Dear Mr Murray: Letters to a Gentleman Publisher

PART OF THE Jolabokaflod ISSUE

‘What in the world is become of that unlucky perverse callan Lord Byron?’

To those currently working in publishing, we’re sure when you’re elbow deep in metadata spreadsheets, you might wish you worked in the industry at a simpler time. To get a greater glimpse into those days of gentleman publishing, BooksfromScotland recommends Dear Mr Murray, a collection of letters from the John Murray archive. You’ll find amongst these pages complaints from Jane Austen about a print delay, Lord Byron discussing his eventful love life, and Adrian Conan Doyle challenging a literary critic to a duel. Maybe metadata spreadsheets are less stressful after all!


Extract taken from Dear Mr Murray: Letters to a Gentleman Publisher
Edited by David McClay
Published by John Murray


The largely self-taught Scottish poet James Hogg, known as ‘the Ettrick Shepherd’, struggled to make a living as a shepherd and enjoyed only limited commercial success as a writer. Despite gaining admirers among literary circles, his lack of manners and argumentative nature often caused him diffi­culties. As a result he was always short of money and hoped that his friendships with John Murray II, Walter Scott and Lord Byron would boost his literary career.

Hogg, however, often caused offence to his fellow poets: with Byron by making crude and inappropriate jokes over his marriage and with Scott and Byron over their reluctance to contribute to his proposed poetical magazine. Hogg and Murray first met in Edinburgh in the autumn of 1814, with Murray encouraged to publish him upon his reciting part of his poem Pilgrims of the Sun (1815). Between the agreement to publish and the work appearing in print Hogg, desperate for money and news of Byron, wrote to Murray.


James Hogg to John Murray II, Edinburgh, 26 December 1814

Dear Murray

What the deuce have you made of my excellent poem that you are never publishing it while I am starving for want of money and cannot even afford a Christmas goose to my friends? I think I may say of you as the countryman said to his friend who asked him when his wife had her accouche­ment ‘Troth, man’ said he ‘she’s aye gaun aboot yet and I think she’ll be gaun to keep this ane till hirsel a thegither’. However I daresay that like the said wife you have your reasons for it but of all things a bookseller’s reasons suit worst with a poets board – I should be glad to know if you got safely across the Tweed and what number of the little family group you lost by the way betwixt Edin. and London and how everything in the literary world is going on with you since that time – Why do you never write to me? Have you ever seen Moore or talked to him about our projected reporting? What in the world is become of that unlucky perverse callan Lord Byron? I have not heard from him these two months and more. I have really been afraid for some time past that he was dead or perhaps even married and was truly very concerned about the lad – But I was informed the other day by a gentleman of the utmost respectability that he was very busy writing godly psalms to be sung in congregations and families and when I heard that I said, ‘If that be the case there’s no man sure of his life’ – I do not know where to find him else I would write him a scolding letter – I have nothing in the world to say to you only be sure to let me hear from you and tell me how you are like to come on with the copies of the Queen’s Wake which I sent you. It has been a losing business and you must get me as much for it as you can afford. I hope you will soon find occasion for sending me an offer for a fifth edition. I am interrupted so farewell for the present.

God bless you

James Hogg


Dear Mr Murray: Letters to a Gentleman Publisher is edited by David McClay, published by John Murray, and priced £16.99

Another Christmas recommendation: Letters of Note, edited by Shaun Usher, published by Canongate Books, priced £16.99

Share this


Local Hero: Richard Hannay Returns! click Local Hero: Richard Hannay Returns!

‘Whatever had brought him to Scotland, it was clearly a secret venture unsanctioned by conventional …


Christmas in the Bookshop click Christmas in the Bookshop

‘Shortly before closing time on Christmas Eve there is, without fail, a surge of panicked farmers de …