Samuel Smiles.

A Publisher and His Friends Memoir and Correspondence of John Murray; with an Account of the Origin and Progress of the House, 1768-1843 online

. (page 5 of 37)
Online LibrarySamuel SmilesA Publisher and His Friends Memoir and Correspondence of John Murray; with an Account of the Origin and Progress of the House, 1768-1843 → online text (page 5 of 37)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

you, Sir, and your friends. Should you, Sir, think the idea worthy of
encouragement, I should, with equal pride and willingness, engage my
arduous exertions to promote its success; but as my object is nothing
short of producing a work of the greatest talent and importance, I shall
entertain it no longer if it be not so fortunate as to obtain the high
patronage which I have thus taken the liberty to solicit.

Permit me, Sir, to add that the person who addresses you is no
adventurer, but a man of some property, and inheriting a business that
has been established for nearly a century. I therefore trust that my
application will be attributed to its proper motives, and that your
goodness will at least pardon its obtrusion.

I have the honour to be, Sir, Your must humble and obedient Servant,

John Murray.

So far as can be ascertained, Mr. Canning did not answer this letter in
writing. But a communication was shortly after opened with him through
Mr. Stratford Canning, whose acquaintance Mr. Murray had made through
the publication of the "Miniature," referred to in a preceding chapter.
Mr. Canning was still acting as Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs,
and was necessarily cautious, but Mr. Stratford Canning, his cousin, was
not bound by any such official restraints. In January 1808 he introduced
Mr. Gifford to Mr. Murray, and the starting of the proposed new
periodical was the subject of many consultations between them.

Walter Scott still continued to write for the _Edinburgh_,
notwithstanding the differences of opinion which existed between himself
and the editor as to political questions. He was rather proud of the
_Review_, inasmuch as it was an outgrowth of Scottish literature. Scott
even endeavoured to enlist new contributors, for the purpose of
strengthening the _Review_. He wrote to Robert Southey in 1807, inviting
him to contribute to the _Edinburgh_. The honorarium was to be ten
guineas per sheet of sixteen pages. This was a very tempting invitation
to Southey, as he was by no means rich at the time, and the pay was more
than he received for his contributions to the _Annual Register_, but he
replied to Scott as follows:

_Mr. Southey to Mr. Scott_.

_December, 1807_.

"I have scarcely one opinion in common with it [the _Edinburgh Review_]
upon any subject.... Whatever of any merit I might insert there would
aid and abet opinions hostile to my own, and thus identify me with a
system which I thoroughly disapprove. This is not said hastily. The
emolument to be derived from writing at ten guineas a sheet, Scotch
measure, instead of seven pounds for the _Annual_, would be
considerable; the pecuniary advantage resulting from the different
manner in which my future works would be handled [by the _Review_]
probably still more so. But my moral feelings must not be compromised.
To Jeffrey as an individual I shall ever be ready to show every kind of
individual courtesy; but of Judge Jeffrey of the _Edinburgh Review_ I
must ever think and speak as of a bad politician, a worse moralist, and
a critic, in matters of taste, equally incompetent and unjust."
[Footnote: "The Life and Correspondence of Robert Southey," iii. pp.
124-5.] Walter Scott, before long, was led to entertain the same opinion
of the _Edinburgh Review_ as Southey. A severe and unjust review of
"Marmion," by Jeffrey, appeared in 1808, accusing Scott of a mercenary
spirit in writing for money (though Jeffrey himself was writing for
money in the same article), and further irritating Scott by asserting
that he "had neglected Scottish feelings and Scottish characters."
"Constable," writes Scott to his brother Thomas, in November 1808, "or
rather that Bear, his partner [Mr. Hunter], has behaved by me of late
not very civilly, and I owe Jeffrey a flap with a foxtail on account of
his review of 'Marmion,' and thus doth the whirligig of time bring about
my revenges."

Murray, too, was greatly annoyed by the review of "Marmion." "Scott," he
used to say, "may forgive but he can never forget this treatment"; and,
to quote the words of Mr. Lockhart: "When he read the article on
'Marmion,' and another on foreign politics, in the same number of the
_Edinburgh Review_, Murray said to himself, 'Walter Scott has feelings,
both as a gentleman and a Tory, which these people must now have
wounded; the alliance between him and the whole clique of the _Edinburgh
Review_ is now shaken'"; and, as far at least as the political part of
the affair was concerned, John Murray's sagacity was not at fault.

Mr. Murray at once took advantage of this opening to draw closer the
bonds between himself and Ballantyne, for he well knew who was the
leading spirit in the firm, and showed himself desirous of obtaining the
London agency of the publishing business, which, as he rightly
discerned, would soon be started in connection with the Canongate Press,
and in opposition to Constable. The large increase of work which Murray
was prepared to place in the hands of the printers induced Ballantyne to
invite him to come as far as Ferrybridge in Yorkshire for a personal
conference. At this interview various new projects were discussed - among
them the proposed Novelists' Library - and from the information which he
then obtained as to Scott's personal feelings and literary projects,
Murray considered himself justified in at once proceeding to Ashestiel,
in order to lay before Scott himself, in a personal interview, his great
scheme for the new Review. He arrived there about the middle of October
1808, and was hospitably welcomed and entertained. He stated his plans,
mentioned the proposed editor of the Review, the probable contributors,
and earnestly invited the assistance of Scott himself.

During Murray's visit to Ashestiel No. 26 of the _Edinburgh Review_
arrived. It contained an article entitled "Don Cevallos on the
Occupation of Spain." It was long supposed that the article was written
by Brougham, but it has since been ascertained that Jeffrey himself was
the author of it. This article gave great offence to the friends of
rational liberty and limited monarchy in this country. Scott forthwith
wrote to Constable: "The _Edinburgh Review had_ become such as to render
it impossible for me to become a contributor to it; _now_ it is such as
I can no longer continue to receive or read it."

"The list of the then subscribers," said Mr. Cadell to Mr. Lockhart,
"exhibits, in an indignant dash of Constable's pen opposite Mr. Scott's
name, the word 'STOPT!'"

Mr. Murray never forgot his visit to Ashestiel. Scott was kindness
itself; Mrs. Scott was equally cordial and hospitable. Richard Heber was
there at the time, and the three went out daily to explore the scenery
of the neighbourhood. They visited Melrose Abbey, the Tweed, and
Dryburgh Abbey, not very remote from Melrose, where Scott was himself to
lie; they ascended the Eildon Hills, Scott on his sheltie often stopping
by the way to point out to Murray and Heber, who were on foot, some
broad meadow or heather-clad ground, as a spot where some legend held
its seat, or some notable deed had been achieved during the wars of the
Borders. Scott thus converted the barren hillside into a region of
interest and delight. From the top of the Eildons he pointed out the
scene of some twenty battles.

Very soon after his return to London, Murray addressed the following
letter to Mr. Scott:

_John Murray to Mr. Scott_.

_October_ 26, 1808.


Although the pressure of business since my return to London has
prevented me writing to you sooner, yet my thoughts have, I assure you,
been almost completely employed upon the important subjects of the
conversation with which you honoured me during the time I was
experiencing the obliging hospitality of Mrs. Scott and yourself at

Then, after a reference to the Novelists' Library mentioned in the last
chapter, the letter continues:

"I have seen Mr. William Gifford, hinting distantly at a Review; he
admitted the most imperious necessity for one, and that too in a way
that leads me to think that he has had very important communications
upon the subject.... I feel more than ever confident that the higher
powers are exceedingly desirous for the establishment of some
counteracting publication; and it will, I suspect, remain only for your
appearance in London to urge some very formidable plan into activity."

This letter was crossed in transit by the following:

_Mr. Scott to John Murray_.

ASHESTIEL, BY SELKIRK, _October_ 30, 1808.


"Since I had the pleasure of seeing you I have the satisfaction to find
that Mr. Gifford has accepted the task of editing the intended Review.
This was communicated to me by the Lord Advocate, who at the same time
requested me to write Mr. Gifford on the subject. I have done so at
great length, pointing out whatever occurred to me on the facilities or
difficulties of the work in general, as well as on the editorial
department, offering at the same time all the assistance in my power to
set matters upon a good footing and to keep them so. I presume he will
have my letter by the time this reaches you, and that he will
communicate with you fully upon the details. I am as certain as of my
existence that the plan will answer, provided sufficient attention is
used in procuring and selecting articles of merit."

What Scott thought of Murray's visit to Ashestiel may be inferred from
his letter to his political confidant, George Ellis, of which, as it has
already appeared in Scott's Life, it is only necessary to give extracts

_Mr. Scott to Mr. George Ellis_.

_November_ 2, 1808.


"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."

Then, after a reference to the large circulation (9,000) and mischievous
politics of the _Edinburgh Review_, he proceeds:

"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."

_Mr. Scott to John Murray_.

_November_ 2, 1808.

I transmitted my letter to Mr. Gifford through the Lord Advocate, and
left it open that Mr. Canning might read it if he thought it worth
while. I have a letter from the Advocate highly approving my views, so I
suppose you will very soon hear from Mr. Gifford specifically on the
subject. It is a matter of immense consequence that something shall be
set about, and that without delay....

The points on which I chiefly insisted with Mr. Gifford were that the
Review should be independent both as to bookselling and ministerial
influences - meaning that we were not to be advocates of party through
thick and thin, but to maintain constitutional principles. Moreover, I
stated as essential that the literary part of the work should be as
sedulously attended to as the political, because it is by means of that
alone that the work can acquire any firm and extended reputation.

Moreover yet, I submitted that each contributor should draw money for
his article, be his rank what it may. This general rule has been of
great use to the _Edinburgh Review_. Of terms I said nothing, except
that your views on the subject seemed to me highly liberal. I do not add
further particulars because I dare say Mr. Gifford will show you the
letter, which is a very long one. Believe me, my dear Sir, with sincere

Your faithful, humble Servant,

Walter Scott.

In a subsequent letter to Mr. Ellis, Scott again indicates what he
considers should be the proper management of the proposed Review.

"Let me touch," he says, "a string of much delicacy - the political
character of the Review. It appears to me that this should be of a
liberal and enlarged nature, resting upon principles - indulgent and
conciliatory as far as possible upon mere party questions, but stern in
detecting and exposing all attempts to sap our constitutional fabric.
Religion is another slippery station; here also I would endeavour to be
as impartial as the subject will admit of.... The truth is, there is
policy, as well as morality, in keeping our swords clear as well as
sharp, and not forgetting the Gentleman in the Critic. The public
appetite is soon gorged with any particular style. The common Reviews,
before the appearance of the _Edinburgh_, had become extremely mawkish;
and, unless when prompted by the malice of the bookseller or reviewer,
gave a dawdling, maudlin sort of applause to everything that reached
even mediocrity. The _Edinburgh_ folks squeezed into their sauce plenty
of acid, and were popular from novelty as well as from merit. The minor
Reviews, and other periodical publications, have _outréd_ the matter
still further, and given us all abuse and no talent.... This, therefore,
we have to trust to, that decent, lively, and reflecting criticism,
teaching men not to abuse books, but to read and to judge them, will
have the effect of novelty upon a public wearied with universal efforts
at blackguard and indiscriminating satire. I have a long and very
sensible letter [Footnote: Given below, under date November 15, 1808.]
from John Murray, the bookseller, in which he touches upon this point
very neatly."

Scott was most assiduous in his preparations for the first number. He
wrote to his brother, Thomas Scott, asking him to contribute an article;
to Charles Kirkpatrick Sharpe, of Christ Church, Oxford; to Mr. Morritt,
of Rokeby Park, Yorkshire; and to Robert Southey, of Keswick, asking
them for contributions. To Mr. Sharpe he says:

"The Hebers are engaged, item Rogers, Southey, Moore (Anacreon), and
others whose reputations Jeffrey has murdered, and who are rising to cry
woe upon him, like the ghosts in 'King Richard.'"

Scott's letter to Gilford, the intended editor, was full of excellent
advice. It was dated "Edinburgh, October 25, 1808." We quote from it
several important passages:

"John Murray, of Fleet Street," says Scott, "a young bookseller of
capital and enterprise, and with more good sense and propriety of
sentiment than fall to the share of most of the trade, made me a visit
at Ashestiel a few weeks ago; and as I found he had had some
communication with you upon the subject, I did not hesitate to
communicate my sentiments to him on this and some other points of the
plan, and I thought his ideas were most liberal and satisfactory.

"The office of Editor is of such importance, that had you not been
pleased to undertake it, I fear the plan would have fallen wholly to the
ground. The full power of control must, of course, be vested in the
editor for selecting, curtailing, and correcting the contributions to
the Review. But this is not all; for, as he is the person immediately
responsible to the bookseller that the work (amounting to a certain
number of pages, more or less) shall be before the public at a certain
time, it will be the editor's duty to consider in due turn the articles
of which each number ought to consist, and to take measures for
procuring them from the persons best qualified to write upon such and
such subjects. But this is sometimes so troublesome, that I foresee with
pleasure you will soon be obliged to abandon your resolution of writing
nothing yourself. At the same time, if you will accept of my services as
a sort of jackal or lion's provider, I will do all in my power to assist
in this troublesome department of editorial duty.

"But there is still something behind, and that of the last consequence.
One great resource to which the _Edinburgh_ editor turns himself, and by
which he gives popularity even to the duller articles of his _Review_,
is accepting contributions from persons of inferior powers of writing,
provided they understand the books to which their criticisms relate; and
as such are often of stupefying mediocrity, he renders them palatable by
throwing in a handful of spice, namely, any lively paragraph or
entertaining illustration that occurs to him in reading them over. By
this sort of veneering he converts, without loss of time or hindrance to
business, articles, which in their original state might hang in the
market, into such goods as are not likely to disgrace those among which
they are placed. This seems to be a point in which an editor's
assistance is of the last consequence, for those who possess the
knowledge necessary to review books of research or abstruse
disquisitions, are very often unable to put the criticisms into a
readable, much more a pleasant and captivating form; and as their
science cannot be attained 'for the nonce,' the only remedy is to supply
their deficiencies, and give their lucubrations a more popular turn.

"There is one opportunity possessed by you in a particular degree - that
of access to the best sources of political information. It would not,
certainly, be advisable that the work should assume, especially at the
outset, a professed political character. On the contrary, the articles
on science and miscellaneous literature ought to be of such a quality as
might fairly challenge competition with the best of our contemporaries.
But as the real reason of instituting the publication is the disgusting
and deleterious doctrine with which the most popular of our Reviews
disgraces its pages, it is essential to consider how this warfare should
be managed. On this ground, I hope it is not too much to expect from
those who have the power of assisting us, that they should on topics of
great national interest furnish the reviewers, through the medium of
their editor, with accurate views of points of fact, so far as they are
fit to be made public. This is the most delicate and yet most essential
part of our scheme.

"On the one hand, it is certainly not to be understood that we are to be
held down to advocate upon all occasions the cause of administration.
Such a dereliction of independence would render us entirely useless for
the purpose we mean to serve. On the other hand, nothing will render the
work more interesting than the public learning, not from any vaunt of
ours, but from their own observation, that we have access to early and
accurate information on points of fact. The _Edinburgh Review_ has
profited much by the pains which the Opposition party have taken to
possess the writers of all the information they could give them on
public matters. Let me repeat that you, my dear sir, from enjoying the
confidence of Mr. Canning, and other persons in power, may easily obtain
the confidential information necessary to give credit to the work, and
communicate it to such as you may think proper to employ in laying it
before the public."

Mr. Scott further proceeded, in his letter to Mr. Gifford, to discuss
the mode and time of publication, the choice of subjects, the persons to
be employed as contributors, and the name of the proposed Review, thus
thoroughly identifying himself with it.

"Let our forces," he said, "for a number or two, consist of volunteers
or amateurs, and when we have acquired some reputation, we shall soon
levy and discipline our forces of the line. After all, the matter is
become very serious - eight or nine thousand copies of the _Edinburgh
Review_ are regularly distributed, merely because there is no other
respectable and independent publication of the kind. In this city
(Edinburgh), where there is not one Whig out of twenty men who read the
work, many hundreds are sold; and how long the generality of readers
will continue to dislike politics, so artfully mingled with information
and amusement, is worthy of deep consideration. But it is not yet too
late to stand in the breach; the first number ought, if possible, to be
out in January, and if it can burst among them like a bomb, without
previous notice, the effect will be more striking.

"Of those who might be intrusted in the first instance you are a much
better judge than I am. I think I can command the assistance of a friend
or two here, particularly William Erskine, the Lord Advocate's
brother-in-law and my most intimate friend. In London, you have Malthus,
George Ellis, the Roses, _cum pluribus aliis_. Richard Heber was with me
when Murray came to my farm, and, knowing his zeal for the good cause, I
let him into our counsels. In Mr. Frere we have the hopes of a potent
ally. The Rev. Reginald Heber would be an excellent coadjutor, and when
I come to town I will sound Matthias. As strict secrecy would of course
be observed, the diffidence of many might be overcome. For scholars you
can be at no loss while Oxford stands where it did; and I think there
will be no deficiency in the scientific articles."

Online LibrarySamuel SmilesA Publisher and His Friends Memoir and Correspondence of John Murray; with an Account of the Origin and Progress of the House, 1768-1843 → online text (page 5 of 37)