1891 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

John Millar

Samuel Smiles, in A Publisher and his Friends: Memoir of John Murray (1891) 1:10-11.



In 1770, Mr. Murray [senior] made the acquaintance of Professor John Millar of Glasgow, and of the Rev. John Whitaker of Manchester. When Mr. Millar was appointed Professor of Law in 1761, the students attending his class seldom amounted to more than four or five, but, by a popular and incisive style of lecturing, he eventually created an extensive interest in the subject, and his class-room became filled with eager students. Among his pupils were Lord Jeffrey, Lord Adam, and the Earl of Lauderdale. The Professor was first introduced to Mr. Murray by Dr. Moore, father of Sir John Moore, who fell at Corunna. In his letter to the publisher he said that the MS. of Professor Millar's work had been read and revised by David Hume and Dr. Robison of Edinburgh, and that they much approved of it and recommended its publication. Mr. Murray was inclined to comply with their request, and eventually accepted the work, giving the author 100 guineas for the first edition. It was entitled "Observations concerning the Distinction of Ranks in Society."

Before the work appeared there was some correspondence between the publisher and the author about a Preface. Murray wished one to appear, but Millar at first declined.

Prof. Millar to John Murray.

"It has the appearance of puffing. To make a preface to a book appears in the same light as to make a number of bows and scrapes as you enter a room. It always puts me in mind of what Hamlet says to the player who acts the part of the murderer — 'Leave off thy damnable faces, and begin.' However, I should think it very improper to stick to my opinion in a matter of this sort, which it seems Mr. Murray thinks of importance, and which he imagines will affect the sale of the performance."

Professor Millar at length agreed to write the Preface, and the work was published, in 1771, in a splendid quarto volume. It proved successful, and a second edition was called for in six months. In all, the work went through four editions, and the publisher, in selecting such a work, had evidently made a good hit.