Sarah Schaefer Walton, “Murray’s Handbook for Travellers: Being a Guide to John Murray III’s Innovative Travel Series”


The decades following the Napoleonic Wars witnessed the growth and modernization of infrastructure throughout Europe and facilitated an increase of disposable income for many British citizens, changing the tourism industry. The travel guidebook has a long and complicated generic history, but the genre as it is understood today was still in its nascent form at the start of the Victorian period. John Murray III developed a series in the 1830s, Handbooks for Travellers, which grew to include titles covering most of Europe and much of the globe. His red-jacketed guides came to symbolize the Englishman abroad and shaped decades of travel experiences and the tourist industry itself. This BRANCH entry contextualizes Murray’s Handbooks within the history of the guidebook form so as to highlight that which made his texts distinctive and ultimately authoritative: namely, their multidisciplinary focus, multimodal form, range of contributing editorial voices, and manifestation of a nearly globally recognized commercial brand.

1. Introduction

Known for their distinctive red covers (see figure 1) and handy size, Murray’s Handbooks for Travellers were first published in 1836. The John Murray publishing firm had been successful for two generations, and had cultivated a reputation for discerning taste and high quality production. The Handbooks appeared just as the firm pivoted away from its literary focus to more scholarly or collector-oriented non-fiction genres such as travelogues. The guides were the brainchild and product of John Murray III, son of John Murray II, who was famous for having been the publisher of authors like Jane Austen and Lord Byron (and notorious for choosing to burn Byron’s memoirs because he felt they would be too scandalous). Murray III assembled the first Handbooks using primarily notes from his own travels. The guides included an introduction to the country or region as a whole, information about currency and exchange rate, the legal requirements to visit the area, a comparative list of modes of transportation, average costs of lodging and food, a list of tourism highlights, and, most importantly, detailed travel routes organized by region. They also featured countless literary allusions and excerpts and references to travel writers both antique and modern.

Red cover to Murray's Handbook

Figure 1. Front cover. John Murray (firm). 1892. Handbook for Travellers in Switzerland.

The Handbooks were well suited to their period, both culturally and practically, and sold extremely well as a result. In Rudy Koshar’s words, “Murray’s guidebooks were fantastically successful, leading one reviewer to write in 1855 that ‘since Napoleon no man’s empire has been so wide’” (330). The guides became ubiquitous to the point of becoming objects of satire. James Buzard cites an example of such satire from Charles Lever’s picaresque novel, Arthur O’Leary: His Wanderings and Ponderings in Many Lands (1844). Lever dedicates a full chapter to lampooning the Handbooks and “John Bull’s” reliance on them, claiming “in sober seriousness, what literary fame equals John Murray’s? What portmanteau, with two shirts and a night-cap, hasn’t got one ‘Hand-book?’ What Englishman issues forth at morn, without one beneath his arm?” and concluding,

I cannot conceive anything more frightful than the sudden appearance of a work which should contradict everything in the Handbook, and convince English-people that John Murray was wrong. National bankruptcy, a defeat at sea, the loss of the colonies, might all be borne up against; but if we awoke one morning to hear that the ‘Continent’ was no longer the Continent we have been accustomed to believe it, what a terrific shock it would prove. (Chap. 4)

For a generation or two, “Murrays,” as they were called, were so central to the English worldview and so intricately intertwined with national pride that they could be comically equated with the Royal Navy, with the nation’s GDP, with the empire itself. Such success and influence suggests that the Handbooks represented a new, timely genre. The history of the guidebook, however, suggests that Murray was less an inventor than a shrewd businessman.

Nevertheless, his Handbooks’ structure, reliability, practicality, and range of information were often cited by Victorian readers as new and distinguishing characteristics, and indeed his series was innovative in a number of ways. This BRANCH entry first considers the development of the “guidebook” as a distinctive literary form and contextualizes the emergence of Murray’s guides within that narrative. It then examines attributes particular to the Handbooks for Travellers series. The remainder of the article demonstrates that the Handbooks’ features emerge from and reinforce viewpoints, interests, and marketing strategies characteristic of the Victorian period, with the object of explaining the series’ stature as a major cultural influence during the nineteenth century.

2. Origins of a “Species of Literature”

James Buzard’s brief exploration of the etymology of the word “handbook”—an attempt to underscore Murray’s guides’ (and Murray’s successor/competitor, Baedeker’s) “novelty”—actually does more to reveal the Handbook’s place within a long lineage of travel guidebooks:

[‘Handbook’] was invented by John Murray II […] in an attempt to name the first such work offered to him, in 1836, by his son, John Murray III. ‘Guidebook’ had been coined a few years earlier—in Byron’s Don Juan, of all places—but ‘guide’ had long been used to refer to those helpful compendia of information, advice, and warning that travellers could carry along with them on their journeys. (66)

In this gloss, the Handbooks cannot be characterized as a genre new to the nineteenth century, let alone to literature writ large. Rebecca Butler refutes Buzard’s assertion that Byron coins the word, but still situates its origins in the early part of the century; she concedes that Don Juan’s much more famous usage speaks to the fact that the form and term were common enough to be evoked and mocked by 1823 (151). Butler and Buzard are united in the fact that the connection between “guide” and “book” was a longstanding one. Nicholas T. Parsons’s exhaustive Worth the Detour: History of the Guidebook begins tracing the guidebook in antiquity, citing reports on travel alluded to in the Bible, expectations for espionage as directed by Xenophon, and Homeric geography as predecessors for key characteristics of the form. John Vaughan’s classic The English Guide Book c. 1780–1870 also alludes to the Biblical world as originating characteristics of the guide. Regardless of the exact birthdate of the term ‘Handbook’—or even of the more specific structure and content that appeared in them—travelers in the nineteenth century increasingly used texts, both historical and modern, to guide them; for this reason, perhaps, the term “handbook” is a novelty in the most pat sense of the word.

If its name is slippery, the genre itself is at least equally so. The travel guidebook, as a form, is amorphous for much of the history of tourism. Vaughan explains the problem succinctly:

It is easier to recognise a guide book than to define one, for the form has many variations. It falls between the extremes of a directory or inventory and a travel book and a guide has sometimes been likened to the distinction between the description of a meal and its recipe in a cookery book, but this is too neat. (62)

Between the host of genres that predate, inform, and complement the guidebook—including but not limited to history and geography, memoir, satire, geology, the encyclopedia, the atlas, and the picaresque—and the various structural features that tend to (but don’t always) appear in the form, it, like the novel, can be tricky to trace. As with so many research questions about genre, the issue appears to be definitional. Most travel scholars’ solution, understandably, is to denote their own understanding of what constitutes “guidebook.” Many travel scholars take Esmond de Beer’s lead and define them as a portable blend of inventory and itinerary;[1] Vaughan expands on this idea by adding his own keywords: guidebooks “assist,” “entertain,” and “broaden the traveller’s mind” (64). Anders Sørensen and Victoria Peel’s encyclopedic entry emphasizes the commercial and branded characteristics of the modern guide. Whereas Vaughan and de Beer’s key terms cloud the distinction between guides like Murray and Pausanias’ 2nd century Description of Greece—surely both “entertain”? are they not both inventories, both meant to “broaden the mind”?—Sørensen and Peel introduce a few of the key factors that seem to distinguish the nineteenth-century guidebook from the ancient one: commercialism, comprehensiveness, evaluative interpretation, and publisher-authority. Some of these concepts are necessarily modern in that they emerge from a capitalist economic structure; the others are less obviously linked to the nineteenth-century world. Yet all inform the structural and paratextual elements familiar to contemporary readers of travel guides.

Sørensen and Peel uncover what seems to be foundational to the form as it is recognized by contemporary consumers and scholars: modernity. In other words, a guidebook must be current—in the sense that it could assist travelers in the immediate future, but also in the sense that it reflects the culture from which it emerges and for which it exists. The ancient world can only be so useful to a contemporary traveler in need of an up-to-date train schedule; conversely, a train schedule is only so enlightening to someone touring excavated Herculaneum. “Modern,” in this structural, cultural, and temporal sense, seems to be the pivot point for scholars of the genre. Murray’s guides were distinctly modern in that they reflected the exigencies of travel in the nineteenth century even as they perpetuated conventions of travel writing that had been long-established, and thus expected by readers of the time. Indeed, that blend of historical and current detail is precisely what makes the Handbooks exhibits of Victorian “modernity.” The Handbooks display characteristics that Alan Rauch argues are emblematic of a nineteenth-century “cultural logic,” wherein knowledge “represent[s] a content-based set of ‘facts’ that are useful in the construction and development of disciplines. But on another level, knowledge […is] fetishized as something valuable for its own sake.” Knowledge was consequently, Rauch shows, “inspirational and irresistible in terms of its potential for social and cultural transformation” (1-3). Blending allusions to classical antiquity, the romance of modern poetry, and a practical list of tasks associated with gaining passports and transportation, a “Murray” was notable for bringing existing travel-writing elements together in the right combination and for adapting to the infrastructural and market needs of its time, and for thus influencing subsequent iterations of the form. This (incomplete) list of qualities and culturally transformative capacity situates Murray among other knowledge-perpetuating genres participating in the “march of intellect” Rauch details: the Handbook emerges from and represents “modernity” as the encyclopedia does.

For these reasons, Murray’s contemporaries and later scholars consider his Handbooks as the marker of a transition from an amorphous travel-oriented form distinctive to the pre-Enlightenment age to a modern “guide book” genre recognizable today. But even here it must be said that Murray was not truly the first. In fact, there were a great many predecessors for the Handbooks, if not in the ancient or Early Modern world then certainly in the century prior to them. Many scholars, such as Roberts, Karin Baumgartner, Esther Allen, cite popular Grand Tour narratives as precursors to the more middle-class oriented “handbooks.”[2] The Tour—a masculine, elite, systematized version of travel—was an opportunity for young gentlemen to complete their education via the observation or absorption of classical antiquity, which was assumed to be accessible via ancient artifacts and ruins. Texts from the period associated with the Tour were geared for their audience, necessarily undercutting their usefulness to later middle class, female, or less formally educated travelers. In short, these Tour narratives had the right content—even the right itinerary—but the wrong target audience. By the second half of the eighteenth century, though, “travel writing” had grown to include texts not as obviously connected to the Grand Tour and/or to distant, exotic, or ancient places. As Vaughan’s gloss of the guidebook shows, the middle and late Georgian period inspired a great number of regional and city guides intended to appeal to domestic travelers or enthusiasts of local history. These books, which assisted travelers to understand local history and attractions, were so numerous that they—as with Byron’s reference to “guide-books” in Don Juan—became objects of satire: in 1760, Thomas Wharton “produced a skit on the Oxford guides called A Companion to the Guide and a Guide to the Companion, being a complete supplement to all the accounts of Oxford hitherto published” (Vaughan 120).

Many other of these late-eighteenth-century guides were associated with the “Home Tour,” a series of routes and sites in Britain. Women were much more likely to undertake this Tour than the one abroad, resulting in a number of manuscripts and published accounts of their experiences. These often epistolary, sometimes unpublished narratives can be credited with introducing structural elements to the form that would come to be associated with Murray’s Handbooks and other serialized Victorian guides. As Zoe Kinsley shows, Home Tour writers like Elizabeth Diggle, Caroline Lybbe Powys, and Dorothy Richardson, made use of several paratextual and structural mechanisms in their accounts, which are familiar to readers of today’s guidebooks, such as symbolica rating systems. Inns or attractions might be assigned a number of exclamation points, for example, to indicate how they rank as compared to other lodging options or sites (compare to Murray’s 40). Female Home Tour travellers, then, may have invented—or, at the very least, made standard practice—a key identifying feature of later guides/handbooks. Whereas descriptions of and aids to the Grand Tour shared much with “Murrays” in terms of historical, aesthetic, and geographical focus if not in terms of form, these domestic guides present the inverse: they have the structure of a “modern” guide, if not the content.

That said, there were guidebooks that immediately predated Murray’s that unified the structure and regional content of his Handbooks. In recent years it has become standard, when writing about the origins of the serialized travel handbook, and about Murray’s Handbooks in particular, to cite Mariana Starke’s Letters from Italy (1800) as the inspiration for and first real iteration of the modern genre.[3] Foregrounding Starke’s travel writing makes sense, especially given Murray’s own words on the subject, his publishing house’s relationship to Starke’s text and other writings, and, most importantly, her approach to travel writing. Starke published her enormously influential Letters from Italy with the small publishing house R. Phillips, but her later works, such as Travels on the Continent: Written for the Use and Particular Information of Travellers (1820) and Travels in Europe between the Years 1824 and 1828; Adapted to the Use of Travellers… (1828), were published by the Murray firm, then led by John Murray II. One of John Murray III’s tasks for his father during his personal travels as a young man was to edit and prepare for publication Starke’s travel writing. John Murray III was thus both very familiar with Starke’s style and rhetorical framing and a sort collaborator with respect to marketing and distributing her books.

John Murray III would have understood that Starke’s approach to travel writing, which relied on previous Grand Tour narratives and perpetuated anti-Jacobin readings of sites of antiquity, not to mention her sympathetic view of the unfairly plundered and misrepresented contemporaneous map iconItaly, ensured an audience for her book. He would have recognized, too, her especially effective structural choices: like the authors of the circulating “Home Tour” narratives, for instance, Starke uses a three-exclamation point ranking system to signal what art was most worth viewing, and also includes an appendix with “some particulars relative to Expenses upon the Continent” expressly tailored for middle-class travelers (vi). As the person tasked with editing and vetting a revised version of her existing guidebook, John Murray III would also have been conscious of her savviness in building a corpus of travel texts. Starke revised and expanded her Letters from Italy and associated titles over the period of 32 years. In the span of those three decades, Starke’s authorial and, arguably, commercial intent shifted. Where Letters from Italy was intended to address a gap in existing travel literature and provide on-the-ground feedback on a geographical area that was in the midst of political upheaval and violence, Starke’s Travels in Europe Between the Years 1824 and 1828 was expressly intended to replace other city and regional guidebooks and aid the tourist in penetrating “into the most secluded parts of the Alps and Apennine, without the slightest probability of being annoyed by popular tumults, or plundered by banditti” (vi). Both exigencies are similar to those found in Murray’s Handbooks.

Given these similarities and Murray’s intimate knowledge of these texts, Starke’s work can be thought of as both an inspiration and impetus for his guidebook series. As part of his ongoing campaign for support from his father for his Handbook project, Murray writes, “Mrs. Starke’s book I have found in almost every instance very defective as a guide; her statements are often incorrect, and her information quite false and out of date. I shall instantly be able to introduce many improvements & corrections into a new edition.”[4] John Murray III used Starke’s apparent defencencies as justification for his Handbooks. An understanding of her work, then, helps to frame Murray’s intervention: we can see Starke’s impact in both what Murray does (provide logisitical and practical advice oritented toward middle-class travelers, for instance) and what Murray does not do (continue publishing out-of-date information). The Handbooks’ market success reinforced Murray’s feeling that he was the one to take on the mantle of producing guidebooks for his family’s firm (Starke moved to another publisher after John Murray III’s revision of Letters from Italy and the publication of the first Handbooks). But in many ways that market success was the result of a changed marketplace: that is, the Handbooks debuted at the right time. The story of Mariana Starke’s travel texts is in some ways the story of the guidebook as it emerged from eighteenth-century markets and expectations to address and create those of the nineteenth century; the story of Murray is one of correctly responding to these new markets and expectations.

The travel and tourism landscape was evolving, and its audience expanding, at the turn of the nineteenth century. The difference in content between a “Murray” and “Home Tour” guides is in some respects the inevitable consequence of the political times. The “Home Tour” was practical: As Europe became more and more inaccessible due to war, lovers of travel had to turn to interior routes. The violence on the continent and the upheaval in many of its traditional destinations accelerated the decline of the Grand Tour and thus inspired in British travelers an interest in sites not associated with antiquity, but rather with English history and/or the picturesque. Those few Continental-centric travel books from the turn of the nineteenth century, excepting Starke’s, retained more characteristics of Grand Tour narratives than of “Home Tour” guides because the upheaval in Europe disrupted their ability to accurately represent information that a future traveler might need to know. Readers from the decades of the Regency and William IV, relying on these few continental guide-like narratives from the Napoleonic period, such as those by Joseph Forsyth[5] and John Chetwode Eustace, desired, in Keith Crook’s words, a “publication that combines the requirements of an accurate, practical, and comprehensive tourist guidebook with up-to-date political commentary on Italyand the Italians in post-Napoleonic Europe” (5). It was a call that became more coherent following the cessation of the Continental Blockade, which had barred British interaction with map iconFrance intermittently between 1806 and Napoleon’s first abdication in 1814, and following the true resolution of the Napoleonic Wars at map iconWaterloo in 1815.

Peace brought an influx of British continental travelers; as James Buzard notes, “the peace after Waterloo appeared to have released the pent-up urges in ‘every English heart’ for travel and adventure abroad—urges which quickly came to represent, in miniature, a wide range of new aspirations for social and cultural advancement” (“Uses of Romanticism” 30). Pieter François includes evidence to support this idea, but is careful to note that “scholars have questioned the timing and magnitude of this flood of travelers.” Citing Buzard, François emphasizes that the cultural reaction against “new” travelers to the continent may have been exaggerated, particularly depending on the locale in question (74). The assumption of a changed tourist landscape in which the middle class overwhelmed the upper is equally challenging to support (François 76). In sum, while Palgrave and other writers from the turn of the nineteenth century were desirous of new or adapted travel-oriented content to suit the changed European landscape, it would be premature to assume that desire was a reflection of a dramatically altered society or culture. More accurate, perhaps, would be to characterize the critiques of Forsyth as prophetic: the economic, political, and social shifts in Britain would certainly impact continental travel, and would consequently open up a market for an up-to-date, comprehensive guidebook, but that market was not yet crystallized in the immediate aftermath of Napoleon.

The reciprocal relationship between class, acculturation, and travel, alluded to in this synopsis of the transformative political climate of the 1830s, is at the crux of this question about the nature of the “modern” guidebook. Access to travel expanded over the course of the nineteenth century, catalyzing corresponding changes in the travel and publishing industries. Rhetorically, guidebooks of the period necessarily responded to these shifts: the audience, and thus the content and form of travel writing altered. Leonore Davidoff and Catherine Hall, in their classic examination of the emergence of the middle class in Britain, note aspects of middle-class identity that, as will be seen, are catered to in the guidebooks tailored to this new audience. They argue a middle-class British identity emerged partially in response to perceived excesses and moral decline in the aristocracy and gentry; blending religiosity and industriousness, the middle class increasingly used its disposable income to undertake revised versions of the Grand Tour. Byron and other Romantic travelers were wildly popular and the sites associated with these celebrities drew tourists who wished to experience for themselves the sublime or beautiful, and yet Byron’s position as an aristocrat and the notoriousness of Grand Tour frivolity clashed with Victorian sensibilities. Thus nineteenth-century European travel necessitated a combination of poetical feeling and practicality, with the latter being the consequence of both culture and economic status—middle-class travelers did not have the Grand Tour luxury of several years’ worth of holiday time. Whether or not these many structural changes to British society can be precisely dated to Victoria’s accession, they were certainly entrenched by the middle of the century—which happened to coincide with the peak popularity of Murray’s Handbooks for Travellers.

3. What Portmanteau Hasn’t Got One ‘Hand-book’?

If Katharine Read’s 1750 painting British Gentleman in Rome (see figure 2; formerly titled Connoisseurs in Rome) is emblematic of the Grand Tour, then Carl Spitzweg’s 1845 English Tourists in Campagna (see figure 3) is equally so of Victorian tourism. The ruins in the backdrops of Read’s and Spitzweg’s paintings are more or less the same, but the figures in front have changed dramatically in the span of about one hundred years. In Spitzweg’s painting, gone are the explicitly aristocratic gentleman, replaced instead by a blend of men and women of ambiguous social standing. These tourists have hired a guide that they seem to be actively measuring against the guide tucked under their arms—that is, against the context provided to them by the Handbook for Travellers, identifiable to viewers because of its signature color. Although many guidebooks were published over the course of the nineteenth century, and though the Handbooks were certainly not, as has been shown, the first of their type, the genre as it was understood during the Victorian period was in large part defined by the red-jacketed “Murrays.” They were the right guides at the right time: the Handbooks were by far the most widely circulated guidebooks in the first half of the century and directly influenced the development of the Baedeker guides, which would later supplant Murray in the Victorian and Edwardian tourist imagination.

Painting by Katharine Read. British Gentlemen in Rome. 1750.

Figure 2. Read, Katharine. British Gentleman in Rome. 1750.


Painting by Carl Spitzweg from 1845

Figure 3. Spitzweg, Carl. English Tourists in Campagna. 1845.

The Handbooks’ many editions, published over the span of 75 years, are tangible evidence of their importance to travelers of the period. Murray’s first guide, A Handbook for Travellers to the Continent, was published in 19 editions through 1875, and sections of that series continued to be published until 1889. Other guides specific to countries or regions also went through many editions: A Handbook for Travellers to Switzerland and the Alps of Savoy, Piedmont, and the Italian Lakes had 15 editions and was published under a different title as late as 1904, and likewise A Handbook for Travellers to Northern Italy went through 16 editions and was published through the 1890s. The Murray guides’ many editions were remarkable, but so, too, was their breadth of coverage. As the century went on, Murray released new editions to address emerging markets made possible by faster transportation and more global economic policies. By 1900, Handbooks for places like Japan and New Zealand were produced alongside the traditional European guides. Closer to home, Murray’s guides had also established a reputation for comprehensiveness within the UK. Unlike the Baedekers, which did not provide in-depth coverage of their home country (Germany) until late in the century, there were Handbooks dedicated to nearly every corner of England, Scotland, and Wales beginning in the mid 1800s. As with the modern day Lonely Planet or Fodor’s, Murray’s Handbook series gave the impression that Murray and his authors had explored every corner of the globe.

The enduring legacy of Murray’s guides is visible in today’s travel books, which include most of the same content—lists of eating and sleeping options, summaries of worthwhile sites, transportation information, suggested itineraries, important foreign language phrases and cultural details specific to the place—in a nearly identical format. Many contemporary guides emulate Murray’s marketing strategies as well: they produce many updated editions, emphasize their comprehensiveness and practicality, and capitalize on the personality of their creator/publisher. But what is familiar to readers of today was relatively new to readers of the nineteenth century. Murray’s Handbooks responded to economic, political, and social changes at play in the first three decades of the nineteenth century, glossed above, though their initial inception had more to do with Murray’s own travel experience and his opinion of other travel literature/guides (like Starke). As he explains in his preface to the 7th edition of Handbook for Travellers to the Continent,

[the Handbooks’ predecessors were] either general descriptions compiled by persons not acquainted with the spots, and therefore imperfect and erroneous, or local histories, written by residents who do not sufficiently discriminate between what is peculiar to a place […] The latter overwhelm their readers with minute details of its history […] the former confine themselves to a mere catalogue of buildings, institutions, and the like; after reading which, the stranger is as much as ever in the dark as to what really are the curiosities of the place. (v)

Murray felt there was a remedy for these shortcomings, and used his own notes to develop a travel guidebook that, for the first time (according to him), provided “matter-of-fact descriptions of what ought to be seen at each place, and is calculated to interest an intelligent English traveller” (v).

Portrait of John Murray III

Figure 4. Reid, George. Portrait of Publisher John Murray III. Black-and-white print of oil painting; frontispiece to John Murray III, 1808-1892: A Brief Memoir, by John Murray IV, 1919.

The Handbooks’ content and paratextual material, which at least initially were drawn from Murray’s personal notes, were significant factors in their success, as will be discussed below. But Murray’s authority—shored up by the reputation of his family’s publishing house—was also crucial to the Handbooks’ reputation (see figure 3). The house of John Murray was started in Edinburgh by John Mac Murray in 1768 as primarily a bookselling business, rather than a publisher. It was not until his son, John Murray II— “‘Glorious John,’ ‘The Anax [sic] of Publishers,’ ‘The Emperor of the West,’ […] ‘The Playboy of the Publishing World’”—took over the family business that it became one of the principle publishing houses in Britain (Paston 3-6). John Murray II had a close relationship with Sir Walter Scott, which aided him in starting the Tory answer to the Edinburgh Review, the Quarterly Review (1809–1967). Murray’s famous client, Scott, helped the firm to earn some literary chops and appeal to important newcomers—with Byron being the most notable. John Murray II took a chance on Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage, and both he and Byron “awoke to find [themselves] famous.” In the subsequent two decades, John Murray II published such notable names as Jane Austen, George Crabbe, Humphry Davy, Robert Southey, and Washington Irving. As Keighren et al. note, though, “official accounts of British publishing have tended to emphasize the ‘literary’ over other generic forms in their attempts to glamorize house history” (5). During the years that John Murray II was collecting some of the most important names in literary Romanticism, he was also furthering a goal that had been set in the late eighteenth century by his father: establishing his firm as the most prestigious and influential publisher of travel and exploration writing.

The firm’s 1773 production of Sydney Parkinson’s A Journal of a Voyage to the South Seas, in His Majesty’s Ship, the Endeavor was the start of the firm’s savvy navigation of the exigencies of the print industry and book market and the practicalities and risks associated with travel and exploration writing specifically. In 1813, John Murray IIsecured the firm as the official publisher to the Admiralty, for instance, and starting in the 1830s Murray published the The Journal of the Royal Geographical Society. Given the cultural cachet associated with producing high-quality, patriotically-tinged depictions of British exploration, it is perhaps unsurprising that John Murray III expanded on the precedent set by his father and grandfather and published quintessential Victorian travel texts: that is, Livingstone, Melville, and Darwin. Between those names, his Handbooks, and his ‘Home and Colonial Library’ series from the 1840s, John Murray III more than perpetuated the family firm’s association with travel: he cemented it. By the time John Murray III passed the baton to his son, John Murray IV, in the 1880s, the Murray firm had been the most prestigious and influential publisher of travel writing for over 150 years. Though the firm’s emphasis on travel writing certainly had to do with personal interest on behalf of the Johns Murray and with the market value of such books, this long standing, firm-wide reputation has more significant implications for thinking about the publishing house’s impact on Victorian Britain.

John Murray III’s recurring investment in travel writing was not only inertia, or brand loyalty: it was also connected to Murray himself, to his personality, interests, and identity. This last—his identity, in the socially/culturally legible sense of the word—was crucial to solidifying the firm’s reputation, but especially to lending the Handbooks legitimacy. Whereas his father and grandfather were (well-off) businessmen, associated with the bookselling trade, John Murray III, whose life coincided with the emergence of the Victorian middle class and the associated upward and lateral social mobility, looks much more like a gentleman. The Murray Firm experienced significant financial success during John Murray III’s childhood, with the consequence being that his education and travels, convolutedly enough, correspond more obviously with that of the wealthy class from his grandfather’s day than with the middleclass equivalent from his father’s. Murray was educated at Charterhouse School (“for the sake of his English accent”) and then the University of Edinburgh, and then sent to Europe for several years of Grand Tour-like adventure (Paston 25-26).

It would be difficult to separate Murray’s identity markers like class, national origin, and professional expertise from his interests and talents, so suffice to say that Murray both capitalized on his firm’s reputation and his education and believed in the intrinsic value of his guidebooks and his approach to composing them. The composition of his Handbooks shows his investment in producing a genuinely valuable and thorough guide. Like a good scientist or anthropologist, Murray relied heavily on his immediate observations of foreign spaces and people when crafting the letters and journals that would eventually inform The Handbook for Travellers to the Continent. His earliest travel journals documenting his journeys through Scotland (in some ways his home, and in others a foreign place) while studying in Edinburgh are littered with geological detail and “sketches” of landmarks and lists of sites worth seeing. A journal dated August 1828 documenting Murray’s travels in Glasgow (see figure 5) includes a note about listed sites—”those marked with + were seen by me”—and rates sections of a museum. He also explains that he visited a crypt in the High Church because it is mentioned in Rob Roy. Already, his writing is gesturing toward his Handbooks in its use of symbols, evaluation, and the literary canon.

John Murray's personal journal, 1827

Figure 5. Murray, John. “Personal Journal, Scotland.” 1827, John Murray Archive, National Library of Scotland. Accessed 10 July 2019.

Before even reaching the continent, Murray’s personal writing shows signs of writing travel descriptions for eyes other than his; entries like those depicted in Figure 5 read less like a narrative of what he did and more like an itinerary. By the time he had spent a few months touring Germany in 1829, he determined to record his travels via letter rather than journal to more efficiently communicate his observations: “It is impossible to keep a journal and write long letters also […] I shall henceforth make my epistles the medium of noting down my observations, and shall without delay forward them to you from time to time.” By 1834, after several tours in Europe, he was determined to convert his notes into a Handbook (“I am not sure whether it is known to you that for the last six months (at least) past I have been devoting every leisure hour in the morning and evening to my favourite project of a guidebook”). These serialized guides, he tells his father in his 1834 letter, will be superior to previous guide texts because most of their material comes from his “personal knowledge” and from his careful extraction from local authorities and books. Supporting these personal observations, as hinted at in his early treks through Scotland, will be political, ethnographic, geological and literary information. The latter two categories became especially important to the “Murray” persona, as even Handbooks published decades after the first few editions and authored by people other than Murray continued to feature geological notes and references to the Romantic poets so essential to the Murray firm’s reputation (e.g., Lord Byron).

After John Murray III ceased to be sole author of the Handbooks and hired field editors and writers to complete individual editions and subseries of the guides, disciplinary expertise—extending beyond Murray’s own interests and knowledge-base to include languages, landscapes, and politics—remained crucial to the Handbooks’ legitimacy. Editors included barristers, linguists, members of the Zoological Society and Royal Geographical Society, geologists, avid hikers, and art critics. Contributors to the series (and readers who suggested changes and additions) included Sir Robert Peel, Sir Francis Galton, John Ruskin, Harriet Martineau, and Anne Jameson. Over the course of the century, Murray’s Handbooks blended the authority of his family’s firm with the authority of himself and his editors. The books’ popularity, in sum, was not simply a reflection of their usefulness; they had become authentic and definitive depictions of the spaces they represented. John Gretton remarks that the power of the Handbooks to define a place was such that Queen Victoria wanted to see the pages about Windsor before the publication of the 1882 edition of Berkshire, Buckinghamshire, and Oxfordshire and claims that fictional writers borrowed descriptions of foreign places directly from their pages (xxiii-xxiv). “Murrays,” as has been shown, were the subject of satire, the symbols of tourism, the windows into continental Europe. They were cultural, as well as practical, products.

By the mid-Victorian period, which also coincided with the English-language publication of the German Baedeker guides and the expansion of Thomas Cook tours, the Handbooks reigned supreme among travel guide books.[6] References to the series appear in the travel writings of Mary Shelley, George Eliot, and Henry James. Their ubiquity and influence is satirized by Anthony Trollope in Travelling Sketches (“[the man who travels alone] had buckled on his armour in the shape of a Murray’s guide, a vocabulary, and a Bradshaw […] assuring himself that many others had done the same before him, and had returned home proudly to tell the tale of their wanderings” (23)) and John Ruskin’s travel writing (“Without looking about you at all, you may find, in your Murray, the useful information that [Santa Croce] is a church ‘which consists of a very wide nave and lateral aisles, separated by seven fine pointed arches’”(10)). Murray’s good luck and flair for branding meant that his name became synonymous with his red-covered handbooks, and both with English tourism itself.

James Buzard hints that this metonymy was rooted at least partly in the series’ genre, provenance, and scope: “the Murray handbook soon became the touring public’s paramount image of an authoritative text, copious in facts and ‘objective’ in description. No amateur travelling author could compete with Murray’s routes, tables, and ‘catalogues raisonnés’; few were inclined to try” (166). Part of the Handbooks’ cultural impact must be attributed to their form, to their “objective” descriptions and “copious” facts. Murray felt his Handbook was distinguished from previous travel writing because of its selectivity: both in terms of quantity and nationalist-tinged “quality” (his recommendations were for the “intelligent” and “English” traveler). Koshar argues that this editorial focus is easily visible in the structure of the Handbooks, which became known for their range of possible itineraries which managed to avoid too many chronological details, their anecdotes about monuments and other sites, their condensed writing style, their comprehensiveness, and their selective extracts from Scott, Byron, and other famous travel-oriented writers (323). Implied in this list of characteristics is the range of mediums and textual styles represented in a single handbook. Handbooks included sections that read like narrative (the Handbooks’ relationship to traditional travelogues is best exemplified by Richard Ford’s Handbook to Spain[7]) as well as charts communicating numerical information like the exchange rates between national currencies. In other words, Murray’s reliable, “objective,” “authoritative text” was reinforced by and communicated via a range of textual and/or visual media which included maps, tables, encyclopedic summaries, detailed routes, genealogies, author’s notes, advertisements, and occasional illustrations. The various modes and the information communicated by them enlarged the Handbooks’ multidisciplinarity, as well as their multimodality.

Alison Byerly asserts that nineteenth-century literature “can take its place among other literary and visual forms as part of the Victorian media landscape” because of its relationship to other genres’ and modes’ techniques, and to their shared purpose in representing or reflecting the “real.” Together, she claims, these disparate forms work to establish a “Victorian media landscape” which in turn influence Victorian culture (4). Likewise Murray’s Handbook series, as a conglomerate of modes and genres geared toward “objective” representation of foreign space and the experience of travel, should be understood as an influence on Victorian culture, as a critical node in Victorian media studies. The form and content of Murray’s Handbooks manifest and contribute to the Victorian investment in official, comprehensive, and definitive knowledge. Koshar notes that “definitive” knowledge in the Handbooks’ case could be stretched to include literature or, more interestingly, could be communicated via literature: Byerly, as we have seen, would say such is the Victorian media landscape. Certainly in Murray’s case the literary tilt was particularly important for appealing to the middle-class traveler of the nineteenth century. Buzard states, “the young Murray recognized that touristic experience involves both prose and poetry, both the prosaic work of stocking readers with facts and getting them physically to a given site with the least amount of trouble, and the poetic labor of prompting tourists’ responses to the site” (“Uses of Romanticism,” 42): fundamentally, travelers still needed to know how much to tip a driver or spend on a room, yet part of what made the Handbooks so “intelligent,” so “English,” was their simultaneous admiration for poetry and efficiency.

Murray’s literariness worked to establish his guides’ legitimacy and culture cohesion, but it also acted as a (somewhat effective) defense against the cultural conception that guidebooks facilitated mindless tourism. Over the course of the nineteenth century, Murrays—and then Baedekers—were subjected to satire, as famously exemplified in E.M. Forster’s A Room with a View (“she watched the tourists: their noses were as red as their Baedekers, so cold was Santa Croce” (25)). The implication in these passages is that travel had lost all individuality, all genuine feeling. Guidebooks made tourism generic, as they encouraged readers to follow the same routes and observe the same sites. These routes determined itineraries on a macro level, but even Murray’s descriptions of churches and cathedrals suggest visitors follow a certain path through the building by providing the precise distance between objects and pointing readers’ views using cardinal directions: thus the navigation of even a comparatively small space is pre-determined.[8] Transforming travel into something generic seems to have been far from Murray’s intention, but it speaks to the influence of his (and Baedekers’) texts. Again, Murray for the most part navigated this contradiction and attempted to salvage the intent of his guide via his use of Byron and other popular literary figures (Beaten Track, 119-20). As Buzard explains, Byron “furnished post-Romantic travelers with accredited anti-touristic gestures that were performable within tourism” (“Uses of Romanticism,” 39). In short, introducing literary feeling and deploying a lauded, already-canonical British poet helped maintain the sense of individual adventure within tourism. Travelers reading an early, Murray-authored edition of Continent, for example, were introduced to the Waterloo battleground with Byron’s words about traveling through the same space; the poet’s own feelings act as a filter through which to see the historical details provided in the Handbook.[9] In this case, being told what to see and how to feel about it gives readers a feeling of solidarity with the educated, outlaw-ish Byron—nevermind that what follows is essentially an encyclopedia entry about a battle. Field editor Octavian Blewitt, in the second edition of the Handbook to Central Italy (1850), makes the connection between Byron and the Handbook reader explicit: describing map iconRavenna, the guide reads, “[Byron] declared himself more attached to Ravenna than to any other place, except map iconGreece […He] liked Ravenna, moreover, because it was out of the beaten track of travellers, and because he found the higher classes of its society ‘well educated and liberal beyond what was usually the case in other continental cities…’” (95). Here the Handbook’s merit and reputation is articulated using the Romantic poet: the Handbook, and by extension Handbook readers, understands the sophisticated merits of Ravenna, as did the sophisticate exemplar, Byron. Such a dazzling analog for themselves worked to distract tourists from realizing that the attractions of Ravenna as articulated by the poet were undercut by their very presence.

Foregrounding the Handbooks’ literariness has the effect of situating the series’ influence on Victorian culture squarely within the media landscape articulated by Byerly. But it must be said that Murray’s skill (which is to say the skill of John Murray III, the editor, and the skill of “Murray,” esteemed publishing house) forwarding a collective sense of Englishness predicated partly on adopting of an intrepid, Byron-esque traveler persona brings to mind another important part of Victorian culture: that is, nation-building and imperialism. Debbie Lisle, exploring the contemporary guidebook series Lonely Planet (one of many indebted to Murray), emphasizes the role guidebooks play in positioning readers as viewers with power. In her framing, a guidebook’s “construction of independence keeps travellers very much at arm’s length from their destination as they weigh up their impressions of a foreign place, compare their judgements with the author’s, and situate their final evaluations within the guidebook’s ethical vision” (162). Murray’s emphasis on Byron (for example) as a framework for seeing Italy is an assertion of an ethical vision. The guidebook is a medium for interpreting what is being seen, but also, in a sense, eclipses the foreign place—becomes the arm ensuring tourists are kept at “length from their destination.” Framed this way, it is easy to see how Victorian guidebooks are in a sense tools of proto-anthropology.

Concepts to do with seeing and interpreting, so important to the Handbooks’ reputation—that is, comprehensiveness, objectivity, and authoritative “ethnographic” representation—are concepts equally essential to the process of colonialism. The connection between travel and the imperial process has been the subject of much scholarly discussion; travel writing and genres like the guidebook, too, have rightfully attracted critique. Mary Louise Pratt characterizes travelogues/travel narratives as deploying “anti-conquest” rhetoric, a kind of disingenuous strategy wherein “the main protagonist […] is a figure I sometimes call the ‘seeing-man,’ an admittedly unfriendly label for the white male subject of European landscape discourse—he whose imperial eyes passively look out and possess” (9). Pratt locates the anti-conquest figure in non-European spaces, places where that imperial power dynamic is impossible to ignore even when associated with “innocent” travel or observation, as opposed to a transparently colonial pursuit. Several scholars have noted the role of tourist-oriented texts (e.g., guidebooks, brochures, advertisements) in facilitating this possessive way of seeing, especially regarding cultures and landscapes in what the Victorians would have called “the Orient.”[10] John Mackenzie highlights the Murray Handbooks’ particular role in determining British readers’ and expatriates’ view of places like map iconIndia. Mackenzie makes the case that besides communicating nationally-tinged versions of Indian history and culture to an audience made up of tourists and diplomats, the editorial evolution of the Handbook series to India demonstrates the extent to which Murray’s guides were interwoven with the Victorian imperial project:

Whereas Murray had divided up his European guide into separate nation states (sometimes preceding political unification), the Indian guides were now [in 1891] combined into one volume. It is intriguing that this fits into the imperial propaganda of the time: that the British had created a great empire out of a congeries of states, that they were forging an astonishing union out of a South Asian Balkans. (23)

Something like the very scope of individual titles or editions of a guidebook for tourists communicates how those tourists see themselves (creators, forgers, unifiers) versus the places they visit (“congeries of states” in need of leadership).

The precise case of the 1891 Handbook for Travellers to India implies much about how the combination of “Murray’s” content and marketing informed Victorian culture. To this point, I have glossed Murray’s approaches to the literary, generic and modal, and even political content of the Handbooks, arguing these approaches were essential for establishing the series’ credibility and cultural significance. But the example of the India editions transitioning from a series of titles to one, comprehensive title in 1891 suggests the content of the Handbooks cannot quite be separated from their marketability, from their status as product. That is, the rapid expansion of Murray’s series and its associated cultural resonance can also be attributed to bold or innovative promotional moves—moves which correspond with Sørensen and Peel’s understanding of the modern guide form as being inherently commercial. The chronicle of the Handbooks is as much one about a newly capitalist context as it is about genre (indeed, as the Starke example shows, the two are interrelated).

To be clear, not all of Murray’s marketing risks paid off, and especially some of his decisions to develop subseries or cover particular regions seemed to have to do with his personal interests. His decision to scrap a Continent-like guide for all of England and Wales in favor of a county-by-county guide series probably had more to do with a personal need for comprehensiveness and totality than actual demand, for instance. Likewise the Knapsack series (1864-1872) had only middling success. Intended, in Gretton’s words, “to widen the appeal of the series” because they were cheaper, the Knapsack guides differed from the standard Handbooks in that they were shorter and softbacked (to be, as their name indicates, more portable). The design of the Knapsack guide emphasizes its departure from the “more dear” Handbooks: the price is printed along the spine (“6/-”), the title is sparse (emphasizing only the place covered and Murray’s name), the binding more fragile. In one sense, the Knapsack guide was truly just a more affordable, abbreviated version of the Handbook. But some characteristics hint at a different motivation for the subseries: the title, physical attributes, and content of the Knapsack guides imply they were geared for more adventurous traveling. There are more illustrations and maps than in the Handbook, all of which depict a particular mountain or region of the alps. The maps themselves clearly note walking, horse, carriage, and rail routes. The introductory material warns travelers to stay hydrated when hiking and to pay particular attention to ladies’ tendency toward “overexertion” when on Alpine excursions (xxxv). Editors of the Knapsack guides were members of the Alpine Club and had interests in geology and botany. Perhaps its tonal inconsistency contributed to the Knapsacks’ short run (do these texts offer something new, hence opening a niche market, or are they just miniature Handbooks, placing the firm in competition with itself?). The failure of this subseries demonstrates the relative newness of merchandising in the nineteenth century, and the still-emerging strategies for balancing corporate growth with literary or cultural cachet.

Most of Murray’s Handbook-related market endeavors, though, were successful. City-centric guides, which debuted roughly twenty years after the first Handbooks, had nearly as lengthy a run as the main series: London as It Is was printed as late as the 1880s and Rome went through seventeen editions. The Handbook of Travel-Talk was published in 21 editions and was the only text to continue to be published under the same name after the sale of the Handbooks series to Edward Stanford (mapmaker, guidebook publisher, and bookshop owner) in 1901 (Gretton xxi). Though Murray seems to have had a knack for anticipating demand for travel-related material and for answering that demand with high-quality products, the series’ longevity and social impact is due in part to the steps he took to ensure brand loyalty. Readers in the 1840s and and 50s might not have known at a glance that a renowned scientist or art critic was responsible for the guidebook in front of them, but they would have known immediately that the guidebook was a “Murray.” As already alluded to,

the color and style of binding was surprisingly uniform throughout the seventy or so years of the HB’s existence. With the sole exception of the first edition of Switzerland, which was blue, they were from the beginning issued in a red (Murrey colored?) cloth binding elegantly lettered in gold on the spine and upper cover. (Gretton xxi)

Standardizing the appearance of the guides was a move that Baedeker later copied, down to the actual color (thus Forster’s joke about tourists’ red noses), but for the first half of the Victorian period the British would have been able to spot fellow Murray-guided tourists from far away. This was so true that some booksellers, such as Lees in the map iconStrand, rebound Murray in black leather for durability and so as to help tourists avoid being identified as such (Lister xxxiii).

Lister goes so far as to claim that Murray’s strategic approach to the binding was not merely about color, and that he intentionally chose cheaper, low quality materials so that the books would wear out, incentivizing people to buy the new edition. A kinder interpretation would be that the books were intended to be used, not kept, and so expensive binding would have been a waste of money for all involved. (Today’s guidebooks, it should be noted, often include tear-out maps). Other significant strategies for cornering the guidebook market include the introduction of “the advertiser” in 1843 to subsidize publication costs. The scope of the advertisements was initially broad but eventually became tailored to travel and ultimately the region covered by the guides. More than just a tactic for guaranteeing that the rapid printing and distribution of the series was not dependent on the occasionally unpredictable tourism industry (much of Europe was politically unstable in 1848, for example), these advertisers became a key method for signaling whether a copy of the Handbook was up-to-date: editions that were a couple years old would have indexes revised along with advertisers swapped out. They also helped determine the publication cycle of the series, as “the Handbooks were kept unbound in sheets and bound up as required, generally in May at the start of the holiday season, or October for the winter ‘health season’ together with the current advertiser” (Lister xix-xx).

With time, the Handbooks began to feel dated. Murray’s unwillingness to relinquish aspects of the family business to his son, John Murray IV, meant that the guides were not updated as frequently as others, and the expansion of the railways made this lag especially apparent. In 1885, Murray gave full editorship of the series to Henry William Pullen to revise and update for the times; the English series was also freshened up in the 1890s (Gretton xv-xviii). But it was already too late: by the 1880s Baedekers were “consistently outselling the Handbooks.” The Handbooks were not making money for the firm by the 1890s, and so after Murray died at 74 in 1892 his son sold the series.[11] As the Handbooks began to be eclipsed by their once contributor, Baedeker, Murray’s loyal readers responded. The impassioned defense of Murray from Sir George Osborne in the face of Baedeker’s rise in popularity is perhaps the most specific and rhetorically conscious of all the reader praise, and brings into focus characteristics of the Handbooks that distinguished it, at least in the eyes of most of the public, from its competitors:

Some say that Baedeker publishes more frequent editions than yourself; but, I reply that your guide book does not profess to be a railway time table, but an instructive guide to the main features and peculiarities of every country […] Baedeker is flooding every nook and corner of the Continent with his guide book—I well know that his book is compiled and borrowed from yours, and that he is unjustly seeking to reap what you have sown. […] Thus, after years of diligent study and careful and accurate survey, I grieve to see a work which bears the impress of a Classical mind, Horatian and Byronic, palpably undersold by a work which is a meagre transcript.

Osborne’s indignance at Baedeker’s success makes plain what other readers allude to: Murray’s guides, in the height of the Victorian period, were not merely the easiest to access, or the most recognizable, or the most comprehensive, or the simplest to use. They were not, in sum, limited to their convenience or utility, though those characteristics played an important part in their success. The Handbooks, as their eclectic and educated audience and dedicated founder attests, managed to brand “excellence,” to, as Osborne hints, instruct and delight.

published May 2024

Sarah Schaefer Walton is an Assistant Professor of English and Director of Digital Humanities at Marshall University. Her research and teaching focus on nineteenth-century British literature and travel, Jane Austen, and digital methods. She’s the Associate Director of the public humanities non-profit organization the Jane Austen Summer Program and co-creator of Jane Austen’s Desk, an NEH Digital Project for the Public.


Walton, Sarah Schaefer. “Murray’s Handbook for Travellers: Being a Guide to John Murray III’s Innovative Travel Series.” BRANCH: Britain, Representation and Nineteenth-Century History. Ed. Dino Franco Felluga. Extension of Romanticism and Victorianism on the Net. Web. [Here, add your last date of access to BRANCH].


A Handbook for Travellers on the Continent: Being a Guide to Holland, Belgium, Prussia, Northern Germany, and the Rhine from Holland to Switzerland. With map and plans. J. Murray, London, 1850.

A Knapsack Guide to Tyrol and the Eastern Alps. 1st edition. J. Murray, London, 1867.

Allen, Esther. “‘Money and little red books’: Romanticism, Tourism, and the Rise of the Guidebook.” Lit: Literature Interpretation Theory, vol. 7, no. 2-3, 1996. pp. 213–226.

Baumgartner, Karin. “Travel, Tourism, and Cultural Identity in Mariana Starke’s Letters from Italy (1800) and Goethe’s Italienische Reise (1816–17).” Publications of the English Goethe Society, vol. 83, no. 3, 2014, pp. 177-195.

de Beer, Esmond. “The Development of the Guide Book until the early Nineteenth Century.” Journal of the British Archaeological Association, vol. 15, 1952, pp. 35–46.

Brewer, John. “Visiting Vesuvius: Guides, Local Knowledge, Sublime Tourism, and Science, 1760–1890.” Travelers, special issue of The Journal of Modern History, vol. 93, no. 1, 2021, pp. 1-33.

Butler, Rebecca. “‘Can any one fancy travellers without Murray’s universal red books’? Mariana Starke, John Murray and 1830s’ Guidebook Culture.” The Yearbook of English Studies, vol. 48, 2018, pp. 148–70. doi:

Buzard, James. The Beaten Track: European Tourism, Literature, and the Ways to ‘Culture,’ 1800–1918. Oxford UP, 1993.

———. “The Uses of Romanticism: Byron and the Victorian Continental Tour.” Victorian Studies, vol. 35, no. 1, 1991, pp. 29–49.

Byerly, Alison. Are We There Yet?: Virtual Travel and Victorian Realism. U of Michigan P, 2012.

Crook, Keith. The Imprisoned Traveler: Joseph Forsyth and Napoleon’s Italy. Bucknell UP, 2020.

Davidoff, Leonore, and Catherine Hall. Family Fortunes: Men and Women of the English Middle Class, 1780–1850. U of Chicago P, 1987.

Enloe, Cynthia. Bananas, Beaches and Bases: Making Feminist Sense of International Politics. U of California P, 1990.

Favi, Sonia. “Negotiating the Nation: Public Diplomacy and the Publication of English-Language Tourist Guidebooks of Japan in the Meiji Period (1868–1912).” Japan Forum, vol. 35, no. 2, 2023, pp. 172-194.

Forster, E. M. A Room with a View. London: Edward Arnold, 1908.

François, Pieter. “If It’s 1815, This Must Be Belgium: The Origins of the Modern Travel Guide.” Book History, vol. 15, 2012, pp. 71–92.

Gretton, John R. Introduction. A Bibliography of Murray’s Handbooks for Travellers and Biographies of Authors, Editors, Revisers and Principal Contributors, by W.B.C. Lister, Dereham Books, 1993.

Han, Mui Ling’s “From Travelogues to Guidebooks: Imagining Colonial Singapore, 1819-1940.” Sojourn, vol. 18, no. 2, 2003, pp. 257-278.

Keighren, Innes M., et al. Travels into Print: Exploration, Writing, and Publishing with John Murray, 1773–1859. U of Chicago P, 2015.

Kinsley, Zoë. Women Writing the Home Tour, 1682–1812. Ashgate Publishing, 2008.

Koshar, Rudy. “‘What Ought to Be Seen’: Tourists’ Guidebooks and National Identities in Modern Germany and Europe.” Journal of Contemporary History, vol. 33, no. 3, 1998, pp. 323–40.

Lisle, Debbie. “Humanitarian Travels: Ethical Communication in Lonely Planet Guidebooks.” Review of International Studies, vol. 34, 2008, pp. 155–72.

Lister, W. B. C., and John R Gretton. A Bibliography of Murray’s Handbooks for Travellers and Biographies of Authors, Editors, Revisers and Principal Contributors. Dereham Books, 1993.

Mackenzie, John M. “Empires of Travel: British Guide Books and Cultural Imperialism in the 19th and 20th Centuries.” Histories of Tourism : Representation, Identity and Conflict, edited by John K. Walton, Channel View Publications, 2005.

Mackintosh, Will B. “The Prehistory of the American Tourist Guidebook.” Book History, vol. 21, 2018, pp. 89–124.

Murray, John. “Letter to John Murray II.” September 11, 1829, John Murray Archive, National Library of Scotland.

———. “Letter to John Murray II.” August 20, 1834, John Murray Archive, National Library of Scotland.

———. “The Origin and History of Murray’s Handbooks for Travellers.” Murray Magazine, November 1889, pp. 623–29.

———. “Personal Journal, Scotland.” 1827, John Murray Archive, National Library of Scotland.

Murray, John. (firm). Handbook for Travellers in France, 9th Edition. London: John Murray, 1864.

———. Handbook for Travellers to the Continent, 3rd Edition. London: John Murray, 1839.

Osborne, George. “Letter to John Murray III.” September 19, 1876 (?), John Murray Archive, National Library of Scotland.

Parsons, Nicholas T. Worth the Detour: A History of the Guidebook. Sutton Publishing Limited, 2007.

Paston, George. At John Murray’s: Records of a Literary Circle, 1843–1892. J. Murray, 1932.

Pratt, Mary Louise. Imperial Eyes: Travel Writing and Transculturation. Routledge, 1992.

Rauch, Alan. Useful Knowledge: The Victorians, Morality, and the March of Intellect. Duke UP, 2001.

Roberts, Charlotte. “Living with the Ancient Romans: Past and Present in Eighteenth-Century Encounters with Herculaneum and Pompeii.” Huntington Library Quarterly, vol. 78, no. 1, 2015, pp. 61–85.

Ruskin, John. Mornings in Florence: Being Simple Studies of Christian Art for English Travellers. Sunnyside, Orpington, Kent: George Allen, 1875.

Sørensen Anders, and Victoria Peel. “Guidebook.” Encyclopedia of Tourism, edited by Jafar Jafari and Honggen Xiao, Springer, 2016.

Starke, Mariana. Letters from Italy. London: R. Phillips, 1800.

Trollope, Anthony. Travelling Sketches. London: Chapman and Hall, 1866.

Vaughan, John. The English Guide Book c. 1780–1870: An Illustrated History. David and Charles Inc., 1974.

Wolfe, Jessica Duffin. “Distant Views: Daniel Deronda, Illustrated Travel Books, and the Spectre of Palestine.” Victorian Literature and Culture, vol. 44, 2016, pp. 577-606.


[1] See de Beer.

[2] Roberts opens her article with a telling epigraph: “‘One hates writing descriptions that are to be found in every book of travels; but we have seen something today that I am sure you never read of, and perhaps never heard of. Have you heard of the subterraneous town? a whole Roman town with all its edifices remaining underground?’ Horace Walpole to Richard West, Tuesday, June 14, 1740, The Yale Edition of Horace Walpole’s Correspondence, edited by W. S. Lewis, 48 vols. (New Haven, Conn., 1937–83), 13:222” (61); Baumgartner claims, “Earlier in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, travel guides were mostly invested in providing an objective account of the journey, and self-discovery through aesthetics was of little interest until [the mid 18th century, when] a number of earlier travel handbooks and apodemic manuals that specialized in the Grand Tour, among them Thomas Nugent’s The Grand Tour (1749) and the handbook used by Goethe, Volkmann’s Historisch-kritische Nachrichten von Italien… appeared” (182); a footnote in Allen’s 1996 article lists a few popular eighteenth-century guides, with Nugent being the most famous: “Thomas Nugent’s Grand Tour (1749), Daniel Paterson’s Travelling Dictionary (1772) and John Millard’s Gentleman’s Guide in His Tour through France (1768) were all popular guidebooks for eighteenth-century English travellers” (225).

[3] See, for example, Brewer p. 9; Mackintosh p. 91; and the aforementioned articles from Rebecca Butler and Sørensen and Peel.

[4] See Letter to John Murray II from John Murray III, 1829.

[5] Keith Crook’s account of Joseph Forsyth’s complicated travel-writing experience underscores the strange rhetorical environment of turn-of-the-nineteenth-century Europe. Forsyth’s interest in and dedication to European travel is evidenced by his quick action at the end of the War of the Second Coalition: “On the first of October 1801, Britain and revolutionary France had fought each other to a standstill, and peace was declared […] Within twelve days, Forsyth, aged thirty eight, set off to Italy ‘and stopped some weeks at Paris, engaged by the great museum, and the revolutions which that capital had undergone since my former visit’” (1). Yet the inspiration for Forsyth’s Italy had little to do with entering the travel-writing canon but, rather, with the more practical matter of ensuring its author’s freedom, because about a year and a half after his arrival, the war was renewed and Forsyth was captured in map iconTurin and imprisoned in France for the next thirteen years.

[6] The Handbook series, as the first of its kind, maintained its popularity in the face of these new competitors. It should be said, though, that Baedeker, which at first borrowed heavily and explicitly from Murray for their English-language editions, eventually eclipsed the Handbooks in sales. The Baedeker guide was popular among continental tourists starting in the 1840s, but none of their titles was in English until 1863. Starting in the mid to late 1870s, Baedekers began to outsell Murray; Baedekers remained relevant guidebooks far later into the twentieth century than Murray. As with Murray’s Handbooks, the Baedeker guides covered much of the world. Thomas Cook was not a direct competitor with Murray, as his company’s “Handbook” series covered far less of the globe and was geared toward a less sophisticated audience (to borrow Rudy Koshar’s words). Cook’s main focus was on their tourist package travel deals, as is the case today, rather than their textual guides. The popularity of all three of these names and offerings are evidence of the growth of mass tourism in this period.

[7] One of the few writers to have their name attached to their edition or title, Ford’s (heavily revised, though still politically volatile) Handbook for Travellers to Spain (1845) was a huge success. Its literary merit and relationship to the traditional travel narrative is perhaps evidenced by Murray and Ford’s joint decision to condense Spain into a single volume and combine the excised material with new text in Gatherings from Spain, issued in Murray’s Home and Colonial Library (a travel-writing focused series) at the end of 1846.

[8] Part of the description of the Amiens Cathedral in the third edition of the Handbook for Travellers to France, for example, reads, “The entire length is 442 ft. The general character of the architecture is that of the early English, except the geometric tracery of the windows. The triforium is glazed, which gives great lightness to the interior. Just within the central porch are two fine brass effigies of bishops ; that on the l. as you enter is Evrard de Fouilly […] Placed at the crossing of the transept, the spectator may admire the three magnificent rose windows, all of elaborate tracery and varied patterns, filled with rich stained glass, each nearly 100 ft. in circumference, which form a great ornament to this church, and surpass everything of the sort which England can show. The font in the N. transept is a oblong trough of stone, probably of the 10th or 11th century…” (19).

[9] “Lord Byron mentions, in one of his letters, that he went on horseback over the field, comparing it with recollections of similar scenes. ‘As a plain, Waterloo seems marked out for the scene of some great action…’” John Murray (firm). Handbook for Travellers to the Continent, p. 156.

[10] See, for example, Favi; Ling; Wolfe; and Enloe, especially pp. 19-41.

[11] The series was sold to Stanford in 1901. With the outbreak of World War I, the English employees of Baedeker struck out on their own and purchased MacMillan’s guides and the copyright for the Murray guides from Stanford. They also bought the French Guide Bleu, and so the early twentieth century, “Blue Guides” were really a strange blend of Baedeker, MacMillan, Murray, and Guide Bleu (Gretton xxii).