Innes M. Keighren, Charles W. J. Withers, Bill Bell, Travels into Print. Exploration, Writing and Publishing with John Murray, 1773-1859

N°4 – Mars 2017
Université Clermont Auvergne
Innes M. Keighren, Charles W. J. Withers, Bill Bell, Travels into Print. Exploration, Writing and Publishing with John Murray, 1773-1859


Innes M. Keighren, Charles W. J. Withers and Bill Bell in Travels into Print. Exploration, Writing and Publishing with John Murray, 1773-1859, working with the John Murray Archive (JMA - held at the National Library of Scotland), address a range of issues related to the publication of exploration narratives from 1773 (with the first such book to be published by the house of John Murray) to 1859 (when more individualised forms of travel began to take shape, opposed to, the authors argue, previously large-scale, officially-sanctioned voyages of discovery).

The book is based on three lines of enquiry: epistolarity, epistemology and editing. These three themes cross cut each other in the six chapters, the focus being on questions of how explorer-authors write, of the correspondence or slippages between the "real" world and the textual translation of it in travel books, and of the extent and influence of editorial intervention within works during this prolific period of publication by John Murray.

The first chapter is an introduction to the conceptual frameworks which Keighren et al engage with in the book. Chapter 2 looks at how writing travel in the field was understood and managed by the Murray authors, Chapter 3 examines the explorer-author continuum, Chapter 4 traces the "routes to truth", Chapter 5 assesses the materiality of the books published and Chapter 6 investigates reception and review. Chapter 7 is an overview of the evidence unearthed and articulates future theoretical challenges.

In Chapter 1, Keighren et al stress the importance of book-history perspectives in grounding claims as to the scope of travel-book popularity during the period, the argument being that a proper understanding of the production and reception of these types of books necessarily informs studies of ensuing social and cultural discursive formations (p.4-5, p.9, p.10). The chapter provides reminders of how "travel into print" and "print into travel" involved many complex strategic-formative processes (authorship, truth claims, editing, reception, argument and counter-argument) theorised by key scholars like Edward Said and Ian MacLaren. This discussion proffers pertinent "text-book" definitions of what the authors understand to be exploration, exploration narratives, travel writing, discoverer, navigator, explorer (p.7, p.10) while stressing the necessity of interdisciplinary standpoints in managing academic approaches to so "inchoate" (p.5) a corpus.

The sub-section "Exploration, Travel and Truth" examines another long-standing object of study in travel texts, that is the practice of travel-lying in its various forms. The section presents the current theoretical positions framing truth-claim strategies. The authors argue that the criteria of credibility, anchored in the means and modes of truth-making including the perimeter status of disguise, the importance of indigenous intermediaries and the significance of social status, require sustained attention (p.14).

The third subsection "Travels into Print, Making Print Travel" reviews the key questions that the volume will address in terms of the interactive writing and editorial processes which result in the publication of what the authors consider an inherently unstable artefact, the travel book.

The fourth and final subsection in this introductory chapter sets out the specificities of Murray publishing and describes the 239 works on non-European travel published between 1773 and 1859. The source material is here clearly and briefly identified by the authors, and finely detailed in the Appendix. A process rather than a statistical stance is adopted in the book where the major concerns are the nature of exploration and the methods involved in book and author production and reception (p.32).

There is a decision on the authors' part not to address comparative issues (p.28) which, in the ensuing chapters, seems to lead to rather a disconnected reading of the Murray publishing archive.

In Chapter 2 ("Undertaking Travel and Exploration: Motives and Practicalities") the authors underline the fact that the Murray material will not be used to build a typology of travel writing or travellers but rather to "simply" discuss the ways in which the Murray "explorers and others thought about being, and writing, in the field" (p.38). Nevertheless, in the first subsection "The Practical Illustration of Geographical Science: Exploration and Writing Under Instruction", the first category of exploration and exploration writing which the authors identify in the JMA is that related to scientific investigation (p.38), subject, in varying degrees, to direct or indirect formal instruction. In examining Tuckey's Narrative of an Expedition to Explore the River Zaire (1818), the authors suggest that this type of formal instruction did not preclude later "reflection or redaction" (p.44) by the author or a third-party editor (which was, for example, recognised many years ago by John Beaglehole1 in the case of the Cook voyages). Further examples from the Murray polar narratives (by Ross, Franklin, Parry, McClintock) show that formal instructions were though significant in the creation of the Arctic "literary culture" (p.45). Individual initiatives however, more removed from the discursive instruction, were also considered a part of the "model" (p.47) best designed to appeal to the public.

The second subsection, "Novelty, Utility, Curiosity, Secrecy: Exploration, Geography and In-the-Field Writing", identifies yet another group of authors, the majority of the Murray traveller-authors, comprised of professional, literate men and women (p.55) unbound by formal guidelines, the question being how these traveller-writers engaged with the process of writing before editorial intervention. Citing numerous travellers to China, the Near East, the Holy Land, Asia Minor, the authors pinpoint the testing of previous accounts as a rationale for this type of travel. The elusive writing-in-the-field process is perhaps more accessible in this type of account as Keighren et al cite several references to the actual practice (as well as obstacles to it) which the writers record (p.60).

The third subsection "Matters of Practicality and Procedure" focuses on the publication by Murray of practical guides for travellers. These guides appeared, for the most part, after the heyday of exploration. They were, argue Keighren et al, a means of generating status for the sciences. As in the ensuing chapters, the authors cite a number of Murray texts in support of their positions.

Though distinguishing those who travelled officially from those who travelled for personal interest, Keighren et al refuse to categorise travel or the authors in the Sternian sense. A comparative analysis here, even cursory (which the authors choose not to develop), may perhaps have shed more light on the specifics, if any, of the Murray exploration accounts.

Chapter 3 assesses the strategies adopted by authors to ensure the credibility of their claims to truth in the eyes of the readers of their exploration accounts. Keighren et al argue that credibility criteria were mobile parameters and were determined in response to context, convention and the expectations of the readership. The opening section of the chapter thus reiterates that explorer-authors, particularly women, were concerned with underlining the truthfulness and the epistemological quality of their works (a characteristic which is largely recognised in the study of travel texts). Keighren et al's first example of this quest for credibility is Murray author Maria Graham. Graham thus read widely (like many official and non-official travellers before her who, on board ship for example, carried substantial libraries with them), but she also chose Murray as publisher to ensure "credibility for herself and her works" (p.71).

The three strategies for reinforcing credit which the chapter delineates are scholarly citation, disguise and native agency and instrumentation. Murray authors had sustained recourse to scholarly citation and textual triangulation (on-the-spot verification of vying or established but unverified claims) and several examples of how they implemented classical and contemporary textual reference networks (corroborative but also contradictory) in their accounts are discussed.

The truth value of claims in the accounts was also based on the degree of textual presence of information brokerage by intermediaries. The chapter identifies a set of categories (giving examples of each) of JMA authorial approaches to legitimating truth claims, while reiterating the malleability of the typologies presented. According to geographical region, genre of writing or intended audience (p.83), explorer-authors adopted one or a mix of several positions. The use of native guides (sometimes unnamed, criticised or highly praised) and disguise was a means of presenting the knowledge acquired by Murray authors as credible in North Africa, the Near East and Central Asia. Other credit-enhancement strategies included "unbiased" (p.90) reporting of indigenous information in the genre of non-scientific, resolutely entertaining writing for specific audiences. Keighren et al then surprisingly propose Sternian categories of analysis of the components of the JMA archive, namely the idle traveller, as opposed to the intelligent observer or philosophical traveller, all resorting to a myriad of connected credibility strategies.

Instrumentation as a further means of cultivating credibility is considered in the Arctic context with reference to the Ross expedition, and in South America to Caldecleugh's trek across the Cordilleras (1821). Individual examples from the JMA of how credibility is negotiated, and the attending typologies, however porous (and unwanted by Keighren et al), generate a pan travel-text perspective, separate from any consideration of the publishing-house specificities.

Chapters 4, 5 and 6 address "in-house" (p.177) issues which regulated publishing procedures in vogue during the period. Chapter 4 examines then more closely (with, as in the preceding chapters, detailed histories of specific publications) how this particular publishing house "constructed" (p.102) its authors through a collaborative book-making (p.114) modus operandi and interventionist redaction, designed to generate credibility and authority. Keighren et el discuss the theoretical perspectives which these questions raise with reference to Foucault's definition of the author figure as an object of discourse based on the modesty or reluctance topoi, formulated to varying degrees (where the "immodest author" was one extreme, p.107) in prefaces of the Murray authors (and of course others). Detailed descriptions of the histories of specific narratives serve as pointers to this organic notion of authorship as conceived of by amateurs and professionals, scientists or recognised travel authors, two distinct categories, editors and reviewers. An interesting subsection ("Anonymity and Authorial Construction in Murray's Eighteenth-Century Travel Texts") frames these concerns, with specific examples from the JMA, in terms of accounts without authorial attribution (pp.108-114) which Murray published between 1773 and 1800. After this date, Murray made the transition from anonymous to onymous authorship which Keighren et al suggest was unusual in British publishing (p.108, see also p.151). This brief comparative note is particularly useful in better understanding the corporate identity of JM. 

Chapter 5, moving away from the intricacies of the writing processes, looks at the material culture of bookmaking and adopts Gerard Genette's theoretical framework to address Murray's publication practice. The second part of the chapter goes on to investigate the role of maps and illustrations in the production of books on travel and exploration.

In deploying Genette's categorisation of paratextual material (prefaces, title pages, frontispieces, epigraphs, dedications), but also questioning his focus on authorial will alone,  Keighren et al posit that publishers, as well as authors, were key decision makers, and that the intricacies of paratextual policy are identifiable in the correspondence between the two. The house of Murray gradually adapted its presentation of publications from the end of the eighteenth century onwards, moving from "plain dress" (p.134) to more elaborate fine printing with the use of engravings. At the same time, they concentrated efforts on developing a market of less affluent readers (emigrants to Australia for example) by "tranching down" (see Chapter 6, pp.193-208 for a discussion of the Family Library, Home and Colonial Library and the Reading for Rail series and Murray's "pioneering" role in this context, though few travel titles were included in the first and third series).  Keighren et al's discussion of the general nature and function of paratextual material is based on examples from the 239 JMA sources. It seems that Murray may have lagged behind nineteenth-century trends in comparison to other British publishers as regards, for example, their continued use of illustrations, of long titles, of mention of the official status of authors and anonymity for "lady" authors (p.149). This is again a welcome comparative note in the book.

Including maps, illustrations and tables of technical data within the finished product was another major concern for publishers in general, and for Murray, where "costs, the market and the value of books that contained maps" (p.155) were principal questions. Keighren et al's general theoretical standpoint, based on perspectives developed by scholars like Bernard Smith, is rooted in issues of reworking images. Key examples of Murray authors "wrangling" with the editors (Livingstone for example, p.158), sometimes to little effect, illustrate this point.

In Chapter 6, the book continues the in-house perspective in terms of "editorial and technical" (p.175) practice in the bookmaking process. With reference to conceptual frameworks which posit the interconnections between publishing house, author, typefounders, compositors, paper manufacturers, distributors and readership demands, Keighren et al describe the "collaborative" (p.176) nature of bookmaking. As for other publishers, the importance of the in-house reader, the input of the author and compositors during the stages of production, as well as the influence of market exigencies on form and content, were important sites of negotiation. This is apparent in the JMA as the examples cited clearly show. The first subsection "A Trusted Eye: Murray's In-House Readers" traces the progressive professionalisation of these readers from the 1840s onwards. Authorial and publisher responses were varied, ranging from rejection of intervention to happy acceptance, accompanied by concerted negotiation.  The second and third subsections "Negotiating Bad Copy and the Printer's Devil" and "Managing Authors, Marketing Texts" tell the general story of the production of the book. Details on the transmission and modification of proofs (with examples drawn from the JMA) are illustrative of how over time, with the development of stabilised printing processes, authors were progressively divested of their capacity to change and challenge form and content.

The final chapter is the authors' review of their findings.

Keighren et al's Travels into Print is a fascinating incursion into the Murray archive. With the sustained focus on travel and exploration texts, this book is particularly useful in "disclosing" (p.211) the complex ways in which explorer and traveller figures, themselves discursive constructions, acquired publishing identities as authoritative authors and readers whose texts operated as cultural artefacts, corporately fashioned by publishing houses. Associating book-history perspectives and recognised theoretical insights (as posited by, for example, Said, Smith, Foucault, Genette, MacLaren, Pratt, Regard) in the micro-analyses of the Murray travel texts allows a concerted, interdisciplinary conceptual framework to take shape for the benefit of the study of travel. The option of rejecting a comparative perspective consolidates the authors' wish to avoid establishing any sort of typology as a result of the analytical work on this single archive. How far they succeed in doing so is open to question. The need, as articulated in the final chapter, to show "more widely" how "the printed word was part of the more complex circumstances of writing and publishing and what it took for the world to become words" (p.226), is perhaps an invitation for necessary future comparison, and, possibly, categorisation.


1 Cook the Writer, George Arnold Wood Memorial Lecture, 1970.

Innes M. KEIGHREN, Charles W. J. WITHERS, Bill BELL, Travels into Print. Exploration, Writing and Publishing with John Murray, 1773-1859, University of Chicago Press, 2015, 364 pp. (hardback) - ISBN-13: 978-0-226-42953-3

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