Introducing Lady Caroline Lamb
- Assistant curator Rachel Beattie introduces Lady Caroline Lamb, one of her favourite authors from the John Murray Archive. The film was made shortly before Caroline was added to the John Murray Archive exhibition.
From 1768 to 2002 the John Murray publishing house produced thousands of books and worked with some of the most celebrated authors of the day. People like Lord Byron, Charles Darwin, Jane Austen and David Livingstone were all Murray authors.
The firm left behind a remarkable archive containing ledgers, manuscripts, letters, proofs and photographs which came here to the National Library of Scotland where we now have a permanent free exhibition. This custom made exhibition highlights 11 of the characters from the John Murray Archive using their original manuscripts.
The characters in the exhibition can be changed so that many stories will be told. Murray authors ranged from politicians to explorers to poets to even cookery writers, so choosing just one person to highlight from the 17,500 that feature in the Murray Archive can be a bit of a challenge. However, we have just installed one of my personal favourites — Lady Caroline Lamb.
She was one of the most famous lovers of the romantic poet Lord Byron. Byron was a notorious womaniser and Caroline Lamb described him as 'mad, bad, and dangerous to know'. Their brief but very public affair in 1812 shocked and scandalised society. When Byron ended the relationship, Caroline Lamb was devastated.
In this letter to him from June 1814 she claims 'you never never have or will be so lov?d by another — of that I am certain because except your own self no one can love as well & devotedly & entirely as I could — & did'. This was two years after their affair had ended and she was still writing letters to him, his friends and even his publisher John Murray.
Caroline Lamb's papers in the John Murray Archive really bring her story to life so it is a bit of a challenge for the curatorial team to decide which few items should go on display.
Once this selection has been made the manuscripts go down to our Conservation Department. Our colleagues there clean, repair and generally make these manuscripts ready for display in the exhibition. One of the volumes we chose for Caroline Lamb had to have its spine completely re-sewn.
In the exhibition, each character has their own case or pod. In here as well as the original manuscripts, we place props to help tell the story, usually in quite a fun way. In the past these have ranged from a stuffed tortoise, to a football scarf, to even a bottle of whisky!
When we're installing a new character we first of all have to place the stands for the manuscripts. After this, we can place the props around them, either hanging securely from the ceiling or arranged on the floor. This allows a great degree of flexibility so each character case is as individual as the personalities represented.
The award-winning lighting system helps to keep the manuscripts safe. We also monitor the humidity levels and the temperature to ensure that these marvellous documents are still around for generations to come.
Visitors to the exhibition use interactive touch screens which enables them to really engage with the characters. We even had actors come in to read the transcriptions to really bring the characters to life.
Lady Caroline Lamb had an impact on society when she was alive. We hope her entrance to the John Murray Archive exhibition causes a similar sensation!