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James Payn

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Payn, James I J. Payne, Payne, Payn I, 1830–1898, novelist. Student at Eton and at Royal Military Academy, Woolwich. B.A. Cambridge, 1853. While undergraduate, brought out two volumes of poems; also began sending verse and prose to periodicals, e.g., Bentley's Misc., Chambers's, H.W. Decided to make writing his career. Co-editor, thereafter editor, of Chambers's, 1858-74, first in Edinburgh, then in London; editor of Cornhill, 1883-96. Reader for Smith, Elder & Co.; literary adviser to the firm. Author of almost fifty novels, among the best known being Lost Sir Massingberd and By Proxy. Many of his novels serialized in Chambers's; others in Once a Week, Belgravia, Canadian Monthly, Longman's Magazine, Cornhill, Good Words. At Her Mercy, Halves, and What He Cost Her serialized in A.Y.R. under editorship of Charles Dickens, Jr. Published collections of the stories that he had contributed to periodicals; also several volumes of essays collected from Nineteenth Century, The Times, Cornhill, lllus, London News, and other periodicals.


      Miss Mitford found Payn in 1852 a young coxcomb with a condescending attitude toward "the Jerrolds, and Dickenses, and Robert Brownings" (Friendships of Mary Russell Mitford, p. 373). Payn himself wrote that Dickens was "the chief figure" in his "literary Pantheon" of early years, and that his meeting him in 1856 was "an epoch in my existence." Some thirty years later, he wrote that he still felt for Dickens "the same love and admiration" that he had on his early association with him (Some Literary Recollections, pp. 179, 184). Payn was at various times in Dickens's company, and Dickens, he stated, wrote many letters to him. Payn's writings contain frequent references to Dickens – among them, the comment that Dickens "wrote letters as good as any of his books" (Gleams .of Memory, p. 12.0). Payn presented to Dickens a copy of at least two of his books (Stonehouse, Catalogue), and dedicated to him his novel Mirk Abbey. Lost Sir Massingberd was one of Payn's novels for which Dickens had praise.
      The "sad blot" on Dickens's character, Payn sorrowfully had to admit, was Dickens's "putting away" his wife – "a public outrage, a blazoned defiance of all ordinary rules of conduct," which Dickens "ostentatiously, and even offensively obtruded on public notice" and for which no apology could be offered. "How a man with so many good qualities should have so conducted himself" appeared to Payn almost inexplicable. Perhaps, he wrote, Dickens "was in a degree intoxicated with universal applause, as well as spoiled by the sycophants who hung about him, and sanctioned his vagaries" ("Dickens' Life: Conclusion," Chambers's, March 21,1874).
      The first of Payn's articles to appear in H.W. was "Gentleman Cadet" [VII, 121–25. April 9, 1853], an account of the brutal treatment of boys at the Royal Military Academy. It brought Dickens a sharp protest from the governor of the Academy, who was certain that it had been written by "an outsider" – not by a cadet. Dickens replied to the governor and wrote also to Payn concerning the matter – his first letter to him. The acceptance of "Gentleman Cadet" was followed by the rejection of many papers that Payn thereafter submitted to H.W.; not until seven months later did his second contribution appear. Meanwhile, however, he received encouragement from Dickens, and became, during the next five years, a frequent contributor.
      He wrote for H.W. even during the first year of his editorship of Chambers's, but then acceded to Robert Chambers's request .that he confine his writing to that
periodical. Payn's announcement of this request brought Dickens's reply: "I am heartily sorry to have lost you as a fellow-workman, but heartily glad to have gained you as a friend" (Some Literary Recollections, pp. 42–43, 61, 72, 195–96). Of Payn's H.W. contributions, "P.N.C.C." [XIII, 58–61/ Feb. 2, 1856] Dickens thought "desperately poor"; "The Two Janes" [XVI, 442–44. Nov. 7, 1857] he thought "as bad as need be," but just passable (to Wills, Jan. 19-20, 1856; Sept. 28, 1857:
MS Huntington Library).
      Of the items listed below as not reprinted, "Sharpening the Scythe" [IX, 150–52. April 1, 1854] is a prose variant of Payn's "The Scythe-Stone Cutter" in Stories from Boccaccio and Other Poems; "A Sabbath Hour" [XVIII, 470–72. Oct. 30, 1858] is mentioned by Payn (as "A Sabbath Morn") in Some Literary Recollections as one of his H.W. contributions. In two chapters of his autobiographical writing, Payn mentioned his delight in "the first snow on the fell" – the title of his H.W. poem.
      "The Rampshire Militia," Jan. 13,1855, assigned in the Office Book to Miss Martineau, seems to be by Payn, See separate entry for Harriet Martineau.
      Harper's reprinted "Sharpening the Scythe," without acknowledgment to H.W.
                                                                                                                              D.N.B. suppl. 1901

Author: Anne Lohrli; © University of Toronto Press, 1971 

Oxford Dictionary of National Biography

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