Most of the correspondence that survives from Murray’s editorship of the Oxford English Dictionary is split across two repositories in Oxford: the Archives of Oxford University Press, which was Murray’s employer, and the Bodleian Library, which holds Murray’s personal papers (though even these ‘personal’ documents are largely about Murray’s professional work).
The Bodleian’s Murray Papers form the principal source for the Murray Scriptorium (65 out of the 88 letters in the current edition), and comprise both letters received by Murray and drafts and copies of letters written by him. The comprehensive filing and indexing of these papers was initially maintained by his wife Ada Murray. As she described after his death in 1915 (and some years before her own in 1936), ‘I was Sir James’ helper from 1867, & knew all about his work, & kept his papers & have all his Dictionary accounts: & all the letters’.1 Much of the correspondence, along with other papers, has since perished. The Murrays’ granddaughter K. M. Elisabeth Murray, who inherited the papers in a trunk from her father Harold, the Murrays’ oldest son, explains why:
My grandmother kept every letter, but unfortunately, when the Scriptorium at Oxford ceased to be used for Dictionary purposes it was no longer heated, and my father found that many of the papers stored there had rotted from damp. Even so, the number of family, personal and official letters which survive is very great and covers all periods and activities of my grandfather’s long life. (Murray 1977: xii.)
Elisabeth Murray drew extensively on these family papers to write her best-selling biography of her grandfather, Caught in the Web of Words (1977), and in 1996 donated almost the entire collection to the Bodleian Library. The archive has since been expanded by further papers and photographs donated in 2017 by James Murray’s great-grandson, Oswyn Murray, and today occupies nine linear meters of shelf space divided between 60 boxes. The remaining 22 letters are taken from nine other sources:
- Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University
- Brotherton Library, University of Leeds
- Dorset History Centre, on behalf of Dorset County Museum
- Girton College, Cambridge
- National Library of Scotland, Edinburgh
- Archives of Oxford University Press
- Wimbledon High School GDST, London
- Considine Collection
- Garner Collection, Dallas, Texas
To search the letters by archive, go to Letters.
Archives outside Oxford
Outside the major collections in Oxford, Murray’s letters can be found in widely distributed locations. They include holdings of large quantities of regular correspondence with long-term associates of the dictionary or of Murray personally, as in the Bibliothèque nationale de France in Paris (letters to the medievalist and historian Paul Meyer on the etymology of loanwords from French), as well as single or small groups of letters, often written in search of a specific piece of information. Below is a list of archives currently known to hold Murray’s letters in addition to those represented in this pilot.
- British Library
- Cadbury Research Library, University of Birmingham
- Cambridge University Library
- Imperial College London
- King’s College London
- London Metropolitan Archives
- Natural History Museum Library and Archives
- Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew
- Royal College of Music
- University of Aberdeen Special Collections
- University of Edinburgh Archives
- Bibliothèque nationale de France
- National Library of Israel
- Leiden University
- University of Cape Town
- Special Collections Library, Pennsylvania State University
Work on a complete list of holdings is underway. Help is very welcome: if you know of any other sources of Murray’s letters or other papers, please contact us.