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In 1768, John McMurray moved from Edinburgh to London and, dropping the "Mc" from his name, set up the John Murray book publishers.

The company became one of the most influential in the world. Its authors included Sir Walter Scott, Lord Byron, Jane Austen, David Livingstone and Charles Darwin.

Following a merger in 2002, John Murray VIII offered the company's archive of 150,000 letters and related papers to the National Library of Scotland. Substantial funding was received from the Scottish Executive and from the Heritage Lottery Fund (pound;17.7 million). A further pound;5 million is still being raised by the National Library to complete the purchase.

Now, the archive is being displayed as a permanent exhibition at the library in Edinburgh. The public can view the historic material in an accessible, hi tech setting that not only brings the authors and their work to life, but gives an insight into the world of publishing, past and present.

The scene is set with a mock-up of John Murray's 19th-century sitting room, where framed photographs of famous writers line the mantelpiece.

Eleven authors are showcased, each with a station featuring a life-size representation of them and the clothes they would have worn, alongside one of their best-known books and a selection of letters they wrote to the publisher.

James Hogg, for instance, piled on the flattery in the hope of a pound;50 advance, telling Mr Murray: "You are the prince of booksellers."

A modest Darwin thanked him for agreeing to publish On The Origin of Species, and concluded: "I have done my best but whether it will be a success, I cannot say." It has never been out of print since 1859.

The exhibition includes present-day Scottish authors writing about the process of getting published and features an interactive game for all ages on "How to write a bestseller".

* Schools' workshops: www.nls.ukjma

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