Usher, James

, an ingenious writer, was the son of a gentleman-farmer in the county of Dublin, where he was born about 1720. He was descended from the venerable prelate of whom we have just given an account, but was of a Roman catholic family. He received a good classical education, though with no view to any of the learned | professious. When grown up, he became a farmer, in imitation of his father, but after some years’ experience, had little success, and having sold his farm, stock, &c. settled for some time as a linen-draper in Dublin: for this business, however, he seems to have been as little qualified as for the other, and was a great loser. In truth he had that secret love of literature about him which generally inspired a train of thought not very compatible with the attention which trade requires: and finding himself, after some years, a widower with a family of four children, and but little prospect of providing for them in any business, he took orders in the church of Rome, sent his three sons for education to the college of Lombard in Paris, and his daughter to a monastery, where she soon after died. He then came to London, and while revolving plans for his support, and the education of his children, Mr. Molloy, an Irish gentleman, who had formerly been a political writer against sir Robert Walpole, died, and left him a legacy of three hundred pounds. With this money Mr. Usher thought of setting up a school, as the most likely way of providing for his sons; and with this view he communicated his intentions to the late Mr. John Walker, author of the Pronouncing Dictionary, and many other approved ' works on the construction and elegance of the English language. Mr. Walker not only approved the plan, but joined him as a partner in the business, and they opened a school under this firm at Kensington Gravel-pits. Mr. Usher’s acquaintance with Mr. Walker commenced during the former’s excursions from Dublin to Bristol, which latter place Mr. Walker’s business led him to visit occasionally. Their acquaintance soon grew into a friendship, which continued unbroken and undiminished to the close of Mr. Usher’s life. But the school these gentlemen were embarked in, did not altogether answer Mr. Walker’s purposes. Whether the profits were too little to divide, or whether he thought he could -do better as a private teacher, it is difficult to say; but Mr. Walker, after trying it for some time, quitted the connection, and commenced a private teacher, which he very successfully continued to the last. They parted, however, with the same cordiality they commenced, and the civilities and friendships of life were mutually continued.

Mr. Usher being now sole master of the school, he cultivated it with diligence and ability, and with tolerable success, for about four years; when he died of a consumption, | at the age of fifty-two, in 1772. Mr. Usher’s first publication was a small pamphlet called “A New System of Philosophy,” in which he censures Locke, as leaning too much towards naturalism, a doctrine which he considered as the bane of every thing sublime, elegant, and noble. He next wrote some letters in the Public Ledger, signed “A Free Thinker” in which he shews the inconsistency and impolicy of the persecutions at that time going on against the Roman catholics. His next publication was entitled “Clio, or a discourse on Taste, addressed to a young lady;” in which he endeavours to prove, that there is in several respects an universal standard of taste in the soul of man, which, though it may be depraved or corrupted by education and habit, can never be totally eradicated. To this very ingenious essay, which is touched with elegance and observation, though, perhaps, with too much refinement, he afterwards added “An Introduction to the Theory of the Human Mind,” intended as a refutation of those deists who attack revealed religion under an apparent appeal to philosophy, but, by the occasional shifting of principles and systems, and a dexterous use of equivocal language, draw the dispute into a kind of labyrinth, in which the retreats are endless, and the victory always incomplete. 1


Europ. Mag. for 1796.