e extraordinarily productive and popular James Payn (1830-1898), who served as editor of the Chambers Journal from 1860 to 1875, also worked as literary adviser to the firm of Smith, Elder & Co. and editor of that company’s Cornhill Magazine as of 1883. He is represented in the journal between 1854 and 1874 by no fewer than seventeen novels in instalments in addition to countless short stories. As an indication of his former popularity, Princeton University Library holds over twenty of his novels, published after their serialized appearance in Chambers’s Journal by Chatto and Windus in London or Harper & Brothers in New York, several volumes of short stories and essays, and a volume of his poems, along with his descriptive accounts of the Lake District. By 1883, fifteen years before his death, Harper had published 25 novels by Payn.This once popular novelist did not have a high opinion of William Chambers:
He was in no sense a man of letters; his style was bald, and his ideas mere platitudes; but because he had started the ‘Journal’ it was difficult for him to understand that its subsequent and permanent success was owing to his brother. Being childless and of great wealth, he was enabled to perform certain public acts [as elected Lord Provost of Edinburgh from 1865 to 1869, William Chambers oversaw the restoration of St. Giles’ Cathedral, a program of slum clearance, and improvements to public health – L.G], which cast Robert, who was weighted with a large family, comparatively into the shade. But there was really no comparison between them.” .
Robert Chambers and Payn, in contrast, were bound together by mutual affection and admiration. That William had a point, however, in his reservations concerning Payn’s work and editorial policy, is suggested by a modern scholar’s judgment of a major novel by Payn, Lost Sir Massingberd (1864), to which a substantial increase in sales and circulation of the Journal was attributed: “Lost Sir Massingberd self-consciously and exhuberantly plays its melodramatic, sensational and romantic elements to the hilt, indeed bordering on parody in its representations of the sickliness of Marmaduke Heath, the imperiled heir to the estate; the captive mad wife; and the romance between the sickly heir and the beautiful daughter of his rescuer” (Thomas, p. 3).
Payn, James. Literary Recollections. 3rd ed. London: Smith, Elder, 1884.
Thomas, Sue. Indexes to Fiction in Chambers’s Journal of Popular Literature, Science, and Art, later Chambers’s Journal, 3rd to 6th series of Chambers’s Edinburgh Journal, 1854-1910. Victorian Fiction Research Guides VII. University of Queensland, 1989.
Last modified 28 September 2018