An Excerpt from Memoirs of John Murray by Samuel Smiles
Some of the obscure authors who applied to Mr. Murray were exorbitant in their ideas of remuneration, but this was not the case with Miss Jane Austen, one of the most modest of authoresses. Her first novel was 'Northanger Abbey.' It remained long in manuscript, and eventually she succeeded in selling it to a bookseller at Bath for £10. He had not the courage to publish it, and after it had remained in his possession for some years, Miss Austen bought it back for the same money he had paid for it. She next wrote 'Sense and Sensibility,' and 'Pride and Prejudice.' The latter book was summarily rejected by Mr. Cadell. At length these two books were published anonymously by Mr. Egerton, and though they did not make a sensation, they gradually attracted attention, and obtained admirers. No one could be more surprised than the authoress, who received no less than £150 from the profits of her first published work—'Sense and Sensibility.'
When Miss Austen had finished 'Emma,' she put herself in communication with Mn Murray, who read her 'Pride and Prejudice,' and sent it to Gifford. Gifford replied as follows:—
Mr. Gifford to John Murray.
"I have for the first time looked into 'Pride and Prejudice ;' and it is really a very pretty thing. No dark passages; no secret chambers; no wind-howlings in long galleries; no drops of blood upon a rusty dagger—things that should now be left to ladies' maids and sentimental washerwomen."
In a later letter he said:—
September 29th, 1815.
"I have read 'Pride and Prejudice' again— 'tis very good—wretchedly printed, and so pointed as to be almost unintelligible. Make no apology for sending me anything to read or revise. I am always happy to do either, in the thought that it may be useful to you."
* * * * * *
"Of 'Emma,' I have nothing but good to say. I was sure of the writer before you mentioned her. The MS., though plainly written, has yet some, indeed many little omissions; and an expression may now and then be amended in passing through the press. I will readily undertake the revision."
'Emma' was accordingly published in December 1815. By request of Miss Austen, Mr. Murray sent a copy to the Prince Regent, who had granted the authoress permission to dedicate the work to his Royal Highness. Miss Austen's two other novels, 'Northanger Abbey,' and 'Persuasion' were also published by Murray, but did not appear until after her death in 1818. The profits of the four novels which had been published before her death did not amount to more than seven hundred pounds.
[several pages of no reference to Miss Austen removed.]
John Murray to Mr. Scott.
December 25th, 1815.
I was on the point of writing to you, when I received Mr. Blackwood's letter. Elphinstone's 'Cabul' has been, since the day of publication, in the hands of Mr. Barrow, whose article upon it is in progress, and will appear in our next number. I hope, therefore, that Lord Meadowbank will not feel disappointed; but allow us to hope for the favour of his valuable assistance on some other work, in which we would prefer to anticipate, rather than to follow the Edinburgh Review. I was about to tell you that Croker was so pleased with the idea of a Caledonian article from you, that he could not refrain from mentioning it to the Prince Regent, who is very fond of the subject, and he said he would be delighted, and is really anxious about it. Now, it occurs to we, as our Edinburgh friends choose on many occasions to bring in the Prince's name to abuse it, this might offer an equally fair opportunity of giving him that praise which is so justly due to his knowledge of the history of his country. We expect to publish our next number in the last week in January next. Eight sheets are already printed, and we will reserve the last place d'honneur for you.
I was with Lord Byron yesterday. He enquired after you, and bid me say how much he was indebted to your introduction of your poor Irish friend Maturin, who had sent him a tragedy, which Lord Byron received late in the evening, and read through, without being able to stop. He was so delighted with it that he sent it immediately to his fellow-manager, the Hon. George Lamb, who, late as it came to him, could not go to bed without finishing it. The result is that they have laid it before the rest of the Committee ; they, or rather Lord Byron, feels it his duty to the author to offer it himself to the managers of Covent Garden. The poor fellow says in his letter that his hope of subsistence for his family for the next year rests upon what he can get for this play. I expressed a desire of doing something, and Lord Byron then confessed that he had sent him fifty guineas. I shall write to him to-morrow, and I think if you could draw some case for him and exhibit his merits, particularly if his play succeeds, I could induce Croker and Peel to interest themselves in his behalf, and get him a living.
Your interesting letter respecting poor Park's family is at present with Whishaw, who desires me to assure you that he will try all his means to effect your benevolent object; though the chances of at least immediate success are lessened at this time by the complete derangement of all our landholders. You will have noticed, perhaps, in the Gazette, the appointment of our friend Hammond as one of the Commissioners for arranging the claims of the British in France; and he sets out for Paris in a fortnight, so that I lose my chief 4 o'clock man. Have you any fancy to dash off an article on 'Emma'? It wants incident and romance, does it not? None of the author's other novels have been noticed, and surely 'Pride and Prejudice' merits high commendation.
Yours ever faithfully,
Scott immediately complied with Murray's request. He did "dash off an article on 'Emma,'" which appeared in No. 27 of the Quarterly. In enclosing his article to Murray, Scott wrote as follows:—
Mr. Scott to John Murray.
January 19th, 1816.
Enclosed is the article upon 'Emma.' I have been spending my holidays in the country, where, besides constant labour in the fields during all the hours of daylight, the want of books has prevented my completing the Highland article. [The 'Culloden Papers,' which appeared in next number.] It will be off, however, by Tuesday's post, as I must take Sunday and Monday into the account of finishing it. It will be quite unnecessary to send proofs of 'Emma,' as Mr. Gifford will correct all obvious errors, and abridge it where necessary. I have obtained a promise of a provision for poor Archie Park; pray say so, with my best respects to Mr. Whishaw. I have sent a commission to Wurz and Treuttel to procure me the Benedictine edition of the French Historians.* If they should advise you that they have succeeded, and draw upon you for the price, please advise me, that I may put you in funds. I desired them to draw upon you at a month's sight. I wrote Lord Byron a few days since. But I must to the Highlands in great haste, so this is all at present from
January 25th, 1816.
My article is so long that I fancy you will think yourself in the condition of the conjuror, who after having a great deal of trouble in raising the devil, could not get rid of him after he had once made his appearance. But the Highlands is an immense field, and it would have been much more easy for me to have made a sketch twice as long than to make it shorter. There still wants eight or nine pages, which you will receive by to-morrow's or next day's post; but I fancy you will be glad to get on. I sent you a few days since the article on 'Emma.' Inclosed is a letter from Mrs. Scott to her friends in Whitehorse Street,** which I beg you will have the goodness to forward.
"Elphinstone's book is by far the most interesting of the kind I have ever read."
* This was no doubt the source whence Scott drew his novel of 'Quentin Durward.'
** The Durnerques, with whom Sir Walter generally resided during his visits to London.
Smiles, Samuel. A publisher and his friends: memoir and correspondence of the late John Murray. London: John Murray, 1891. Vol. 1, pp 281-283 and 287-289.