James Payn

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James Payn
Picture of James Payn.jpg
James Payn, by W. & D. Downey, carbon print on card mount, 1890.
Born(1830-02-28)28 February 1830
near Maidenhead, Berkshire, England
Died25 March 1898(1898-03-25) (aged 68)
Maida Vale, London, England
Alma materCambridge
SpouseLouisa Adelaide Edlin
"The Heir of the Ages"
Payn as caricatured by Ape (Carlo Pellegrini) in Vanity Fair, 8 September 1888

James Payn (/pn/; 28 February 1830 – 25 March 1898) was an English novelist and editor.[1] Among the periodicals he edited were Chambers's Journal in Edinburgh and the Cornhill Magazine in London.


Payn's father, William Payn (1774/1775–1840), was clerk to the Thames Commissioners, and at one time treasurer to the county of Berkshire. Payn was educated at Eton and then entered the Military Academy at Woolwich, but his health was unequal to a military career and he proceeded in 1847 to Trinity College, Cambridge.[2] There he was among the most popular men and served as president of the Union. Before going to Cambridge he had published some verses in Leigh Hunt's Journal, and while still an undergraduate put out a volume of Stories from Boccaccio in 1852 and one of Poems in 1853.

In the year Payn left Cambridge, he met and soon married Miss Louisa Adelaide Edlin (born 1830 or 1831),[3] sister of Judge Sir Peter Edlin, later chairman of the London Quarter Sessions.[4] They had nine children, the third of whom, Alicia Isabel (died 1898), married The Times editor George Earle Buckle.[3]

Editor and novelist[edit]

Payn then settled down in the Lake District to a literary career and contributed regularly to Household Words and Chambers's Journal. In 1858 he moved to Edinburgh to act as joint editor of the latter, and became its sole editor in 1860 with much success for 15 years. Meanwhile he moved to London in 1861. In the Journal he published in 1864 his most popular story, Lost Sir Massingberd.[5] Thereafter he was engaged in writing novels, including Richard Arbour or the Family Scapegrace (1861),[6] Married Beneath Him (1865), Carlyon's Year (1868), A County Family (1869), By Proxy (1878), A Confidential Agent (1880), Thicker Than Water (1883), The Canon's Ward (1883), A Grape from a Thorn, The Talk of the Town (1885), and The Heir of the Ages (1886).[7]

In 1883 Payn succeeded Leslie Stephen as editor of the Cornhill Magazine and continued there until his health broke down in 1896.[8] He was also literary adviser to Messrs Smith, Elder & Company. His publications included a Handbook to the English Lakes (1859), and various volumes of essays: Maxims by a Man of the World (1869), Some Private Views (1881), Some Literary Recollections (1884). His posthumous work The Backwater of Life (1899) revealed much of his personality through kindly, sensible reflections on familiar topics. He died in London on 25 March 1898.[9] A biographical introduction to The Backwater of Life was provided by Sir Leslie Stephen.[10]



Short stories


  • Lost Sir Massingberd, 1864.
  • Married Beneath Him, 1865.
  • Lights and Shadows of London Life, 1867.
  • Bentinck's Tutor, One of the Family, 1868.
  • Blondel Parva, 1868.
  • Not Wooed, But Won, 1871.
  • Walter's Word, 1875.
  • Fallen Fortunes, 1876.
  • What He Cost Her, 1877.
  • By Proxy, 1878.
  • Less Black Than We're Painted, 1878.
  • The Canon's Ward, 1884.
  • The Luck of the Darrells, 1885.
  • The Talk of the Town, 1885.
  • The Heir of the Ages, 1886.
  • The Burnt Million, 1890.
  • A Stumble on the Threshold, 1892.
  • The Disappearance of George Driffell, 1896.[11]


  • Some Literary Recollections, 1884.[11]


  1. ^ Wilman, George (1882), "James Payn", Sketches of living celebrities, London: Griffith and Farran, pp. 77–80
  2. ^ "Payn, James (PN849J)". A Cambridge Alumni Database. University of Cambridge.
  3. ^ a b ODNB biography, subscription required. Retrieved 3 December 2010.
  4. ^ Victorian memoirs mentioning Edlin: [1] Parliamentary question on his salary: [2] Letter to The Times 1 March 1894: [3]. All retrieved 3 December 2010.
  5. ^ "Personal Character of James Payn," The Literary Digest, 4 June 1898.
  6. ^ John Payn. "The Family Scapegrace." In: My First Book, Chatto & Windus, 1897.
  7. ^ "Payn, James". British Library (catalogue.bl.uk). Accessed 18 May 2010.
  8. ^ J. Stanley Weyman, "James Payn, Editor," The Cornhill Magazine, Vol. XXVIII, January/June 1910.
  9. ^ "James Payn," The Bookman, June 1898.
  10. ^ Leslie Stephen, "James Payn," The Backwater of Life, Smith, Elder & Co., 1899.
  11. ^ a b Riches, Christopher; Cox, Michael (2015). "Payn, James". In A Dictionary of Writers and their Works. 3rd ed. Oxford University Press. Retrieved 21 October 2022.

Further reading[edit]

  • Atkinson, Damian. "Payn, James (1830–1898)". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/21640. (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  • Block, Jr., ed. "Evolutionist Psychology and Aesthetics: The Cornhill Magazine, 1875–1880," Journal of the History of Ideas, Vol. 45, No. 3, 1984
  • Myron Franklin Brightfield, Victorian England in its Novels, 1840–1870, University of California Library, 1968
  • Howard Haycraft and Stanley Kunitz, British Authors of the Nineteenth Century, The H. W. Wilson Company, 1936
  • Henry James, "The Late James Payn", The New England Quarterly, Vol. 67, No. 1, March 1994 JSTOR 366463
  • Rudolph Chambers Lehmann, Memories of Half a Century: A Record of Friendships, Smith, Elder & Co., 1908
  • Lewis Melville, "James Payn." In Victorian Novelists, Archibald Constable, 1906
  • William H. Rideing, "James Payn." In The Boyhood of Famous Authors, Thomas Y. Crowell & Company, 1897
  • William H. Rideing, "Reminiscences of an Editor," McClure's Magazine, February 1910 [Reproduced in Many Celebrities and a Few Others, Eveleigh Nash, 1912]
  • George W. E. Russell, "James Payn." In Selected Essays on Literary Subjects, J. M. Dent & Sons, 1910
  • R. C. Terry, Victorian Popular Fiction, 1860–1880, Humanities Press, 1983
  • Frederick Wegener, "Henry James on James Payn: A Forgotten Critical Text," The New England Quarterly, Vol. 67, No. 1, March 1994 JSTOR 366462

External links[edit]