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Last Updated: Tuesday, 26 June 2007, 15:31 GMT 16:31 UK
John Murray Archive comes to life
David Livingstone's notes
Notes date from David Livingstone's journey in Lake Nyassa
TV traveller Michael Palin has opened a major new exhibition full of historic letters, documents and rare books in the capital.

The John Murray Archive holds 150,000 letters and manuscripts by the likes of Darwin, Byron and Sir Walter Scott.

Owner John Murray, a descendant of the publishing family which built up the collection, sold it to the National Library of Scotland (NLS).

It will officially open to members of the public on Wednesday.

Using interactive technology, the John Murray Archive Exhibition showcases 11 main characters from the archive.

Legends like Darwin and Byron and less well-known but significant figures such as "Queen of Science" Mary Somerville and 19th Century domestic goddess Maria Rundell also feature.

The cast of characters will be refreshed and rotated over time in order to ensure that the exhibition is one which will bring visitors back time and again.

Michael Palin
This is a goldmine for anyone who loves the magic of travel
Michael Palin
Travel documentary maker

Members of the public will be able to see a recreation of the fireplace in Albemarle Street where John Murray II famously burned the memoirs of Lord Byron.

Also on display is the letter in which Darwin pitched the idea for his Origin of Species and a drawing by David Livingstone as he camped in the rain on the southern edge of Lake Nyassa (now Lake Malawi).

The technology used in the exhibition allows visitors to view transcripts of the letters, learn about their background and even e-mail a copy home to study at their leisure.

Martyn Wade, National Library of Scotland librarian, said: "It is wonderful to see the results of several years' hard work from a large number of very talented and committed people coming to fruition in the form of this exhibition."

'Best ideas'

John Murray Archive project manager Nat Edwards said: "The exhibition uses display technology that has never before been used in a library or archival exhibition.

"We have turned reading letters into an exciting, interactive experience and bridged the gap between the very best ideas of the 19th Century and the very best ideas of the 21st. I can't wait to share this with our visitors."

Globe-trotting presenter Michael Palin added: "The John Murray Archive is a uniquely rich collection, bringing together travellers who were poets, politicians, scientists, missionaries, archaeologists and adventurers, who all share the gift of being able to write.

"This is a goldmine for anyone who loves the magic of travel."

The Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) awarded 17.7m towards the acquisition and interpretation of the archive, which also received significant financial support from the Scottish Executive.

The library is continuing its fundraising campaign to raise the remaining 5m required to complete the purchase.

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