follows:—

John Murray to Mr. Archd. Constable.
Oct. 1st, 1807.

“I should not have allowed myself time to write to you to-day, were not the occasion very urgent. Your people have so often of late omitted to give you timely notice of the day when my acceptances fell due, that I have suffered an inconvenience too great for me to have expressed to you, had it not occurred so often that it is impossible for me to undergo the anxiety which it occasions. A bill of yours for £200 was due yesterday, and I have been obliged to supply the means for paying it, without any notice for preparation; and on Wednesday, the first of your bills to Longman for £333. 6s. 8d. is due, and I am to remain until that day under apprehensions, lest it should be forgotten to be remitted, as it is not stated in your cash account. In granting my acceptances to your bills, I mean to exemplify all the faithful confidence which I repose in your friendship; but if the line of punctuality is once broken in upon, how can I remain easy? The best bills in the world I cannot get discounted at a moment’s notice. . . . I declare to you that it is imperative for me to tell you all the anxieties and inconvenience which I have undergone; but your own feelings will conceive them when you find it has obliged me to write to you on the subject. What would be the consequence, if anything led me from town without providing for your bills? I beg of you to insist upon this being regulated, as I am sure you must desire it to be, so that I may receive the cash for your bills two days at least before they are due.”


Mr. Murray then gives a list of bills of his own (including some of Constable’s) amounting to £1073, which he has to pay in the following week. From a cash account made out by Mr. Murray on the 3rd of October, it appears that the bill transactions with Constable had become enormous; they amounted to not less than £10,000. Murray asks for bills to keep himself right with Messrs. Dixon, his banker. “You will see,” he concludes, “what an immense sum I am to provide for, and what a difference your own bills would make to me.” More communications of the same kind followed. Constable sent Murray bills at forty days; but the latter said, “these are of no use to me at present; and I am therefore obliged to solicit the favour of you to get me a remittance at sight.” £2000 of Mrs. Murray’s marriage portion had been paid to Mr. Constable, of which he only remitted one half; and there was much correspondence about the remainder. Both continued very hard pressed for money.

John Murray to Mr. Archd. Constable.
March 12th, 1808.

“I will not, I cannot, doubt the sincerity of your friendship for me, after so much mutual intimacy; and yet your conduct towards me lately is so very different from what I felt myself accustomed to receive, that I neither know how to act, nor how to think, upon the serious affairs which are pending between us. Twelve months ago I confided to your honour and friendship the receipt of two bonds of a thousand pounds each [part of his wife’s marriage portion] with the interest upon them. The first of them that was paid you remitted to me immediately; the second, being long overdue, I repeatedly urged you to obtain, assuring you as often that I very much wanted the money. Notwithstanding which, you never wrote to me as you did in the former case; but in consequence of a new request from me, you at length told me that it had been paid, and, as if you did not know that I had expressly informed you that I wanted the money, you asked me how it should be remitted? My answer was, soliciting the favour of you to remit the
sum in bills, as you did the amount of my former bond. In consequence of this, I have been expecting the money every day, until the receipt of your last letter, a month after the money had been paid to you, whereas, without any notice of the time that it had been already detained, you tell me that it will be convenient for you to retain it for a month, unless I wish you to remit it to me. This behaviour,
Mr. Constable, after a week’s consideration, does not appear to me to be reconcilable either with friendship or business. . . . In consequence of not receiving the amount of the bond and interest, as I expected, I was obliged to sell stock to make up a large sum that I wanted, and this day I am unexpectedly obliged to provide £250 in consequence of your failure to remit this sum, for a bill of yours now due, and inserted in your cash account amongst those to be remitted to me; and I have also the inconvenience of adding a similar sum, under the apprehension that you may again fail in sending me a second £250 of yours, due on Monday next.”

It soon became evident that this state of things could not be allowed to continue. Reconciliations took place from time to time, but interruptions again occurred, mostly arising from the same source—a perpetual flood of bills and promissory notes, from one side and the other—until Murray found it peremptorily necessary to put an end to it. Towards the end of 1808 Messrs. Constable established at No. 10 Ludgate Street a London house for the sale of the Edinburgh Review, and the other works in which they were concerned, under the title of Constable, Hunter, Park and Hunter. This, doubtless, tended to widen the breach between Constable and Murray, though it left the latter free to enter into arrangements for establishing a Review of his own, an object which he had already contemplated.

There were many books in which the two houses had a joint interest, and, therefore, their relations could not be altogether discontinued. ‘Marmion’ was coming out in successive editions; but the correspondence between the
publishers grew cooler and cooler. Failures were occurring in Edinburgh. Money in the city was at 9 per cent. In these circumstances, letters such as the following could not have been very satisfactory to the London publisher.

Messrs. Constable & Co. to John Murray.
December 8th, 1810.

“It is the most unpleasant thing to be obliged to delay sending you a remittance so completely promised; but as the want of it till Monday will not, I trust, put you to inconvenience at all amounting to the vexation I feel at this moment from a dependence on the promises of others—to put it out of my power to send you the cash as I most firmly expected. Do me the kindness to forgive this till you hear from me.”

This was followed up thirteen days later by the following letter from Constable to Murray:—

“I have been again under the necessity of drawing upon you for £350 at two months, which I of course trust to your friendship to accept.”

The correspondence went on some time longer, until at length it came to a sudden termination, as will be hereafter related.

Mr. Murray had also considerable bill transactions with Ballantyne & Co. of Edinburgh. James and John Ballantyne had been schoolfellows of Walter Scott at Kelso, and the acquaintance there formed was afterwards renewed. James Ballantyne established the Kelso Mail in 1796, but at the recommendation of Scott, for whom he had printed a collection of ballads, he removed to Edinburgh in 1802. There he printed the ‘Border Minstrelsy,’ for Scott, who assisted him with money. Ballantyne was in frequent and intimate correspondence with Murray from the year 1806, and had printed for him Hogg’s ‘Ettrick Shepherd,’ and
other works. Moreover, they contemplated jointly the issue of a series of translations of the principal Classics, a scheme in which, writes James Ballantyne, “I expect much useful aid from Mr. Scott in selecting and arranging the proper classics. He seems to be much pleased with the plan.”

Pliny’s Letters,’ always a great favourite of Mr. Murray, was to have been the pioneer of the series, but the scheme was never carried out. The activity of Scott, however, provided the printer’s chief supply of copy; the publication of his works, ‘Sir Tristram’ and the ‘Lay of the Last Minstrel,’ followed in due time; and a gigantic scheme then presented itself to Scott, no less than a complete edition of the ‘British Poets,’ ancient and modern.

Scott now committed the great error of his life. His income was about £1000 a year, and with the profits of his works he might have built Abbotsford and lived in comfort and luxury. But in 1805 he sacrificed everything by entering into partnership with James Ballantyne, and embarking in his printing concern almost the whole of the capital which he possessed. He was bound to the firm for twenty years, and during that time he produced his greatest works. It is true that but for the difficulties in which he was latterly immersed, we might never have known the noble courage with which he encountered his trials and endeavoured to rise above his fate.

The scheme of the ‘British Poets’ fell through. It was afterwards taken up in a limited form by Mr. Thomas Campbell in his ‘Specimens of English Poetry.’ Meanwhile Scott proceeded with the ‘Life and Works of Dryden;’ wrote articles for the Edinburgh Review, and lived the life of a hard-working literary man. Ballantyne was enlarging his premises in the Canongate. “We had
a grand shine yesterday,” wrote
Alexander Hunter (Constable’s partner) to John Murray, 14th July, 1807; “at Messrs. Ballantyne’s printing office in his new rooms there, and a very nice thing it was. There were sixteen of us present; Walter Scott, William Erskine, Parson Thomson [Thomson of Duddingstone, the painter], Creech, and others. Everything good and abundant White Hermitage the order of the day. What would your London printers say to this? ” In the following year James Ballantyne took his brother John into partnership; and the concern seemed to go on very prosperously with Scott as Commander-in-chief.

In 1808 a scheme of great magnitude was under contemplation by Murray and the Ballantynes. It was a uniform edition of the ‘British Novelists,’ beginning with De Foe, and ending with the novelists at the close of last century; with biographical prefaces and illustrative notes by Walter Scott. A list of the novels, written in the hand of John Murray, includes thirty-six British, besides eighteen foreign authors. The collection could not have been completed in less than two hundred volumes. The scheme, if it did not originate with Walter Scott, had at least his cordial support, as will be seen from his letters to Mr. Murray, now for the first time made public.

Mr. Walter Scott to John Murray*
Ashestiel, Oct. 30th, 1808.

I have also been turning over in my mind the plan of the Novels and Romances. In my opinion they should be set about without loss of time, beginning with the Novels. Richardson, Fielding, and Smollett will lead the van with a very short memoir of each of those lives, and a prefatory essay on the peculiarities of their style. These will be followed by a good selection of novels of less name.

* The first part of this letter, which refers to the Quarterly is printed in the next chapter.

Those of later date may, however, be property, but I presume that the proprietors, for example of
Miss Burney’s novels or Mrs. Ratcliffe’s, may be easily induced to consent to their insertion. I want very much an old catalogue of a large circulating library (suppose Hookham’s or Lane’s) to assist my memory in pointing out the works which should be inserted. I have the utmost confidence in this plan succeeding to an extent almost immense, and will gladly make you a present of my own time and labour should the work not prove profitable. Despatch is, however, the surest forerunner of success. I am endeavouring to get Richardson’s Novels—pray send me his Letters lately published. As the criticism will be of a different text and paging, the Novels in double columns may, I think, be comprised in two or almost three volumes, being either ten or seven 8vo. volumes to one of the new edition.

Pray do not omit to pick up old romances and novels and tales, and above all keep your plan secret. If you send me any packages before the 12th of next month, direct them to Ballantyne’s care. On that day I must be in Edinburgh, as our Courts sit down. The time of my London journey is still uncertain, but must take place before Christmas.

I showed Mr. Robt. Dundas (President of the Board of Control) our plan of a Review,* and told him I should call on him for a good account of Indian affairs as opportunity shall offer. He approves highly, as does Mr. Canning.

I am, dear sir,
Your faithful, humble servant,
Walter Scott.
Mr. Walter Scott to John Murray.
Ashestiel, Nov. 2nd, 1808.
My dear Sir,

I wrote you a few days ago, since which I was favoured with your letter of the 26th, containing the lists of the Novels, &c., which were very acceptable. I agree with you that the shape of the Drama is inconvenient, but I really fear there is no other in which our matter will endure the necessary compression. This size is also most convenient for a shooting-seat or other place of temporary residence, as it contains a great deal in little space, and is very easily transported.

* The Quarterly.

It has also the convenience of not being “borrowed” with facility, and although the book be heavy, the subject is light—were it a volume of Sermons, indeed, a fair lady might endanger her toes by falling asleep with it in her hand. To give the selection some appearance of arrangement, it will be necessary to separate the Translations from the original Novels, to place those of each author together—which I observe is neglected in
Harrison’s series—and to keep the Novels, properly so-called, separate from Romances and Tales. I have little doubt that 20 volumes of 700 pages will hold all the Novels, &c., that are worth reprinting, but I will be a much better judge when I see the catalogues. Should we find on strict selection that a volume or two more will be necessary, we can throw the Tales into a separate division. As I am quite uncertain about my journey to town, I think you had better send me the catalogues by the mail coach. The name of work should be fixed. I have thought of two, which I submit to you: ‘The Cabinet of Novels, being a collection, &c.,’ or ‘The English Novelist.’ I like the first best because it might be varied into ‘The Cabinet of Tales and Romances;’ but perhaps you can hit upon some one better than either. We must have as many of Charlotte Smith’s novels as we can compass—the ‘Old Manor House’ in particular. Pray look out for ‘Chaou Kiou Choau; or, The Pleasing Chinese History’; it is a work of equal rarity and curiosity. I agree entirely with you about Baron Trenck; but as to Marmontel, don’t you think a good selection of memoirs might one day be a more fit receptacle for him than our Cabinet?

Your faithful servant,
Walter Scott.

Mr. Murray not unreasonably feared the cost of carrying such an undertaking to completion. It could not have amounted to less than twenty thousand pounds. Yet the Ballantynes urged him on. They furnished statements of the cost of printing and paper for each volume. “It really strikes me,” said James Ballantyne, “the more I think of and examine it, to be the happiest speculation that has ever been thought of.”

Mr. James Ballantyne to John Murray.

“With regard to the strong case which you put, of your being £19,000 in advance before you could draw any part of your outlay, Mr. Scott is of opinion that you might publish a part of the work during its progress; so much, that is, as would of itself form a respectable publication, and would at the same time, prove you to be so far advanced as to distance competition. He thinks you may safely publish the works of Richardson, Fielding, and Smollett, before proceeding further . . . Mr. Scott thinks also that the publication of the first six volumes should be accompanied with a full detail of your plan, and an assurance to the public that it was in speedy progress, and would certainly be completed . . . Mr. Scott is so sanguine about this plan, that I believe he means to propose to you to embark £500 or £1000 in it. I wish to God I had any money to embark.”

This undertaking eventually fell through. Only the works of De Foe were printed by the Messrs. Ballantyne, and published by Mr. Murray. The attention of the latter became absorbed by a subject of much greater importance to him—the establishment of the Quarterly Review. This for a time threw most of his other schemes into the shade.

Another enterprise in which the Ballantynes endeavoured to induce Mr. Murray to take a share was the Edinburgh Annual Register, of which James Ballantyne was to be editor, and to which Scott, Mackenzie, Erskine, and Prof. Leslie were to be contributors. One-twelfth share was offered to Mr. Murray, and similar portions were offered to other London booksellers.

“I look forward,” wrote the sanguine James, “to this work as to an inheritance; for the assistance I have received is of the most splendid kind. Mr. Scott’s words were, ‘Ballantyne, tell Murray not to be hasty in rejecting these shares. If the other parties hesitate and refuse, tell him by all means to take them himself.’”


We must not close this chapter without mentioning a publication, differing widely, indeed, in character from those previously dealt with, but which has always been closely associated with Mr. Murray’s name, and if success be a gauge of merit, may be called one of his principal achievements.

It has been suggested that the cares of housekeeping first turned Mr. Murray’s attention to cookery; be this as it may, there can be no doubt that Mrs. Rundell’sDomestic Cookery’ owed much of its success to Mr. Murray’s happy choice of a title, of which he was not a little proud. Mrs. Rundell, an old family friend of the publisher, was connected with the well-known firm of Rundell and Bridges, silversmiths. Her book, as originally submitted, was subsequently so much enlarged, altered, and improved, in accordance with Murray’s suggestions, as to be rendered practically a new work. Previous cookery books had not done justice to the domestic element; they had been written by French cooks chiefly for tavern use, and were both bad and dear. The new cookery book met a great domestic want of the British housewife, and proved a great success. From five to ten thousand copies were printed yearly, and it long continued a favourite with the public.