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Memoir of John Murray
Walter Scott to George Ellis, 2 November 1808

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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Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License.
Produced by CATH
November 2nd, 1808.
Dear Ellis,

We had, equally to our joy and surprise, a flying visit from Heber about three weeks ago. He staid but three days, but, between old stories and new, we made them very merry in their passage. During his stay, John Murray, the bookseller in Fleet Street, who has more real knowledge of what concerns his business than any of his brethren—at least, than any of them that I know—came to canvass a most important plan, of which I am now, in “dern privacie,” to give you the outline. I had most strongly recommended to our Lord Advocate (the Right Hon. J. C. Colquhoun) to think of some counter measures against the Edinburgh Review, which, politically speaking, is doing incalculable damage. I do not mean this in a party way; the present ministry are not all I could wish them, for (Canning excepted) I doubt there is among them too much self-seeking. . . . But their political principles are sound English principles, and, compared to the greedy and inefficient horde which preceded them, they are angels of light and purity. It is obvious, however, that they want defenders, both in and out of doors. Pitt’s
“Love and fear glued many friends to him;
And now he’s fallen, those tough co-mixtures melt.”
Were this only to effect a change of hands I should expect it with more indifference; but I fear a change of principles

* The remainder of this letter, which deals with the proposed Novelists’ Library, is printed in the preceding chapter.

is designed. The
Edinburgh Review tells you coolly, “We foresee a speedy revolution in this country as well as Mr. Cobbett;” and, to say the truth, by degrading the person of the Sovereign, exalting the power of the French armies and the wisdom of their counsels, holding forth that peace (which they allow can only be purchased by the humiliating prostration of our honour) is indispensable to the very existence of our country, I think that for these two years past they have done their utmost to hasten the accomplishment of their own prophecy. Of this work 9000 copies are printed quarterly, and no genteel family can pretend to be without it, because, independent of its politics, it gives the only valuable literary criticism which can be met with. Consider, of the numbers who read this work, how many are there likely to separate the literature from the politics?—how many youths are there upon whose minds the flashy and bold character of the work is likely to make an indelible impression?—and think what the consequence is likely to be.

Now, I think there is balm in Gilead for all this, and that the cure lies in instituting such a Review in London as should be conducted totally independent of bookselling influence, on a plan as liberal as that of the Edinburgh, its literature as well supported, and its principles English and constitutional. Accordingly, I have been given to understand that Mr. William Gifford is willing to become the conductor of such a work, and I have written to him, at the Lord Advocate’s desire, a very voluminous letter on the subject. Now, should this plan succeed, you must hang your birding-piece on its hook, take down your old Anti-Jacobin armour, and “remember your swashing blow.” It is not that I think this projected Review ought to be exclusively or principally political; this would, in my opinion, absolutely counteract its purpose, which I think should be to offer to those who love their country, and to those whom we would wish to love it, a periodical work of criticism conducted with equal talent, but upon sounder principles. Is not this very possible? In point of learning, you Englishmen have ten times our scholarship; and, as for talent and genius, “Are not Abana and Pharpar, rivers of Damascus, better than any of the rivers in Israel?” Have we not yourself and your cousin, the Roses, Malthus, Matthias, Gifford, Heber, and his brother? Can I not
procure you a score of blue-caps who would rather write for us than for the
Edinburgh Review if they got as much pay by it? “A good plot, good friends, and full of expectation—an excellent plot, very good friends!”

Heber’s fear was lest we should fail in procuring regular steady contributors; but I know so much of the interior discipline of reviewing as to have no apprehension of that. Provided we are once set a-going by a few dashing numbers, there would be no fear of enlisting regular contributors; but the amateurs must bestir themselves in the first instance. From the Government we should be entitled to expect confidential communications as to points of fact (so far as fit to be made public) in our political disquisitions. With this advantage, our good cause and St. George to boot, we may at least divide the field with our formidable competitors, who, after all, are much better at cutting than parrying, and whose uninterrupted triumph has as much unfitted them for resisting a serious attack as it has done Buonaparte for the Spanish war. Jeffrey is, to be sure, a man of the most uncommon versatility of talent, but what then?
“General Howe is a gallant commander,
There are others as gallant as he.”
Think of all this, and let me hear from you very soon on the subject.
Canning is, I have good reason to know, very anxious about the plan. I mentioned it to Robert Dundas, who was here with his lady for a few days on a pilgrimage to Melrose, and he highly approved of it. Though no literary man, he is judicious, clair-voyant, and uncommonly sound-headed, like his father, Lord Melville. With the exceptions I have mentioned, the thing continues a secret . . . .

Ever yours,
Walter Scott.