200 years of publishing: Charlotte’s postcard from 50 Albemarle Street

Charlotte visits the house of the publisher John Murray, 50 Albemarle Street

Charlotte visits the house of the publisher John Murray, 50 Albemarle Street

Why I went…

There is no fireplace more famous than the one at the house of John Murray, 50 Albemarle Street, London, where Byron’s memoirs were famously burnt in a decision that has haunted historians for hundreds of years. I wanted to see the very site- maybe there were still ashes there, or a telling fragment hiding somewhere in the hearth? Sadly, but rather expectedly, this was not the case, but instead what I did see were rooms that had remained identical to the impressions, sketches and engravings made of them 200 years earlier. To see Byron presiding over the fireplace reminded me that his literary legacy remains as indomitable now as it did when he woke up and found himself famous after the publication of Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage in 1812.

What I got out of the experience…

I was not expecting to see as many portraits and familiar faces staring down at me as I did. To see Southey, Gifford, Barrow, and the multitude of Tories who hung from the walls felt like Murray’s old Quarterly Review crowd were still there. A haunting experience indeed. I was also shown the rooms that Lady Caroline Lamb used to stalk and tracked her route through the publishing house, where she would wait for news of Byron both during and after the affair. It really highlighted the sociability of the publishing house; this was not just a space to discuss contracts, quantities and editions, but this was a place where decisions that are still critical to our understanding of literary history were made. It was a reminder that Byron’s publisher was not his alone, but that Jane Austen and Charles Darwin shared the same seats that Byron would have occupied himself, and that an articulate and humorous female writer and a progressive world-changing scientist were indeed Byron’s colleagues.

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