John Murray Biography

John Murray : A Dynasty

jm_logo_black-detailThe John Murray publishing house was first established in 1768 by John Murray I (1737-1793) and succeeded by his son John Murray II (1778-1843) who published many important and influential works, guidebooks and collections of writers like Lord Byron, Jane Austen, Charles Darwin, Sir Walter Scott, Samuel Coleridge, Thomas Moore and many other more authors.

Whether Murray used his powers as a “Publisher” or being a close friend of his authors, his agency exploited individuals like Lord Byron and allowed him to take control over their works by removing/censoring certain lines, publishing works with or without their approval, and pressuring them to complete their works with no regards to authorial intent; instead focusing more on personal reputation, fame, and affluence.

Although the publishing firm was already “known” and “established”, Murray was already “a successful publisher prior to his association with Byron” (O’Connell 16). John Murray II publishing Lord Byron’s works (particularly Childe Harold cantos I & II) in 1812 amplified the business and ergo a start of a professional and personal bond with the author.The success, emerged an  immediate communication and close proximity to one another in 1812. Byron, aware of what was popular at the time and was “zealous regarding the copying and editing of his works, corresponded regularly with his publisher and for a long time wrote for the public taste”.


John Murray refers to himself as a “Bookseller” but also a “Publisher” when justifying his actions or ethos when communicating with Lord Byron (O’Connell, 6). Mary O’Connell shows that the term “Publisher” is commercial but nonetheless has an artistic aspect into it (O’Connell 7). She recalls the story of Thomas Moore who tells the story of “Booksellers” drinking wine out of author’s skulls’ (with other regards of Moore referring”John Murray” as gentleman-like) and ultimately being “manipulators rather than facilitators of  literature” (O’Connell 7).

An inside look of John Murray’s office at 50 Albemrale Street.

Byron refers to Murray as a “Patron of Literature” and jots the satirical “My Murray” poem which is about the literary marketplace and Murray himself, the image alludes to Murray’s role as a judge of literature. (O’Connell, 3). The Bookseller/Publisher’s influence is inevitable, instead of being a “mediator between the author & audience”, they are seen as manipulative enemies and not facilitators; “profiting from the labours of writers” (O’Connell 6).

Bookseller or Publisher?

Looking at the correspondences between Lord Byron and John Murray, “the letters between the poet and publisher represent a dialogues that discusses the nature and
potential of Byron’s poetic fame”(O’Connell 16). Similarly, 
“The ambivalence towards professional writing and writing popular literature can be illuminated through an understanding of his relationship with John Murray”(O’Connell 16). The letters allows us as readers to grasp a clearer image of their personal/professional relationship with regards to what was happening outside their works.

Despite Byron leaving England in 1816 for good, the dynamic between John Murray and Byron continued. 

Throughout the years and exile from England, Byron’s isolation from England were “exacerbated by Murray” (O’Connell 17).“Byron began to seriously resent the notion that Murray felt a degree of ownership over his poetry. Murray acting as proprietor of Byron’s works was one of the major difficulties between them, as it often made the publisher feel entitled to safeguard Byron’s popularity by removing sections of his poetry” (O’Connell 19).

Byron, aware of the discomfort it comes with “conservative” Murray having to publish “liberal” works.

Murray, omitting the last lines from Manfred without Byron’s approval and “repeated attempts to make Byron alter Don Juan to increase its appeal” as well as publishing it (Don Juan) anonymously the first time to make it “mysterious and enigmatic work”, Byron was deeply offended and took it as a final rejection from Murray – Murray was originally happy with the poem but wrongfully blamed for discouraging Byron. 

The dynasty of the John Murray publishing business continues hitherto with respect to their descendants, all contributing their issuing and producing works along the years making the establishment a leading firm at the time and prominent to its literary writings carrying out “National enlightenment”. John Murray II professional and personal relationship with Byron can be examined looking at the correspondences between them and actions as a publisher looking out for his own interest or his authors.

Letter from Lord Byron to John Murray II – 22 January ‘1814


It is fair to say that Murray exploited some of Byron’s work, for instance pressuring him to complete and alter Don Juan, censoring Manfred, CH3 and wanting the best for his firm nonetheless he looks out for Byron’s own reputation due to the constant controversies that circulated around Byron in England at the time. This project aims to look at their professional and personal relations in hope to understand further the accusations and misunderstandings that eventually ended their relations in 1822.

Works Cited

O’Connell, Mary. Byron and John Murray: A Poet and His Publisher. Liverpool: Liverpool UP, 2014. Print

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