Whenever I am in Edinburgh, I visit the John Murray Archive at the National Library of Scotland. The library has many treasures, as it is a legal deposit library and holds many historic books and artifacts (such items as the last letter written by Mary, Queen of Scots), but the John Murray archive is truly special.
Seven generations of John Murrays formed a London publishing house (founded in 1768). When it was sold in 2006 the collection included 234 years’ worth of manuscripts, letters, business papers and documents, with connections to Byron, Jane Austen, Darwin, Arthur Conan Doyle, David Livingstone, John Betjeman, Patrick Leigh Fermor, and many others.
There are over one million items in the collection and it has been valued at over £100 million. The library is still purchasing material relating to the Murrays and 19th century publishing. In 2011 the archive was added to the UNESCO Register of World Memory.
The library has wonderful displays, which are often changed, celebrating the various authors who were represented by John Murray. World Poetry Day is celebrated by featuring some of the poets from their collection – ledgers, correspondence, rare books and much more are put out for the public to view.
This unique collection could so easily have been dispersed or sold overseas. As the first John Murray was a Scot, it is wonderful that the collection has made its way back to Scotland and is so well cared for and displayed in one of Britain’s great libraries.