Dear Mr Murray

Dear Mr Murray: Letters to a Gentleman Publisher selected and introduced by David McClay (John Murray, 2018)

Introduced by David McClay

For any business to last 250 years is remarkable. For a publishing business to do so, when almost every venture is a risk, is exceptional. In 2018 the publishing house of John Murray celebrates a quarter-millennial history. When Edinburgh-born John Murray set up in London’s Fleet Street in 1768, he would have little expected such longevity to his name and publishing house, and as recently as 2002 the business was still in the founding family’s ownership. It was the seventh John Murray who sold the business that year, allowing it to continue to thrive into another century as a successful imprint of John Murray Press, part of Hodder & Stoughton.

In this selection of letters to the first six Murrays, while covering a wide range of authors, genres and themes, is by no means intended to be comprehensive, but it provides a flavour of the rich history and archives of of one of the most famous names in publishing.

The Murrays established and maintained a reputation as gentlemen publishers, whose interest in the books they were publishing was matched by their concern to deal with authors fairly; however their sound understanding of business and knowledge of the book trade itself must never be overlooked.

Murray’s published important and influential works on politics, philosophy, religion and science. Other titles – travel, biography, history, drama, poetry or novels – primarily aimed to entertain. But whatever the genre of literature involved, all these works required the involvement of a publisher to bring the book before an audience. As this selection makes clear, this was rarely done without a lot of hard work, the occasional quarrel, and a network of people besides the author and publisher who left behind a remarkable body of correspondence.


A new exhibition –  250 Years of John Murray – opens at The Story of Books in Hay-on-Wye on Saturday 24 November 2018, using extracts from Dear Mr Murray and stunning photographs of books in the John Murray Archive. Find out more at

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