Saturday, 15 May 2010

Making Connections

In the John Murray Archive, everything connects to everything else. That office in Albemarle Street was like a nerve ganglion where every 19th century sensation met.

Byron has an affair with Caroline Lamb, whose husband William, under the title of Lord Melbourne, will go on to be Victoria's first Prime Minister, who had an alleged affair with Caroline Norton, who published poems on the Factory Acts for Murray, and later, having lost her children as a consequence of the alleged affair, became a leading campaigner for the property rights of married women, excoriated in Murray's Quarterly Review.

Byron's Child Harold, Murray's first great success, also inaugurated a genre of personal travel narratives, which met up with the exploration narratives of Africa and the Arctic by figures such as John Franklin and David Livingstone. One of these mapping expeditions to Latin America was undertaken in 1835 by HMS Beagle, whose Captain brought on board as gentleman companion one Charles Darwin, whose narrative of the Voyage was published by Murray, which led Murray, 15 years later, to become the publisher of the Origin of Species, which rivals the Bible and Newton's Principia as the most important work ever to see print.

At the same time, in the very same month, John Murray III published an extraordinary Dictionary of the Bible, which is almost as long as the original, in which every tree, shrub and event of the scriptures is re-presented in taxonomic, scientific form...and an account of the discovery of what had happened to Franklin's disappeared expedition of 1845...The Voyage of the Fox, a copy of which he sent to Charles Darwin, having earlier published Austen Layard's archaeological researches which founded their success on their apparent confirmation of the biblical narrative.

So it goes on and on...if you start with Byron you can also trace the romantic heritage of the exploring British Hero through Alexander Burnes of Montrose, Central Asian superspy murdered in Kabul in 1841 through to Isabella Bird, one of the great travelling Englishwomen (like Lady Franklin), and her adventures in China before the Boxer Rebellion...on and on, leading off in tangent after tangent...

Unified only by the London location of the publisher, and the intuition that somehow, this mass of material all leads back to Byron lunging with his stick at Murray's bookshelves after fencing practice...And now this network of correspondences and correspondances is in Edinburgh. And I get the vertiginous pleasure of exploring it and reporting back, perhaps even coherantly sometimes, on my personal responses to what I find.

No comments:

Post a Comment