11 January 2013

Now Barabbas Was a Publisher

Henry Curwen, A History of Booksellers (London: Chatto and Windus, 1873), pp. 184-185:
At the time when Byron was most calumniated, when there were cruel stories afloat about the life he led and the opinions he held (though none so cruel as have since been promulgated by a well-known American authoress), [John] Murray's soul was comforted by the present of a Bible — a gift from the illustrious poet. "Could this man," he asked, "be a deist, an atheist, or worse, when he sent Bibles about to his publishers?" Turning it over in wonderment, however, some inquisitive member of his four o'clock clique found a marginal correction — "Now Barabbas was a robber," altered into "Now Barabbas was a publisher."
John Murray's biographer and grandson Samuel Smiles disputes the anecdote in A Publisher and His Friends: Memoir and Correspondence of John Murray, Vol. I (London: John Murray, 1891), p. 336:
It was [the Scottish poet] Thomas Campbell who wrote "Now Barabbas was a publisher," whether in a Bible or otherwise is not authentically recorded, and forwarded it to a friend; but Mr. Murray was not the publisher to whom it referred, nor was Lord Byron, as has been so frequently stated, the author of the joke.