James Payn (; 28 February 1830 - 25 March 1898), was an English novelist. Among the periodicals he edited were Chambers's Journal in Edinburgh and the Cornhill Magazine in London.
Payn's father, William Payn (1774/1775-1840), was clerk to the Thames Commissioners and at one time treasurer to the county of Berkshire. Payn himself was educated at Eton, and afterwards entered the Military Academy at Woolwich; but his health was unequal to 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 undergraduate put forth a volume of Stories from Boccaccio in 1852, and in 1853 a volume of Poems.
In the year he left Cambridge, he met and shortly afterwards married Miss Louisa Adelaide Edlin (born 1830 or 1831), sister of Judge Sir Peter Edlin, later chairman of the London Quarter Sessions. They had nine children, the third of whom, Alicia Isabel (died 1898), married The Times editor George Earle Buckle.
Editor and novelist
Payn then settled down in the Lake District to a literary career and contributed regularly to Household Words and Chambers's Journal. In 1858 he moved to Edinburgh to act as joint editor of the latter, and became its sole editor in 1860. He conducted the magazine with much success for 15 years. In the meantime 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 engaged in writing novels, including Richard Arbour or the Family Scapegrace (1861),Married Beneath Him (1865), Carlyon's Year (1868), A County Family (1869), By Proxy (1878), A Confidential Agent (1880), Thicker Than Water (1883), A Grape from a Thorn, The Talk of the Town (1885), and The Heir of the Ages (1886).
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 25 March 1898.
A biographical introduction to The Backwater of Life was furnished by Sir Leslie Stephen.