Obituary: Jock Murray
Tuesday 27 July 1993
He cared profoundly about literature. His devotion to Byron was plain from his edition of the letters, and from his excitement when he thought that new ones had been found. ('Ye Gods: an unpublished letter from Byron]') Byron not only accompanied him, he seemed to follow him. Legend says that Jock and his wife, Diana, went on holiday to India; within a few minutes of their arrival, Jock had discovered the owner of some hitherto unknown Byron correspondence.
His affection for literature and his concern for scholarship made him rare - I sometimes felt unique - among modern publishers. As John Murray VI he was well aware of his place in the Murray dynasty: of his inheritance and responsibilities. This was evident on any visit to Albemarle Street, where a lock of la Guiccioli's hair is still kept in a drawer, and authors are shown the grate where, in the presence of John Murray II, Byron's memoirs were burnt in 1824.
With all his reverence for the past, Jock showed his modern authors extraordinary understanding. A neighbour of mine in Hampstead, he shepherded me through the difficult publication of my biography Enid Starkie. (I still recall him walking me home from Cannon Lodge, and asking: 'When are you going to like Enid? In a fortnight, perhaps?') When I had flu he arrived on my doorstep with fruit and a pill which was, he said, the Murray family nostrum. Once he suggested taking out a phrase in my typescript, and I objected. 'But if you take it out,' he said, 'the echo will remain.' I remember answering: 'Jock, I thought that only authors thought like that.' I have no doubt that the phrase was removed.
He was enthusiastic, ebullient, and, even in his eighties, he kept his zest for life. His charm and his persuasive powers were legendary. He could (as I learnt) reject an idea for a book and leave the author smiling.
I shall remember him, in a green baize apron, running the bookstall at the local church bazaar. I shall recall him delivering an address on Sir John Betjeman at a memorial service at Magdalen College, Oxford. I shall remember him, above all, at home at Cannon Lodge: supremely happy in his long marriage to Diana. He was a scholar, a bibliophile, a man of letters and, to his authors, the nearest to the perfect publisher that they are ever likely to know.
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