Bringing the John Murray Archive to the National Library of Scotland

Article excerpt

Readers of The Byron Journal might wish to hear of the progress being made to bring the John Murray Archive (JMA) to Scotland. A substantial and very rich part of the Archive is the Byron material, and we at the National Library of Scotland (NLS) are very excited about this project. We are extremely grateful to the present John Murray and his wife who have always wanted their archive to come to NLS and who have given us a tremendous amount of help and encouragement. We are also greatly indebted to many Byron Society members for their support, especially Geoffrey Bond and Drummond Bone who are members of our Campaign Group.

A frequently asked question about this project is 'Why Scotland?'. To Byron scholars this may not be too difficult to answer, and, as a former pupil of Aberdeen Grammar School and erstwhile member of the Byron House of that school, I was brought up to claim Byron as a fellow Scot.

The National Library of Scotland

To reinforce the link between NLS and the Archive a brief overview of the Library itself might be in order. The Library of the Faculty of Advocates was established in Edinburgh in 1689 and subsequently became a legal deposit library. As such this was not only a collection of legal books, but reflected the wider cultural and intellectual interests at the time of the Scottish Enlightenment. Keepers of this library in the eighteenth century included Thomas Ruddiman and David Hume, who described the post of Keeper as 'a genteel office though of small revenue'. Advocates such as James Boswell and Walter Scott, as curators, helped to administer the collection, which Scott described as 'more than princely'. Carlyle, who was a fervent supporter of the library, said it was the greatest resource for learning in Scotland, as indeed it is today.

As the library grew the Faculty of Advocates was keen that it should be well cared for, and therefore in 1925 they gave their great collection of printed books, periodicals, manuscripts, maps and other documents, collected over four centuries, to the nation. In consequence the NLS was constituted by Act of Parliament with legal deposit privileges. It fast became one of the great research libraries of the world and we know that the JMA would enhance the prestige of the library as a resource for learning, and with our digitisation plans make it known throughout the world.

Although the NLS collections reflect every field in which Scots and Scotland feature at home and abroad, they go far beyond this. Much material deals with exploration and travel, and military, naval and diplomatic affairs conducted by Scots. The papers of statesmen, scientists, engineers, artists, merchants and novelists, many of whom left Scotland to find fame or fortune, also feature in the collection. It is frequently said that there are ten times more Scots abroad than at home, yet most still feel a strong Scottish link. It is not surprising, therefore, that after seven generations the John Murray family still recognises its Scottish ancestry.

The manuscript collection in the NLS includes among its treasures the famous Bannatyne, Auchinleck and Asloan manuscripts, the newly digitised thirteenth-century Murthly Hours and a rare Gutenburg Bible. NLS has the largest collection of Walter Scott material, including his papers, correspondence and literary manuscripts, and this collection would be greatly enhanced by the inclusion of the wealth of Scott material in the JMA. Carlyle and his circle feature strongly in NLS holdings, and if I were to mention David Hume, Adam Smith, Allan Ramsay, James Boswell, Robert Burns, James Hogg, R. L. Stevenson, J. M. Barrie, Hugh MacDiarmid, Muriel Spark, Ian Rankine and J. K. Rowling, one begins to sense the wealth of the collections.

In addition to Scott, the JMA has material of many authors who are already prominently represented in NLS holdings, and this is one of the main reasons for John Murray to offer the archives to NLS. …