Russel, Alexander (DNB00)

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RUSSEL, ALEXANDER (1814–1876), journalist, was born on 10 Dec. 1814 at Edinburgh. His father, a solicitor and a liberal in politics, died when his son was very young. His mother, a daughter of John Somerville, clerk in the jury court, survived till he was fifty. After attending the classical school kept by the Rev. Ross Kennedy in St. James's Square in his native city, young Russel was apprenticed to a printer. John Johnstone, who was afterwards editor of the ‘Inverness Courier,’ was one of his fellow-apprentices. Johnstone's wife, Christian Isobel Johnstone [q. v.], had a large share in editing ‘Tait's Magazine,’ and gave Russel the opportunity of contributing to that magazine. In 1839 he was appointed editor of the ‘Berwick Advertiser,’ at a salary, payable weekly, of 70l. He was expected to employ a part of each day in reading newspapers and selecting and abridging articles from them, to review new publications, to report the proceedings at public meetings, to compile a summary of news and write political articles. The proprietor, who made these conditions, added: ‘And, lastly, the attacks of our political adversary will be expected to produce your retort.’ Having learned shorthand in boyhood, he was able to act as reporter as well as to write articles. While at Berwick he made the acquaintance of David Robertson of Ladykirk, afterwards Lord Marjoribanks, and with him took an active share in Northumbrian political contests. In 1842 he left Berwick for Cupar, where he edited the ‘Fife Herald.’ At Cupar he formed the acquaintance of some influential members of the liberal party, including Admiral Wemyss and Edward Ellice, the elder and younger [qq.v.] . After two years' hard work in Cupar he became editor of a new journal in Kilmarnock. John Ritchie [see under Ritchie, William, (1781–1831)], one of the founders of the ‘Scotsman,’ being impressed with his articles, invited him to become the assistant of Charles Maclaren [q. v.], the editor of the ‘Scotsman.’ In March 1845 Russel returned to his native city to fill an important position in the office of its principal newspaper.

Three years after Russel joined the staff of the ‘Scotsman’ he became the editor. In that capacity he had to write as well as to supervise and direct, and the force and freshness of his articles found immediate favour with the public. He impressed his personality upon the paper, and uncritical readers arrived at the conclusion that everything in it which interested them was from his pen. In later years the ‘Scotsman’ became as much identified with Russel's name as the ‘Times’ with the names of the Walters and Delane. He especially exerted himself to further the objects of the Anti-Corn-law League and to draw attention to the destitution of the highlands, while he laboured with success to raise the discussion of local politics to a higher level. He had the mortification of being unable to hinder the rejection of Macaulay by the electors of Edinburgh in 1847, but the counsel which he offered in the ‘Scotsman’ contributed to secure Macaulay's re-election in 1852. In directing the policy of the ‘Scotsman,’ Russel was opposed to all interference of ministers of religion in politics. His zeal was seldom indiscreet, yet in 1852 it was the cause of an action for libel against the journal, in which the plaintiff, Duncan McLaren, liberal candidate for Edinburgh, was awarded 400l. damages. This sum, together with the costs of the action, the whole amounting to 1,200l., was paid by public subscription.

From June 1855 the ‘Scotsman,’ which had hitherto appeared only twice a week, was issued daily. The price was then altered, for the fourth and last time, to a penny. Russel's editorial labours were thus greatly increased. He wrote an article in each number, and sometimes more than one. By way of recognising his able, consistent, and powerful advocacy of enlightened liberal principles, and as ‘a mark of respect for his honourable and independent conduct in public and private life,’ a testimonial, consisting of 1,600l. and silver plate, was presented to him by his fellow-citizens at a public meeting in the Waterloo Rooms. It is probably with reference to the silver plate that he was asked, ‘What is your coat of arms?’ and made answer, ‘My shirt-sleeves.’ Another honour which he valued highly was his special election, in 1875, to the Reform Club by the committee, ‘for distinguished public services.’ He was the tenth who had been thus elected since the foundation of the club in 1836.

He attended and described the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869. A serious illness in 1872 compelled him to winter in the south of France. He died suddenly, of angina pectoris, on 18 July 1876. Russel was twice married, his first wife being Miss McWilliam, his second Mrs. Evans. He left children by both marriages. A daughter married Mr. F. D. Finlay, the conductor and proprietor of the leading Belfast newspaper, the ‘Northern Whig.’ Russel was noted as a conversationalist as well as a writer, but he dreaded speaking in public, and declined in 1872 an invitation to become a candidate for the lord-rectorship of Aberdeen. Angling was his favourite recreation, and he wrote much on the subject. His articles in the ‘Scotsman,’ the ‘Quarterly,’ and ‘Blackwood’ were collected in his work on ‘The Salmon’ (1864). An article by him on ‘Agricultural Complaints,’ which appeared in the ‘Edinburgh Review’ for April 1850, was highly praised by Lord Jeffrey. The work of his life is to be found in the columns of the ‘Scotsman,’ and made in no small degree that journal's reputation.

[Alexander Russel and The Story of the Scotsman, both printed for private circulation; Russel of the Scotsman, by H. G. Graham, in Fraser's Magazine for September 1880, pp. 301–317.]

F. R.