250th birthday toasts, launch of Dear Mr Murray, announcement of John Murray prize
John Murray has already enjoyed one 250th birthday party this year, alongside its parent company Hodder - celebrating its 150th - at Guildhall in June. But one feels that it could not let 2019 pass without marking the anniversary at its spiritual home, 50 Albemarle Street, where the portrait of Byron presides over the fireplace where John Murray II burned the poet's apparently scandalous memoirs. A party at Albemarle Street last night also marked publication of Dear Mr Murray: Letters to a Gentleman Publisher, edited by David McClay.
There was a third cause for celebration, John Murray Press md Nick Davies told us: the awarding of the inaugural John Murray prize to Professor Taj Nathan, for his essay "Deadly Minds". The essay will be published in the Spectator, and in time will become a John Murray book, for which Professor Nathan receives a £20,000 advance.
McClay, senior curator at the John Murray archive, has mined a horde he estimates to contain 500,000 letters for the selection in Dear Mr Murray. Davies read just one: for some reason, he had selected an author's - William Makepeace Thackeray's - apology for his drunken and abusive behaviour the previous evening. (BookBrunch left the party early, so is not able to confirm that such an apology will not be necessary today.)
John Murray VII, who has Albemarle Street and the archive in his care, recalled that "everyone" had warned him, when he and colleagues sold the firm to Hodder, that the Murray imprint would vanish within its conglomerate owner. But no: "It is absolutely staggering what Hodder has done." It was "wonderful to be launching a book here", Murray said, in the room where his ancestors had opened and read the correspondence that McClay had compiled. He himself, sorting through his great uncle's desk, had come across two letters from Byron, addressed from Venice. The past was present in these rooms. As if to illustrate the point, the lights mysteriously came on and went off again - no doubt the building's celebrated ghost, that of Lady Caroline Lamb, making her contribution to the evening.
Photo: John Murray (centre) with his wife Virginia and Nick Davies