The thousands of letters that I catalogue as part of the John Murray Archive cover a huge variety of themes. But one topic of conversation that comes up time and again is that of money.
This is probably unsurprising. The John Murray Archive is, after all, a business archive. The ledgers and letters largely reflect this and relate to the business of the firm. Many letters are from authors asking how much they will get paid for their work, or worrying about their lack of success and the losses Murray thereby incurred.
Whilst recently cataloguing folders containing letters from correspondents with surnames beginning with C (there are 124 of these folders by the way), I came across three women whose letters shared this theme of money, but from opposite ends of the spectrum.
On the one hand, there is Angela Georgina Burdett-Coutts. She was a philanthropist who had inherited the staggering amount of £1.8million in 1837 from her grandfather, the banker Thomas Coutts. With this money, Baroness Burdett-Coutts became involved in a wide variety of charitable causes, including ragged schools, houses for the working poor and the RSPCA.
She was also responsible for the erection of the statue of Greyfriar’s Bobby on George IV Bridge in Edinburgh, now only a few seconds walk from the front door of the National Library of Scotland.
Burdett-Coutts writes to John Murray III and IV from 1862-1906, covering all sorts of topics from her philanthropic work to dinner invitations to David Livingstone and Henry Morton Stanley.
On the other hand, a few days previously I had catalogued Sophia Coulton and her niece Irene Boulmont. Coulton was the sister of the journalist David Trevena Coulton and, following his death she helped to look after the family he left behind. She writes firstly in the 1860s to John Murray III asking him for financial aid and help with an application to the Royal Literary Fund.
Sixty years later, in 1924, David’s daughter Irene begs John Murray IV for money, after she is left widowed and struggling to cope with inflation in Belgium following World War I. Copies of two responses from Murray remain with these letters. Although Murray continues to insist that, given the rather tenuous link she has to the family, each time is the last, he sends financial aid at least three times. His responses are also testament to the fact that this type of begging letter was by no means unusual – “you probably have no idea of the number of appeals which reach me almost daily”.
There is always a personal story behind the business story of the letters and ledgers, and I love unearthing it. The wonderful thing about cataloguing the John Murray Archive is never knowing what stories are still to be uncovered…
Find out more about the John Murray Archive here http://digital.nls.uk/jma/ or come in and see it for yourself in our Special Collections Reading Room http://www.nls.uk/using-the-library/reading-rooms/special