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John Murray Archive up for sale 2004-02-23

Posted by clype in Humanities, Money, Scotland.
  • The original manuscript of Charles Darwin's work 'On the Origin of Species' as well as his proposals and outline of the contents of the highly valuable work.
  • The correspondence of the Aberdeen-raised Lord Byron, and the letters written to him, by Mary Shelley among others, many of them unpublished.
  • The notes of the Lanarkshire-born explorer David Livingstone, and the manuscripts of his 'Missionary Travels and Narrative of an expedition to the Zambesi and its Tributaries'.

Those are but a few of the works in 'The John Murray Archive', a collection — made by seven John Murrays who ran the family publishing house, launched in 1768, for more than 200 years — which is set to be moved to Scotland from its current storage in London.

'The Scottish Executive' appears poised to back 'The National Library of Scotland' bid to buy the collection for close to 33 million GBP. The injection of several million pounds on top of a Lottery bid for 22 million GBP promises to take the library's plan from the realm of 'wishful thinking' to a top priority of Scottish cultural policy.

What this huge investment promises to do, backers stressed yesterday, is not simply deliver to Scotland a literary treasure-trove. The archive lays out the history of 19th-century Britain, supporters claim, a period of world history when Scots went out and staked their place in no uncertain terms.

They include, for example, the correspondence of Isabella Bird, the first female fellow of 'The Royal Scottish Geographical Society', an extraordinary traveller who in the 1850s and 60s travelled to Australia, New Zealand, Hawaii, India, the Persian Gulf and the Rocky Mountains.

Bird claims a strong modern following, having travelled as a 'lone woman', highly unusual at the time. Best known for her book, 'A Lady's Life in the Rocky Mountains', her letters to the John Murray of the day include lengthy descriptions of her travels.

The first John Murray was born in 1745 and raised near the current site of 'The National Library of England'. He founded the firm in London in 1768.

There it remained until the company's purchase by 'Hodder Headline' in 2002 galvanised attention as to what to do with 'The John Murray Archive'. From its base in Albermarle Street, the firm published writers from Jane Austen to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and John Betjeman. It kept its strong Scottish affiliation; the second John Murray became part owner of the 'Edinburgh Review'.

The collection which resulted as the firm kept its meticulous records has been valued in the region of 40 million GBP as a whole.

The seventh John Murray, 'Septimus', has said in interviews that he would 'love it to come to Scotland', and is reported to be asking only 33 million GBP for a Scottish sale.

He is also said to be proposing to set aside 3 million GBP for a library trust fund to finance an archivist and cataloguer, as well as the running costs of a reading room. There are individual items of inestimable value: Darwin's letters, for example, given the extraordinary impact of his theory of evolution and the debates that surround it to this day. If the collection was crudely broken up and sold to private individuals or separate libraries, it could collect double what Mr.Murray is asking, it is suggested.

The extraordinary attraction of the collection comes in it being preserved together and kept in Scotland.

There are at least 150 000 separate items in the collection, that has only now been catalogued in full for the first time. Many would complement 'The National Library's' existing collections of letters and works by Sir Walter Scott or the explorer Sir John Kirk, who travelled with Livingstone.

As well as the letters from Byron to the firm, John Murray also has Byron's own archives. Lord Byron's literary executor inherited Byron's papers, left them to his daughter, who in turn bequeathed them to the Murrays, forming an archive within an archive. 'The British Library' has expressed support for Scotland's bid to house the archive, said 'The National Library of Scotland's' head and the national librarian, Mr.Martyn Wade.

'Their primary concern is to make sure the archive stays in Britain, and they welcome our efforts to purchase the archives'.

The huge and astonishingly rich collection lends itself to classroom use, in terms of archival packs that would available for school teachers. 'The Scottish Library' would plan to stage an ever-changing exhibition of items on display, as well as specific shows devoted to the works of Lord Byron, Jane Austen or others, said Mr.Wade.

'It is a hugely important nationally, and internationally, but it is also important to Scotland because the firm was originally Scottish and there are very strong Scottish connections right throughout.

'If we are successful, it would be a "coup" for "The National Library", and a "coup" for Scotland'.

'Archive set to find a home in Scotland', Tim Cornwell, The Scotsman, 2004-02-23


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