Usher, James (DNB00)


USHER, JAMES (1720–1772), schoolmaster, controversialist, and essayist, a descendant of Archbishop Henry Ussher [q. v.], was son of a gentleman farmer in the county of Dublin, where he was born in 1720. He was educated at Trinity College, Dublin (Taylor, Hist. of the Univ. of Dublin, p. 480). He was brought up in the protestant religion, but a perusal of the controversial works of the jesuit father Henry Fitzsimon [q. v.] led him to join the Roman catholic church (Hogan, Life of Fitzsimon, 1881, p. 224). He began life as a gentleman farmer, and, not meeting with success, he opened a linendraper's shop in Dublin, but failed in that business also. About this period his wife died, and, finding himself a widower with a family of four children—three boys and a girl—he took holy orders, it is said, in the church of Rome, sent his three sons for education to the college of Lombard in Paris, and his daughter to a convent, where she soon afterwards died. The statement that he entered the priesthood is open to doubt. He now came to London, and Charles Molloy (d. 1767) [q. v.], who had been a political writer against Sir Robert Walpole, left him a legacy of 300l. This enabled him to open a school for catholic youth at Kensington Gravel Pits in partnership with John Walker (1732–1807) [q. v.], author of the ‘Pronouncing Dictionary,’ who was also a convert. Walker subsequently withdrew from the undertaking, and Usher became sole master of the school, which he conducted until his death in 1772.

His works are: 1. ‘A New System of Philosophy, founded on the Universal Operations of Nature,’ London, 1764, 8vo. 2. ‘A Free Examination of the common Methods employed to prevent the growth of Popery,’ London, 1766. This work appeared originally as a series of letters signed ‘A Free Thinker’ in the ‘Public Ledger.’ It elicited replies from Benjamin Pye (1767) and D. Grant, vicar of Hutton Rudby, Yorkshire (1771). 3. ‘Clio: or a Discourse on Taste, addressed to a Young Lady’ (anon.), London, 1767, 8vo; 2nd edit., with large additions, Dublin, 1770, 8vo; 3rd edit., Dublin, 1772, 8vo; new edition, with notes, anecdotes, and quotations by J. Mathew, London, 1803, reprinted 1809, 8vo. 4. ‘An Introduction to the Theory of the Human Mind. By J. U., author of Clio,’ London, 1771, 8vo; 2nd edit. 1773. 5. ‘An Elegy’ (sine anno); privately reprinted 1860.

[European Mag., March 1796, xxix. 151; Green's Diary of a Lover of Literature, 1810, p. 128; Lowndes's Bibl. Man. (Bohn); Milner's Life of Challoner, 1798, pp. 41–4.]

T. C.