Apr 23, 2007

The secret lives of authors

The papers of the publishing company John Murray offer a behind-the-scenes look at 230 years of writing and bookselling.
A doubtful and almost apologetic letter from Charles Darwin outlining his Origin of Species suggests that Murray probably wouldn't want to publish it. Darwin describes one chapter as 'short and dry' and another as 'rather long and rather curious'. Further correspondence shows the manuscript was sent from the publisher to a minister friend, who replied that it should never be published as it was against the word of God.

The reverend suggests Darwin should instead publish a book on pigeons - because 'everyone is interested in pigeons'.

There are also letters from Livingstone in Africa raging against the illustrations used by Murray in his latest book. He describes them as 'absolutely abominable' and confesses he is 'quite distressed about it'. Other files include a sales ledger showing that only 29 copies of Austen's Emma had been sold and questioning whether it was worth continuing with it.

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