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Significant Scots
James Perry


PERRY, JAMES, an eminent journalist, was born in Aberdeen, on the 30th of October, 1756. He received the rudiments of his education at the school of Garioch, and was afterwards removed to the high school of Aberdeen. Having gone through the usual course of learning at this seminary, with much credit to himself and satisfaction to his teachers, he entered Marischal college in 1771, and was afterwards, on completing his curriculum at the university, placed under Dr Arthur Dingwall Fordyce, to qualify him for the profession of the law, a profession to which he originally intended to devote himself. The misfortunes of his father, however, who was an eminent house-builder in Aberdeen, and who had about this period entered into some ruinous speculations, compelled him suddenly to abandon his legal studies, and to resign all idea of adopting the law as a profession. In these unfortunate circumstances, young Perry went to Edinburgh, in 1774, with the humble hope of procuring employment as a clerk in some writer’s chambers. Even this, however, he could not obtain; and, after hanging about the city for many weeks, making daily, but ineffectual efforts to get into a way of earning a subsistence, he came to the resolution of trying his fortune in England. With this view, he proceeded to Manchester, where he succeeded in obtaining a situation in the counting-house of a Mr Dinwiddie, a respectable manufacturer, in which he remained for two years. During his stay in Manchester, Mr Perry, who was yet only in the nineteenth year of his age, attracted the notice, and procured the friendship and patronage, of several of the principal gentlemen in the town, by the singular talents he displayed in a debating society, which they had established for the discussion of moral and philosophical subjects. This favourable opinion of the youthful orator’s abilities was still further increased, by his producing several literary essays of great merit.

Encouraged by this success, Mr Perry determined to seek a wider field for the exercise of his talents; and with this view set out for London, in the beginning of the year 1777, carrying with him a number of letters of introduction and recommendations from his friends in Manchester to influential individuals in the metropolis. For some time, however, these were unavailing. He could find no employment; and he seemed as hopelessly situated now in the English, as he had been in the Scottish capital two years before. But the occurrence of a circumstance, not uninteresting in the memoirs of a literary man, who fought his way to fame and fortune by the mere force of his talents, at length procured him at once the employment which he sought, and placed him on the path to that eminence which he afterwards attained

While waiting in London for some situation presenting itself, Mr Perry amused himself by writing fugitive verses and short essays for a journal, called the "General Advertiser." These he dropped into the letter-box of that paper, as the casual contributions of an anonymous correspondent, and they were of such merit as to procure immediate insertion. It happened that one of the parties to whom he had a letter of recommendation, namely, Messrs Richardson and Urquhart, were part proprietors of the Advertiser, and on these gentlemen Mr Perry was in the habit of calling daily, to inquire whether any situation had yet offered for him. On entering their shop one day to make the usual inquiry, Mr Perry found Mr Urquhart earnestly engaged in reading an article in the Advertiser, and evidently with great satisfaction. When he had finished, the former put the now almost hopeless question, Whether any situation had yet presented itself? and it was answered in the usual negative; "but," added Mr Urquhart, "if you could write such articles as this," pointing to that which he had just been reading, "you would find immediate employment." Mr Perry glanced at the article which had so strongly attracted the attention of his friend, and discovered that it was one of his own. He instantly communicated the information to Mr Urquhart; and at the same time pulled from his pocket another article in manuscript, which he had intended to put into the box, as usual, before returning home. Pleased with the discovery, Mr Urquhart immediately said that he would propose him as a stipendiary writer for the paper, at a meeting of the proprietors, which was to take place that very evening. The result was, that on the next day he was employed at the rate of a guinea a-week, with an additional half guinea for assistance to the "London Evening Post," printed by the same person.

On receiving these appointments, Mr Perry devoted himself with great assiduity to the discharge of their duties, and made efforts before unknown in the newspaper establishments of London. On the memorable trials of admirals Keppel and Palliser, he, by his own individual exertions, transmitted daily from Portsmouth eight columns of a report of proceedings taken in court, an achievement which had the effect of adding several thousands to the daily impression of the paper. Even while thus laboriously engaged, Mr Perry wrote and published several political pamphlets and poems on the leading topics of the day, all possessed of much merit, though of only transient interest.

In 1782, Mr Perry commenced a periodical publication, entitled "The European Magazine." This work, which was on a plan then new, comprising a miscellany on popular subjects and reviews of new books, appeared monthly, and from the ability with which it was conducted, added greatly to the reputation and popularity of its editor. Having conducted this journal for twelve months, Mr Perry was, at the end of that period, chosen by the proprietors of the Gazetteer to be editor of that paper, in which shares were held by some of the principal booksellers in London, at a salary of four guineas per week; but under an express condition, made by himself, that he should be in no way constrained in his political opinions and sentiments, which were those of Mr Fox, of whom he was a devoted admirer. While acting as editor of the Gazetteer, Mr Perry effected a great improvement in the reporting department, by employing a series of reporters who should relieve each other by turns, and thus supply a constant and uninterrupted succession of matter. By this means he was enabled to give in the morning all the debates which had taken place on the preceding night, a point on which his predecessor in the editorship of the Gazetteer had frequently been in arrears for months, and in every case for several weeks.

One of Mr Perry’s favourite recreations was that of attending and taking part in the discussions of debating societies. In these humble, but not inefficient schools of oratory, he always took a warm and active interest, and himself acquired a habit of speaking with singular fluency and force; a talent which procured him the notice of Pitt, who, then a very young man, was in the practice of frequenting a society in which Mr Perry was a very frequent speaker, and who is said to have been so impressed with his abilities as an orator, as to have had an offer of a seat in parliament conveyed to him, after he had himself attained the dignity of chancellor of the exchequer. A similar offer was afterwards made to Mr Perry by lord Shelburne; but his political principles, from which no temptation could divert him, prevented his accepting either of these flattering propositions.

Mr Perry edited for several years Debrett’s Parliamentary Debates, and afterwards, in conjunction with a Mr Gray, bought the Morning Chronicle from Mr Woodfall, a paper which he continued to conduct with great ability and independence of spirit and principle till his death, which took place at Brighton, after a painful and protracted illness, on the 6th December, 1821, in the sixty-fifth year of his age.


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