Reference > The Library > Helen Rex Keller > Reader’s Digest of Books

C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
H. R. Keller.  The Reader’s Digest of Books.
A Publisher and His Friends: Memoir and Correspondence of the Late John Murray
Samuel Smiles (1812–1904)
Murray, John, Memoir and Correspondence of. With an Account of the Origin and Progress of the House, 1768–1843. By Samuel Smiles (2 vols., 1891). The history of as great a publisher as literature has ever known, and a most notable example of devotion to the production of books of character and value, irrespective of mere mercenary considerations. The foundation of the great London house of Murray was laid in 1768, by a John Murray, who retired from service as a lieutenant of marines, and bought out a book-selling business at No. 32 Fleet Street. The second and the great Murray was a boy of fifteen at his father’s death in 1793, but two years later he began his publishing career, at first with his father’s shop man as a partner; but “a drone of a partner” was not to his mind, and from March 23d, 1803, he was alone. His first attempt to deal with an author gave the keynote to a career of unexampled distinction, when he wrote: “I am honestly ambitious that my first appearance should at once stamp my character and respectability;… and ‘I am not covetous of gold.’” The tradition thus started, of weighing the character of a work and the credit of publishing it, and letting the chance of making money by the publication pass as of secondary importance, was for forty years the glory of the name of Murray. “The business of a publishing bookseller,” he said, “is not in his shop, or even in his connections, but in his brains.” A man of fine taste and broad culture, possessing moreover innate generosity and magnanimity, his dealings with authors were frequently munificent: and in notable instances he counted the honor before the profit. He started the Quarterly Review, in February 1809, as a Tory organ, and carried it at a loss for two or three years. Nothing characterized him more than his steady confidence in the success of the best literature; and in proportion as a publication was of high character, he was determined and lavish in pushing it to success. Nor was he for this any the less a consummate man of business, achieving extraordinary success as a merchant prince at the head of the London book trade. To a large extent he depended on his own judgment in accepting books for publication. His most famous engagements were with Scott, Southey, Byron, Moore, Lockhart, and the Disraelis. To the younger Disraeli, then only twenty, he owed the one wholly damaging venture of his career,—an attempt in daily journalism which ignominiously failed at the end of six months, with a loss to Murray of £26,000.  1

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