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The Scottish Nation

PERRY, JAMES, an able political writer and journalist, the son of an eminent builder, was born at Aberdeen, October 30, 1756. He was at first destined for the profession of the law, but his father having become unsuccessful in business, he left Aberdeen in 1774, and proceeded to Edinburgh. Disappointed in procuring employment there, he went to Manchester, where he was for two years engaged as clerk to Mr. Dinwiddie, a respectable manufacturer. In the beginning of 1777 he quitted Manchester for London, but did not at first succeed in obtaining employment. To amuse his leisure hours, he occasionally occupied himself in writing essays and fugitive verses for an opposition paper called the ‘General Advertiser,’ which he dropped into the editor’s box, and they were always inserted. Calling one day at the shop of Messrs. Richardson and Urquhart, booksellers, to inquire, as was his custom, whether they knew of any situation that would suit him, the latter, laying down the Advertiser, which he had been reading, replied in the negative, but pointing to a particular article in the paper, said, “If you could write such articles as this, you might obtain immediate employment.” It happened to be a humorous essay written by Mr. Perry himself. On intimating this fact to Mr. Urquhart, he expressed great satisfaction at the discovery, and, as he was one of the principal proprietors, he got him next day engaged on the paper at a salary of a guinea a-week, with an additional half guinea for contributing to the London Evening Post, belonging to the same parties. On the memorable trials of Admirals Keppel and Palliser, he, for six successive weeks, by his individual efforts, managed to transmit daily, from Portsmouth, eight columns of a report of the proceedings, taken by him in court, a circumstance which raised the sale of the Advertiser several thousands a-day. Besides his contributions to the two papers on which he was engaged, he found time to publish, anonymously, several occasional political pamphlets and poems on subjects of temporary interest. In 1782 he projected and was the first editor of the ‘European Magazine;’ but after conducting it for about a year, he was appointed editor of the ‘Gazetteer,’ at a salary of four guineas a-week, and accepted the situation on the express condition that he should be left to the free exercise of his own political opinions, which were those of the Whig party.

In the latter journal he had the merit of introducing an important improvement in the manner of giving the parliamentary debates, namely, full reports by a succession of shorthand writers, instead of mere hasty abstracts by one man’s unassisted efforts, in each house of parliament, as had been till then the practice. For several years he acted as editor of Debrett’s Parliamentary Debates. He afterwards purchased the ‘Morning chronicle,’ and for a few months carried it on in conjunction with his friend Mr. Gray, after whose death he conducted it himself as sole editor and proprietor. Under his management that paper became the organ of the Whig opposition; and it is mentioned, as a proof of the ability and judicious care with which he conducted it, that in the course of forty years he was only twice prosecuted under ex officio informations. The first time was for printing in it the ‘Resolutions of the Derby Meeting,’ and the second for inserting a paragraph, copied from the Examiner, regarding the prospective popularity of the prince of Wales, if he adopted a liberal policy on succeeding to the throne. On the former occasion he was defended by Lord Erskine; on the latter he pleaded his own cause in person with great tact and ability, and in both cases he was honourably acquitted. He had twice an opportunity of entering the house of commons, having been solicited by Mr. Pitt, and afterwards by Lord Shelburne, to accept of a seat in parliament; but firm to the cause he had espoused, he declined both offers.

In 1798 he married Miss Anne Hull, by whom he had eight children, one of whom died young. For a considerable time previous to his decease, his declining health compelled him to relinquish the management of the Chronicle; and during the four last months of his life he resided at Brighton, where he died, December 4, 1821, in his 65th year. Having, by a long course of useful industry and active exertion, amassed a considerable fortune, he had the happiness to maintain his aged parents in comfort, and bring up the orphan family of his sister by her first marriage. She was afterwards married, for the second time, to the celebrated Professor Porson, and died in 1796. His second son, Sir Thomas Erskine Perry, born in 1807, was called to the bar at the Inner Temple, in 1834, and in 1841 was appointed a judge of the supreme court at Bombay, when he was knighted. In September 1847 he was promoted to be chief justice of Bombay, but resigned his seat on the bench in 1852, and in May 1854 was elected M.P. for Devonport. He married in 1833, the only child of James M’Eikiney of Brighton, and niece maternally of Madame Jerome Bonaparte. She died in 1841.

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