James Payn

James Payn books and biography

James Payn

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Caricature from Punch, 10 December 1881
Caricature from Punch, 10 December 1881

James Payn (February 28, 1830 - March 25, 1898), English novelist, was born at Cheltenham, his father being clerk to the Thames Commissioners and treasurer to the county of Berkshire.

He was educated at Eton, and afterwards entered the Military Academy at Woolwich; but his health was not equal to the demands of a military career, and he proceeded in 1847 to Trinity College, Cambridge. He was among the most popular men of his time, 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 forth a volume of Stories from Boccaccio in 1852, and in 1853 a volume of Poems. In the same year he left Cambridge, and shortly afterwards married Miss Louisa Adelaide Edlin, sister of Sir Peter Edlin.

He then settled down in the Lake district to a literary career and contributed regularly to Household Words and Chambers's Journal. In 1858 he removed to Edinburgh to act as joint-editor of the latter periodical. He became sole editor in 1860, and conducted the magazine with much success for fifteen years. He removed to London in 1861. In the pages of the Journal he published in 1864 his most popular story, Lost Sir Massingberd. From this time he was always engaged in novel-writing, among the most popular of his productions being Married Beneath Him (1865), Carlyon's Year (1868), By Proxy (1878), and The Talk of the Town (1885).

In 1883 he succeeded Leslie Stephen as editor of the Cornhill Magazine and continued in the post until the breakdown of his health in 1896. He was also literary adviser to Messrs Smith, Elder & Company. His publications included a Handbook to the English Lakes (1859), and various volumes of occasional essays, Maxims by a Man of the World (1869), Some Private Views (1881), Some Literary Recollections (1884). A posthumous work, The Backwater of Life (1899), revealed much of his own personality in a mood of kindly, sensible reflection upon familiar topics. He died in London, on the 25th of March 1898.

A biographical introduction to The Backwater of Life was furnished by Sir Leslie Stephen.


  • This article incorporates text from the Encyclopdia Britannica Eleventh Edition, a publication now in the public domain.

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