The Seven Lives of John Murray, By Humphrey Carpenter

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The Independent Culture

This biography of the seven John Murrays who have headed the famous eponymous publishing house since its inception in 1782 was, alas, unable to be completed by Humphrey Carpenter, who died at the beginning of 2005, aged 58. An editor, Candida Brazil, and another biographer, James Hamilton, helped bring the material together and kept a couple of dramatic scenes which Carpenter had written. I'm not sure this was necessary: the second John Murray is the one everyone wants to know about, as he was the one responsible for signing Byron and his relationship with the poet is fascinating, full of grandstanding, and leading finally to the famous burning of Byron's memoirs after his death.

Subsequent Murrays don't have quite the same glitter about them, though the publishing of Darwin's work was certainly a daring move by the third Murray. The material can be dry, but Carpenter's imaginings of various encounters bring things to life, and it's a revealing history, not just of a family but also of an industry.